The Myth of the Missing Game Sales

Sometimes (maybe oftentimes) you see things online that you just can’t believe. One of the less consequential is this weird idea about game sales I keep seeing crop up. There are people who seem to honestly believe that digital games never go on sale.

Now first of all, in this age of Steam sales that blow-up social media, I have to assume these people are talking about console games. I mean arguing that PC digital games never go on sale is like arguing that nights are brighter than days, right? And once upon a time it was true that digital console game sales were pretty uncommon but that was a LONG time ago.

I most recently saw this fallacy in two places. First was in the comments of a clickbait-y post at The Verge: Consider the PS4 Pro before you buy that expensive gaming PC. OF COURSE the gaming public took the bait and commented furiously on this post, as I’m sure was the intent. (I can just picture the author giggling as the pageview count skyrocketed due to people refreshing comments so they can argue with each other — he met his weekly pageview quota with one nice chunk of clickbait.) And people in favor of a PC over the PS4 Pro made a lot of good points (its a ludicrous idea, suggesting the PS4 Pro can achieve what a high end gaming rig can), but one theme that cropped up a couple times is game prices:

“On console, games never get steeply discounted.
I bet I�ve actually paid a lot less overall for my PC and games than console users have. I would never be buying and playing as many games if I was on console”

“I have saved a couple thousand dollars buying games cheaper on PC ”

Um, what? Console games never get steeply discounted?

[Update on what follows: I totally misunderstood the point this blogger was making (see comments). He was talking about how retailers (3rd party retailers like Amazon) seem able to offer discounts on physical copies of games, but not digital copies. And yeah, I’ve always been wondering about why that is too. So this whole (needlessly snarky, upon re-reading) next chunk of this post is based on my misunderstanding of this point.]

Then today I was reading a random blog, and I don’t know the author so I don’t really want to link to him/her and get into a big argument over how I called him/her out, but here’s what I read:
[Doh, it’s Azuriel’s blog and now that he’s come forward, here’s a link to the post.]

“…retailers collude with the game industry to keep digital sales nonexistent.”

OMG, tin-foil hat much? [Nope, just me not thinking things through.] What’s funny is this person was talking about Black Friday sales. They’d bought a recent game for $30 physically because there are no digital sales at about the same time I was buying Titanfall 2, digitally, for $35. Where I come from, spending $35 for something that is regularly $60 is a sale. And I didn’t pay tax or have to deal with Black Friday crowds.

The truth is digital games go on sale ALL THE TIME. Right now PSN is running a holiday sale offering up to 75% off for the public, up to 80% off for PS+ subscribers. Every week Sony rolls out new deals, and Microsoft does the same thing. Even Nintendo has digital sales sometimes, I think.

Now I understand that there are MORE PC game sales and the discounts can be even steeper than what you get on consoles. I expect that is mostly due to competition, both in the fact that there are so many PC games vying for your attention, and the fact that you can buy from Steam or from Green Man Gaming or some gray-market reseller, or you can just pirate. So if you want to make the argument that PC games often get discounted more deeply than console games do, I’ll grant you that.

But to say that digital games never go on sale is just lunacy and it bugs me. On the off chance that you’re so ensconced in PC gaming that you actually believe this fallacy, well now I’ve educated you. In fact buying console games at launch for full price is just as silly as doing the same thing on PC because ALL games drop in price, most of them after a month or so. (Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto both seem resistant to this trend; they hold their full price for a long time.)

8 thoughts on “The Myth of the Missing Game Sales

  1. I think that any PC elite that uses digital game sales as a point in favor of their chosen gaming platform is either

    A) stuck in the past (maybe 3 years ago when digital console sales weren’t as prevalent)
    B) oblivious
    C) lying to try to make PCs look better

    The deep discount console digital sales are more of a recent development as Microsoft and Sony figured out how lucrative they can really be. There will always be people who refuse to see any other way when they’ve planted their flag in the ground. Unfortunately those people usually are the loudest.

