Our latest game, SUPER IMPOSSIBLE ROAD (SIR from here on) isn't in the Steam sale. Here's what I'm thinking with that, in the context of Early Access and discounts in general.
First off, I do love a good Steam sale. I've grabbed plenty of games on them myself and "saved" lots of money doing so. I bought Deadly Premonition this morning for a couple of dollars, knowing full well I might either hate it or fall completely for its janky B movie sub-Twin Peaks charms. What I'm trying to say is that my reason for not putting the game on sale certainly isn't a hatred of sales, nor do I think that they are necessarily damaging to game developers.
Fig. 1 - GODDAMMIT
Behind my reasoning is a belief in what Early Access is, or what it can be if it's done right. Early Access doesn't just mean early access for players to the game, but also early access for developers to their audience. You can gauge opinion on specific features and change plans accordingly. You can fix bugs you might never have found before the game comes out. You can watch people play your game on YouTube and Twitch and hear their immediate unfiltered response. And you can shape your game into something you know people will love.
But most importantly, you can start to build a community around your game. The people who buy and play your games before it launches are early adopters. They're savvy and knowledgeable, and are more likely to share their experiences with others, to evangelize. If we're going to get all businessy about it, this makes them your most valuable customers. Best treat them right.
One of the most important ways we can be fair to early adopters is our pricing strategy. SIR launched at $9.99, with a further 10% launch discount to reward those who have been waiting patiently for the game. I think it's only right that this is the lowest price the game can be bought at before the launch. If I put the game on a 33% reduction during the Steam sale, what message does that send? The message is that they made the wrong decision. Not the right thing to be telling my MVPs, my most vocal customers.
So what happens to SIR's price from here on? Well, there will be no sales during Early Access. When large development pieces like multiplayer and career mode are finished, the price will increase slightly to reflect the value of the game in its current state. Eventually, the game will get a full release, and at this point, the price will increase to the full release price. In this way, the Early Access price *is* the sale. Players are incentived to start playing early and share their (hopefully positive) experiences.
I think this is the best way to price for Early Access, but it's quite possible I'm wrong (it's certainly happened before). As such, I'm not judging those who have done things differently, hopefully I'm simply providing an alternative perspective.
Happy sale hunting!