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Pirates Paying for Downloadable Content: a Viable Niche Market
December 9, 2009 12:51 PM   Subscribe

Piracy of PC games is nothing new, and has been discussed previously. Due to the high levels of PC game piracy, some development companies have decreased (or eliminated) PC game development, shifting support to console development. But piracy isn't limited to PCs, as modchips and other hacks have allowed users to play pirated and homebrewed games. In the continuing struggle for control, Microsoft banned as many as 1 million modded systems from Xbox Live, resulting in a surge of people reselling Xbox 360s that have been banned from online play (and modders finding a fix for the ban). Some developers have adopted another tactic - increased development of downloadable content (DLC), which has been seen as both good and bad by gamers. John Riccitiello, the head of Electronic Arts, seems to have embraced DLC as a marketing option, in noting that "[people] can steal the disc, but they can't steal the DLC."
posted by filthy light thief (77 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
If you're looking for a bit more light reading, the Entertainment Software Association have published their annual report for 2009, covering changes in government regulation, intellectual property policy, anti-piracy programs, and more for the last year (36 pg PDF, Google quick view).
posted by filthy light thief at 12:55 PM on December 9, 2009


People can steal anything.

Just because there isn't a huge amount of DLC piracy right now doesn't mean there won't be if developers continue to move to that model.
posted by ecurtz at 12:57 PM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


The problem with Riccitello's assumption is that people can and do steal DLC for consoles. [They] do it all the time. It's not like it's any more difficult to do. I suppose maybe he is going with the the idea that some pirates are on the fence or working under the "steal-and-try-before-buy" mechanic. But then, it's like he's assuming that people love the game enough to pay for it, they just forgot, and DLC is a little reminder to fork over some cash.
posted by tybeet at 1:00 PM on December 9, 2009


John Riccitiello, the head of Electronic Arts, seems to have embraced DLC as a marketing option, in noting that '[people] can steal the disc, but they can't steal the DLC.'"

Uhhh...does he think that console pirates are walking into stores and five-fingering the actual discs?
posted by jckll at 1:01 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can't fathom where the assertion that you can't steal DLC came from. All the DLC for any mildly popular PC game is available for pirating shortly after it is released.
posted by CaseyB at 1:02 PM on December 9, 2009


John Riccitiello, the head of Electronic Arts, seems to have embraced DLC as a marketing option, in noting that "[people] can steal the disc, but they can't steal the DLC."

Indeed, they would need some kind of international computer "network" to distribute 0s and 1s in that quantity, as well as a large community of hackers competing to distribute the content as quickly as possible. Inconceivable!
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:02 PM on December 9, 2009 [13 favorites]


Foolish pirates. I just stay a few years behind the cutting edge, so game studios practically beg you to play their old games so you'll want the sequels.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 1:03 PM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


And I've basically given up on PC gaming. I could almost buy a new Xbox or PS3 every year for what it would cost to keep my PC up to spec for the latest games. Console games Just Work.
posted by indyz at 1:04 PM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


I actually bought the first two DLCs for Fallout 3. Then, trying to install that shit, I dealt with Games For Windows Live. I pirated every subsequent DLC.

So, yeah, DLC can be pirated.
posted by absalom at 1:15 PM on December 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


And I've basically given up on PC gaming. I could almost buy a new Xbox or PS3 every year for what it would cost to keep my PC up to spec for the latest games. Console games Just Work.

At the expense of nice graphics and accurate control. Also, if you like MMOs and to an extent, FPS games, the control schemes on consoles leave one wanting. I was console-only for a long time, then added in PC gaming, and now I play on both.

I'm not a graphics whore by any means, but consoles are meant to last for years. During that life cycle, some developers will push the limits of the console, sure, but PC games will both look and do so much more over that same time period. At a price, but that's not what we're debating here.

That said, there's room for less than bleeding-edge on all platforms. And as long as my PC is capable of playing most games at a good FPS rate, I don't have to have max graphics, audio, features pumped up, etc. And I'll happily play something that isn't super graphically intense if it's good - Plants vs. Zombies, World of Goo, and even Hello Kitty Online all have a home on my computer right now.

As for piracy, there's always going to be a subset of the playerbase who pirated the software. One might argue that pieces of games are being held back and DLC sold to complete games (such as the recent Dragon Age: Origins DLC controversy), so it could theoretically be seen as a punishment to consumers, but as long as DRM and treating your customers like assumed thieves is off the table, then we have some room to explore this problem honestly.
posted by cmgonzalez at 1:29 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


jckll: "Uhhh...does he think that console pirates are walking into stores and five-fingering the actual discs?"

No, he thinks the second-hand market is stealing money that's rightfully his.
posted by mullingitover at 1:30 PM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


People can steal anything.

Seriously. A videogame character stole seven bucks from me just the other day.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 1:54 PM on December 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


Console vs PC is kinda like Mac vs PC except now PC people get to be the supercilious twits!
posted by autodidact at 1:55 PM on December 9, 2009


Pretty soon there will be some sort of super-dedicated single-game machine that forces you to insert money simply to start playing the game. And you'll have to put in more money if you character dies!

Too bad the machine will probably be so expensive that you'll gave to go so some sort of dedicated video-game-lounge to play it.
posted by GuyZero at 1:58 PM on December 9, 2009 [15 favorites]


I recently bought Left 4 Dead 2, Bioshock and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Previously I bought Fallout 3, and enjoyed the hell out of that. I suppose if I buy enough PC games, I'll have spent the amount of money I'd need for a console. But I like the portability of playing these games on my laptop. I've tried certain games on the Xbox, using that shaking controller in front of a huge TV, and that's pretty cool, too. So I don't really get why there's a "PC vs. console" debate at all. I think it's even more a matter of taste than PC vs. Mac.

