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Digital hoarding and the Steam sale menace

Friday, 21st December 2012 09:26 GMT By Dave Cook

Does buying content digitally give us a skewed perspective of worth? VG247′s Dave Cook takes a look at the dangers of flash sales, in-app purchases and more.

“Here in gaming land our closest equivalent to ASDA’s cheap deals is something like the Steam sale, which is a time where many of us load up on titles we wouldn’t normally take a punt on, just because they’re selling for pennies on the pound.”

I’m sitting here in my flat looking at the mammoth stack of DVDs lining my living room wall, troubled. This tall, proud amalgamation of cardboard and plastic has followed me to several flats over the years, and has even travelled the distance of the UK – from Scotland to where I now reside on the South coast of England.

I’ve watched this well-travelled collection grow up from the first DVD I ever bought – Die Hard, get in! – to something I just sort of put up with. It’s a pain in the arse to pack away whenever I’ve upped sticks and moved, it takes up far too much space, and I probably watch about 10% of it in any given year. I’d get rid of it all tomorrow if I could, but what if I wanted to watch one of the films at the bottom one day?

I have a Netflix account but that one film I want to watch at some point, some day from now might not be on there. It absolutely could happen, so I begrudgingly decide – time and time again – that the DVD wall must stay.

But what worries me more is that this collection is still growing, thanks to the frankly terrifying entertainment aisle of my local ASDA, which dares to sell high-quality films for as little as three British pounds. How can I pass up on a copy of The Matrix for less than the cost of a Big Mac? We’re not even afforded a fighting chance.

Here in gaming land our closest equivalent to ASDA’s cheap deals is something like the Steam sale, which is a time where many of us load up on titles we wouldn’t normally take a punt on, just because they’re selling for pennies on the pound.

Some of us will never play the games we’ve bought because we’ve either bought too many games at once and don’t have time to play them all, or we literally only took a chance on them because they were cheap, and nothing more. I’ve done it many times, and quite often I’ve blamed it on the simple thrill of getting a good deal.

Those of us that do this end up with a collection that – if it were made up of actual, physical boxes and discs – would be following each of us around, never being enjoyed and taking up a lot of valuable space. This isn’t just some strange phenomenon that has infiltrated society overnight, it’s been happening for a while.

The nature of impulse buying is something that the games industry’s governing bodies are tapping into in a big way right now, and you can see it all around you today – and I’m not just referring to the piercing, siren’s call of Steam flash sales here.

Take last week’s iOS release of Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy for example: the game was launched for free, so it was obvious that the game would be bulked out by in-app purchases. It seems to be par for the course that the word ‘free’ bears very little meaning in actuality these days, but this game – at first glance – seems to take the utter piss out of the word’s definition.

The game is given away with two tracks. Granted, they are rather brilliant ‘One-Winged Angel’ from FFVII and the ‘Zanarkand’ theme from FFX, but obtaining the rest of the game’s content – every song and character – you will have to fork over £103.83.

Now, I own the 3DS version of the game – I paid £39.99 for it at launch – but I have to admit that I still bought a selection of songs from the game’s library. I bought all my favourite tracks at either £0.69 a pop, or paid £1.99 for the game soundtracks I knew I liked. Why would a person knowingly buy the same content twice while fragmenting the experience across two seperate formats?

It’s simple really: convenience. I don’t have to carry my 3DS around with me to play those songs now, because I know I’ll always have my iPhone with me. They’re not physical products that I have to ferry around with me everywhere I go. It’s yet another collection sure, but this time it’s condensed into a simple, digital format that takes up minimal space..

I was also given the freedom to pick and choose the songs I wanted, which means I’m also trimming the fat and not wasting money on content I’ll never use. I actively chose not to pay for the songs of FFII because I didn’t want them, and in the end I got everything I wanted for less than a tenner, all in one place, and I’ve since played everything I’ve bought.

The game has – in a weird way – given me a really good deal, but I still deliberate over the fact that I already own the content on the 3DS version. I know it’s wrong but I’m a big fan of keeping all of my digital wares in one place, and having just recently got Netflix for our home I’m starting to feel better about giving my DVD wall the boot in time, but I know I won’t.

Another example is when I bought the Sega Mega Drive Collection on Xbox 360. It had Streets of Rage 2 on it – a game I have shamefully bought on seven different formats at last count – but I then bought and still prefer to play the XBLA version installed on my console instead of popping the disc in, again because it’s more convenient.

Convenient sure, but is THIS even necessary? I think I have a genuine problem here.

