You may not have to wait for a coordinated Steam Sale to get the next big discount on a downloadable game you've had your eye on. That's because Valve is rolling out a program that lets developers set their own temporary discounts off the standard asking price on its Steam service.
Reddit user Sharkiller (via Gamasutra) was among the first to notice a post in Steam's private SteamWorks community (developer account required) laying out the terms of the new program. Developers can set any discount price for their game when scheduling week-long sales up to two months in advance or set their own custom discounts for periods of up to two weeks (it's not clear how frequently those sales can be repeated or how long they can run).
Setting the asking price on a Steam game is usually a collaborative process between Valve and the publisher; as Valve notes on the SteamWorks FAQ, "pricing is very title specific, and we've got a lot of data and experience to help you decide on what the best price is for your title. We'll work with you to figure out pricing." This new effort would seem to give SteamWorks developers a lot more direct control over pricing changes—without having to go through Valve for consultation and approval.
Valve frequently features widespread price reductions on a large portion of its library through coordinated seasonal sales, and it also regularly reduces certain games as part of "Midweek Madness" and "Daily Deal" sales, all ably tracked by sites like SteamPrices.com. If promoted correctly, those sales can lead to a huge revenue increase for a game, as Valve cofounder Gabe Newell discussed in a 2011 interview with Geekwire.
"If we do a 75 percent price reduction, our Counter-Strike experience tells us that our gross revenue would remain constant," Newell said. "Instead, what we saw was our gross revenue increased by a factor of 40. Not 40 percent, but a factor of 40. Which is completely not predicted by our previous experience with silent price variation."
While the language on the SteamWorks page suggests that the discount program is currently running, indie developer Dan Marshall tweeted that trying to take advantage of the new functionality resulted in "a great big ERROR page."
Valve did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter, but we'll let you know if we hear back from the company.
UPDATE: Valve's Alden Kroll provided Ars with the following statement: “As with the addition of a 'Recently Updated' section to Steam, this is another effort to shorten the distance between developers and customers. This new Steamworks tool allows developers to configure discounts for their own products, on their own schedules. They can define custom sale periods or opt in to regularly scheduled sales. This will enable developers to better coordinate their promotions with events, announcements, or major updates they are planning for their products.”