On the subject of piracy, even though I've been pretty open about torrenting movies and music, I have never pirated a game. This is, though, mostly for technical reasons. Using Linux, it can take a while just getting a store-bought game to run in WINE. Downloading a pirated game and trying to get that to run? No thanks, I was hoping to actually play the game some day.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:14 PM on December 9, 2009


I don't think he meant that as literally as it came out. I'd call it a gaffe more than ignorance on his part. What he was getting at is smart, though it came out wrong. He's saying a couple things:

-You can monetize the pirate demographic through dlc. and he's not wrong. dlc still gets pirated, but you'll find people who aren't willing to spend 60 bucks, but are willing to spend 10 on dlc since it's more convenient to simply download that directly. it's not everybody, but it certainly does happen. further, where consoles are concerned, there's a strong contingent of users with modded boxes downloading disc images to play the games, but pirating console dlc is slightly more complicated since it's meant to be installed directly off of a download from the xbox live or psn network and doesn't come on a disc you can burn an image of.

-trying to monetize pirates is more fruitful than trying to eliminate piracy, which I should think is self-evident.

to take it a little further, and here I'm spitballing and am not trying to represent his thought process, it's kind of like graphic app piracy in that you have a pirate userbase that can become a paying userbase.

to use myself as an example: I used to pirate stuff for the pc all the damn time. just every thing that did not have a registered multiplayer account. if you'd like, you may blame me for the state of pc gaming today. but I did that up to and including my time in college, when I was broke as shit and couldn't have bought games anyway. (I am not excusing it, merely providing context.) now I'm a guy with a job and I buy all my games because thanks to digital downloads it's actually more convenient to buy it legally (whereas it used to be far less convenient) and because I can afford it and don't feel like I'm spending my last dollar to buy the thing. but I became a gamer, and a dedicated one, by playing pirated games for years. if I hadn't done that, maybe I wouldn't be a gamer at all. I certainly couldn't have played all those games way back when. And it reminds me of a saying I've heard many times about photoshop piracy. Today's PS pirates are tomorrow's professional graphic designers, where their businesses buy it legally because that's what all their designers want to use. I don't know if it's true, but I've heard that this is why Adobe will chase after a business running a pirated copy of PS, but you never hear about them going after the thousands of students running it.

I may not be exemplary of pirates, and I'm admittedly talking in hypotheticals, here, but the logic seems sound to me, and I think Ricitiello is basically trying to take a pragmatist's approach to the topic, and I'm glad to hear it.
posted by shmegegge at 2:18 PM on December 9, 2009 [8 favorites]


Ever since I got a machine I knew could run the latest games; buying games stopped being such a worry (if i had ample chance to check them out) but I generally won't buy a game if it doesn't have some form of editor, multiple [real] endings with cut scenes and fanfare or mod capability, because for 60 bucks, games that have a linear plot and only one real ending are just movies you hurt your thumbs playing.

No wonder people pirate those games.

Obviously games like Guitar hero and so on (party games or casual games) are somewhat excepted because they are really pick up and play games, so it's up to you whether the investment is worth it.

I keep weighing buying DJ Hero in hopes that the controller ends up being ported to something interesting on the PC.... but I think I'll wait for it to appear first.
posted by NiteMayr at 2:19 PM on December 9, 2009


The real reason they aren't making as many games for the PC as they do for consoles is that with a console you have to develop a game that has to deal with the local weirdness of one processor and one graphics card and one sound card and so on. With the PC, you have to deal with roughly a gajillion possible configurations.

The part I love about console systems is not the hacking them to pirate games, but the guys who eviscerated the solid state security on the Xbox 360 to run Linux.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:28 PM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


No, he thinks the second-hand market is stealing money that's rightfully his.

Hardly. EA owns Gamestop.
posted by absalom at 2:28 PM on December 9, 2009


Console games Just Work.

I agree, but one big issue we have in Australia is censorship of games. If there were a way of safely modding my Xbox such that I could play the US version of Left4Dead rather than the anemic Oz version, I would do so without hesitation.
posted by Ritchie at 2:38 PM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Kid Charlemagne: "The part I love about console systems is not the hacking them to pirate games, but the guys who eviscerated the solid state security on the Xbox 360 to run Linux."

It's getting to the point where people speculate that piracy is a major factor in purchasing decisions. DRM provides a (false) incentive to overproduce software for a platform, inevitably breaks and pirates win. People now make jokes about starting the race to crack platforms. A friend of mine insists people would rather write software for hacked AppleTV than devices that come with Linux out of the box.
posted by pwnguin at 2:48 PM on December 9, 2009


"[people] can steal the disc, but they can't steal the DLC...."
Yet.
posted by adoarns at 2:48 PM on December 9, 2009


With the PC, you have to deal with roughly a gajillion possible configurations.

Not that they actually deal with any configuration that isn't sponsored on the splash screen.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:57 PM on December 9, 2009


Hardly. EA owns Gamestop.

first I've heard it. is this really true? jesus that's... that's gotta be some kinda law thingy, right?
posted by shmegegge at 2:58 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


that... uh. shmegegge we call -- that is, it is, in the legal sense, that is a tort.
posted by boo_radley at 3:06 PM on December 9, 2009


GameStop is publicly traded on the NYSE under the symbol GME.
posted by stoneweaver at 3:10 PM on December 9, 2009


Gamestop owns what used to be Electronics Boutique, which may be where the confusion is coming from. Last I heard, it was its own company, though.

