By Spacetrucking 3 Comments
I've been thinking a lot about Steam and digital distribution in general lately. I believe, it was the most significant gaming trend of 2009, as it allowed us to enjoy games like Shadow Complex, flower and the near-endless amount of Fallout 3 DLC content - things that would have never seen the light of day had it not been for services like XBLA and such. In general, I'm really happy with the way it all works. I prefer managing my game library online and its more convenient to buy too. But I do have one big concern for the current model - pricing (for retail games specifically).
Both those titles would've been amazing buys if there were cheaper on Steam at launch. Ask yourself, would you give Bionic Commando a try if it was say $20 (or $30 on consoles) ? The game certainly had some issues but at that price range, it's an outstanding buy. I can't speak with any authority about sales figures and the accounting behind it all but I just wonder if Grin would still be around if that had been the case. This analogy/supposition goes double for Dead Space and the demise of Visceral Games.
Runic Games had the right idea with Torchlight. The game has been selling extremely well, partly due to its sweet price range. They even have a solid fan base now to launch their MMO on and it's a great success story that most publishers can learn from.
The thing that really stumps me is why don't more people do it ? I understand they won't want to kill their retail business but how about you drop the price after two-three weeks of release ? If the game doesn't do well at 40, drop it to 20. If the crazy steam sale figures for Crysis or Dead Space are anything to go by, people are willing to try new things at that range - even if they are not part of the original target demographic. The best part of digital distribution is that it doesn't cost you anything to generate out more keys ( Prey "sold out" being the sole exception somehow). Even if Valve/MS/Sony get a sizable chunk of the profits, you're still making money and at no extra cost.
If you look at all the lay offs last year, the game industry is really hurting right now. Production costs are upwards of millions with everyone trying to score the next Modern Warfare. It's about time some of them realized that not everything is going to sell millions. If anything, learn from the success of all the small download-only games from 2009. Maybe they can achieve more by just lowering their expectations. I realize that digital distribution is not part of the problem here but it can be part of the solution.