Why are wargames so expensive?
Recently Gabe Newell of Valve/Steam spoke about the price of games and how the sales of games on Steam had changed as prices were cut for promotions. Gabe mentions a few examples, but a striking one was how a promotional price cut of 50% for Left 4 Dead, from $50 to $25 resulted in a 3,000% increase in sales! Should there be lessons in Gabe’s stats for wargame developers and publishers?The article is worth a read for more stats and more interesting speculation, for example, a 75% price drop for a third-party game resulted in a 1,470% increase in sales. So are games to expensive, or is Steam simply an excellent content delivery platform? Perhaps the real reason for the massive lift in sales is that customers see a $25us game as good value so long as most games are released at $50us. If all games were $25us would sales growth be so strong?
Of course, it’s very hard to answer these questions, but one observation I can make, as a customer, is that wargamers have often paid a lot more for their hobby than “regular” gamers. It has not been uncommon for a wargame to release at $60us and to stick at that price for a long time. Why? The standard developer argument has been that wargamers are niche games and as they don’t have the mass appeal they necessarily cost more. I believe this thinking is flawed, and as you’ll see, it seems some publishers agree, but not all, lets take a look at some particularly egregious examples of silly pricing:
- Conquest of the Aegean. Released in 2006. Sequel due this year. Cost – $60us!
- AGEOD’s American Civil War. Released in 2007. More games coming from this developer. Cost – $60!
- Highway to the Reich. Released in 2003. Prequel to Conquest. Cost – $50us!
- The Operational Art of War III. Released in 2006. Cost – $40us.
All of those examples are from Matrix Games, and I really wish I knew why a six year old game that has had one sequel already, and another on the way this year still costs $50! And those prices are for the download only versions!
Thankfully, not all strategy game publishers are quite so stubborn. Strategy gamers have managed to beenefit from Steam, Battlefront, Paradox and Stardock’s Impulse, which all offer deep discounts on their older games. It’s neat to see that if I wanted to encourage a friend to pick up three or four of their classic strategy games they could do so easily for less than $50.
Is Matrix the only “bad” example or are there more high-price holdouts out there? It’s clear that the growth of download game delivery services has benefited wargamers in recent years, but I think we could do with more companies prepared to offer sensible price changes over time. What do you think?