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The Promise Of The “No Sale Promise” Might Just Be Snake Oil

No Sale PromiseEarlier today, I learned about a new initiative created by a few developers. Chalo Chalo developers Tomasz Kaye and Richard Boeser created this initiative after reading an editorial by Castle Doctrine developer Jason Rohrer. In this editorial, Jason writes about why he feels that rampant game sales are bad for fans.

You can read Jason’s full article, but the gist of it is that gamers will wait until a sale rather than buy the games at launch. The problem is that game developers will see a reduction in launch revenue and be forced to rely on the months of long tail to break even. His solution is to reverse the sale process. His solution is to offer the discounts up front and then raise the price later.

In the case of The Castle Doctrine, the “ever rising” price model was a perfect fit for other reasons. As a massively-multiplayer server-based game, it required extensive testing before launch. I could reward those early testers with the biggest discount. Also, as a server-based game, each additional “copy” sold is not without cost to me: it’s one more player logging into the server, and potentially one more player who will need tech support during an outage. I can’t just pepper the ground with cheap or free download codes, because download codes are actually lifetime accounts.

This is where the “No Sale Promise” from Tomasz and Richard came from. What is the “No Sale Promise”?

A developer or publisher of a video game using the No Sale Promise emblem promises that – at least until the expiry date – they won’t apply any discounts or price reductions to their game, and that it won’t appear in any bundles.

What it doesn’t promise is that the game’s price won’t ever change, just that it won’t decrease for the specified period of time. It also doesn’t say that the game won’t be given away. Yet, a game’s price can increase, following Jason’s example above.

Is this a solution to a major problem in games development or is it a solution in search of a problem? Not really either. This is a pricing strategy they hope will result in more sales. This strategy is not without its problems, just as sales result in some behavior developers may not like.

What are these problems? The problem is that this promise does not really fix the problem they hope to fix. I tweeted at Lars Doucet, a developer that puts a lot of thought into why people buy games and why the long tail is important to game developers. He had this to say.

I’ve seen it before, I understand what it’s trying to do. In a nutshell, my hunch is it will not make too much of a difference. IE, your past behavior of sales makes a much bigger difference then what you say you’re gonna do. The only people who this will really sway is people in reddit threads wondering if they should pull the trigger. To be clear, I think it can be smart to be careful about sales. But I think the vast majority of your customers are people who found about your game from a major promotion. (which doesn’t have to be tied to a discount). In any case, not the kind of people who notice/care about the pledge. In short, I think both the potential upside and downside are minimal. I think it simply won’t have much effect.

That is exactly what is going to happen. Nothing. Gamers are a fickle bunch and are not the type to be swayed by these types of promises. The promise of no sales will not convince anyone not already loyal to you to buy your game early. Neither will the “ever rising” price model. Gamers know when they want a game. They know what price they think is fair. If that price never happens, they just won’t buy the game.

What is the solution then? There is no one solution. That is the great thing about having so many developers and so many thoughts and actions on this front. Everyone finds the pricing model that works for them and are better for it. While not everyone will succeed, some will. Some will find that right balance between quality game and pricing structure to make them the most money possible.

One Comment

  1. Warren Lewis
    Warren Lewis April 22, 2016

    I don’t buy a lot of games, for various reasons. Mostly it’s because I’m following a particular series. (i.e. Grand Theft Auto) and I will wait for the next game in that series. When the next game in that series comes out, I will do my best to not only get it on launch day, but to be at the launch party.

    Another reason has to do with the lack of time. First it was the lack of money, now it’s the lack of time. Plus I’m playing a lot of retro games now. (NES, SNES) I just bought the ‘NEW’ 3DS, and Super Mario World is going to be the very first game I’ll buy for it. (if it’s out.)

    – W

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