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Steam sale likely to hit today - but is it damaging for games? EA man says yes, Valve man says no...

Rumours abound that Steam's fabled Summer Sale will kick off later today, mainly thanks to a hastily retracted developer comment pounced upon by the Steam community. Whether it's today or any other day soon, it's obviously great news for us gamers as there's almost always a metric shedload of games on offer for ridiculously cheap prices. But where there's a winner, EA reckons there's a loser too. And definitely not because Steam's stranglehold on the market is making it hard for EA's rival Origin to take off. Nosiree.

David Demartini is the head of EA's Origin service. And he's most certainly not going to be announcing any 75%-off sales on his service any time soon. Why? Because he says it damages publishers' intellectual properties (the value of their brands), cheapening them and giving customers a huge reason not to buy new games at launch. He told GamesIndustry:

“We won’t be doing that. Obviously [Steam] thinks it’s the right thing to do after a certain amount of time. I just think it cheapens your intellectual property. I know both sides of it, I understand it. If you want to sell a whole bunch of units, that is certainly a way to do that, to sell a whole bunch of stuff at a low price. The game makers work incredibly hard to make this intellectual property, and we’re not trying to be Target. We’re trying to be Nordstrom.

“When I say that, I mean good value, we’re trying to give you a fair price point, and occasionally there will be things that are on sale you could look for a discount, just don’t look for 75 per cent off going-out-of-business sales.

“What Steam does might be teaching the customer: ‘I might not want it in the first month, but if I look at it in four or five months, I’ll get one of those weekend sales and I’ll buy it at that time at 75% off. It’s an approach, and I’m not going to say it’s not working for Valve. It certainly works for Valve; I don’t know if it works as well for the publishing partners who take on the majority of that haircut.”

Above: The Origin homepage. No '75% off' sales banners to be found here, folks

It's a fair point, but one that Valve was having none of when the point was made to them at Develop. Valve's Business Development Chief, Jason Holtman, reportedly told Eurogamer:

"If this were all about a cheapening and somehow lessening the money out there or somehow customers don’t want to pay any more, they think everything should be like a used car lot – sticker price is not the real price – you’d feel that and you’d get real reinforcement of that. We don’t see any of that. We see people buying a lot and enjoying it and playing a lot.

"For instance, if all that were true, nobody would ever pre-purchase a game ever on Steam, ever again. You just wouldn’t. In the back of your mind be like, okay, in six months to a year, maybe it’ll be 50% off on a day or a weekend or during one of our seasonal promotions. Probably true. But our pre-orders are bigger than they used to be. Tons of people, right? And our day one sales are bigger than they used to be. Our first week, second week, third week, all those are bigger."

Above: The Steam homepage, immediately showing you an offer in a third of the screen

Steam has some 40 million users and it's worth noting that digital sales are not counted in the UKIE sales charts so it's always difficult to tell exactly how many sales there are when a new game launches. Nonetheless, the excitement around new games on the service is clearly massive. You've probably heard people say 'I've got it pre-loaded on Steam', so we don't doubt he's correct. Holtman continued:

“That points out that what’s happened with those sales is, you’ve probably caught somebody and introduced them to a game when they haven’t had it, and they’ve played it, and the next time the franchise comes out or the next move from that publisher, the next move from the partner, they’ve just become more avid gamers."

"Discounting is one small function of what we do. It's one small function of our market and our store. It certainly doesn't seem to be anything that cheapens IP. "We do it with our own games. If we thought having a 75 per cent sale on Portal 2 would cheapen Portal 2, we wouldn't do it. We know there are all kinds of ways customers consume things, get value, come back, build franchises. We think lots of those things strengthen it."

So who's right? Obviously the consumer is going to side with the service with the cheapest games, but surely even developers can benefit from the promotion that comes from a price cut on Steam. It's extra publicity on a global platform, a lower price could encourage people to impulse buy and perhaps even secure future full-price sales as a result. Either Steam's actually doing the games industry a huge favour with its promotional price-cuts, or everyone should use Origin because... it's not having any big price cuts any time soon. Hmmm...

Justin Towell
Justin worked on the GamesRadar+ staff for 10 whole years. Imagine that. Now he is a contributor, specialising in racing games, retro, and Sanic.