Steam is pretty expensive

I've had a look at ten recent releases and 'coming soon' games on Steam, and compared their prices with the cheapest available retail prices. I've included delivery, and any coupons available.

Pro Cycling Manager Season 2009
Steam: £29.99
Retail: £22.95

Street Fighter IV
Steam: £29.99
Retail: £14.98

Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood
Steam: £34.99
Retail: £22.73

Virtua Tennis 2009
Steam: £26.99 (that's 10% off, normal price £29.99)
Retail: £21.49

Steam: £19.99
Retail: £14.99

Steam: £29.99
Retail: £17.99

Overlord II
Steam: £29.99
Retail: £14.95

Bionic Commando
Steam: £26.99 (that's 10% off for preordering, normal price £29.99)
Retail: £17.73
The Steam version unlocks on the 28th of July, the retail version ships on the 17th of July.

East India Company
Steam: £34.99 (Comes with free "Pirate Bay" DLC)
Retail: £24.99
The Steam version unlocks on the 31st of July, the retail version ships on the 7th of August.

Steam: £34.99
Retail: £23.99 (use coupon "buyat0902" to get that price)
The Steam version unlocks on the 25th of September, and the retail version ships on the same day.

So, of the ten selected games, the average Steam price is £29.89 and the average retail price is £19.68, meaning that in this sample, Steam is 52% more expensive than buying retail. Put another way, buying all ten of these games from Steam would cost £298.90, and buying them all from retail would cost £196.79. Also, for new releases, sometimes Steam is the quickest way to get your game, and sometimes retail is.

Now, this is a far from scientific study, but it's certainly somewhat damning of Steam. How I (and I suspect a large proportion of it's customers) use Steam is as a portal through which I get some great special offers from, but there are obviously people buying new releases at these high prices.

Apart from anything, purely from a consumer standpoint, it is crazy that it costs less to get some data, print it on a disc, put in in packaging, ship it to a retailer and let them ship it to you that it costs to make the same data available for download. Bear in mind that it is impossible to sell, or otherwise transfer the license of Steam versions games, and the retail version seems like a far better deal for gamers.

Which is a shame - I certainly would prefer to use DD more than retail, it is more convenient for me, and it is better for the environment, but I am not willing to compromise on value to do so.


Jesse Fish said...

Does steam have localized product prices? I know that in America their prices are either dead on what they are in all stores or cheaper when they have sales on steam vs sales at stores.

frymaster said...

it doesn't affect my purchasing habits - i'm not going to pay over the odds for something - but it's understandable. Remember that prices in the steam store are set by the publishers - in other words, steam is acting an agent for the publishers, rather than buying from them and hoping to buy to you. Thus, game prices are set by the publishers.

And why do the publishers set them so high? Because that's the RRP. Despite the fact that NO STORE IN THE WORLD EVER sells at RRP, the publisher has to, otherwise they feel all the big gamestore chains will be up in arms (and they're probably right). Totally stupid, and it's the gamers that miss out (either in terms of paying more, not getting steam integration, or having to wait for the game to be lower in price)

About the only publisher I've seen sell games for less than the RRP on steam is codemasters.

LewieP said...

Yep, Steam breaks the world up in to difference regions, often linked to currency, and lists different prices in these countries (if you want to see the price of a specific game in another country, add "?cc=XX" to the end of the URL, where "XX" = the country code your are interested in, UK for the UK, FR for France, US for USA and so on).

Publishers set the regional pricing too, so some games might use one set of exchange rates between different countries, and other games use others.

The reason that this is more of an issue in the UK than in the USA is that UK retailers seem to compete for price a lot more than USA retailers, who compete on other things such as service or branding. This means that some retailers will sell games at significant discounts, at or even before release. Steam doesn't seem to reflect this aspect of the UK market though.

standardman said...

True enough but I don't think I've ever bought a game from Steam had hasn't been on sale (and I've bought hell of a lot of games from them).

Sure, other places have sales but not two day, 75% off sales.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally my favourite way to purchase things is a retail edition that you can activate on steam. I use steam an awful lot so it's nice when the game links in properly and I don't have to faff about with having the disc in the drive. Of course these games are few and far between.

I thought about getting SF IV but the steam one is over priced and the retail has a disc check - with that sort of game I can imagine it getting really tiresome.

LewieP said...

Yeah, that is the best. My copy of Dark Messiah, UT3, The Ship and several Valve games have been gotten that way.

All for a lot cheaper than the Steam price too, might I add.

Chaos said...

I've been thinking about this lately, too. Since I bought Overlord 2 for £10 less than Steam at release, in fact. It seems a ridiculous shame to have all that packaging made for a game, when I could just download it directly, but I'm not paying £10 for that.

Andresito said...

In Spain Steam prices are just as expensive as retail (which is crazy). That's why I always buy my PC games from Play, Zaavi or Blah.

Optimaximal said...

'Because that's the RRP. Despite the fact that NO STORE IN THE WORLD EVER sells at RRP, the publisher has to, otherwise they feel all the big gamestore chains will be up in arms'

Funnily enough, RRP 'theoretically' shouldn't apply to digital downloadables since it isn't actually a retail product. You can't compare them since one is physical and the other is virtual.

