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High Prices for Steam Downloads?

Marius Goubert
Games deals, Steam

Steam might have done much to endear themselves to the PC gaming community (such as giving away some great PC games totally free), but according to Lewie from savygamer, what they give with one hand they take away with the other. This revelation came after Gamesavy price compared ten ‘coming soon’ games on steam with the cheapest available retail price. What emerged was that customers downloading from Steam were, in some cases, paying up to 51% more than those buying from across the counter.

Some of the worst examples include:High Prices for Steam Downloads?

Street Fighter IV: £29.99 on Steam and £14.98 retail

Armed Assault 2: £29.99 on Steam and £17.99 retail

Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood: £34.99 on Steam and £14.98 retail

Overlord II: £29.99 on Steam and £14.95 retail

Bionic Commando: £26.99 on Steam and £17.73 retail

As Lewie rightly points out, although Steam is often a great place to find good deals, it seems bizarre that they feel the need to charge customers such an extortionate rate on new releases. Personally, although it’s less convenient and arguably less environmentally friendly, I’d opt for a physical copy of the game any day, and it seems illogical that a direct download should cost consumers more. So over all, although Steam is a still a good place to find special offers, their regular prices still leave a lot to be desired.

However this issue has sparked a lot of debate. Some argue in favour of Steam and state that as a platform for publishers their hands are tied and, unlike high street retailers, they are forced to charge customers full RRP. But is it not true that buying games at their release date is always bad value? If you have an opinion please comment below!

Add a comment18 comments
John  Jul. 25, 2009 at 15:17

This is nothing to do with buying games on release dates - if you look through the Steam games library you'll find there are even worse prices for the Steam version of the games. Dawn of War II is a good example, on release this was selling for 22.99 next day delivered on Shopto or 30 pounds if you walked into a high street store while the price on Steam was a rather pricey 35 pounds. It's a while since the game was released which has meant the price has dropped down to just ten pounds delivered at Play but on Steam it's still 35 pounds.

The first Dawn of War game which is quite a bit older doesn't fare any better, for the cost a single expansion pack on Steam you can pretty much buy the entire collection of the series in DVD format.

One of the angles the retailers seem to abuse digital downloads for being able to have it quickly and hoping you'll be prepared to pay more for it which is fine for ebooks and mp3 albums which won't take long to download but current PC games are hitting around 5GB which for many people won't be a quick download and is going to take a good chunk out of a bandwidth allowance.

Of course it isn't entirely free for Valve when someone does pay for the Steam version of the game as Valve need the capacity to host the game content as well as the bandwidth for downloading. However if you buy a copy of the game in the shops you get exactly the same entitlement as buying it on Steam so you can if you wish download it from Steam if you misplace the disc so in the long run those who purchase the disc can also use up the bandwidth. In short, I don't think there's any justification for the high price in Steam retail games as it's clearly a good money making exercise for Valve - if it does genuinely cost that much more (which I doubt) then there's hardly any point putting these games up for sale.

The strength of Steam for purchasing games isn't the big retail games for me at least where I can buy them cheaper elsewhere but more in the small independent games that may never have seen the light of day without Steam. This is what I normally purchase from Steam, the games are normally priced reasonably and can often offer something a bit different to the mainstream.


The Noid  Jul. 25, 2009 at 16:22

Where can you get Call of Juarez for less then £15?

Emma Kelly  Jul. 25, 2009 at 16:25

@The Noid, not sure of the source of Lewie's info from which this article was based. But the cheapest I can see it online is £22 @ The Hut.

John  Jul. 25, 2009 at 16:28

Either the original article got it wrong or the author of this one did, if you check the link you'll see Bound in blood shows as £22.73, not £14.98 as it is here

Chris  Jul. 25, 2009 at 17:49

Personally I find this to be a trait if digital distribution in general, not just Steam. If anything, Steam are probably one of the cheaper platforms when you consider the weekend deals and other offers they put on, which are rather good at times. That being said, it doesn't help that games seem to just stay at RRP (or as near as possible) for as long as possible, whereas normal retailers, especially online ones, will often begin to drop the price quite shortly after launch.