Still, Gamestop definitely has gaming clout.
posted by misha at 3:24 PM on December 9, 2009


In Australia, they could significantly reduce game piracy by simple price equality. I modded my wii because I cannot bear to pay $100 for a game that costs $50 - or less - in the US. It's ridonkulous over here. I'm not defending the ethics or anything, just my desire to not get ripped off for doing the 'right' thing. If all games were $20, I can't imagine pirating anything. I've bought lots of old PC games for $20 rather than download.
posted by smoke at 3:27 PM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


shmegegge, you covered my thoughts on Riccitiello's interview - at some level, he's accepted the fact that there are people who download and burn games or buy used games, but still buy downloadable content. Maybe they're happy paying $10 or $20 for extra levels and new features, or maybe they don't know how to get downloaded content onto their console. Either way, they're paying the developer for content, and that is a good thing.

EA owns Gamestop.

Are you sure? List of acquisitions by EA doesn't include GameStop, and neither the GameStop nor EB Games wiki pages include notices of EA take-overs in their fairly detailed write-ups. The GameStop stock page from Reuters doesn't include any such mention, either.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:33 PM on December 9, 2009


that... uh. shmegegge we call -- that is, it is, in the legal sense, that is a tort.

Where did you go to law school?
posted by paradoxflow at 3:35 PM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Based on how most GameStop locations in this area are built next to (now defunct) Hollywood Video stores, I thought that THEY were related businesses.
posted by hippybear at 3:42 PM on December 9, 2009


I hate it when the developers intentionally cripple a game just to offer the stuff that was originally included as DLC.
In Dragon Age: Origins, as soon as you enter your campsite there is an NPC that looks like a regular quest giver; only when you talk to him you find out that he will only give you that mission if you pay for it in cold, hard cash.
In Assassin's Creed II you jump from mission 11 straight to mission 14. Why? Because the two removed missions are DLC.

So you do not actually buy a complete game, you buy as much of a game as they think they can get away with, with everything else an expensive optional extra.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 4:06 PM on December 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


EA and GameStop aren't related. GameStop grew out of a few older companies, none of which was EA.
posted by cmgonzalez at 4:13 PM on December 9, 2009


You can't stop piracy. You can only make people rationally choose not to do it. DLC isn't the solution. The solution is to make it more fun to play the game legitimately.

For example, add in an online function you can only participate in if you send the company's server a valid CD key. Valve kind of does this with their games, because Steam is used to find servers for multiplayer games. And keep the online content good and coming after a legit purchase.

Yes, it's hard and expensive, but it was also hard and expensive for the music companies to accept that online sales could work.
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:14 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


People are confusing "this will stop almost all piracy" with "this will stop enough piracy to be worthwhile".

Most pirates aren't skeevy dudes with 300 gb of 0day warez meticulously archived and sorted on their hard drive who give props to whichever crew cracks the latest game first. Those guys are going to pirate everything they can, forever, because they get a thrill from the whole scene. DLC isn't going to stop them.

But DLC and the like will get a bunch of casual pirates who borrow their buddies disc and install the game during lunch hour or whatever to purchase the game when they realize they can't get a lot of the content with the "borrowed" game. So long as enough of these types of gamer buy the actual game such that the additional revenue is more than the cost of implementing the system the game companies come out ahead.

Doesn't bother me much so long as they get a little more, you know, subtle about it than Dragon Age where an NPC in the party camp is essentially standing around waving a giant foam finger and wearing a billboard around his neck. Immersion anyone?
posted by Justinian at 4:42 PM on December 9, 2009


It's not just DLC, it's free DLC that comes with the game on launch day. Dragon's Age and Saboteur both do this. The purpose of free launch day DLC isn't to stop piracy. It's to stop resale of used games. Some huge fraction of Gamestop's revenue is from selling used games. The game publishers see $0 of those sales and it angers them. So launch day DLC devalues the used copies.

Of course pirates will steal the DLC along with the game. And if anything, launch day DLC seems to create even more incentives for piracy. Before, a new copy of a game had significant resale value. Now, it has less.
posted by Nelson at 4:52 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


The worst kind of DLC was in Katamari Damacy on the 360, where you had to pay to unlock levels that came shipped on the disc.
posted by ymgve at 5:19 PM on December 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


One of the more interesting idea came out of EA: If you bought Dragon Age online or iun a box, you got a ONE TIME USE code for a party member. If you pirate the game or buy it used, you have to cough up 10 bucks for another code. Not a bad idea, especially given the awesomeness of that party member.
posted by GilloD at 5:34 PM on December 9, 2009


This is because (if you follow the game publisher's instructions) the game costs money, and access to the multiplayer server is free. This is stupid. It's cart before horse. Blizzard has the right idea, with WoW (although not Battle.net); the game should be free, or near-to, and the multiplayer server should cost.

This has the extra beneficial side effect of players freely distributing your game for you and you not having to worry about disc pressing, packaging, all that stuff. You also don't have to worry about crap like key checking, bannings, etc.

People will baulk at paying $50 upfront but they will cheerfully pay $10 a month for five years straight.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:28 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


let me get this straight... you have to be online for DLC when you play the game? or just once?

what kind of fools commoditize information into salable units & then complain about the resulting commodity's value?!? oh, right, that kind.

I only play free network games, so I am not really part of the market... but doesn't subscription seem viable? Some work involved in managing subscribers IDs & preventing duplication, but should work *much* better than serial #'s only used during installation. After all noone needs your CD to arrive at your serial #, it can be obtained before you buy it, or generated if the scheme is as weak as software publishers' have been. If your subscription user ID gets out the purveyor can block it by tracking multiple use much better than serial #s. The legitimate user needs to get a new one by providing CC# used for purchase &/or perhaps a nominal fee - subscription reinstated with new ID.

discs can be backed up by users legitimately, but companies need to (or at least should) provide content to purchasers. seems like the 'you can back up your disc' was a decision based on logistics & cost, whereas DRM type content is harder to manage. if your content dies with your device hopefully your account allows you to retrieve it when you get another compatible one.

