Steam: Diplomacy of Digital Downloads over Retail Boxes

Above: That’s a weekend promo for Company of Heroes. Steam is giving it away for 75% off, at roughly 12USD for the complete set of such an epic game (these were the guys who made the first Dawn of War RTS). Many such promotions abound on Steam, a digital downloads and content provider for PC gaming that owns roughly 70% of the industry for digital downloads.

I’ve been on Steam since 2007 and have since bought a number of games from them. The trend however, is that the titles I purchase form part of the weekend promotion deals where I can get high ticket games at half or more than half the price months after they are released. What I can’t get over though is that despite this, the up and coming games I want to play NOW are always from retail, for the sole reason that I’m getting Modern Warfare 2 cheaper off the shelf than from … well … vapor.

I don’t want to stereotype it as a “sad” reason for this, but there is truth to this: it gives retail a reason to exist. By undercutting the price, especially in boxes sold in Asia, it gives vendors a reason to continue selling retail despite the advantage and convenience of going digital. On Steam, Modern Warfare 2 sells for an unwavering USD $59.99. In Asia, the retail of MW2 is pegged at USD $49.00. Same goes for Dragon Age: Origins which retails at USD $29.00 on an Asian box versus USD $39.99 on Steam. This has of course something to do with how Steam’s primary market envelopes the west, with gamers from Asia looking at Steam as a good alternative for early releases. Problem is, in most places in Asia, games are set for “worldwide release” to the credit of the retailers.

As I write this post I have the pages for both Bad Company 2 and Mass Effect 2 pre-orders on my browser. I know its going to cost less on retail and I’ve learned my lesson in purchasing these types of games on pre-order that give you special items or unlocks which in truth aren’t worth the “tactical advantage.” On pre- order, Bad Company 2 gives four pre-set unlocks so I won’t need to grind for these in-game (hence the “tactical advantage”). Mass Effect 2 gives you better equipment to start out with. The truth? It doesn’t matter. I know that the retail edition will ALSO come with its own set of special items (such as the special ships if you buy a Star Trek Online box from Gamestop). And also, because of cross selling efforts done by publishers, I’m able to unlock good items as well from Mass Effect 2 when I bought my Dragon Age: Origins set from a store.

I think digital downloads should take into consideration more savvy promotions despite the price discrepancy in countries outside the US. For me, saving 10 dollars is still a big deal compared to all the freebies I can get in-game. Consider: the average salary of a fresh grad in developing countries in Asia can be as low as USD $15.00 a day.

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