For example, a few recent-ish games that I've been after for a while:

Far Cry 2
Steam - £19.99
Retail - £8.89

Steam - £16.99
Retail - £9.99

Crysis Warhead
Steam - £16.99
Retail - £9.95

Steam - £24.99
Retail - £14.99

Tomb Raider Underworld
Steam - £22.99
Retail - £10.97

Some pretty whopping price differences there. I can understand why Steam's prices are so high; they're dictated by the publisher/developer, rather than retailers and distributors who have the advantage of bulk-buy discounts and such, and seeing as with digital distribution there's no stock taking up space that needs to be sold or cleared out, they're basically free to do what they want with the price. It just seems a shame that, by forfeiting the disc, manual, box etc you're often made to pay more in the first place.

Lots of people view Steam as a convenience and are happy to pay the extra. That's their choice, but it seems crazy to me, especially considering that digital distribution is becoming more common and more popular. Eventually we'll see games only being released by digital distribution and it'll be a case of "pay up or don't play". I don't think we, as gamers, should allow ourselves to be taken advantage of like that - the digital distribution platforms and the publishers need to know that we're not going to pay more just because they think they can make us do so.

But as I say, this isn't just Steam's fault, look at Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network Store and you'll see inflated prices for a lot of stuff, especially downloadable content that you simply can't get on a disc anyway. Games like Gran Turismo 5 Prologue are (or at least were) £25 to buy from PSN, whereas you can get the physical copy for under £15. Again, not a problem if the physical copy is available to buy, but what happens when one day, it isn't?

Personally, I'll continue to speak with my wallet; I'll buy a game from the cheapest place I can, I'm happy to wait a day or two for it to arrive if it means saving £5-10.

John  Jul. 25, 2009 at 18:23

"Some pretty whopping price differences there. I can understand why Steam’s prices are so high; they’re dictated by the publisher/developer"

I'm not so sure they are, from what I've read it's Valve that force the prices up on third party companies selling through Steam hence they tend to be the highest difference between retail and download.

I do agree that Steam isn't the only guilty culprit here, in fact there's few (if any?) download systems which offer consistent value for money hoping that people will pay equivalently more for the convenience of a digital download. I'm reading through a large series of books at the moment which I'm unlikely to read again so e-books would be ideal but laughably some of them are twice the cost of getting the paper version posted and they can't be resold either.

Like you I vote with my wallet, when Steam put on special deals I often snap them up same goes with Amazon and £3 pound albums to show I will buy download items when they are priced correctly. Otherwise if it's the same cost for the physical item and the download, or the download is just slightly cheaper I'll take the physical item - I prefer having a CD or DVD anyway.


Malcom  Jul. 25, 2009 at 19:31

Publishers/developers set the price on steam, I don't think valve forces the price up but they do add VAT.

If I recall right there was a news story about european retailers getting upset over digital downloads and that caused a spike in prices most noticeably on steam. One specific result of this is I saw farcry 2 go from a sensible-ish £27 (close to it launching) up to £35. Ever since we've seen crazy prices of £35-£40 (when arma 2 launched it was £38.99 compared to about £20ish retail)

Ubisoft seemed to trigger it now Activision and Co yanked the prices on their games up to absurd prices. If you ask me its rather suspicious stuff that that happened and now Activision is yanking the price on Modern Warfare 2 up to £55 and other studios like THQ and Ubi are following suite taking note of "conversion rate" (even though the rate of £1.6:$1 is roughly the same as the same as previous years).

Surprisingly EA HASN'T/ISN'T yanking its prices up, also surprisingly EA aren't present on steam in the UK, yet they are everywhere else around the world, what gives? Steam is the ONLY place to get their games Securom DRM free.

Its not just steam these prices are creeping up on, head over to Impulse (stardock) They currently have a preorder promo on redfaction guerrilla USD price $40, UK price £35, if you try and preorder it tells you its £35 and it tells you the price in USD too (works out just shy under 60 dollars), take a look for yourself. I don't see how they can get UK customers to preorder/buy when its physically saying $40 in one press release and its show you you are paying 60 dollars.

