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Double Fine on Steam’s European Pricing

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Last night, Double Fine employee Nathan reported to Steam users on the Stacking Forums that Double Fine has taken a look at how they’ve priced their games in Europe and have consequently changed the way they’ve priced their European offerings. 

Instead of offering games at the usual $1 = €1 rate, Double Fine will adjust based on exchange rate every so often and add a VAT level of 20%.

Like currencies, VATs do change over time and differ from country to country. There are also some additional fees associated with currency conversion, so we just picked what felt like a nice round number that’s a reasonable approximation of the VAT in various places and went with 20%.

This regional pricing scheme will affect all past, present and future Double Fine titles sold through Valve’s ginormogantically popular digital distribution service. Especially Stacking. But especially Psychonauts.

It seems like Double Fine may have made a bigger impact on the industry than they set out to again, though. This is probably the first time a company has openly spoken about pricing on Steam’s European markets transparently. 

For years, people have believe that Steam is the one who sets the regional prices in their store, putting them at fault for games being launched at a $1 = €1 rate, but the ease and speed with which Double Fine quickly readjusted, and made plans to continue readjust accordingly, interrupts that line of thinking more effectively than a laser-shooting sports car in Ancient Greece.

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Back in 2008, when Steam first started selling titles in Euros to gamers who don’t freak out over exposed body parts in a major sporting event, many European Steam users found themselves suddenly paying much more for games that they were getting at the same prices as North American citizens were paying because the only change in prices had been the currency symbol at the start of the price and not the numbers following. European gamers ended up paying an extra $10 USD for no real reason at all.

Naturally, the change resulted in staunch opposition. It resulted in a new Steam Group, because that kind of protest always works, with 26,500 members to date and, soon after, a website dedicated to exposing the flaws of digital sales (which has since turned into more of a general news site with an emphasis on positive Valve/Steam news coverage). So, in short, people were upset with Valve about it.

It didn’t help that Valve have always employed Doublespeak when speaking about issues that involve third parties, which often led to them putting their foots in their mouths, such as in an interview with AusGamers last year when Doug Lombardi could not give a clear answer to why Australian prices were so much higher than in the US for digital distribution.

But was it really all their fault? This Double Fine move should prove otherwise. Just a few days after the switchover in 2008, a Valve employee conceded that there was a problem with European prices and said that they would try to fix it and a CD Projekt employee took to the gog.com forums to say this:

Just remember, Steam doesn’t necessarily set the prices for games on the site — they’ve asked publishers about the prices they’d like to sell games at. Publishers have to approve the pricing, or they have an option of changing it. With The Witcher: Enhanced Edition we asked them to lower the price in Europe (well, Eastern Europe, where the game is available on Steam) to be in-line with market expectations….

Valve sent us an email basically saying “here’s what we’re doing and here are the prices we’re planning to use — let us know if you need them adjusted” and I’d suspect that other publishers must have gotten that same email.. particularly considering the fact that we only have one game on Steam, so we’re a minor player.

Conversely, the developers of Savage 2 had this to say: “Steam sets the prices on it, users can still upgrade to a prime account with us for $9.99 US”. Though it’s more than likely they were just mistaken since another developer noted that the price difference was fixed ten days later (oddly enough, he seems to be unaware that his own company adjusted the price).

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Even when releasing their own games, the price of Valve titles differs in Euros depending on the country and, presumably, the amount of VAT involved. This would give credence to their claim in the Destructoid article where they said “the change was mainly made to make things ‘easier to understand’ for Europeans so that they ‘wouldn’t be surprised” by taxes’.” Mind you, the original post with these quotes has since been lost to the nether so I can’t vouch for the accuracy of this paraphrase. If it is indeed as Destructoid claims, though, then it would seem that was only referring to Valve’s own pricing policies.

In the end, it seems like Valve adopts a $1 = €1 rate by default to account for the extra added in by VAT and it is up to the publishers and developers to adjust the price accordingly. So who is to blame in the end? Valve for pushing that rate as default, or the game’s creators for not monitoring their pricepoints more closely? I would say it’s the latter, seeing as how there can be glaring oversights in terms of region pricing even today.

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