The Shifting Tone of Valve’s Marketing

Or Why It’s Getting Better All the Time

Oh boy! Another massive Steam sale just went by and with it any budgetary plans I had for the summer! As with the last sale, Valve included daily challenges that we could try to meet in order to earn points. The last time they did this was The Great Steam Treasure Hunt, a similar promotional campaign accompanying the winter sale.

I played my part in the treasure hunt and earned my ten points to enter into the contest, but had some reservations about the promo. In case you forgot, the treasure hunt was a daily set of challenges that were designed to employ (exploit) the reptilian parts of our brains’ need to earn achievements. The challenges were simple sets of requirements that essentially called for playing a level or two in various Steam games to earn badges. Complete enough of these tasks, and you were entered into a massive one hundred games prize. Though I bought into their promo, I couldn’t help but feel that it was heading into a gray area of marketing, encouraging impulse buys of Steam products for the sake of earning achievements, something gamers are almost hard-wired to strive for these days.

My fears have subsided significantly since that winter sale though, thanks to both the summer sale and the GLaDOS@Home Portal 2 promotion.. GLaDOS@Home encouraged PC gamers to play a set of games with the goal of securing an early release of Portal 2. We were still given incentive to buy games we might have skipped, but there was a shift in tone. Instead of competing for a contest against all other Steam users, we were now united as a massive gaming community with a common goal. Gamers all over worked together in one of those rare, unifying moments that showed us the potential we have as a demographic.

Additionally, all the games Valve wanted us to play were pretty quality indie titles! They took the massive publicity engine they had built with Portal 2’s launch and used it to bring attention to the kind of smaller developer games that could never find half that exposure on their own. Sure, the sales of these games benefit Valve as well, but this is a situation where everyone ends up a winner.

Now with the Summer Camp Sale, we had a similar overcome-in-game-challenges promo, but the rewards this time around were not just the chance to win games or get a game to release early (except Left4Dead levels), but also to secure extra content for games we may already own. The way this differs from the Treasure Hunt is that the incentive was to build upon our game library. Of the 24 games for which we could earn extra content, I already owned 10! When it was all said and done, 3 of those games had extra levels and content.

I love the pictures they used durring the sale.

Additionally, they encouraged players to actually play the games they bought on a Steam sale (admit it, you haven’t really played every game you bought during the winter sale, have you?). The challenges were often in the very games on sale that day. This incentive has been consistent in all the promos, but the resulting reward this time was much more immediate. Meet the challenge, get free stuff.

Really, it’s not wildly different from the last promo, but again we have a shift in tone. Valve aren’t just encouraging impulse buys with the only incentive being an extremely slim chance at winning games or releasing a game a day early. Earning these rewards didn’t make me feel exploited, but instead gave me a reason to go back and play some of my older games for the sake of expanding on games I play now.

Between this and the GLaDOS@Home promo, I get the sense that Valve are fine-tuning their marketing to better reward the player, the developer, and Valve itself. It feels like a win/win/win for everyone, and is encouraging in these highly aggressive marketing days.


Comments
One Response to “The Shifting Tone of Valve’s Marketing”
  1. Gregg B says:

    Well said and this is something Mat C brought up over at Tap. I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t earn my tickets by playing any old games simply because most of them weren’t installed but still, great to see Valve honouring people’s games libraries while trying to expand on them in fun and ultimately profitable ways. The potato sack was also an amazing idea despite me not making any effort to find those potatoes.

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