just because DVD & iTunes encryption were weak enough to be busted & propagated doesn't mean the market *has* to suffer. for discs it takes a greater toll because the cost & piracy (reselling!) have a wider margin. $1 is a good start for a song, but it should go lower, and seems that widespread proliferation still stems from discs rather than iTunes. in other words trying to sell mp3s or even AAC formatted media is prohibitive enough that widespread mp3 sharing originates mostly from discs rather than services like iTunes. there haven't been significant RIAA or individual artist lawsuits against such services, have there?

so I say the disc is the problem, and lack of shift by stagnant behemoth corps. what is the disc but an invitation to share? provide basic game free in some way or for some time, and sell the in-game goods effectively... then only the in-game transactions remain (and these are widely resold by third-party companies in most cases, with a balance chosen by the game purveyor because they are unavoidable)

shmegegge: "but I became a gamer, and a dedicated one, by playing pirated games for years. if I hadn't done that, maybe I wouldn't be a gamer at all."

that's how I got into software, and ultimately noticed free/open source pattern as being incredibly useful. it's not just the students using PhotoShop, it's that PhotoShop has just 1 price... they've tried a slimmer version (now PS Elements, but used to be ImageReady, which I guess is now a different enough web utility to be included in CS bundles) if one could pay $50 or $60 for the menial production tasks (as opposed to full-fledged graphic artist suite) there would be some heretofore unknown marketshare gained. maybe it'll go more like QuickTime/QuickTimePro and iMovie/FinalCutPro where one is free, but with any lead in value remaining I'd think Adobe could charge for the lesser offering, as well. probably those days are already past & the free tools suffice for most users needs, but it is a shame & I feel that the bundled package approach inhibits valuable portions of market pattern not required for proprietary offerings.

give *something* away though as a teaser, especially for games!

I'm curious about current network play for console/PC games... are many hosts run by game (or console) providers? There are significant third-parties & individuals hosting their own, I believe... some ISPs even specialize. What are the current main approaches to licensing & selling server hosting tools? This could be managed in similar subscription fashion, providing data to the purveyor & preventing (most) misuse. Since I play only network games that are free with optional incremental purchasing maybe I'm biased, but good ones are hosted by their purveyors & have breadth of game state. the third-party servers are hacked up so you can skip levels/areas & maintained by users who are not as impartial, so they're for fun, with no significant game market or ongoing userbase.

stealing is the new sharing, anyway. if it's not sold, it's not piracy. it is inappropriate business practice to lament propagation of one's product - that is the point, get to dealing with it better or realize you are fading from the marketplace, if slowly like Windows. old-school arcade games are basically all available together for mostly nostalgic use on PCs, with just a checkbox like "I have the rights to use this ROM code" which is bundled. someone centralized much of the ROM code, otherwise few users would even bother.

the way my friends and I thought about it years ago was that if you know about the thing (software) it will come to you. so with music, games, media, etc. some users decide some of the time that they have the right to use it because they know about it, and probably purchased it in some form at some point. that's just the way it works, and blocking people from promoting products is detrimental. arguably at this point most DRM is so pitiful that a few users can share with the world, and pretty much are doing so... with significant barriers compared to purchase reinforced by prosecution of major distributors. already for TV there is (crappy quality) Hulu which lowers piracy of seasonal disc releases. I expect shows on subscription cable/dish & also movies to follow suit to some degree because it is a proven revenue stream, not a pipe dream.
posted by gkr at 6:40 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


PontifexPrimus: So you do not actually buy a complete game, you buy as much of a game as they think they can get away with, with everything else an expensive optional extra.

I have fallen away from mainstream gaming somewhat because of things like this. It is reprehensible. Especially that mission numbering thing, that is atrocious. I sense the cracks in the foundations of modern gaming beginning to widen....

The Beautiful Katamari thing that ymgve mentions was a particularly egregious example, and it absolutely destroyed my enthusiasm for all the later installments of the series. Suddenly this light and wonderful thing was being blatantly leveraged in order to extort money from players. Nothing destroys whimsy like naked greed! I think that is why that example stuck out so much in players' minds, even though I'm pretty sure it isn't the only game to do this.
posted by JHarris at 6:49 PM on December 9, 2009


Pretty soon there will be some sort of super-dedicated single-game machine that forces you to insert money simply to start playing the game. And you'll have to put in more money if you character dies!

But will it play Crysis?
posted by MikeMc at 6:56 PM on December 9, 2009


One of the more interesting idea came out of EA: If you bought Dragon Age online or iun a box, you got a ONE TIME USE code for a party member. If you pirate the game or buy it used, you have to cough up 10 bucks for another code.

I strongly sense that, if this idea takes off, it will do yet more damage to video gaming as a hobby. Do you really think that EA can be trusted to not abuse this idea? One party member alone is bad enough, how about when the real ending is like this? Or half the bloody game?

The ultimate problem here, I am sorry to say, is exactly the same problem with any other mass-market entertainment industry. They all began as people doing it for free for the love of the work and the appreciation of others. Then those people found they could earn a living from it, avoiding the deadly rat race doing something they loved. Then the money men got involved, the poisonous idea that money is the primary motivation for business seeped in, and now we have games that refuse to do certain absolutely simple things for the player unless they pay extra money for it.

We are in the worst-case scenario.
posted by JHarris at 6:57 PM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wow, I don't know why I was under that impression about GameStop. Hm. Thanks. That makes sense then. . .

DLC is kind of a mixed bag, and is probably the natural extension of the expansion pack. There's a lot good to be had. In some cases, it really extends the life of a game and allows developers to improve the game quite a bit. I don't mind paying some money for a good number of hours of continued play, and I don't even mind paying some small amount for perks and skins and wotnot. GTA got this right. Fallout gots this right. Even Madballs In . . . Babo: Invasion has reasonable DLC. But, I want to pay for ANCILLARY material. EXTRAS. I buy a game, I want a complete game. I'm afraid, though, that such will not be the norm.
posted by absalom at 6:58 PM on December 9, 2009


The stupid thing about working to stop resale is this: Where do you think the purchaser got the money to buy your game? Games that get resold typically are being turned over for new games. You stop resale, you cut sales for all games. This is particularly the case for second-tier games and games with meager resale value.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:04 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


For pay DLC doesn't bother me, even DLC that's actually on the disk at the time the game ships. Games have been pegged at the $50/$60 price point for years now, but game budgets have gone up dramatically. I'm OK with being asked to pay more to play more of the game.