  2. Buying either console or PC games “at launch for full price” is neither silly nor is it the same as buying either, later, at a reduced price. The purchases in question each include both the game and the time frame within which the game is played. You can buy the game at a later stage but you cannot, ever, by definition, buy the game at launch at a later stage. If you want that, you have to pay the price at launch. There is no other option.

    It always surprises me that people don’t differentiate between the experiences they are paying for when things like this are discussed. A game is not just a game any more than a book is just a book or a movie just a movie. I believe most people do understand what they are paying for and what they are choosing not to pay for but for some reason no-one ever seems to care to include those factors in the arguments and debates. Instead everyone seems to prefer to stick to an agreed fiction that a game is the same game whenever you buy it and whenever you play it, which seems to me to be self-evidently untrue.

  3. @bhagpuss — You are right of course. These days games are generally at their worst when they launch and are sold at full price. Then over time the developers patch out bugs, add new content or features, and generally improve the experience.

    As a recent example let’s look at Final Fantasy XV. Over the next year the developers intend to add more cut scenes, work on improving a criticized chapter of the game and tweak other aspects. While they are doing this, the cost of the game will drop.

    Another example, you can often wait a year for a “Game of the Year” edition or a “Definitive Edition” that comes with all the DLC that launch purchasers had to pay for.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I do buy games at launch but generally I do it either because I’m just very excited to play the game, or because I want to support the developer.

    Otherwise, I only buy a game at full price at launch if there’s a MP aspect that I intend to take advantage of, since at launch the community tends to be most active.

    Otherwise, waiting even a couple of weeks tends to save both money and lets you avoid launch-period bugs that are quickly patched out. As I said in the post, I waited just a couple of weeks after the launch of Titanfall 2 and saved 40% off the $60 launch price.

    Obviously is money isn’t a concern you have and you have ample disposable income then none of this matters, but in that case sales don’t really factor into your buying decisions anyway.

  4. For the record, what I meant with the “collude” comment is something you can see right now if you go looking on Amazon for Titanfall 2: $35 physical, $60 PC Download. Same deal with Battlefield 1: $40 physical, $60 PC Download. When my BF1 “box” arrived at my door last weekend, it just had a slip of paper with the download code inside. Why is physically mailing me the code cheaper than emailing the code? You can argue that the game companies printed X number of physical cases, so they have to move that product, but it doesn’t explain why the PC download isn’t discounted.

    In any case, I wasn’t trying to make a larger point that digits things never go on sale. That would be silly, because I almost never pay for things at full price. It’s more that retailers like Amazon and Walmart never seem to discount their digital offerings over their physical offerings, despite them being identical in every other way. GMG and other digital retailers do not have this issue.

  5. @Azuriel — Ah, OK I see what you mean, now. I totally misunderstood what you were referring to. Yeah it does seem really sketchy that Amazon can offer a deal on a physical item but not on game codes.

    Apologies for the misunderstanding. Going to make a note of it in the post. Also, had no idea that was your blog… probably knew at one point and forgot. I’ll call it a senior moment.

  6. So I am seeing something odd now that I also have an Xbox One, and I am not sure if it is just a perception thing or actual fact. For ages I have watched the PSN store and caught all sorts of things deeply discounted in digital form. I am not sure if the PSN store just does a better job of calling this out, or if it is the fact that the Microsoft store is a little bit madness to actually navigate… but whatever the case it seems like Sony regularly discounts things better than Microsoft does. I agree though that if you are talking digital codes… you can pretty much rule Amazon complete out of the running because you might be able to pick up a game for $20 for a physical copy, and it will still be $59.95 for the digital download through them. In part I think digital sales just work differently and are maybe not as advertised as they are in other form factors.

  7. @Belghast – Yeah on the Xbox One I basically rely on posts at Major Nelson for the weekly deals (and any other sales). I’m not 100% certain if PSN has better sales or not, but it certainly makes it easier to find the “Weekly Deals” (via, of course, the easily accessed “Weekly Deals” section of the store! 🙂

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