In reality, it's just the publishers using the excuse to price gouge.

Anonymous said...


They're comparable when you consider both Steam and retail net you a license for the game.

Which is very much real.

Unknown said...

Imagine if you guys had done this test in Euros. I'm pretty sure that you would find that steam i more expensive about 95% of the time.

There is a nice little script for checking the prices across all three territories that steam services (US,UK,Euro)
can be found at the site which highlights the shocking prices that steam are charging.

frymaster said...

"In reality, it's just the publishers using the excuse to price gouge."

except having the prices that high means everyone buys the retail version. Given that retailers feel able to discount the RRP and still make a profit, it can be assumed that the publisher's margin on retail copies is a LOT lower than the margin on steam

so publishers could, from a profit point of view, price match and make more money. industry folk have quietly said the reason they don't do that is the retail industry, despite ignoring RRP themselves, would be quick to penalise publishers who make a habit of undercutting the RRP

though I agree, a nice way round that would be to set a "physical media" rrp and a "direct download rrp" and claim the former was more because you get a nice manual etc. (problem: no games come with nice manuals these days)

IronHide said...

As far as I'm concerned, the price of games on services like Steam should be significantly lower than at retail otherwise there's no reason not to just buy the retail version.

Dealspwn Games Deals said...

Thanks for the tips Lewie.
I find Steam to be very good when it comes to their special offers. I always price compare and see if it is cheaper than retail. Most of their specials seem to be cheaper, but the regular prices aren't.

Anonymous said...

You aren't comparing like with like here. For a start, you compare a single retailer with about 6 other retailers, picking the lowest of the other retailers. It's pretty difficult for Steam to beat or match, not just a single retailer, but the entire market.

Secondly, as I understand it (and I aadmit that I could be completely wrong) Steam is a platform for publishers, rather than a retailer in and of itself. I think that publishers have a larger say in their prices on Steam than they do at other retailers.

Thirdly, as far as I am aware, games don't get taken off Steam, so they should be available to purchase at a later date, when the physical copies may be harder to get hold of.

Fourthly, a lot of the retailers you are comparing Steam to are relatively simple distribution centres with no high street presence, which in turn keeps their overheads down. The cost of manufacturing and shipping a disc is incredibly low, so the saving that can be passed onto the consumer isn't that much.

Finally, you say "I certainly would prefer to use DD more than retail, it is more convenient for me, and it is better for the environment, but I am not willing to compromise on value to do so.", but neglect that buying games at release is always bad value.

Not that I'm saying that Steam couldn't be cheaper, I certainly agree with your post in that respect, but I think it is a bit one-sided.

Chris Evans said...

Wow, I knew that Steam was often very expensive compared to other places, but this just goes to show how bad the problem is. I wonder what it would be like in the US though?

Andytizer said...

I think that Steam prices are justifiably higher because it contains a lot of features which should be considered as part of a premium:

1) 1 login install, autopatch
Very useful when going through multiple iterations of OS's, where my backup of a game install won't work from XP to Windows 7. I hate reinstalling stuff, finding the right disc, serial key, patching, etc.

For this reason as well Steam is great for systems without optical drives and gels well with the increasing interest in small indie/casual gaming and netbooks.

Also Steamcloud implementation (L4D, Braid) is looking very good for the future of the gaming cloud.

2) always available download (for the foreseeable future)
The retail disc may have a higher initial cost, but I know that the bandwidth cost at which I've downloaded Counter-Strike Source (at least 15 times over the years) will soon match it.

3) community features, achievements
We've seen a service like Xbox Live implement these features at a subscription cost, and it's offered as part of the package for most Steam releases

For these reasons I think there is a good reason to get the Steam release, although obviously if you don't have the money and you have the time to spend with installing and patching, you should choose the cheaper option. For those who have more to spend, there is a good reason to pay more for a smoother gaming experience.

SarKnagel said...

I also don't think I've ever bought a new release at Steam.

But I imagine that it's a great platform for indie PC developers - I don't think that I could find games like Audiosurf, Trials 2 and even World of Goo at retailers in Europe.

The special offers are pretty hot too most of the times. Bioshock for a fiver around Christmas was just awesome.

Fleep said...

I am one of the fools you mention who buys new releases over steam, knowingly paying over the odds for them.

My reason? I am forgetful and disorganized. I can't even remember HALF of the games I've bought retail, and subsequently lost the book with the serial, or find I have a disc missing from my box. Steam negates the need for me to keep track of all of my boxes/serials (I've been known to move house with a higher frequency than most, especially while I was a student)

I know for a fact that I own all of the Call of Duty games in retail sets, however I am missing the box for United offensive, meaning I've technically lost access to the game, regardless of the fact I own itlegitimately.

1 purchase over steam and I know wherever I go, I have access to the content without needing to drag boxes or books or any such things around with me. I can go to a friends place for a weekend, log in my steam account and know for certain that I have access to all of the games on my steamlist.

I do however, lament the fact that I'm paying way over the odds for my games, obviously.

It's a trade off, in my opinion.

Unknown said...

LewieP : have you checked Impulse out? Their catalogue is growing and the prices are pretty much the same as retail.

I was going to grab Dawn of Discovery from Steam until i saw the huge price. On Impulse it's the same as in retail.