The Steam Summer Sale is in full swing and, as with every year it seems, that's meant a whole bunch of sites and industry luminaries leaping into the discussion regarding whether or not these semi-regular massive sales are any good for the industry. Do they engineer situations where consumers simply wait for the next Steam Sale or Humble Bundle to come along? Does it matter that we all wind up with enormous backlogs filled with games we'll never have the time to play? Are the games we buy devalued in a broader sense than simply the economic?
I await the Steam Summer Sale (and Christmas bonanza too for that matter) with a small degree of trepidation. The allure of the phrase 80% off is powerful indeed and I fear for my bank account. You'd think that working for a deals website for half a decade would have saved me money, but in truth it's just crumbled my resolve because every time I see a good deal, my inner Dealspwny nudges me into buying it. I know that I'm not alone in this -- if there's a game you've been um-ing and ahh-ing about for some time and suddenly it gets a fat price drop for eight hours in a flash sale, that's often enough. The fear of missing out on a good deal can sometimes be the most powerful purchasing incentive.
But I'm not sure that's a bad thing. It's certainly not a bad thing for us consumers. A phrase that I often hear around this time of year is "meaning to buy" as in "Oooohhh, I've been meaning to buy that for ages!" I myself picked up several games in the Steam Sale that I've been contemplating for a while, titles like Far Cry 3 and Prison Architect. And it's not that they were terribly expensive before, it's just that given the state of my timetable, given that these days playing games simply for fun (so without an agenda for review or video purposes) is relatively rare, I always found an excuse not to buy them.
I might never play them, which would be a shame. But I don't hold with this notion of that being a bad thing either. We buy books and films and boxsets that we're never going to read or watch. Not out of any particular choice, just because we never get round to it. I don't know anyone who rigorously plans out when they're going to consumer the various bits of art and entertainment that they've amassed. Life happens, moods change, and many prefer to be product positive in that respect. It's a case of "Well, it's a fine game, at a fine price, and I might get round to playing it at some point." I love having a large game library, even if I don't necessarily find time to finish all of the games that I start, and often on a rainy day I'm just not sure exactly what I'm looking for to play. Those are the days when it's a nice surprise to find something that you bought in a sale months before nestled in amongst your regulars.
And let's not pretend that this only happens in the games industry. Semi-regular discount ales are one of the pillars of the retail industry. It's why the high streets are packed every January, it's why Black Friday is a thing. Let us not forget either that we're lagging behind as an entertainment industry in terms of consumer experience. Across books, music, and film/TV, there's been an embracing of digital media, of progressive payment structures, of orienting service and delivery towards the needs of each medium's respective audience, embracing convenience and competition, and seeking to lessen the appeal of pre-owned and pirated materials through efficient digital services and pricing models filled with choice. That the games industry seems so reluctant to change means that sales such as these embody one of only a few ways in which we consumers can make the system work for us.
It's important to note that Sony's PlayStation Plus (and, slowly, Games With Gold) is the exception to that, of course, and we never hear anyone complain about people saying, "I would buy this but instead I'll wait until it comes up on PS Plus."
There an argument to suggest that sales such as these are unfair on day one buyers. But that's absolutely ridiculous and sounds suspiciously like an argument fabricated by creators and sellers on behalf of consumers. I've never regretted paying full price for a game that I really, really wanted bad enough to buy on day one. If you're cautious, you wait for reviews and user impressions and price depreciation. The argument against sales on behalf of day one buyers disappears the minute you remember that we exist in a world purposefully engineered towards pre-orders. If you're excited/confident/stupid enough about a game that's not been released to pick it up immediately at full price, no-one else is to blame for that. You're paying to be amongst the first to play the game, no-one can tell you whether that's a matter of excitement or imprudent impatience. I've pre-ordered Destiny so I can be one of the first people playing it, so I can be a part of that game's launch and its journey. By the time that ends up discounted on PSN or in a bundle sale on PC, I'll have been merrily enjoying it for some time. For games that's absolutely worth paying for, but that changes from game to game and from person to person.
Personally, I love sales such as this. As well as games I've been on the fence over, I end up picking up games that I genuinely never would have done otherwise. I don't buy used games any more, that money tends to get spent on GOG and Steam. There are unread books on my shelves at home, there are films in my disc-cases and on my hard-drive that I still haven't gotten around to watching, and there are games I own that I might never play. Is that a sad thing? Perhaps, but only insofar as none of us have all of the time in the world. At some point we have to acknowledge that we can't see and read and play everything. But if you love these mediums and the fruit that they bear, there's no reason not to try and sales make that a bit easier to be honest.