The weird economics behind Steam prices around the world

Steam Regional Pricing Retail

Cutting the binds of retail

After spending weeks making spreadsheets charting the prices of hundreds of games, the biggest takeaway for me is that many companies—triple-A especially—have little discernible rhyme or reason when it comes to pricing other regions. Indies, with their "feeling-based" pricing systems and trust in Valve's pricing matrix tend to be both the most consistent and the most fair to consumers across all regions. Triple-A's, on the other hand, seem to still be pressured a fair bit by brick-and-mortar pricing. But as game sales shift more and more into the digital-only realm, I wouldn't be surprised to see Steam prices approach more normalized levels.

Changing exchange rates will always throw a monkey wrench in any attempt at global pricing normalization, and actively updating prices as currencies rise and fall in value would create far more chaos than it would be worth. But that doesn't mean leaving prices untouched for years as exchange rates fluctuate is a good idea. The only real solution is to price fairly as you go, using a combination of current exchange rates and market analysis, then perhaps revisiting outdated prices at regular intervals—maybe on a yearly basis, or at milestones such as when a new series entry is released, or when a price drop is set to be enacted.

Publishers should always be free to set their prices at whatever point they like, but I don't think it would be too much to ask for more consistency, or at least transparency about why some of their regional prices vary so dramatically. If anything changes the way publishers approach Steam in the near future, it will be the ever-increasing dominance of digital sales. As retails stores become less and less relevant for games, the prices set for physical discs—and the costs associated with producing or distributing them them—will hold less sway over what it costs to publish games all over the world. Game prices could look very different in five years.

But they'll probably still be incredibly cheap in Russia.