The launch day free DLC, though, is obnoxious. And yes, at least for Dragon Age it involves an online check every time you launch the game. If we're going to do all that, why not just go the whole way and require an online DRM check? Steam's already doing it and it works pretty well.

Subscription and free-to-play models are one way out of this mess. So is lower budget games.
posted by Nelson at 7:18 PM on December 9, 2009


I used to pirate stuff for the pc all the damn time. ... now I'm a guy with a job and I buy all my games because thanks to digital downloads it's actually more convenient to buy it legally
I used to pirate games in high school/college. Then I just stopped playing games. I just lost interest in trying new games. It was like, I bought an original Xbox and only ended up playing one game on it (Jet Set Radio Future). I only got a few games for my PS2, including both Gran Tourismo games for it.

This kind of thing definitely turns me off of the idea of getting back into gaming, which sucks for them because I could certainly afford a game habit now. It really ought to just be a free client for a paid service (like WoW) or when you buy the disk that's all you get. (Unless it's true new content developed after the game was released, I guess).

I'm also annoyed by all those online games now where you can either work at the game, or just buy your way through.
posted by delmoi at 7:34 PM on December 9, 2009


One of the greatest defeaters of my personal piracy has been Steam definitely. Buying games on it is so easy and I've been able to get a lot of stuff on sale there, so I felt like it was a reasonable price, it was easier than pirating, etc etc etc.

Providing a good product and a good easy way to get that product is one of the best ways companies can go about this.
posted by haveanicesummer at 8:05 PM on December 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


The only problem with the online-content model, as others mentioned, is you have to maintain it. This works great if you are a titan like Blizzard - you can guarantee everyone on earth will pay full price for Diablo. But if you are a middle-to-small sized gaming company like GPG or Flagship, demanding online connectivity can backfire badly. HG:L being the most extreme example, a game which literally stopped working because the publisher went totally bankrupt less than a year after release.

But this is no excuse for titans like EA. The main obstacle here is console integration: Games for Windows imposes a great deal of restrictions on game publishers which eliminate their ability to exploit this business model. Which is exactly why Blizzard remains a PC-only developer and Valve's entries in the console market remain limited. L4D2 is an excellent example of these principles in action - instead of supporting an existing product they dumped it in favour of selling copies of a new "expansion" product, standard EA practice which basically encourages piracy. Partly due to greed, but partly due to how supporting/patching Games for Windows is nearly impossible.
posted by mek at 8:08 PM on December 9, 2009


mek, isn't Games for Windows just a standardization process? You have to have certain things like 360 gamepad support, have to store saves in specific locations etc, but I have never heard about GfW interfering with game patching.

Now, if you're talking about Games for Windows Live, now that's a whole different beast. And I'm very glad so few titles try to use it.
posted by ymgve at 8:16 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I should add the limitations are there for a reason: patching console games requires space on a hard drive of limited size, and so this is a hard problem for this generation of gaming. The real issue is the fact that the differences between the PC, 360 and PS3 are so small as to be an inconvenience more than anything. Consoles, moving forward, should probably be a standards-based specialized PC rather than proprietary tech. This would put power into the hands of developers rather than the Sony/MS middlemen we are currently stuck with. (So it won't happen.)
posted by mek at 8:18 PM on December 9, 2009


mek, you're talking about consoles. Why are you refering it to as the Games for Windows process?
posted by ymgve at 8:20 PM on December 9, 2009


I'm also annoyed by all those online games now where you can either work at the game, or just buy your way through.
posted by delmoi at 10:34 PM on December 9 [+] [!]


Tangentially,

Yeah, I kind of get that, but I'm also annoyed by all those online games where it becomes so much work that people are actually tempted to spend actual real money rather than go through the boring drudgery of 'working' at something that's supposed to be fun.
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:20 PM on December 9, 2009


the game should be free, or near-to, and the multiplayer server should cost.

You and I seem to have pretty fundamentally opposed ideas about gaming. Are there no such things as single-player games in your gaming universe?
posted by Justinian at 8:30 PM on December 9, 2009


L4D2 is an excellent example of these principles in action - instead of supporting an existing product they dumped it in favour of selling copies of a new "expansion" product

Except Left 4 Dead 2 isn't an expansion. It's a new game, a sequel to Left 4 Dead. You do not need to buy the original Left 4 Dead to play it. Valve considers it a sequel. The people who got their underwear in a twist are the ones who can't accept that Valve won't be dumping more free stuff on them after their initial purchase. I don't know how Valve manages to put so much development time into their games after release, particularly Team Fortress 2, but I have never felt like I didn't get my money's worth from them.

You can argue that it came out too soon, is too similar to its predecessor, is a ripoff, etc. But unless you also get up in arms every year when they release a new iteration of Madden I'm not sure it's fair to single out L4D.
posted by uri at 9:19 PM on December 9, 2009


in my universe, yeah, it's been 20 years since I considered playing a single player game more than once, and mostly at the request of someone else. at least 15 years for multiplayer LAN ones. ever read the Most Dangerous Game? other players are where it's at! :)

although that is my opinion, plenty wile away hours alone with their games. doesn't mean that a networked distribution model wouldn't serve those games better eventually, though. just because you use Windows & Word all by your lonesome (as opposed to web apps, Google Docs, collaboration!) doesn't mean updates are not more efficiently managed using the network.

where do you think good software comes from? not from money. there are great games that support themselves and can be played for free... for a *long* time. the crappy web games that are boring if you don't pay must get more enjoyable, good point Comrade_robot. good games where paying only gives small advantages & opportunities don't end game play for users who pay... indeed they're happy to rule the game from up on high. most of them add new worlds and have no upper level limit, I suppose.

as for network requirements, third-parties might take over if companies die... it's only the impartiality that helps. sometimes the creator does a really bad job of hosting their game, closing avenues for growth and being overly controlling. if there are standard protocols some games don't need too much networkability - just track users, manage updates & perhaps ladders/rankings, chat or other simple but not game-specific utilities.