I did this for the same reason that people are re-buying paper books they already own on Kindle. Firstly, carrying a Kindle beats lugging a bag of heavy books around on holiday, and secondly because it’s a collection of potentially hundreds of novels in the palm of your hand, all being sold for less than their physical counterparts.

Does this mean that people are willing to pay more for convenience? I don’t think you’d pay more no, but I do think that many of us out there would pay for content a second time at the same or less value. Then again some people prefer to read from a proper, paper book. It’s a feeling of worth that comes with being able to see and hold what you’ve purchased. We’re all different in this regard.

I don’t begrudge paying for Streets of Rage 2 so many times – having spent close to £30 in the process because now, no matter where I am or what device I’m playing on, I can enjoy my favourite game in a matter of seconds. Does that justify the spend? Personally I think it does, and I’m sure other people have done this before too.

That said, I guarantee that the examples and questions I’ve raised are on the minds of the game industry’s top brass right now. You can see the signs now: Sony bought GaiKai and could now be planning to condense its entire back catalogue down into a single streaming format. Xbox Live has an extensive ‘Games on Demand’ Library and Nintendo has also gone big on its digital collection.

These formats are all putting up fences to try and stop the fragmentation of content by giving you everything in one box – each of the ‘big three’ consoles has either movie, browsing or music services – meaning that you don’t have to leave their brand to gain access to specific content. Want to look up a cheat for an Xbox 360 game on your iPad? – sure, go ahead, but use SmartGlass while you’re at it yeah?

Collections are something you can look at or leaf through and genuinely be proud of if you give them the time of day, but as the cost of digital content lowers there could be more of us out there with neglected purchases, while others try to resist the move from physical to digital. It’s a confusing, volatile time for the industry players at large, but now let’s hear what you think.

Are you a hoarder of digital games? Do you often spend recklessly during Steam or GOG sales? Have you been suckered in my the allure of in-app purchases, or do you prefer physical products any day of the week? Let us know what you think below.

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25 Comments

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  1. BULArmy

    I buy thing I only want. In my Steam account there is no game that I have not played for at least 4-5 hours. My problem is that I get bored by games very easy and 70% of my games are never finished. Playing through them second or third time is reserved foe my favorite games like – The Withcer 1,2 the original Mafia and few others.

    Because of how easily I get bored I choose my games not based on price, but wether I will like it or not. I know a lot about almost all high profile games that will interest me and decide. I would not have bought Far Cry 3 even if you offer it to me for 1$ if I don’t like the concept. Of course there are times I am wrong and games I tought I would like are not what I hopped for, Fallout 3 is one example and I even bought a Collection Edition.

    Of course I look for better deals and wait for some games to begcome cheaper, but that is only because I am “poor” compared to a lot of ppl who live in developed countries. I can’t spent money on a new release on Steam because the 1$ – 1Euro is screwing me. I can get the same game for less retail.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. OwnedWhenStoned

    This article is particularly well timed for me: I was looking through my Steam library last night and was amazed by the amount of (quite good) games I have on there that I’ve never even installed.

    DIRT3? From Dust? Football Manager 2013?

    Really need to get some gaming in during Christmas.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Dave Cook

    @2 It happens yeah, I’m the same. Got KOTOR for £1.74 ages ago and have yet to play it again, among others. It happens every time there’s a sale tbh. That said I’m pretty busy burning through games to help with article-writing so spending time on my Steam collection is a hard thing to justify lately.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. Dragon246

    I buy digital now. I was all physical earlier, but since vita became my gaming machine, all digital has been the way for me. I am good at not spending too much too. Lucky me :)

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Keivz

    KOTOR, Super Meat Boy, Deus Ex, GTA Chinatown Wars (iOS) are games I’ll probably never play for one reason or another. I don’t feel bad when the game is under $3. Though if it costs more then I always play through (and finish) it at least once. So I’m rather picky about what I buy to avoid slogging through a game I find ‘just ok’ (e.g. Batman: AA was just ok; I won’t be getting AC no matter how low the price gets).

    #5 2 years ago
  6. viralshag

    I think the Steam sales definitely have an impact on some PC gamers perspective of worth. I know more than a handful of people that will purely wait for a new game to be included in a Steam sale before they buy it, just for the sake of not paying full price.

    I do think the regularity and high possibility of any game being in a sale may start to be a problem. PC games are cheap anyway but why pay £30 when you can wait a few months and get it for 25-50% or more off? I think that would be a problem if that became the norm for the majority of people.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. GrimRita

    Most of the games in the sale are old hat now – LFD2 in the bin AGAIN? I mean come on. IMO most of todays games aren’t worthy of a day #1 purchase because they are released unfinished so it makes sense to wait for a complete game and secondly, save a few quid.

