Valve insists that frequent sales do not "cheapen" IPs, no matter what EA thinks.
Last month, EA, in its bid to set Origin apart from Valve's top distribution platform Steam, derided Valve's deep-discount sales, vowing it would never do the same. Senior Vice President for Global E-commerce David DeMartini specifically said that frequently discounting games 75% or more "cheapens your intellectual property," and teaches gamers to wait for discounts instead of buying games at full price. The fact that EA then went on to discount some of its titles by over 80% notwithstanding, Valve has now countered the accusations, saying that frequent sales actually increase brand loyalty and purchases over time.
Speaking at the Develop conference in Brighton, UK, Business Development Chief Jason Holtman defended the discounts by pointing to Valve's internal numbers. Pre-orders and early sales are actually up, according to Holtman, which would contradict DeMartini's theory that more and more gamers would start waiting for discounts. Holtman went on to posit that gamers would pay a premium to get the game first, saying that gamers who do wait for sales are making "a time trade-off." He made sure to point out that there was nothing wrong with waiting and buying at a lower price, a tactic particularly known to gamers on a tight budget. As long as more gamers are buying and playing games, he said, it's a win for Valve and its partners.
As for the increase in pre-orders and early sales, Holtman theorized that gamers who buy games on sale will fall in love with titles they would never have otherwise played, then eagerly purchase the next title in that franchise or from that developer. Thanks to the magic of digital distribution, gamers can easily pick up titles released months or even years prior - a luxury that wasn't available back in the olden days when PC games only came in boxes, when "if you didn't get a game in the first three months it was around, you were out of luck because you had to find a copy of it." That convenience, in turn, is "making people happier" and thus more willing to pick up titles at full price later down the road.
Even without the long-term benefits, indie developers get a big boost from the promotion inherent in Steam sales. Introversion, the indie developer behind Darwinia, publicly stated in 2010 that a Steam sale of its games saved it from dissolution, despite the rock-bottom price of $1.25 per game. And although Valve has so far been the sole determinant of which indie titles get a presence on the platform, it plans to rectify that with the new community-voting Steam Greenlight program set to launch in August.