Raising your prices right before Steam's big summer sale and then "discounting" them back to where they'd been for months sure sounds scummy, right? A handful of games have been accused of it, but the truth of the matter isn't so black-and-white.
It all began with a series of angrily lobbed accusations on Reddit, stemming from a price increase on free-to-play sensation War Thunder's Ace Advanced Pack on June 4th. According to SteamDB (as reported by our friends at Kotaku UK), it jumped up $US10 to $US49.99 after months at $US39.99. SteamDB, which is an unofficial yet comprehensive database of changes to Steam, also noted that the Ace Advanced Pack was added to something called "War Thunder — Steam Summer Sale Pack."
Hours after the Reddit thread went up, the Ace Advanced Pack — again, according to a SteamDB entry — was removed from the Steam Summer Sale Pack. However, this all took place before the Steam Summer Sale went live. The alleged sale swap out happened behind the scenes. Kotaku UK got in touch with War Thunder developer Gaijin Entertainment, and they claimed that while many things were on their agenda — for instance, tanks, planes, more tanks — foul play wasn't one of them.
"We did raise the price for two of our DLCs on Steam, but it happened more than a week ago and doesn't have to do anything with Summer Sale," Gaijin rep Alexander Trifonov said. "[The] Ace Pack wasn't on Summer sale neither itself nor a as part of bundle, so we didn't remove anything and all these false accusations are really frustrating."
However, confronted with the SteamDB entry and its conspicuous set of timings, Trifonov chose to stay silent. "We won't comment on speculations based on a data from some third-party websites," he said. On the upside, the War Thunder thing never directly affected anybody. That said, Gaijin's intentions here do look a little questionable.
The other big object of Steam and Reddit users' scorn at the moment is Grand Theft Auto V. That situation is somehow even more complicated, but here's the short version: yesterday GTA V went on sale... kinda. It still cost $US59.99, but Rockstar bundled it with in-game currency valued at $US20. So the full price of the package should have been $US80, but they were selling it for $US60. A discount? Yes. An actual sale on the game itself? No.
On top of that, they briefly removed GTA V sans in-game cash card from the Steam store. This apparently happened as the result of a pricing error on vanilla GTA V that needed fixing, but it made it look like everyone's favourite purveyor of swindling sims was trying to pull a fast one and deceitfully join in on the Steam Summer Sale. It didn't help that Steam listings on various pages simply showed GTA V's logo paired with an alluring green "-25%" sticker. That made it seem like Rockstar's prime crime opus had finally descended from Mt. Expensiveasfuck, at least briefly.
The fact of the matter was, people were still technically getting more for less. But in some cases, the bargain they got wasn't the one they bargained for. Since then, the package's image has been updated to prominently mention the in-game currency card.
However, even then, Rock Paper Shotgun notes that including the currency card — a piece of in-game content — might disqualify people from getting a refund on at least part of the package. Steam's refund policy when dealing with in-game items reads:
"Third-party developers will have the option to enable refunds for in-game items on these terms. Steam will tell you at the time of purchase if the game developer has opted to offer refunds on the in-game item you are buying. Otherwise, in-game purchases in non-Valve games are not refundable through Steam."
Meanwhile, here's how it works when bundles are involved:
"If a bundle includes an in-game item or DLC that is not refundable, Steam will tell you if the whole bundle is refundable during check-out."
I already have GTA V on Steam, so checkout only tells me that I won't be getting another copy with my purchase. If anyone else has tried getting a refund on the complete package, it'd be awesome if you could sound off in the comments.
War Thunder and GTA V are the grey areas of this whole fiasco, but others got wrongfully thrown under the Angry Bus in things like these tweets, which have been RTed hundreds of times. Tabletop Simulator, for example, was briefly declared public enemy number three, only for people to point out that its pre-sale price hike actually came as a result of leaving Early Access. This is a common practice, and the developers gave people plenty of forewarning about it. Same with squad-based heist game The Masterplan. It came out of Early Access and raised its price a few bucks. Indie footracer Speedrunners is in a similar situation. People have taken to saying its base price went from $US9.99 to $US14.99 right before the Steam Summer Sale, but actually it happened as a result of a huge update on June 1st. The developer forewarned people that this was gonna happen back in May.
The account given by the creators of Age of Decadence — another game accused of Steam Summer Sale pricing shenanigans — is perhaps the most indicative of where people are jumping to conclusions. Again, a big update came out at the start of June, and they boosted their price because they felt like the scope of their game justified it. Here's how it went down:
Our price increase was tied to releasing 21 locations out of 22 (i.e. the game is almost done and people can buy it with confidence). The update was released on June 5 (a month after we finished working on the third chapter, so we didn't sit on the update waiting for the Summer Sale).
We couldn't simply tell people that the price is going up in 2-3 weeks as Valve has to approve all price changes. So I emailed Valve, explained why we want to increase the price and asked for their permission. They suggested to go on the Summer Sale (we didn't even ask for it).
While we weren't planning to offer a discount (originally we wanted to run a 'the price goes up in 2 weeks, buy it now if you want to save $US5' promo unrelated to the Summer Sale), but when we accepted Valve's offer, we decided to offer a 10% off discount off the original price.
So the discount is real and the price is going up (not just for the duration of the sale). If you buy the game now, you will save some money regardless of which price you're looking at. Either 25% off the new price or 10% off the old price.
In case you didn't notice, we aren't on any of the daily deals where all the action is, so we're still flying under the radar and only people who were interested in the game before and had it on their wish list (i.e. people who knew the old price) would get the notification.
I wasn't able to find anything concrete about other accused games like
Subterrain, DarkStar One, and Alone In The Dark: Illumination, but I've reached out to each of their creators for more info. (Update: Subterrain increased its price on June 1st after a major update.)
Meanwhile, games like Wolfenstein: The New Order have been maligned for alleged last-second price hiking, but their prices never actually changed. While SteamDB does list Wolfenstein as having had a base price of $US45 since March, that was the result of a bundle with Wolfenstein: The Old Blood that cost $US45 total. Yes, the bundle was cheaper than Wolfenstein: The New Order. Does it make a lot of sense? No. But those are the facts.
So here's your scorecard: War Thunder? A little sketchy, but the alleged bad faith sale never happened. Grand Theft Auto V? Mostly a misunderstanding, albeit with some wiggle room for refund shenanigans. Games like Tabletop Simulator, Age of Decadence, and Wolfenstein? Unfairly singled out after people went into full-on witch hunt mode. I can't entirely blame Steam users for taking up pitchforks and torches after getting a whiff of what seemed like serious horseshit, but there's also something to be said for double and triple-checking before firing off accusations that could have entire communities banging down someone's virtual door.