PC game peddler Valve has launched the “Exploration Sale” on Steam and it frankly is terrible. Its current approach on discounted items has a lot of issues, boosted by the influx of releases in 2014 and the company’s own changes. Before this post delves into the criticism, however, we’d like to reiterate that any sale ever is always a blessing and a gift horse isn’t to be looked in the mouth. So, in the sense that games are cheaper, everything is hunky-dory from a flat consumer level.
We’ve talked about this before though. We’ve pointed at it time and again: Games are dumped in sales way too quickly. The Evil Within, the newest horror game from Shinji Mikami, has a discount of 66% on the store’s landing page. Clicking through reveals that The Evil Within launched on October 13, 2014.
One month; a major, marketed release that is out for one month has slashed its price to a fraction of the original number.
You’ll forgive us not adding a few more days to the counter as being a significant change in that statement. This piece of entertainment was going to be a game changer. Shinji Mikami, a legend in the horror survival genre, was going to bring back the old Resident Evil style. New games had strayed from its roots and only the master could take back glory. Hype trailers were cut, press tours were held; even fake Onion articles were made. This was a big, big thing; that is, until it actually launched and reviews weren’t universally as glowing as the parade it had put itself on. Down the drain it went.
The Evil Within, however, passes a new barrier of awareness in the price dumping aspect by dipping below the halfway point. This isn’t a coincidence. It marks the new development cycle and marketing scheme for publishers. What we’re witnessing is a contingency plan.
When publisher Bethesda set out to create this horror survival revival, it didn’t plan on making a good game or even just a game. In this new market we’re floating in, saturated by minor and major games at once, the goal is simply to sell at all costs. This game isn’t the only one doing it and it’s likely that the effect will increase too many times to keep reiterating. In a time where a headline like “Holy crap, your wallet is screwed today” is a relatable item, options to gain the finite resources of the consumer base are starting to become narrow.
All that hype, the large spread on game sites; it was made to sell the idea of The Evil Within. It needed to live as a name. The Evil Within needed to be synonymous with Resident Evil and old, “good” horror titles, without the preoccupation or resource allocation of actually developing a game. When players think of Shinji Mikami, they should instantly want to press the purchase button, because they want to recreate that experience they once had, years ago. Consumers want to be part of that fleeting societal thought. They’re locked in before the game is out. This could be the best horror experience ever released, but it’s absolutely inconsequential to its mission, which is to shift units. The Evil Within is a product in the coldest, most technical sense of the term, but nothing more. That’s why, even only a month after release, it can cut whatever it takes to artificially boost figures and get as high a dollar-sign-backed figure as possible. Essentially, it’s squeezing every last bit of juice out of whatever turd metaphor fits.
To say things are getting out of hand is an understatement, given previous instances of this dumping behavior have already beaten that notion into the ground. Game devaluation is here, getting worse and we’re likely about to bottom out. There isn’t that much space to go to from 1/3 of a major release’s price. Steam offered ten free games in a weekend. Origin is systematically throwing out titles free for keeps. GOG promotes plenty of sales with free titles. Humble has started handing out games without charge as well. It’s so poignant that Gamestop, of all companies, has spoken out against price plummeting. Gamestop; a company that undoubtedly had its hand in dumping titles for shelf space with “buy 1 get 2 free” promotions and constant price reductions is the advocate of a more sensible gaming climate.
It’s coming around to the point that it’s hard to even justify this from a consumer standpoint. Everyone wins, sure, unless the company goes under from not selling copies, developers flee after selling their idea or the game wasn’t made to release properly and becomes a broken mess no one wants to have. It’s still possible to acquire products like The Evil Within, but it will become more and more of a gamble whether the end user will be greeted by a memorable experience or simply an Assassin’s Creed Unity. You better believe that one will sell plenty of copies as well, by the way, despite that warnings for it were out prior to release. People are falling over themselves to buy the product that they’ve been marketed to believe in. We don’t have time for criticism.
Here’s the deal: Make time. Don’t buy a launch day product anymore. If reviews come back positive, go out and buy it. Adversely, if reviews aren’t favorable, don’t buy it. That means: Don’t even buy the game when it gets thrown to the sharks a month later. Don’t reward the company in any way for the mess they’ve sent out, because that’s what they’re counting on. You buy, they win. They’ll keep throwing out the hooks until you’re hooked and gutted. We’re saying reviews are becoming inconsequential. This is the result of that. Make reviews matter more than ever by showing patience and clear thought. Yogscast doesn’t have your interest at heart when it takes on brand deals it fails to tell you about. That cynical editor who is getting insulted through multiple social media accounts for using a 5 instead of an 8 is the one sending out a warning. Listen to it.
Don’t even get us started on the “exploration” part of the Steam sale. With the recommendation system, it’s nearly impossible to find any deal, outside of the big titles that keep being plastered on the prominent pages. That’s the exact opposite of exploration; it’s meandering. Hell, this is regression.
Update: Green Man Gaming has matched The Evil Within’s discount for an ever sharper price, because that’s how this works now. It’s up at €16.99.