I would hope consoles become more agnostic & built with standard components, perhaps even upgradable?!? graphics is out ahead for consoles compared to PCs, in the software & board designs, I think, not just the graphics cards. they actually work well on old tube TVs but that's not going to matter for much longer. should happen but probably years away, and I expect the computer industry's diversity will manifest gap bridging since it is not in the interest of console makers initially. Sort of like you can run MacOS on a PC with some effort, but Jobs still took it back to RISC for several years on principle of not opening the gate too soon before returning to x86 (which NeXT already ran on).

I also hoped PS2 would actually run Linux usefully, as part of the PS2 system, not as an afterthought because Sony built their system *using* Linux but did not want to ship with it or they'd have to GPL their system. smart use of a public & protected tool, but I think someday it will happen when the best interest of the platform supports it.

definitely glad to see agreement that a player engine can be distributed for some games, especially hosted networked ones. would be nice if the server software could be licensed nominally for appropriate use... and the primary host for the game is managed carefully to provide consistency.

who is to say that a mature virtual world with its own marketplace doesn't engender greater profit? I heard so many years ago about the astonishing EverQuest market being greater than the GNP of some countries.

economy of surplus is different than economy of scarcity. if everyone can play WiiWhateverGame by default, but tournaments & network use require game credits or some such, the games would benefit. at some point the less new games can go toward these paradigms because the investment is already complete & there's no reason not to do so.

even small subscription fees to participate in online gaming hubs for platforms would be profitable after they got off the ground. newer & more popular games requiring extra payment could very nicely support ongoing development & operation. especially in the console or titan game company case, it could be the only source of their newest games.

realizing that the CD should not be the focus of monetization & user identification could help even with games distributed on CD! the DLC thing sounds like a crappy crutch hobbling along an archaic paradigm that is bound not to work for game purveyors as a method to stymie sharing or piracy. there is efficiency to be realized by managing (not just distributing) via network - it has worked very well for software & media with low prices... same reason as buying due to convenience (Steam was mentioned) or pirating/sharing less due to lack of margin & incentive.

however I think software companies cut their losses and don't pursue most duplicate use - some of which is the licensed user legitimately installing on another system. all that's needed is user identification with purchase, which is just poorly tracked in the case of software, then subsequent installs can easily be discerned as legitimate or in violation & requiring subscription.

probably some companies will attempt to charge for same user subsequent use, or not manage well enough to allow it. better offerings arise out of this, and as JHarris pointed out we are experiencing the worst case scenario - which is the greatest impetus for positive growth & change. sometimes innovation just happens with intent, most of the time in free markets it is first sorely, obviously lacking & abysmal.

remember how the web was such a joke? few believed in its efficacy, and fewer still in private enterprise sector... which is pretty much why noone set out to build it with open standards for profit. yet we all profit! the greatest difference transitioning from an economy of scarcity toward one of surplus is that collaboration & cooperation are strengthened factors compared with competition.

we do not change the world so much as it changes us!
posted by gkr at 9:54 PM on December 9, 2009


ymgve: mek, isn't Games for Windows just a standardization process?

Yes. But it requires game companies push out console patches for their 360 versions at the same time as PC patches, and maintain consistency between versions. Therefore it severely hinders PC support, to the extent that it is limited by HD space on the 360 (which is significant). "Games for Windows" is the process by which PC versions of 360 games is produced, there are no PC-only games which bother involving themselves in the process, as it requires MS to authorize your patches before you can release them.
posted by mek at 11:00 PM on December 9, 2009


You do not need to buy the original Left 4 Dead to play it. Valve considers it a sequel.

Of course, but annual releases are a new business model, which has been engineered by EA (see: sports titles). Typical practice in the PC game industry was to produce a title and maintain it for several years, possibly with expansions, before producing a sequel. (How long was there between Half-Life and Half-Life 2?) Annual standalone sequels are a new and significant development and are directly related to the impracticality of maintaining GfW/360 titles.
posted by mek at 11:03 PM on December 9, 2009


Well, I'd say L4D2 is a completely different game to play than L4D1, and a much, much better one.

I am an unrepentant Valve fanboy, even if I disagree with some of their decisions and curse their sometimes slipshod QA, so take it for what it's worth, but I have no problem with Valve deciding to release the new one as a retail game. (Also, it was gifted to me, so I can't really complain about the cost, either.)

I really didn't care for L4D1. It was the first Valve game that I could say that about. It just didn't feel finished, to me, and I rarely if ever had fun playing it.

L4D2 is much more than an expansion -- it is, from where I'm sitting, a new and much better thing, and a hell of a lot of fun. Should Valve have backported all the surface and deeper changes they made back to L4D and released updates for free? Maybe, I guess, it could be argued.

But the way they have continued to work on and release substantial updates for TF2, released more than two years ago, tells me that a sequelitis money grab is not what Valve was doing here. We'll see what happens with the game in future, but if they end up charging for iterations of the game that are as much as a move forward as this one, rather than doling out huge amounts of free downloadable content, I don't think I'll be bothered. I suspect it'll be somewhere in the middle.

