Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Retailers & Bundles

A recent discussion at the Escapist’s forums drifted towards a subtopic which concerns a very old belief of mine, so I commented on it. Replying to forum member j-e-f-f-e-r-s:

If developers and publishers want people to buy their games, the simple solution is to make buying games a more preferable option to piracy. How? Well, there are a number of ways.

Firstly, game prices need to come down. A new game in HMV can go for nearly fifty quid. I could buy the Director's Cut of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and it still wouldn't cost as much as Assassin's Creed. Ask any mother umming and aaing about getting their kid a console for their birthday, and the same answer crops up- "But the games are so expensive." It's easy to see why people resort to piracy, when going out and buying a game is such an expensive investment. I remember when Playstation games cost £25 quid. To me, that was a fortune. Now, it seems like pocket change.

Be careful through, by lowering a product's price, you also depreciate its value in the consumer's mind. They'll think of it as a cheap game. The only real good way to sell wagons of the game at a lower price is also to boost the marketing campaign to make it sure that people get that it's a good game.
In these days of poverty, you could even play it consumer friendly, with directly open messages about we sell the game at this price not because it's bad, but because we want you to have the power to purchase it for the full true experience.
Or something like that.

Secondly, why don't developers include more freebies with their games? Perhaps this may seem a little corny, but people love free stuff. The fact that piracy is a problem shows that by itself. Why not get Capcom to include a free poster, or some stickers, or some badges, or something with Devil May Cry? People love things like that, and last time I checked the Pirate Bay wasn't giving away free Glados posters with its Portal torrents. Things like this may seem inconsequential, but people love to feel like they've got a bargain, and extra goodies help this no end.

Yes, boxing has really been underappreciated. It would have been neat to buy DMC4 in a wooden dark box with metallic bolts which would have looked like it could house Ivory and Ebony.
Imagine buying Tron 2.0 in an Identity Disc, instead of some random square box?

Thirdly, why don't publishers negotiate more with retailers to make buying games a more attractive option? How about if you buy this game, you get a voucher entitling you to 10% off the next title you get in-store? Or why not use 2-for-1 deals to get rid of those surplus copies of Psychonauts you've got in the back room? Hey, here's another idea. You get bands turning up at CD stores to do signings, play gigs and promote their latest efforts right? Why not get developers to actually go out to game stores, demo their latest offerings for anyone interested, and sign any copies of their previous games that people may have brought along? People will have another reason to go to the game store, and who knows, maybe they'll pick up another game while they're there.

I'm going to tell you why.

Bundles are a secret weapon. I literally DREAM of the day you'll build your own basket at a brick & mortar retailer, have access to very low prices for hits the moment you buy more of them.
You should really get out of the shop with rich and complete packages, several games, offers, tickets for online services, significant reductions for future sales, plenty of goods, all that stuff.

Is what I believe in correct? I don’t know, I usually try to get empirical about it as much as I can. The experience here is everybody’s experience. It’s about purchase power.

My belief comes as such:

There’s a lack of faith in bundles.

Real ones. Not just mere associations of one console with some games. I’m talking of genuinely super packs, rich in games and goodies.
Let’s see, for years, I’ve been convinced that a good way to boost games sales was to pack above-average and greater products, of various flavours, into one big box, and sell it at a reasonable price.

Valve’s Orange Box is just an example of that. Oh, true, it does not contain anything really shiningly new, and the fresher element of it is Portal, but all of the stuff inside is of true quality, although a bit old to some extent.
Besides, the price is not exactly as low as I hoped it would be, but relatively speaking, it’s almost a bargain.
On a similar note, Steam’s game packs are equally good. It’s about time.
There have already been several retail packs released over the years, notably for the PC market. Lucas Arts has released a couple of good ones as well, albeit expensive.
In that, there’s only a shy beginning.

Not all is bad though. Eyeing a famous British retailer’s catalogue for a moment, I can spot an example of a good bundle for one of the next-gen consoles, with several good games plus an extra controller, and you do gain around £40.
But damn, that’s only £40 for buying so much, and the choice is, basically, buy it or don’t.

It needs to get further than those moderate attempts at teasing the consumer’s wallet.
Why not make much more of them?
Hell, why not let customers create their own bundles?

Put each game into a category, and thus let people complete their bundles as they wish. The more they buy, the more they can get as bonus content (or the less content costs).
Yes, as you noticed, you can buy a lot of stuff on the Amazons, but you’re not going to get any significant reduction of costs at all, until they decide what can be cobbled at reduced tags: it’s not always interesting, nor occurring that often, and in the end, there’s a stringent refusal to allow the consumers more liberty. In a way, there is no choice, it’s still very oppressive.

That’s not how market is supposed to work. People often forget that as long as there’s someone in front of you, no matter the importance of the store, you can always get reduced total prices, even at Wal-Mart, in theory. It’s just that a very small fraction of the population seems to dare doing it. There’s nothing wrong in that practice and it should not be limited to your small corner shop.

It’s a shame, because I don’t think people hate the brick & mortar shops that much. Internet orders are a great commodity, but there’s no that bizarre spirit which I both find absurd and yet joyful, the mere idea of being an unit of a society wandering down the streets or halls, eyeing booths and other shop windows, letting your curiosity and thirst fly around and take you by the hand towards an item you suddenly compulsively need to possess.
Being part of the flow, notably during those massive purchase weeks, you’re an ant, and you’re happy with it.

Past certain levels, even add bonuses, surprises, whatever.
Why not attach those average games to such packs, for one or two dollars, since you’re not going to sell them anyway one by one? I mean really selling them for near to nothing, instead of trying to lie to consumers and fail to sell them to people who know they’re not good enough?
Why not even make a formula where you register, so then each of the bundles you compose and present at the cashier are garmented with two surprise games for $2-3 more (quality being totally random, but being sure it fits with the ratings boards as far as audiences are concerned), just to make the packaging even more exciting?
You could either go for a total surprise (the retailer would either add games randomly or depending on stocks and how certain games sale) or ask for at least being surprise games belonging to a certain genre.

Sure, it’s going to be hard to get your consumers buying more stuff if they’re stuck to your average mindless and repetitive mob bashing item looting game…

Of course, this could be very naïve, once again (I’m really good at that sometimes). If things were so easy, so simple, and going on so kindly, we’d probably live in perfect a world in fantastic cities, without violence, degradation, nor segregation… hey, that’s why video games exist anyway, no? :)

Or maybe it’s time someone boots such a business, call it venture “Bundle it”, and see if it sticks.

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