Not so long ago when you purchased a game you could be assured that you were receiving all of the available content for that game. At some later date, developers may have offered full add-on missions and maps, or even full expansions for free or for little cost, but you knew that any addition was complete unto itself. Not so in today's market.
The change in marketing strategy had its small beginnings in offering additional content for a price instead of for free, but we all know the "slippery slope" syndrome; if something works, and it did, start pushing the boundaries of what people will accept. And when it comes to pushing profits, it seems there are no boundaries. Not only has the price of DLC skyrocketed, but the quality of it, in many cases, is sub-par. However, because the down spiral has taken place over some years, consumers have slowly been conditioned to accept this as the norm. In 2006, Bethesda tried an experiment by releasing horse armor at the price of $2.50 as DLC for Oblivion, which became a standard joke amongst users for useless DLC. However, that led them to all other DLC, which is now standard practice within the industry.
With the advancement of computer technology, combined with the growing popularity of video gaming, the industry has become very big business. As such, games are now more complex and development costs can become huge. In order to pay for these, prices had to rise, but also ways had to be invented to get more from you than just the base price of the game. In marketing, this is called add-on sales. Another major development was the ability to sell and distribute content online, thus offering an easy and relatively cheap distribution method. A few clicks and the deal is done.
As I said, the beginnings came in the form of paid DLC (downloadable content). People were willing to pay a small amount extra for new missions and maps. This seemed to content everyone for awhile, till someone got the brilliant idea of redefining what constituted DLC. Whereas it used to be complete missions or games, it can now include small bits and pieces such as special weapons, armor, costumes, skins and whatever other stuff the developers can dream up. Depending on the game, purchasing these extras can pack a powerful wallop to your wallet as prices rise ridiculously for small items. Another tactic is to put the base game on discount, but not the DLC, highlighting the fact that add-ons are where the steady stream of money is.
The following is a list of current marketing strategies and various ways your wallet can get raided. If you have a good understanding of how the industry works, you can develop sound buying practices based on your own set of criteria. Then you will never have to feel that you've been taken for a ride.
In times past, a game would come on the market when it was finished. Now a game can be sold months before it is scheduled for release. Pre-selling games has become a standard practice and to entice you, the publisher may offer special content and a small discount only available with pre-orders. In many cases, however, that same content may or may not become available after the game has been out for awhile. There are some disadvantages to pre-ordering, lack of reviews for one, but as a marketing strategy, offering pre-order bonuses seems to work. There are always those who want the latest and greatest the minute it becomes available. However, as happens quite frequently, these same games can be had for deeper discounts fairly soon after release and at some point, a GOTY (Game of the Year) version may be released that includes all of the DLC as well. There seems to be some indication that pre-orders are declining as gamers wise up; especially in light of the plethora of problems plaguing Triple AAA game releases.
When this practice started, many gamers were quite affronted believing they were being ripped off. Many felt that developers had intentionally left important content out of the main game in order to squeeze more money out of you. The rationale being that if DLC was ready on day one, it meant it could have gone into the main game. For instance, The original Metro 2033 had a ranger mode that was included in the game, but cost extra on day one in the sequel, Metro Last Light. This has now become fairy common.
A season pass really translates into nothing more than a promise from the publisher/developer to provide future DLC for their game. So once again, you are purchasing something that does not yet exist. You, in fact, have no idea what you will be getting and season passes do not guarantee that you will receive all DLC ever made for that game. You will receive a certain amount, but will have to pay for any new DLC after the season expires. In other words, you're buying a pig in a poke. The developer could release content that is not very good, but that hardly matters as they have already been paid for it. It's a successful phenomenon that's hard to understand. Season passes can be fairly expensive, almost as much as the base game, but can still be purchased long afterwards, so at least by then the reviews are out and you will know what you are getting.
