A reader bought a yearlong subscription to Rift for $120 the day before it went on sale for $108.
Now, I know it’s only a matter of $12, but that’s not what irked me.
I am curious to hear your particular take on whether or not a company should offer this type of incentive before or after a large portion of their player base has to choose to re-sub or not.
Obviously, I am biased because I re-subbed regardless of the price…but it doesn’t make me feel very special (customer from day one, etc, etc) that I had to pay more.
The economic term we want here is price discrimination. That is probably a prejudicial term in modern American parlance, since “discrimination” has strong negative connotations beyond the simple denotation of being able to tell things apart. And as demonstrated, those in the (even slightly) more expensive market segment will tend to have negative feelings about this price discrimination. Did I tell you about the time that I bought an item on a good Steam sale the week before a GREAT Steam sale, or when I picked up Anivia in LoL two weeks before a permanent 50% price drop?
Barring extreme outliers, no, you do not think price discrimination is immoral, nor do you think it should be illegal. Otherwise, you would already have complained about coupons, which are a form of price discrimination. People who with relatively high values of time to money clip coupons, while those with time as a limiting factor are less likely. You are familiar with “time vs. money” debates in gaming. You would also have protested whenever games become cheaper over time. I bought Borderlands for $50, with all the launch bugs, while you get it patched and with all the DLC for $7.50, while they’ll charge me $7.50 just to add the DLC? Well, yes, I got the game a year earlier or so, and here is a different form of time-money trade-off.
There are shadier and more difficult ways of engaging in price discrimination, but “over time” is the most consistent one in gaming sales. Start at $50-60, sell as many as you can. Wait. -$10, sell as many as you can. Wait. Repeat. If StarCraft 2 is worth $60 to you, you can buy it anywhere at any time. If it is worth $40 to you, you will be waiting to find a good sale like I did. If all three versions of it together are worth $40 to you, you will be waiting to get a boxed set in 2016. Everyone can pay what they like, which is good for the company and lets everyone have it. Eventually.
The downside for the company is that you cannot plausibly keep doing it without affecting sales. If no one anticipates the sale, it will have no negative effect on your full-price sales and is pure, successful price discrimination when you sell to lower-value customers. Next round, they will anticipate the sale, and that will reduce your initial sales. This is generally a problem with sales: you offer a discount to people who would have paid full price. (Reference also the problem in government: subsidize X and you are mostly giving away money to people who already X rather than drawing in new X.) Price discrimination-over-time also gets around much of this because the people who will pay full price want it right now. They might buy the collector’s edition!
On one hand, if you were willing to pay $A for the game, you lose nothing when the next guy gets it for $A*0.9. But you are a primate, so you feel opportunity costs, you feel cheated, you want yours. That’s okay. We’re all mammals here. It’s a problem we’re all dealing with. Our brains are built to handle this kind of thing.
Logically, you know there must be some sort of cut-off where the price changes. If the company says, “And we’re giving you back 10% if you bought it the day before the sale,” the people who bought it two days ago will now feel worse. (And the company profits nothing for rewarding that past behavior in a way that does not incentivize future behavior, unless this makes people more likely to buy their games in advance of sales.) Every exception just creates a new line.
The hard part is ignoring sales on things you already own. “Hey, that is a GREAT deal on that pack … except that I already own all but 2 of the games in it that I want.” Other option: GIFT PACKS! Here, let me buy ANOTHER friend Plants Vs. Zombies. Because that’s a really great game.