    Take Shogun 2. The usual bull shit review scores handed out 8-9/10 but despite all that, the bull shots etc, the game released with a huge list of missing features.

    Multiplayer was broken, your Battle commander thing was broken, no dx-11 support(despite ALL screens/video showcasing this)amongst a whole list of missing features.

    Fast forward 6 months and most of it was addressed. Maybe if developers and publishers stopped releasing half baked shit, gamers might start to see some value in their products at full price?

    #7 2 years ago
  8. stevenhiggster

    I’ve bought a good few games in Steam sales past that I’ve never played. Games that I thought looked kinda interesting but would never have bought at full price, played ten minutes and never went back.
    I now only ever buy games in the Steam sales if they are games that I genuinely wanted to buy at full price but couldn’t afford at the time.

    @7, Totally agree with you there btw.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. GoingPostal13

    Physical products mostly, although I have managed to amass nearly 200 XBLA titles, which frighteningly totals well over a grand – something Microsoft could forfeit on a whim.

    My Steam purchases have been few by comparison, Frozen Synapse and Plants vs Zombies being the best of them. I still prefer boxed games even on PC.

    #9 2 years ago
  10. silkvg247

    Something’s worth is determined purely by what a person is willing to pay.

    For me, even long before steam existed, I’ve never paid full price for a game unless it was something that I absolutely must have right now. Very few games fall into that category.

    Long before steam, we were still able to wait a few mere months for games to drop from £29.99 to £14.99 or even £9.99. Same drop happens on console games, so I’d wait for those too.

    I’ve always waited for price drops. Maybe cos I’m from yorkshire. ;)

    #10 2 years ago
  11. UuBuU

    Steam has changed the way I consume games ~ without a doubt.

    I hoard a lot of games during sales, but I don’t feel like i’m being suckered into spending recklessly at all. The cost is usually negligible and I never buy anything I don’t see myself playing at ~some~ point in life.

    Also ~ having a big backlog of great games means that I’m never desperate for new releases. I can wait patiently for new games to end up on sale for at least 50% off {75% ideally} before purchasing them. There are some rare exceptions ~ but generally ~ paying full price for any game just seems mad to me.

    #11 2 years ago
  12. freedoms_stain

    There are definitely more than a few spur of the moment sale deals that I have never or hardly played sitting in my Steam account. Some I know I’ll get to, some I think “why did you bother with that?”.

    Good piece of advice I read on reddit was that when you buy something through Steam that you’re not 100% going to play right away, buy it as a gift and add it to your inventory, that way if it comes to pass that you’re really never going to play that game you can use it to trade.

    I did that with Legend Of Grimrock, now that game has turned up in a Humble Bundle, so I can have the Humble version to play and the gift version to trade with.

    #12 2 years ago
  13. absolutezero

    I buy games constantly, some during sales, some a full price, some that have been out for awhile and have held their value, others at launch.

    I buy alot of games.

    #13 2 years ago
  14. OwnedWhenStoned

    @3

    KOTOR. I forgot about that as well :/

    #14 2 years ago
  15. Dave Cook

    @14 shame isn’t it? I feel bad about the games I’ve bought but never play. It’s a time issue mostly.

    #15 2 years ago
  16. OlderGamer

    Unplayed games don’t really bother me.

    If I am going to spend 60usd on one game, I would rather spend 60usd on ten games(Steam sale), if I only play 6 or 7 of those ten games, I am still further ahead.

    60usd for one game played.
    60usd for seven games played. With three games left over.

    Still a value. Besides I like the choice.

    When I have money and can keep the new games rolling, I tend to have unfinished and even unplayed games. But when I hit a lean spot moneywise, then that is when I go back and play those games I have sitting around. They don’t take space, and they are nearly free. Toately worth it, even if I only “Might” play them someday.

    Plus with Steam, you can buy a game on sale, and trade it for another game with another Steam gamer.

    #16 2 years ago
  17. OwnedWhenStoned

    @15: Yes, totally. I’ve also got Saints Row to play too.

    shame I’ve run out of holidays…

    #17 2 years ago
  18. OwnedWhenStoned

    @16

    That trade idea is a good one. I never thought of that.

    #18 2 years ago
  19. DSB

    Hoarding or sampling?

    For me those sales are an opportunity to check out games I might not want badly enough to buy them at full price. I don’t believe in piracy, so I probably wouldn’t have ever played a game like Alpha Protocol if it wasn’t for those sales.

    I think they’re brilliant for that. The industry gets to sell games to people who otherwise wouldn’t be customers, and I get to try games I never would have bought without the massive reductions.