Microtransactions, in one form or another, have been around for a long time and traditionally get their name from transactions that involve the exchange of small goods for micro amounts of money. However, it's quite recent that the gaming industry has started to introduce this little money-maker into more and more of their games. It is not uncommon to see them in Free to Play games, but now you will find in-game stores cropping up in full price triple AAA games as well. At the moment it is somewhat controlled by paid content not being necessary to win the game, but it remains to be seen how far publishers/developers will try to push this by making it harder to beat the game without purchasing special weapons, armor, abilities and upgrades. This already happens in many Free to Play games and why some of them have been dubbed "Pay to Win". These so-called microtransactions, which started out costing cents, are also now costing dollars. One of the early instances in a Triple AAA game was Dead Space 3 where upgrades could cost as much as $4.99 each. This is on top of the base game being released at $60.00 US. I'm sure you can see just how expensive a game could get. Worse is when you are at a severe playing disadvantage if you do not purchase these extras. Although not quite the norm yet, it is heading in this direction at speed. On the heels of that, are purchasable items that you can only use once within the game and then you lose them.
The latest trend by publishers and developers is to classify games not as a product, but as a "service", which basically means a way to generate a recurring revenue stream from a game. In addition to continually adding content such as DLC, microtransactions, and live events, we are now seeing purchasable loot boxes with random content. This last aspect is taking heavy criticism at the moment with some people viewing this as encouraging gambling. Even governments are becoming involved in this debate.
Some games can be released in various editions. Usually these are the standard vanilla version and the upgraded version that could include soundtracks, concept art and developer commentaries. Naturally, the latter costs more. After the game has been out for awhile, you may get a GOTY (Game of the Year) edition which includes all the DLC to date. You may also see other types of editions that include all games in that series. These are all ways of marketing games as they grow older.
From time to time, publishers will release an older game in a remastered form. Examples of this are Doom BFG and Deus Ex: Human Revelations Director's Cut. The content of the game usually remains basically the same, but graphics, resolutions and changes to fit newer technology are improved. They may also include past DLC. Opinions on whether these re-worked games are always an improvement over the original can be mixed, however re-releasing games and editions such as Goty can have the effect of pushing the originals off the market. They are also priced much higher to reflect today's market. We continue to see more and more of this, although some developers will give deep discounts or free upgrades to people who already own the originals. Bethesda announced a Skyrim remaster and a free upgrade for those who owned the Legendary Edition, but they also raised the price of this current edition in anticipation of the interest in the remastered game.
Okay, this is one that just baffles me, but some people like it. Developers have taken to selling their games in their Alpha and Beta stages. In other words, you are basically paying to test their game before it is officially released. Early access games will be full of bugs as they are still in development. The price is assumed to be lower than what it will be when the game is finished and officially released. More and more early access games are showing up for sale, and why not as the developer can fund development this way. The problem is that many people don't understand that what they are paying for is what they get and that there is no guarantee that the game will actually ever be finished. In fact, Steam had to post a disclaimer on these games as people were raging and demanding refunds. Although there have certainly been some notable successes in this category, the vast majority of these games never get finished and some feel this is a ticking time-bomb waiting to go off. In Oct of 2015, Steamspy reckoned there were more than 700 games on Steam entered in the Early Access category since 2013. Currently, summer of 2017, Steamspy lists close to 1500 entries.
These are renewable fees that you pay to either play Online games or buy additional services. For instance, Microsoft Xbox and Sony Playstation charge a fee that allows you to play multiplayer and also gives you access to various apps, bonuses and discounts, although Microsoft has dropped this fee for Windows 10 users. Online games can use different models. The game could be free, but with monthly subscription fees, or you may be required to buy the starter pack as well as pay the fees. The rationale for this double dipping is that online games deliver a persistent world that constantly needs updating. If you play these Online games on the console, you may actually find yourself paying two subscription fees to play the multiplayer.
As noted, gaming is big business with publishers and developers all vying for their share of the pie. You can spend as little or as much as you want on this hobby depending on the extent of your interest. Distributors have regular sales with as much as 50 - 75% off, so there's really no need to rush into anything with the caveat that the multiplayer portion of a game might be a timely issue. The only real question to ask is whether you will get around to playing that game before the next sale.