It's a kind of childish folly to be a fan of companies or products, I know, but I trust the guys who run Valve, mostly because they aren't beholden to anyone but themselves and their customers, and because of the very unique-in-the-industry level of engagement with players they have had in the past, to make decisions that aren't just a matter of the bottom line and the short-term cash bump.

Regardless, the fact that they made TF2 and continue to support it and expand it (and build an amazing, hilarious multimedia universe around it) at absolutely zero cost to the players (because at least in part they know that every time there's a major new free content release, sales on their own Steam platform spike on a 2 year-old game), will mean that I will continue to cut them a lot of slack in future. I think they've got it figured out, and the way they've figured it out is good for them as a company and us as gamers. A rare win-win.

EA, on the other hand, are drooling digital kallikaks.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:18 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I apologize for levelling even the slightest apparent criticism in the direction of Valve without sacrificing the requisite goat.
posted by mek at 1:12 AM on December 10, 2009


Nah, don't take the easy sarcasm cop-out. Hell, I've launched more than a few scorching screeds in their direction myself, as fellow Mefighters will attest. Like I said, we shall see, but so far, from (again, like I said before) this fanboy: thumbs way up.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:26 AM on December 10, 2009


DLC has ruined gaming in general. Period. It is the big trophy that corporate greed is waving in our stupid little faces every day while shouting "WE WON" because most gamers are too lazy to get off the couch and get some goddamn consumerist principles.
posted by dopamine at 1:30 AM on December 10, 2009


stavros: For me to "cop-out" from a discussion, I would have to be arguing with you, which does not seem to be the case. Instead you are a "unrepentant Valve fanboy" offering only tangential remarks about the perceived quality of their games. I suggest that we do not disagree, but are not discussing the same topic.
posted by mek at 2:33 AM on December 10, 2009


Fair enough, be a dick of the unrepentant variety. All good.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:48 AM on December 10, 2009


Last year, Wii heisting ramped up to unimaginable levels with the help of modchip-free solutions like the Twilight Hack, the Homebrew Channel, and the ability to run 'backups' from an external USB hard drive. It helps that maybe only 5% of Wii titles are worth owning; hard to shed any tears when gamers snag a copy of some Wii shovelware from a torrent site (hell, the Atari 2600 had a better hit/miss ratio).
posted by porn in the woods at 5:59 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I profoundly dislike DLC in most cases. Especially when the content is already on the disc, but you have to pay money to unlock it. Or when DLC is released the same day the game is. That kind of DLC should be included in the game at no additional charge.

However, DLC can be (and occasionally already is) done well. I have no real complaints about free DLC, though sometimes I think it's silly. But even with paid DLC, there are some good examples of well done DLC. Burnout Paradise is an excellent example. Though, even then, I usually can't be convinced to pay for it. I'd usually rather save the money and buy a new game with it at a later date.

But don't think for a second that DLC will always be safe from theft. If it exists on the console, somebody will eventually find a way to copy it to a PC, distribute it to others, and install it on a different console. That console might have to avoid actually going online, though...
posted by stevemkuro at 7:20 AM on December 10, 2009


re: l4d2...

Yes, it is Valve taking a swing at a sequel in only a years time, and not an expansion or a new episode like they've done with HL games, or free updates like they've done with TF2. People look at the $50 price tag and go, man, I just paid that last year! But, if these folks got in on a pre order four pack, or waited a few weeks for a black friday sale, or a few more weeks for the upcoming boxing day sales, they could easily get the game for an "expansion pack" price. I paid $33.75 CAD for the game, not $49.99.

I was reading a forum the other day and someone mentioned a theory as to why some people feel ripped off with L4D2. On one hand you have players who mostly play online co-op. To them the game is a co-op experience and they enjoy running the campaigns with buddies. To them, the game has a relatively small amount of content and maybe a medium level of replay value. They feel like they should have received more free updates containing the free content they feel they were promised. They are annoyed that the sequel was announced so soon.

On the other hand, you have the competitive players. Whether casual or "hard core" about it, these players prefer the online competitive mode (called VS, and now the sequel includes a new one called Scavenge). These players see the game as a new flavour of the genre they have played for years... really quite a unique twist on the usual team based online FPS dynamic. Many of these players have put hundreds of hours into the first game.

I belong in this second group. I put 260 hours into L4D, and that's only since they acutally started keeping stats a few months after release. A friend of mine has over 400. We feel that the original $50 for L4D was an absolute steal, given how much playtime we've got out of it. I have paid far more for far less video game, many times ($70 for Brutal Legend... damn it). To me, the idea of L4D2 was extremely welcome.

And now there is this split among the community and the forums are a blaze with rage because of it. The fact is, both groups are right when coming from their own perspective and approach to the game.

I think Valve and Steam are the lead example of how to do this sort of thing right, but you can't please everyone.
posted by utsutsu at 7:50 AM on December 10, 2009


mek: "stavros: For me to "cop-out" from a discussion, I would have to be arguing with you, which does not seem to be the case. Instead you are a "unrepentant Valve fanboy" offering only tangential remarks about the perceived quality of their games. I suggest that we do not disagree, but are not discussing the same topic."

jesus. I don't know how you respond to stav's thoughtful comment like this and take yourself seriously. I mean, stav repeatedly pointed out his own bias in order to acknowledge that valve might not be as great as he sees it - in other words, he wasn't trying to offer you snark fodder, he was trying to engage you honestly. what a shitbag move, dude.

regarding l4d2, in the end I get the impression l4d2 is a fine standalone product that can happily be sold for full retail price. The problem is that it makes me think I wasted money on the 1st one, which should have had an extra year's dev time and been l4d2. I've come to agree that l4d1 was unfinished and they meant it to be what l4d2 eventually became. on the other hand, I loved l4d1 like crazy when it came out, and for 2 weeks played it constantly, so I can't really complain. on the 3rd hand, I played it for only 2 weeks before it felt played out, so I'll complain about that and mention that that's the reason I still haven't bought l4d2, and may never do so. that and demon's souls having completely taken over my life.

disclosure: i am the world's biggest Mike Patton fan, and he did the zombie voices for the l4d games. this may color my perception of the franchise. FEEL FREE TO MOCK ME FOR THIS.
posted by shmegegge at 8:09 AM on December 10, 2009


Nelson: "It's to stop resale of used games. Some huge fraction of Gamestop's revenue is from selling used games."

