The internet has been on fire with post-E3 impressions and controversy, and while I’ve been watching and participating in those conversations, there was little worth discussing on my site. My duty has been, first and foremost, to keep consumers informed when an industry ‘wallet predator’ comes along. The sad reality is that the video game industry is built upon unfriendly business models (for the consumer), so I’ve kept my mouth shut, lest I risk repeating the DLC and microtransations Doomsday spiel once again.
But I’ve seen something during a recent Steam sale that needs to be addressed.
This is going to come across as common sense for most, but it’s worth talking about. Why? Because gamers have a tendency to get attached to their favorite devices, services and development teams. There’s plenty of reasons why, the most important being that they want to defend the stuff they have fun with… but there’s another, more personal element they struggle with: How much their favorite entertainment providers care.
“They care about their customers” is a common discussion thread, and is hardly ever as true as people would like to believe.
And no, I’m not trying to say the industry is evil. But facts are facts, business is business, and money is ALWAYS the bottom line. If a model is consumer friendly but proves to be unprofitable, it won’t continue for the sole purpose of putting a smile on your face. So, some models are inevitably dropped, but most get reworked into something else… and that ‘something else’ is typically a better attempt to exploit your psychology.
The good news is that you can prepare to defend yourself against this. How? By learning about the products you’re interested in. Research is VITAL for consumer protection, especially now that impulse buys are just a click or two away.
We’ve been conditioned to jump for joy at the mere mention of a sale. I mean, the flash of excitement that sparks in most is virtually Pavlovian. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, either. Rich or poor, people will ALWAYS chase after a better deal.
And it all comes down to how our brains are wired.
When someone walks into a store and sees ‘SALE!!!’ in monster-truck sized font, they feel compelled to gravitate towards the sign.
Desire is triggered.
Next, their brain weighs the value of sale against the initial price. If the savings are significant enough, they reach for their wallet/purse and make the purchase.
Pleasure is achieved.
Amazing, isn’t it? We feel a rush, gravitate towards our goal, take it, and feel a sense of reward. We then have positive association with sales events, and keep seeking them out or take advantage when they roll around. And why? Because businesses have learned they can exploit sales to trigger a release of dopamine in our brains.
Haven’t you ever wondered why you buy so much useless crap? Dopamine. This chemical is highly linked with desire and reward, so when we emerge victorious at the end of the ‘reward pathway’, we’re more likely to perform the action again, logic be damned.
Steam sales are a perfect example of this. If you game on the PC, chances are good you have more games than you’ll ever be able to play in your life. Why buy so much if you’ll never have the time to get to it all?
The answer is, obviously, that you thought those deals were too good to pass up. Even though you didn’t need those games, you bought them anyway. It felt GOOD, so you acted on impulse. And all in part to dopamine.
Of course, not every sale feels like a win. In fact, some seemingly go out of their way to take advantage of us.
A short while ago, Grand Theft Auto V appeared on a Steam sale for… wait for it… $59.99 (regular price). How could this be? It was advertised as 25% off…
It’s because the ‘normal’ price was hiked up to $80.
Valve says this was an unfortunate glitch, but it matters little in the public eye. ‘The damage has been done’, as they say. People took a ride down the ‘reward pathway’, felt they were being had, and reacted accordingly. Instead of being treated with the pleasure of a dopamine release, their brains registered the experience as painful instead.
But I’m going to assume that Valve were telling the truth, and that this truly was done in error.
This sort of thing happens all the time. Not to this degree, of course, but it happens, and intentionally at that. Pay attention to those PS Store prices. During a good number of sale events, the ‘original’ price goes up. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn Microsoft does the same thing. Either way, if consumers haven’t done their research, the subtle increase goes unnoticed, and they walk away feeling like they got a better deal than they actually did.
If the sales model sounds manipulative, that’s because it is. Again, not because it’s evil. That’s just how business works.
Every major business takes all aspects of human psychology into consideration, and I do mean ALL. Everything from store layout, to product placement, colors and even smell. It’s all diligently researched, tested, and (once fully optimized) implemented.
They’re essentially treating us like lab rats, with their stores as the maze. If the marketing department has done their job well enough, we’ll go through a majority of that maze to get what we want, impulsively grabbing things we didn’t intend for along the way. The end result, of course, is walking away and saying, “Wow! That place is great! I’ll have to go there again!”
You know, as if it were some sort of accident.
Of course, things play out a little differently on platforms like Steam (since there’s no physical property to walk through, nor any physical product to speak of), but it’s the same basic idea.
Soooo… where does this concept of trust come into play? Why do people feel the need to defend their favorite brands? Are the likes of Valve and Rockstar REALLY above doing this sort of thing? Of course not. EVERY company wants your money, and if they can implement changes to get more of it, they will. To believe otherwise is… is just silly. Especially in regards to this ‘console war’. Both Sony and Microsoft are willing to do whatever it takes to get your money… and people find it’s worthwhile to argue which one is ‘kind’ enough to fuck us the least?
The reality of the situation is that businesses only extend their hand far enough across the table to grab and pull you in. Forget about ‘trust’. It simply shouldn’t exist between company and consumer. The only things you should trust are research and your intuition. It’s a money hungry world out there, and everyone wants a piece of yours.
Consumers HAVE to be vigilant if they hope to come out on top, because this sort of thing isn’t exclusive to the video game industry. No, ANY business worth their salt knows the key to success is to keep customers happy, while not going as far as to ‘give the house away’. That’s why it’s so common to see things like the ‘original’ price go up during a sale event: It makes a larger psychological dent on the consumer. It doesn’t matter if it’s a local mom and pop, major retail chain, or even an internet giant like Amazon. They all do it.
The largest weapon in your arsenal is knowledge. With that in mind, remember that most sales are hardly worth the raise of an eyebrow. Some are certainly worth acting upon, but without your due diligence, you stand to lose more than you’ll gain.