The PS4, Xbox One and Wii U are all very different consoles, but there's one thing I wish all three had in common: their digital pricing. Something they could learn from the PC.
Steam gets a lot of credit for rejuvenating the PC gaming market, and there's one area it deserves more praise than anywhere else: its regular, highly-discounted sales.
I say this not because I like things to be cheap. I realise a brand new game does, and should, cost $40-$60. But the real value of Steam, and its crazy pricing, is that it actually caters not just to the budgets of gamers, but their gaming habits as well.
The pricing model console games rely upon is fundamentally broken, because it doesn't understand how most people play video games. Purchasing a single title for $60 is something people will only do regularly for the very biggest and best of games. Most people just don't have the time, or the money, to do that more than a handful of times a year.
It's the main reason we've seen so many "B-grade" studios making "average" games close over this hardware generation; they simply can't compete. If publishers and platform holders continue to rely on that retail model, they're going to fail.
People who play games are - mostly - people who also have lives. There are other things competing for their time and money. Sure, it's awesome to spent $60 on Skyrim and lose a few weeks, but experiences like that are few and far between.
Sometimes you just want to unwind after work with a new game. Sometimes your partner will be away for the weekend and you've got a free afternoon. Sometimes you miss a game and want to come back to it months or maybe years later.
Those brief, sometimes unannounced windows of opportunity, which is how many adult gamers can indulge their habit, are entirely incompatible with the AAA console retail model, which relies on preorders (ie advance notice) and that premium pricetag.
It's also incompatible with the platform holder's farcical digital pricing model. If new games are available digitally for the same price as they are in stores, that's understandable. But the way all three companies insist on pricing older games at inflated prices defeats the purpose of having them there in the first place.
If you're in a forum, or talking with friends, and they tell you "son, really, you have to play 2009 Action Adventure Game before we continue this conversation", you've got an impulse to get the game at that instant. Ditto if you've got 3-5 hours free, remember you always meant to play it, and want to go try it out. If you check Xbox's Games on Demand, you'll probably find it for $20-40.
That's not an impulse price, and it's not something you're going to pay just to join in a conversation or indulge in a quick catch-up. So you spend nothing. Neither Microsoft or the publisher gets a cent.
If you checked Steam, however, you'd probably find the game for $10. $15 with its DLC included. You might even get lucky and be checking during a sale, when it's down to $2.50. That's an impulse buy, and as millions of people's burgeoning collections can attest to - and the regularity with which Valve holds its major sales - it's something a lot of people will happily pull the trigger on.
You might play the game for an hour and hate it, you might play it for six and love it, it doesn't matter. You paid for it, people made money off it, and they did so because it was priced to match the situation and the amount you were willing to spend for it.
So please, platform holders, realise this. Speak to the publishers whose games you're selling, look at the popularity of Steam, look at how many games people are buying on the service and the way they're buying them. And if you've got room left to copy one more thing the PC does well for your new systems, make it this.
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