If you ask me I call price fixing BS.

I suppose we can be glad we aren't in main land europe though as most of their prices suffer a huge mark up using the euro = dollar method of conversion. In some cases its a massive 150% mark up over retail.

Mike  Jul. 25, 2009 at 23:20

Well for one you have to add 15% to that $40 for tax/vat (back to 17.5 1st Jan) but that only makes t $46, then theres the possability that servers cost a tad more in whatever country their in, the rest is extra profit made from UE/UK users.

Also I brought FUEL online around a month ago for 17.99 a day before release and its £35 on steam, since when are PC games more than £30.

Mike  Jul. 25, 2009 at 23:23

FUEL is now down to £30 on steam, but is £20-23 on shopto.net

Andrew  Jul. 26, 2009 at 08:49

Possibly the only thing that is actually cheaper here than it is in the US and you're complaining ?
If the yanks found out how much we pay for our games compared to them, they'd be burning games executives in the streets. For instance, Amazon US has the Sims for $42.49 whilst Amazon UK has it for £23.70. At current exchange rates, we pay £2 less than our American cousins, when was the last time you heard that ?

Steam is US-centric so it has to work on US prices. If Steam started doing more than one price to reflect local markets, imagine the uproar that would spring from the other side of the pond.

pEtPiG  Jul. 26, 2009 at 10:02

Guys, who ever told you that Steam's prices will be lower than retails ?
We better start to learn how to do our homework before buying anything from them !

Am I missing something ?

John  Jul. 26, 2009 at 14:52

I think you're missing some common sense - I've read the Steam link but I can't see the relevence in this thread. Have you even read the article? It's not that Steam's prices should be lower than retail, it's that currently it can cost over four times as much to buy the game through Steam than buying the DVD version.

For a shop bought game it needs a dvd, box and instruction manual, it needs to be shipped to the seller who then takes their cut and then the game needs to be packaged up to go to the buyer if bought online. Steam has none of this, there's no middle man at all, no instruction manual, no box, no disc, packaging or delivery. While these don't account for a massive percentage of the final product's cost it's not free either. It's not free for Valve to host or transfer the content either but the physical versions of the game can be downloaded so Valve can't be losing out there and often PC games need a heck of a lot of patching out of the box so the store bought versions are still going to pound Valve's bandwidth.

Hence it's absurd to be paying 50% more even on new releases for the Steam version of the game which costs less.


Malcom  Jul. 26, 2009 at 17:51

I agree with John here.

Titles USED to be cheaper on steam by at least a quid, these days they have a hefty mark up.

Considering steam requires a decent length wait to get the game you bought (since most new games these days are 7gb and higher) and you don't have any physical box or manual, etc, it SHOULD be cheaper.

billybob  Jul. 27, 2009 at 02:30

dont forget some of these retailers have overstocks they will wanna deplete for games which are bought in on a non return basis which is generally why you see lower prices....that and buying in bulk and also maybe the supplier has stock they need to get rid of to the retailer......which doesnt apply to digital games where the price wouldnt change to them unless they go for bulk promotions

John  Jul. 27, 2009 at 16:50

Don't forget this is coming direct from the supplier! There is no middle man at all to 'buy bulk' from and digital games are sold on a non-return basis.

billybob  Jul. 28, 2009 at 01:14

john, what i was meaning to say was that sometimes the actual supplier itself could be doing its own promotion like say for instance EA and in turn offering lower rates enabling steam to keep their profit margin and reduce the game in price. this does happen occasionally

billybob  Jul. 28, 2009 at 01:17

also to add, surely if these games are purely digital they dont need to pay the supplier unless theyve actually been downloaded and paid for? are you trying to say they buy an amount of downloads and then if nobody buys them they are left out of pocket? or otherwise?

Tim Timmington  Mar. 31, 2010 at 10:51

I'm quite happy for steam to be more expensive.
When it's cheaper than buying in a shop, the result will be shops closing.
Which I really would prefer to avoid.



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