OTC: Wildstar Relaunch, Star Citizen Kerfuffle and Steam Pricing

otc

OTC is a multi-topic category on mmogypsy.com

October is a wild month for gamers and not just thanks to so many great new releases in the coming days and weeks. On September 30th Wildstar finally relaunched, now fully free-to-play after its introduction of the CREDD meta-currency earlier in 2015. Even with relaunches like this one, it was apparently difficult for the developers to prepare a successful launch week and anticipate (mega)server load. Since last Tuesday I have logged into the game on several different days, after being greeted by a queue of ~2500 each time. Once I got in and wasn’t kicked by the loading screen, the experience went something like this:

  • Get spammed by 10826452628 achievements
  • Try to move character and write in guildchat
  • Retrieve 50 loyalty rewards from account inventory
  • Character starts moving…and keeps moving
  • There is now one new item appearing in my bag; I try activate it
  • My text appears in guildchat
  • The activated item is gone for good /sadface
  • My character is suddenly bald

Okay I made that last one up, although twitter was full of hilarious character bug screenshots by Wildstar players. Unfortunately the game has been really unplayable for me up to Sunday night, which was the last time I tried doing more than loitering in Illium. I am still subscribed too, so that’s a little meh – even if I totally agree with Anook that launch hiccups are part of MMO launches. But then, so are players whining about launch hiccups, so HANDLE IT!

All that aside, I profess a certain indifference to the whole thing; at the end of the day it’s still the Wildstar I left a few months ago, with bigger plots, more currencies and easier dungeons. Since the latter were not a primary concern for me anyway, it’s not like I am now getting the shot I never got before; I already raided in Wildstar and I have no interest in going back to raids. That’s not to say that I won’t binge-decorate the Manor de Syl sometime in the future but yeah, the novelty is limited in this case.

The Escapist versus Cloud Imperium Games

Space travel geeks and readers of dramatic mainstream gaming websites have been very agitated these last few days, as the whole kerfuffle between The Escapist and Star Citizen developer Cloud Imperium Games (CIG) has moved to second base. In case you’ve no idea what I am talking about, The Escapist has said some pretty accusatory and partly not-so-well-researched things (this is a good summary) about the hiring practises over at CIG and the overall status quo of the now $90 million-project that Star Citizen has become since the initial kickstarter for 500’000 bucks. I understand things have been significantly delayed from the original timeframe but hey, a backing surplus of umm 18’000% (correct me if I’m wrong, am bad at maths) is potentially overwhelming to anyone passionate to deliver the best possible product to their long standing fan base. Just sayin’ – two years are not a long time in AAA terms! I know what I’d be doing with some of that extra cash –

One year-long international backers orgy, for realz!

One year-long international backers orgy, for realz!

I  keep my fingers crossed that all the SC backers out there will still get to see their dream of space travel come alive, whenever that will be. As for The Escapist, the last time I intentionally visited that webpage they were interviewing “game developers” versus “female game developers”, while not exactly vetting some of their interview guests either. Ethics in game journalism (lol) is apparently not The Escapist’s forte, huh.

Understanding Steam Pricing

Last night I posed the below question to my twitter-wiki because I was puzzled over some of the not-conversion-rate-related price differences between certain games on Steam vs. Amazon vs. retail (nothing new, I know). I don’t buy any non-digital games anymore but as several people have pointed out to me in the discussion that ensued, regional VAT regulations play a part and whether we are talking digital-only releases or games that still go over the counter. Another reason as pointed out by Armadillo may lie in physical presence of services or infrastructure.

But these are just some of the reasons, the most obvious one being that you set a prize that people will pay of course. Arguing different markets is the same thing: it’s not a social system whereby I somehow fund gaming for players in low-income countries. I am the first person to sign up for collective insurance models but asking relative prices for digital games is about profit margins.

So looking at some of the bigger differences for Steam games and the absence thereof in certain cases, I guess I can’t realistically comprehend the whole thing as a wanna-be-informed consumer with a limited attention span. It’s all very complicated which is also business code for “because we can” – only sometimes it’s not but then, how would I know? To clarify, I have no issue with some price differences on games and I certainly am not looking to get everything as cheap as possible; games cost money to make. Like most players however, I would prefer to fund the people doing the actual work and not scores of (unnecessary) middle men. That’s why digital distribution is potentially great and it feels wrong when there are price differences of 25% or more.

I realize this is not exactly a new topic, certainly not for gamers living in Australia, but I should probably look into buying from alternative sources like Greenman Gaming more often and consider gifting opportunities via my Steam friendlist, as most guides looking to thwart the Valve overlord suggest. Who wants to be my Steam gift-pal? Considering where I live, I can’t guarantee you get much out of it though!

Optional reading: The weird economics behind Steam prices around the world

12 comments

  1. Having worked in software for over 25 years now and having often been involved projects that have ended up being sold overseas (I have many an internationalization tale), there are non-obvious factors that go into what ends up being the price in a given country.

    Leaving aside local taxation and the need to set a price that the company can live with even if exchange rates fluctuate some… because despite what Tobold might think, you cannot change prices every day… there are factors beyond “because we can.”

    One is the market itself. Pricing is heavily influenced by what the “market price” is for a given product type in a given region. You want to complain about price differentials, we can get together and commiserate about how much less people in China pay for some of the games we pony up for. The market there simply requires that price, but that doesn’t mean the company is going to lower the price for the US/EU. Fairness is a subjective, make believe construct.

