We’re one week into Valve’s annual Steam Summer Sale, and as is the case every year, there have been some pretty spectacular deals. I’m not a PC gamer in the slightest, but I went out and nabbed a wired Xbox 360 controller so that I could buy The Stanley Parable, BIT.TRIP Presents… Runner 2, and the recent Tomb Raider reboot at insanely low prices.
My purchase of Tomb Raider is especially interesting, because it’s money that Valve got and Microsoft missed out on. I had planned on picking up Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition for the Xbox One at $29.99, but a day later Microsoft had adjusted the price to $35 and I paused just long enough for the Steam Store to offer a much better deal — $4.99, to be exact.
We’ve seen some better pricing from Sony, but good deals are few and far between. And Nintendo? Wii U games can be found at retail for very low prices, but you’d think each game was retailing at $59.99 by looking at the eShop.
It makes me wonder — will console gaming ever reach that “digital future” we hear so much about?
I hate to keep beating up on Microsoft, but a prime example of how consoles lag behind PCs on the digital front is the company’s Deals With Gold promotion. Every week, Microsoft selects some titles to discount for Xbox Live Gold subscribers. This week’s discount is 17% off of Ryse: Son of Rome, an Xbox One launch title that can be had for $44.99 on Amazon. Microsoft’s discount dropped the game from $59.99 to $49.99 — not great. Unfortunately, it’s par for the course as far as Deals With Gold is concerned, and a visit to the Xbox One subreddit can tell you how gamers feel about the sale.
It comes down to competition on the digital front; the fact that Steam has some and the digital stores on the consoles (save for Sony’s) do not. Multiple retailers compete on prices for digital PC games. Meanwhile, console makers set the prices in the digital stores on their own respective consoles without outside forces affecting them.
Add the fact that Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo feel obligated to please the retail partners that sell their systems and games, and you start to see why all of these companies aren’t in a big hurry to lower digital game prices.
So why promise a digital revolution, then? Why tell us the future is disc-less game switching? Why lead us on with promises of game sharing? It’s clear that many console gamers want that future; maybe not in the way Microsoft had originally laid it out, but they want some version of it. The problem is, those same gamers want the Steam Store PC game buying experience on the console. They want flash discounts. They want a big summer sale with outrageous price cuts. They want to know that they’re probably getting the digital version of a game cheaper than the disc-based copy. And Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo are all coming up short.
So will we ever reach that optimal digital future on home consoles? If things stay the way they are right now, I can say “no” with some conviction. If one of the console makers is willing to go against the grain and risk short-term stability for long-term success, though? Who knows.