No Sale Promise - Responses to concerns

My colleague Richard Boeser and I launched a site lately called

A developer or publisher of a video game using the No Sale Promise emblem promises that — at least until the expiry date — they won’t apply any discounts or price reductions to their game, and that it won’t appear in any bundles.

A few complaints have been repeated in many of the places that the No Sale Promise has been discussed. This post responds to them.

Won’t buyers just postpone buying until the promise expires?

Some might. Others won’t. The No Sale Promise has the potential to affect the behaviour of marginal buyers; those willing to pay the current asking price of the product on the condition that no sales are imminent.

Those who do wait might be disappointed since the No Sale Promise expire date represents only a minimum time a person has to wait for a sale. The promise might be extended — the developer can replace the emblem with a new one with a later date at any time. There may never be a sale. The price may even increase.

An about-to-expire promise encourages waiting

It could be that a developer has made a No Sale Promise which is due to expire soon — a promise he doesn’t wish to renew or extend. Customers seeing that the promise is about to expire may postpone buying to wait and see if a sale begins as soon as the promise period ends.

For this reason developers may choose to remove the No Sale Promise emblem from their product when the promise is close to expiring. The developers would still honour their promise, but would not be publicising it to new visitors to their site or store page.

This won’t solve [Some Problem]!, and its emblem, will not solve most problems. The problems it is designed to help with are very specific.

  1. When a developer decides not to put their game on sale for a given period (for whatever reason), how can they draw attention to that promise and conveniently communicate it to their potential customers?
  2. When a marginal buyer is considering buying a game, how can they be reassured that a sale isn’t imminent?
Don’t price fixing pacts tend to fail?

The No Sale Promise is not a pact, or a group, or a manifesto. It’s a tool to help mitigate a very specific problem (see above).

Isn’t it possible that making a No Sale Promise will result in lower revenue?

Yes. Avoiding sales could end up negatively effecting your income.

The NSP may not be a good choice for developers attempting to maximise short term revenue at all costs. I believe that making a No Sale Promise becomes a more interesting prospect the more highly a developer values other things. For instance:

  • Building long term trust with an audience.
  • Valuing transparency towards customers.
  • Non-participation in (what the developer perceives to be) an unhealthy dynamic; ‘sales culture’.
If a developer breaks their promise doesn’t that negatively affect the trust that buyers place in the No Sale Promise brand?

It might do. We hope that customers will make buying choices based on how much trust they place in the particular developer making a No Sale Promise, rather than trusting the emblem itself.

The scheme is naive, it misunderstands how customers actually behave

This isn’t a complaint about the No Sale Promise emblem or brand, but a criticism of developers who might use it. Taken as such, it’s off-base. It contains at least two unsupported assumptions:

These developers do not (or should not) value anything above short-term financial gain

For some developers, making a No Sale Promise is a rational thing to do even assuming it will cause a reduction in their income. See above.

Game buyers are a homogenous block, and marginal buyers don’t exist.

I hope I don’t need to elaborate on why this is not true.

But sales allow people to buy games that couldn’t afford them otherwise!

The critic might be forgetting that if a developer plans not to use sales, then he/she is more likely to set a lower price during the No Sale Promise period than they otherwise would.

If they have taken this into account, and still make this complaint, then they’re relying on the following assumption:

It’s always preferable, from the point of view of people with relatively little money to spare, to wait ANYDURATION and purchase a game for $ANYSALEPRICE (instead of $ANYHIGHBASEPRICE) rather than buy it at $ANYLOWERBASEPRICE immediately.

I don’t think this assumption is defensible, I hope you agree.

And even if this assumption was justified, there’s another problem. It’s a truism that asking a non-zero price for your game, at any time, disadvantages some people for whom the asking price is too high. So it turns out that this complaint against NSP-using developers reduces to ‘Why aren’t you doing more for charity?’. This in turn implicitly assumes that:

  1. The critic knows the extent/effectiveness of the NSP-using developer’s combined altruistic activity
  2. The critic knows what the correct/acceptable/required rate of charitable activity is.

I don’t think either assumption can be supported.

The word ‘Sale’ is ambiguous, the NSP could be interpreted as a Promise that no units will be sold

That’s true. We evaluated several phrases. While ‘No Sale Promise’ does have some downsides (negativity, some ambiguity), we believe that the brevity, simplicity and strong rhythm of the phrase makes it more suitable than the alternatives we considered.