    Then there are distribution agreements. To get into a foreign market, some companies will sign distribution deals with a local company who then controls the pricing. Box sales are still a thing and you can bet such deals include agreements that digital sales won’t undercut box sales prices. Or the company may be required to kick back some percentage of digital sales to their local partner.

    Basically, it is complicated and looking at it from the outside and thinking, “Well, they just want to screw me” ignores a lot of possible factors. Except when EA is involved. They are just a-holes.

    1. “Well, they just want to screw me” ignores a lot of possible factors.

      I agree – which is why I asked what potential reasons there can be. My tweet was not ironical, in case you thought so. ‘because they can’ makes up for some and is generally quick to come to mind, as many twitter responses also have proven, but I was interested in “hard” reasons.

      If we strive to be informed about the prices we pay and products we buy, which is something I try to do for anything from my groceries to ikea furniture, it can unfortunately get incredibly difficult to understand all the factors behind pricing. Especially since they are not readily available either and there IS shady stuff going on in every industry, or at least there’s not exactly a great deal of forthcoming transparent info for consumers. So I can see why complaining comes easy.

      And sure, the bigmac is cheaper in China than Switzerland – but then, what the hell isn’t? ;) Another question for you though while you’re in a gracious mood: what’s your stance then on circumventing price differences by let’s say gifting via Steam or using proxy accounts? Harmful practise?

      1. Pricing can be ephemeral, especially with software where the incremental cost per unit is practically nil. I spent some time involved with hardware projects, where cost was actually a factor in pricing, but probably not in the way you think. We had to build a unit cheaply enough that it could be sold for what somebody had already determined was the alleged “right” price for the market. And then once I moved to enterprise software, any relationship between reality and pricing went completely out the window.

        As for bypassing the local prices via whatever means, that is also situational. No company can publicly endorse that sort of thing lest they be seen to be circumventing local laws, taxes, and other possible agreements. But in most cases, the company who made the product will get paid, so unless you’ve found a way to get Chinese prices in Switzerland, nobody at the company is going to be crying too hard about selling in one place versus another.

        I worked for one small company back in the early 90s (so before digital distribution) that had a EU strategy which was essentially full on gray market. We just sold to whoever wanted to buy in bulk and resell and avoided any entanglements. That worked out poorly in the long term and we ended up having to go back and re-do everything in a legit fashion. But when we were tiny, it got us some cash when we desperately needed it and couldn’t possibly go international on our own. It is easier to do so now, but it is still not as easy as you might think.

      2. Swiss cheese and chocolate might be more expensive in China, if it is the real thing and not fake like it is often in the US.

        As for the pricing differences in different countries, look up price segmentation. They try to sell more or less the same product at different prices to different market segments. In this case it’s the Swiss, the Chinese, the Americans, most of them willing to pay a certain price. A price that squeezes out the maximum sum of units sold times price per country.

        As an exercise for the reader, in 5 months, there will be a sale, a humble bundle, you name it, selling the same game for 30% off, ( 60% off if they can reduce the price again). This will hit yet another segment of the market (students, cheap bastards), who now can afford the game. Which will create another junk of money going to the game company. The beauty of it, they didn’t have to create another product for this. The cost of sales is minimal.

    2. @Feliz
      Yeah, that practice makes a lot of sense even if it’s not always beneficial to the consumer on the other hand (to some it may be). And there are in fact Swiss brands and products that are still more expensive inside Switzerland that outside of it rofl. There is stuff going on that is completely out of order, especially where groceries or pharma are concerned (regulations against parallel imports while we’re paying out of our noses) but then, we’re working on it. ;)

  2. I suspect it ultimately boils down to the price consumers in different countries are willing to pay.

    Sitting in merry old Singapore, one got very used to multiplying most prices by 1.25-1.6 to USD, depending on the exchange rate.

    It comes as a breath of fresh air to have an Apple app store and Steam store either giving us directly equivalent pricing, making the relative values the same but the absolute value cheaper due to currency conversion, or someone takes the trouble to do currency conversion and charges us the same absolute value, which I was already paying when buying from NA storefronts.

    Problem is, one still tends to have to wait for the stores to localize… Netflix is -finally- coming to us in 2016… supposedly.

    Oh, and in certain cases, we end up paying more because the consumers are ok with paying more. You should see the prices of MacDonalds’ around here. ;)

    Edit: Though I might be talking to someone in a country with one of the highest Big Mac Indexes around, so urm, never mind. :p

  3. The short answer on price differentials is – to maximise profits. That’s not them being a-holes, that’s them being businesspeople (which is good, because businesspeople stay in business and make more games).

    And I’m guessing Jeromai is a reader of The Economist, home of the Big Mac index :)

    1. I would personally be reluctant to declare profit-maximization to be a ‘good’ thing for all avenues of business, a lot of awful and unethical practices stem from such thinking – but I know what you mean. ;) Games are biz just like any other product.

      1. I tend to view most of the awful practices as actually not being profit-maximising in the long term, on the assumption that you can screw people ONCE but long-term customers are hard to come by that way. In the MMO space, where you’re selling a service, you want to retain customers, not have to keep replacing them any more than you do due to most of them being ADHD lemmings who keep jumping to the next new shiny anyway!

  4. Me and Eri actually just did a podcast on this, or at least partially. I took inspiration from your discussion on Twitter and the PCGamer article you linked. I would have plugged this post as well, but you hadn’t posted it yet!

    Also, I love round up posts like these, nice to see a new one crop up.

    1. Cheers for the info! And yeah, I’ll try do them more often, it’s actually a format I enjoy quite a bit because I can keep it short sometime. ;)

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