    #19 2 years ago
  20. Takeshi

    It’s really a bad habit. I used to be a sucker for sales. And I guess that has only diminished because I’ve bought most games I’m interested in. If I am being honest. :p and also run out of money.

    Now I make it a point to really ask myself “Do I really need this game?” Would I play it? I am still a student so it’s not a good thing if I end up buying too much. Takes a few months for my economy to align itself.

    Recent purchases:
    Skyrim: Heartfire (waited for sale on GMG, am playing it)
    Deadlight (waited for Steam autuum sale, already played through it)
    Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II (Steam autumm sale, still haven’t played)
    Spec Ops The Line (GMG sale, am playing through it)
    Hitman Absolution (GMG sale, mistake since I can’t get myself to finish it)
    Call of Duty – Black Ops II (€42, already played)
    Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (€24, am playing through it)

    My shame consists of stuff like the Tomb Raider games, early Deux Ex, later F.E.A.R games, Prince of Persia franchise, Splinter Cell games. Most games I buy I do play eventually. The culprit really are these sales.

    At one point I divided my games into “completed”, “multiplayer” and then all other games that are singleplayer. I usually define being done with a game when I have beaten the singleplayer. But that kind of organizing was just too stressful. I would look at the tons of games that aren’t completed yet and just feel extremely discouraged.

    #20 2 years ago
  21. Cobra951

    I guess I’m in the minority then. I have never repurchased a game. If I own it already, it’s mine to play by whichever means are currently possible and convenient. I don’t think the publishers are entitled to be paid once more for the same product, unless it brings something substantially new to the table–better resolution, new graphics, modern controls, etc.

    I’ve only recently given in to the notion of digital ownership. For a long time, I was wary of the migration to digital distribution. I’ve felt it’s more akin to renting, or a service, than the outright ownership that boxes and discs imply. Once we give in, we are tethered to these services, and can not function adequately without them. (Imagine if Valve went bankrupt, or were sold to some conglomerate more interested in a quick cash grab than good customer service.) But the convenience is too alluring. Press a few keys, wait a while, there is your new game. No trips to the store. No disc to fish out of a box or insert into a noisy vibrating gadget. No shelf space wasted. So I give in, and hope our benefactors keeps adhering to the same rules.

    #21 2 years ago
  22. Uncontested

    Kind of funny considering I just bought the THQ bundle on Steam for 25 dollars, I own like 4 of the games already but its just STILL too good of an offer to pass up. I got myself Darksiders II, all the Red Factions, Supreme Commander, Homefront, Dawn of War II, Space Marine, and Company of Heroes since my disc copies don’t even work anymore! lol

    #22 2 years ago
  23. shogoz

    I hope you people keep buying digital games cuz I was able to sell a N64 game for 125 AUD recently and plan to keep all my physical copies so they will be worth a fkload as well. I’m seeing some or more of my money back than someone who only buys digital copies of things and with the way the market is swinging I’m guessing the things I sell in the future will be worth even more money. thanks guys :D

    #23 2 years ago
  24. Jerykk

    @23

    You’re going to be disappointed. Most games don’t have any long-term collector’s value, especially these days where the physical copies are basically barebones. You get a cheap case and a tiny manual and that’s pretty much it. With the growth of digital distribution, rarity is a thing of the past as well. In twenty years, it will still be really easy to find games that come out today.

    #24 2 years ago
  25. OlderGamer

    I have sold a few games on ebay over the years. There is very little you can sell that make it worth doing long term. The money isn’t in selling games for a high dollar. The sustainability is in selling games for a very small margin of profit. You make more on shiping and handling then you do on the games themself.

    The only difference is the super rare and super mint games for the collecters. And they are not something you can do regularly.

    I sold a handful of games that sold for around 200usd things like KEO Flying Squerel Squadrin for Sega CD. Was a little over 250usd. But do you have any idea how rare that game was? And it was unopened. The games that sell like that are few and far between.

    Most people are just as happy buying digital downloads for 10usd and playing the game.

    Just becareful not to lose your shirt trying something like this. Gamers far out number collectors. And gamers won’t buy mint and raw over priced games. And collectors won’t be interested in buying average everyday game, and it if ain’t minty fresh, they won’t lik ethat either. I have had perfect games that have spun maybe five time in their lifetimes and the collectors noticed. I couldn’t see anything. He could. Special breed those types.

    I eventualy ran out of stuff to sell. And the stuff I could get my hands on was starting to come out on VC at the time. And I couldn’t move anything for decent profit. I was truely making more money on shipping then I was on the game.

    Times have changed.

    #25 2 years ago