I woke up this morning to the beautiful news that Polygon had published yet another article about how bad Valve really is, and how developers are suffering because the Bellevue-based giant doesn’t give them the support they deserve (among other things). Sipping a cup of coffee and closing the last new casino video game release I enjoyed last night, I sat in front of my desk reading the article, pausing from time to time to re-read certain paragraphs, as they seemed to have been written in jest, or by someone who had a bone to pick with a certain videogame distribution platform (seriously, there’s a part where the writer says the people they interviewed were “pissing themselves in fear” and wished to remain anonymous, presumably because Valve would cut off their store access or something like that).
Then I got to the part where the writer talks about regional pricing, and says that developers are forced to “discount” their games on certain regions, unless they choose to tinker with regional pricing themselves. Could it be that Polygon, a well known website in the gaming community, was telling me that setting a regional price equals discounting your products, and that Valve is evil because they dare suggest regional prices to developers? Of course not, I thought, pausing yet again to re-read the paragraphs that dealt with this matter. I was wrong, dear reader, dead wrong. Polygon was indeed saying that regional pricing is not acceptable and by default, developers should set one-to-one dollar conversions.
Now, I could understand this paragraph if it was a point made by an indie developer from a first world country who’s just starting out in the business and has no clue about the wider world. What I can not (and will not) understand is how a big outlet like Polygon can do this. The full piece seems to be intended as a sort of “wake up call” to PC gamers who (according to Polygon) think that Valve is a “good guy” instead of a big corporation out to make money. Interestingly enough though, the writer goes after one of the things that separate Steam from the other big download stores on PC: regional currency support (and specific pricing for countries with less purchasing power). So the feature that is obviously geared towards turning lower-income regions into viable markets is actually bad according to a few unnamed developers (and Polygon’s writers). Does this make any sense to you, dear reader? It sure doesn’t in my head.
As someone who was born and raised in Argentina (a country that often suffers from economic crises, and where the average monthly salary is about US$550), I find that asking for a 1:1 dollar conversion on videogame prices in poorer regions is not only a highly ineffective marketing strategy but also a great way to turn these regions back to the peg leg and eye-patch of software piracy. For reference, according to most websites that deal with these matters, the average monthly salary in the USA is about US$3000. I think that most readers can quickly do the math and realize why regional pricing is a good thing after reading that. Would someone from the USA pay US$250 for the base edition of a new game?
Interestingly, this has already been covered by other big outlets such as PC Gamer, who published an in-depth article examining regional pricing and why it’s an effective marketing tactic in lower income regions back in 2014. I encourage readers to click on that link and peruse the article with their own eyes, as it’s a great source of information, even though a few things have changed since then.
So no, Valve is not an evil corporation because it offers the possibility of adding regional pricing to all the games they sell on their store. They do it for a good reason, which is because it helps both the developers trying to make a living with their work, AND the customers who wish to be able to afford a new game from time to time. This doesn’t even mean that developers are forced to follow Valve’s pricing guidelines (as implied in Polygon’s article), since there are many publishers who follow a 1:1 USD conversion strategy on most markets.