Positech Games' Cliff Harris has warned developers of the insidious dangers of normalising huge price reductions through frequent sales.
In a post on his personal blog, Harris claimed that gamers are, "being played... every time [they] see the word SALE." He never mentions any platform by name, but digital services like Steam have become well known for offering deep discounts, even for relatively recent titles.
"This is a big psychology trick that is being used to siphon money from gamers, and it's a bad thing," he said. "And if we can - and I think we probably can't - we should stop it."
Harris, who worked at Lionhead as a programmer before forming his one-man studio in 1997, listed numerous reasons for his stance, starting with the impact sales have on game launches. Many people will choose to wait for the inevitable discount, he argued, depriving the developer of revenue and - if it's a multiplayer title - the game of much-needed players.
He also expressed concerns over the way 75 per cent discounts "devalue" the games. When a product costs $5 or less the consumer is less invested in their decision, and will ultimately be less discerning in what they buy, and invest less time in trying to understand the product. The latter point is perhaps the most relevant to Harris, who makes the esoteric strategy series, Democracy.
"We don't 'invest' money in them, so we give up and discard them at the first time we lose, or when we get confused or stuck. Some games are complex, tricky, hard to master, take a while to get to the point at which it all makes sense.
"I understand that varied price points to suit different gamers is good, I understand the reasons for sales being economically efficient ways to maximize global utility. But this implies utility is derived from the product. We are no longer selling products, we are selling discounts. The endorphin rush is now from getting a bargain, not the fun of actually *playing* the game. This is bad."