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Your game's on sale too often? Players say that's unlikely!

Here's why it's probably fine to put your game on sale as frequently as you can.
[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert & GameDiscoverCo founder Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]

So this newsletter is going to follow up ona piece on discount strategy for your games that we published back in January. Our claim at the time was “some game makers don’t spend enough time being 100% methodical about discount timings and amounts”, and we particularly focused on the following tactics:
  • Frequency: you should discount your games at every available opportunity. Not necessarily at massive percentages to start with, though!
  • Amount: it’s our view that gradually increasing discounts is the best practice. (You decide how low you want to go, btw. Some go to 60% off over a couple of years, some are more conservative - esp. if the game is being actively developed.)

The second point seems fairly non-controversial, but the first one can sometimes rub developers up the wrong way. It can feel like a large amount of discounts every year is in some way ‘devaluing’ the game in the eyes of players - since devs notice every time this happens.

Our argument has been that discounting is a marketing tactic. Often, different people notice/pay attention to a particular discount each time it happens. In the same way you wouldn’t open a Twitter account and Tweet once about your game, you shouldn’t discount sparingly in terms of frequency.

We can definitely point to popular games that discount pretty often, where we don’t hear people saying ‘that game sucks because it is always on sale’. For example, here’s No Brakes & Curve’s Human: Fall Flat’s 13 discounts in the last 12 months, via SteamDB (all 60%+ off, too!):

And for another example, here’s Pathea Games & Team 17’s My Time At Portia, which had 12 discounts in the last 12 months, as shown over on SteamDB:

These are slightly older publisher-run titles, hence the larger discount percentages. But whatever the case, we do think that 12+ times a year is the right amount to discount your game on Steam [and nearly that often on Switch, if you can], and you’re leaving money on the table if you don’t. But what do the players really think about it?

Luckily, GameDiscoverCo hangs out in a Discord server full of ‘committed player’ types, the kind you might see on messageboards like ResetEra. And we figured that if anybody would have opinions about this subject, they would.

So we asked, and here are some of their anonymous replies when asked: “Do people feel like [repeat discounting] devalues the game in some way as a player?”

Repeated discount frequencies: not bothered?

The replies to this part of the question were clear - discounts are par for the course, and it doesn’t bother players if they see a lot of them: “Not really [since] nowadays games are like on sale every couple of weeks, lol.”

Here’s another perspective: “No, because we live in a system in which almost all goodies have the same strategy - go on sale a lot of times to create an engagement with different type of customers.” And: “I don't think it devalues the product, companies have a very specific internal strategy, and discounts drive the sales for longer than day one.”

There’s a certain sensitivity to discount-spamming at very high percentages, but that’s it: “Maybe if it's one of these games that goes on a 90% sale on the Switch store literally every other week, but otherwise not really.”

Lots of discounts at the same percentage - OK?

In addition, we asked: “Do you notice and does it bother you if a game gets discounted lots of times every year at the same % off - like 30% off lots of times in a row?”

Remember that these folks are the ones who are likely paying the most attention to discounts, btw! Here were some of the comments: “Honestly, the only time it bothers me is when a game is say 30% off, then a month later its a higher percentage off… I'm fine with them increasing the discount, just not when its only been 30 days or less.”

Another point of view: “I feel like there's a lot of variables to consider. I might feel some annoyance that they repeat the same discount without ever making any other change but at the same time that's been welcome when I suddenly decide I want a game, and then [just have to] wait for the next time it's discounted.”

Here’s something that could be read as a disadvantage or an advantage, depending: “A game going on sale frequently doesn't make me feel that it is worth less, but it will make me more likely to wait for a sale before buying it, simply because I won't have to wait long.”

But overall, people say that they welcome frequent discounts, and one of them quipped: “I'm way more annoyed by the Koei Tecmo school of discounts… infrequent and low.”

Pitfalls to watch out for?

Finally, here’s a couple of negatives. Those who want to juice a disappointing launch, be aware that one respondent was bothered “…if I buy a game on launch and then immediately gets a deeper discount. It doesn't happen often, but it makes me feel a bit stupid for supporting the developer. “

And here’s another perspective against overly frequent sales: “One minor thing that might be worth mentioning is that frequent sales have actually gotten me to remove items from my [Steam] wishlist. At some point it just gets annoying to get notifications about sales for a game, if buying that game isn't a priority.”

But we still think the positives of frequent discounts outweigh the negatives. And we believe those who’ve A/B tested alternatives with different titles have seen that - which is why data-centric publishers have been a bit more aggressive about them.

[We’re GameDiscoverCo, a new agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your premium PC or console game? You can subscribe to GameDiscoverCo Plus to get access to exclusive newsletters, eBook and a Discord, plus interactive daily rankings of every unreleased Steam game, and more besides.]

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