Monday, April 20, 2009

Pessimistic About On-Live

It's an interesting idea to have cloud based services provided to your living room allowing you to play the games you want with out the necessity of having to upgrade hardware on you PC or purchasing an XBox360 and PS3. In truth I want to get behind idea of On-Live, if only because it would save us gamers and game developers a lot of headache. But lets look more closely, shale we?

First thing that popped into my mind when I read about On-Live is where are they going to get the bandwidth for all this? During a busy night with lots of people using On-Live the servers are going to have to be transferring huge amounts of data incredibly quickly in order for anyone to play. Just to put that into perspective if On-Live used waterworks instead of internet bandwidth there would have to be a Niagara Falls in everyone's living room! At least in order for it to work the way they say it's supposed to work. Maybe they should have done a pilot program in South Korea beforehand where %90 of the homes have access to cheap broadband internet.

For those of you who read my Steam isn't the Answer article much of what's in there also applies here. Questions like "What if your internet goes down?" or "What if On-Live goes out of business?" have answers which I think are less than reassuring. Then of course there's my favorite question "What if you want to lend a game you bought on On-Live to another friend with On-Live?"

Let's move on though. How about price? You'll save a lot of cash because you don't have to upgrade anymore, right? Well...even if we assume you already have a display screen your happy with there's the matter of monthly costs. Of course you got to pay your broadband internet provider so there's $50 to $100 at least. Then you got to pay the On-Live subscription fee which I can't imagine costing less than premium cable TV. Then you got to buy the games at retail price (or at least the price they deiced on). No used games here, I'm afraid. So, as you can imagine this is adding up rather quickly.

Maybe I'm wrong though. Maybe they have some kind of reasonable pricing strategy in mind even though they're using some kind of super video compression technology. Regardless, I'm pretty sure this system is going to have a lot of bugs early on and it will be interesting to see if they can build up a decent library of titles. Because as you know it really comes down to the games and the people who play them.

Steam isn't the Answer

Don't take this the wrong way, I actually think Steam is trying to innovate the game industry. If nothing else making digital distribution quick and easy is a big help to all the little developers out there. My problem is that when you look closely Steam isn't much of a solution in the grand scheme of things.

First off Steam doesn't stop piracy because hackers know ways to "un-steam" games and put them up on torrent sites. Plus, if Valve (the owner of Steam) decides they don't like you for some reason they can ban your account at which point all the games you've purchased and downloaded no longer work. Not to mention steam requires you to install intrusive DRM software on your computer which leads to another bunch of potential problems which I won't bother going into right now.

Then of course we have the big question of what happens if Steam goes out of business? And there are a significant number people out there that don't have access to broadband internet especially in rural areas....

So, take a step back and look at what we have here. Steam does a lot to protect publisher profits but what about the consumer? No trading games with your friends or selling used games is great for developers, but what about people who buy the games? Back before the days of Half-Life 2 you could lend some game that you weren't playing anymore to a friend living down the street. You can't do that with games purchased through Steam. Thus, what your left with is a system that is constantly trying to find new ways to weasel gamers out of there money. Naturally, a lot of consumers feel like there getting swindled so they increasingly turn to piracy as a way of retaliating against what they see as less than fair business practices.

What we need is a system that shrinks the gap between consumers and the industry. There has become too much hostility between these two groups and until both sides step down and start considering diplomatic solutions the conflict will just get more and more messy. Steam doesn't provide a negotiation table or even a bridge between these bitter rivals, rather it's a barbwire fence with a gate for those willing to agree to Valve's demands.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Ransoming System (Revised V1.0)

The Ransoming System - A Possible Solution to Internet Piracy
Proposed by
Casey Goddard

In this modern era of P2P file sharing, DRM schemes and the slow death of PC gaming it has become apparent to me that a radical new method of game distribution is necessary for designers, publishers and players to truly enjoy all that can be offered by video games as a medium of entertainment.
Therefore I submit to you a proposed revenue system whereby games can be distributed; The Ransoming System. Rather than the traditional method of charging individuals a set price for a copy of a particular game, consumers would instead “ransom” the game by giving money to the publisher until a target amount of revenue has been reached. Once this amount has been obtained (sort of like a donation fund drive) the game will become freely available to the general public. A possible example of this method might have several ransom donation levels which consumers can choose from. The premium level might include extra goodies such as an art book, collectible figurine, a “special thanks to….” entry in the credits and so on. Think of it like an airplane. Regardless if it's economy or first class seating everyone gets to fly (play the game). It's just some people get to do it with extra service.
Donations to the ransom system can be made via credit card, pay-pall over the internet, or even at a physical location such as a video game store in the form of electronic cash transfer (along similar lines of cash card or pre-order). If customers have no broadband connection physical copies of the game can be made available at game stores for acquisition once the ransom has been accumulated or mailed directly to a given address. Ideally people who pay more for the product would be the first to receive the game.
Of course companies would be required to be very public about who donated to the ransom and how much they gave in order to prevent fraud. Marketing would also remain crucial in order to raise awareness of up-coming games. Downloadable video trailers, demos, promotional events and general advertising must be carried out efficiently in order to generate enough consumer demand to ransom the game. Consistency from developers is also a must to help ensure the ransom of additional content and future games.
In order for The Ransoming System to work as an effective method of gathering revenue the way games are developed must also be changed somewhat. Games would probably have to be shorter and cheaper than what is considered the current norm. Episodic content, expansions or DLC implementing feedback from the consumers is very important to maximize revenue. Of course new content would be ransomed as well. Community would also be essential since fans are more likely raise awareness and contribute to the ransom than newcomers.

So, in conclusion allow me to summarize the advantages of The Ransoming System:

  • Neutralizes the threat of Internet piracy
  • Eliminates the need for any kind of DRM software
  • Utilizes exiting techniques employ in sales and distribution
  • Reduces production costs
  • Encourages growth of gaming communities

There are a few potential disadvantages however:
  • Profits for games will be somewhat normalized
  • Games will be shorter, with room made for additional content
  • MMOs or games which gather revenue based on subscription fees would not benefit from using the ransom system

I’d like to note that The Ransoming System has already been employed successfully on a limited scale for a number of PDF supplements to the table-top RPG Reign. I believe that the system can also be applied effectively to the video game industry provided major developers are willing to give it a try on popular existing franchises.