At Holiday times, like Christmas, digital suppliers have big sales events. These used to be a time to get the best prices, however, that no longer really applies as discounts are no better than those that can be found weekly and are quite often worse. The only difference is that more of a supplier's inventory is on sale during that time period, which may remind you of forgotten gems. However, tempting as this may be, this is also the time to be more diligent as well. When it comes to relatively new games, if you don't intend to play the game now, you will likely get it even cheaper later as base prices go down. However, keeping base prices high for longer on digital games is the trend now, so you may need to exercise a lot of patience.
Charity bundles have been around for a few years now, but they started with a small group of independent game developers banding together to sell their games in a bundle. The buyers are not only allowed to set the price they are willing to pay, but to also decide how their money is to be distributed between the developers and charities of your choosing. Charity bundles were and are unsurprisingly highly successful. You can pick up a number of games for as little as $1.00. Unfortunately, unscrupulous people were buying these in hoards and trying to re-sell the keys to unsuspecting people for a profit. The industry has now taken steps to curb this. The choice of games are usually from small independent developers and may not be instantly familiar, but as exposure grows, so do the choices. This is a good avenue for people on limited budgets. Some sites have also now added stores in addition to the continuing bundles, which allows them to sell more mainstream games. The prices on those, however, reflect this.
Kickstarter is a way to fund creative projects that might otherwise never see the light of day due to a lack of financing. Artists and creators of all sorts of projects can register on kickstarter, set a financial and development goal, and hope that people will contribute funds to it. Funding goals must be reached before the creator receives any money, but if successful, Kickstarter receives a 5% fee with the balance going to the project creator for development. Quite a few game developers are taking advantage of this method of raising funds and it seems to be fairly successful. Depending on the type of project, contributors might receive a copy of the finished works as well as small incentives to contribute.
Digital distribution of games is becoming more and more popular by the minute. Whereas Steam set the bar on this, publishers and distributors are coming on board by setting up their own online stores in direct competition. People might be inclined to impulse buying as shopping from home is so easy, but digital doesn't necessarily mean cheaper. Generally, slightly older games are where you will see the real price breaks. Online stores give a greater variety and do make it easy to check often for sales and comparison prices.
Region locks exist to enforce restrictions as defined by separate regions. Areas around the world are subject to cultural differences, legal restrictions and age rating differences. This means that a version of the game bought in one part of the world may not be playable in another part. Censored, on the other hand, means that some content may be removed due to regional rating standards. These restrictions apply no matter where you try to buy the game. There is also regional pricing, which can make the game prices very different. The Steam client has been slowly converting to regional pricing for many countries.
On the up side, we live in a time where we are spoiled for choice. Since the upswing of independent new game development, the resurrection of many older games and the growth of charity bundle sites, there's something out there to suit every budget and every taste. Cheap games don't automatically mean bad games. Only big publishing houses have big marketing budgets and many smaller titles might fly under the radar if they can't get the exposure. Even Triple AAA games eventually pass their "best by" date and can be had for a fraction of the original cost.
When I first joined Steam, I thought I was in game bargain heaven. And I was. So I proceeded to buy a lot of them during the sales. So now I have a backlog that will take me two years to play if I never buy another game. At some point I wizened up, observing that over time, games I had bought and not yet played were coming on sale for less than I had paid for them. Not only were they cheaper, but GOTY versions were being released, which included all of the DLC. So before you click that buy button ask yourself if you will play that game before the next sale. Otherwise, think twice about it. Also ask yourself if you are going to play it at all? Research shows that people are buying, but not playing, which is an odd phenomenon pointing to impulse buying, short attention spans and a collector mentality. Games are for playing, not for sitting in libraries collecting virtual dust. You'd be better off spending your money on something more tangible. This is why it is important to have a well-developed sense of your own personal gaming likes, dislikes, and buying motives as this will help you to resist temptation. On the other hand, if you have more money than you know what to do with and it's the actual shopping experience itself that pleases you, go for it.Basics 2 - Taking Charge is an overview of what to keep in mind when buying PC games and how to minimize frustrations and disappointments.