I'd like to chime in as one of the people that has no problem with this. I still don't get why the industry is trying to stop gamestop from reselling games, or trying to get a piece of the resale price. it'd be the first time that ever happened in retail history, so far as I know.

I don't care how much of gamestop's profit comes from reselling games. great! I like to trade games in! I'm glad they let me do that! if someone wants to talk about how gamestop drove private game stores (that also traded games) out of business, we can talk about that. but that's a different conversation. reselling games is a good thing, and I don't give a shit if the publishers don't like it. they can't have my resale money until they let me resell the game back to them. and I'll tell you what, they better have a store local to me. I'm not mailing anything anywhere. further, I better want one of their games in return for my used game since they can't sell me another publisher's game in return...

you know what? forget it. I'll just stick with gamestop.
posted by shmegegge at 8:21 AM on December 10, 2009


Heh. I remember the (to me) surprising transition of PC game rental houses to buy-only places (for PC -- of course console games continued to be rented). I think at the time I was told it was a consequence of NAFTA. Too easy to copy those PC games.

I don't typically buy into "the days of PC games are numbered" talk. I strongly prefer PC games and, even if I have a good one, simply don't like sitting on the couch in the living room playing a console game. But I wandered into my local shop to buy Assassin's Creed 2 the other day, knowing that it'd been released, and was told that it would be out for PC in a few months... hmm.

One of the greatest defeaters of my personal piracy has been Steam definitely. Buying games on it is so easy and I've been able to get a lot of stuff on sale there, so I felt like it was a reasonable price, it was easier than pirating, etc etc etc.

I used to pirate games in high school/college. Then I just stopped playing games.


I tend to think the first of these two perspectives captures my experience but in reality it's probably the second. Steam is easy. And I have more $ than I used to. But I also used to have the time, and inclination, to try ten or twenty games for a few good experiences and a couple of great ones. I don't have time for that anymore. I wait until all the reviews are in, and probably until the price comes down (because I'm still playing that last thing I waited for, during which time I also wasn't waiting), and only then play it. Which does tend to make the disappointments bigger (I'm looking at you, Mass Effect), and, admittedly, I probably miss out on some decent stuff. I suppose this also makes DLC a bit of a bigger draw in that I'm more invested in a particular game. Gotta be major value, though, or I can do without. And if you make it integral, I'll say fuck you to the whole thing instead.

Are there no such things as single-player games in your gaming universe?

Hear, hear. I've only just replaced a computer with a longstanding CTD problem, and that's pretty much a killjoy for all multi-player endeavors. I don't want to be that guy.

The worst kind of DLC was in Katamari Damacy on the 360, where you had to pay to unlock levels that came shipped on the disc.

That's insane.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:33 AM on December 10, 2009


I still don't get why the industry is trying to stop gamestop from reselling games, or trying to get a piece of the resale price. it'd be the first time that ever happened in retail history, so far as I know.

They are trying only because they can. That is what big business has come to mean, anything, really, anything for a buck. It just so happens that there is a furor over piracy, and they try to use that to convince (important) people that they should get special treatment. That and, for the first time, a product is being sold that can police itself to help prevent piracy. A record can't call home to confirm an unlock code, but computer programs can. (The fact that, for the code to do its work, it must run on the user's property remains a weak link in the chain of security, one they try to patch through EULAs and obfuscation on PCs, and by getting the manufacturer to purposely reduce functionality on consoles.)

Big VideogameTM relies on ever-increasing graphics fidelity to maintain a constant level of sales. Moore's law can handle the hardware end of it, but the asset creation end requires ever-expanding teams of content creators. So, the cost of making games goes up, and game developers are looking for ways to increase revenue.

Eventually, either they will push players too far and suffer a backlash (one for which I will be cheering, being on the side of entropy in this conflict), or they will have to cut content, which will disappoint the "hardcore" gamer who expects ever-improving game "experiences" and reduce sales. In either of these cases a collapse occurs sooner rather than later. I don't mind this at all, since the games I like to play and (try to) make are ones that care little for mainstream notions of content. The indies stand to win big when the collapse happens.

There is a third alternative. There are some avenues the big players could use to try to prolong their survival, and even maybe come out ahead of the curve. Dynamic content creation is one, although it remains to be seen if it can produce content that will satisfy hardcore players. Player created content is another, although in practice it nearly always requires hiring Cock PoliceTM.

If they manage to survive through innovation, I will have mixed feelings. It would prolong, maybe even establish the domination of the huge videogame houses, and that would be bad. But (I believe) their games would necessarily have to transition to a form that more emphasizes creativity and gameplay, and that would be extremely good.
posted by JHarris at 10:28 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I just want to jump in and say I'm inspired that this discussion is as rational as it is. No one has really come down on Microsoft for doing what they did (they have every right IMHO), no one is saying that "games should be free," no one is saying that the evil game distributors are taking all the money from the developers and therefore "deserve to be stolen from."

Now if this discussion were about MUSIC...forget it. Pirates won that one.
posted by The3rdMan at 11:09 AM on December 10, 2009


Something that should have come up here (but hasn't) is what Turbine is doing with Dungeons and Dragons Online. Right now, the game comes two ways - you can have the core game for free, but certain areas and account options require a one time payment or you can pay they typical MMORPG monthly fee and get everything.

What's great about this model is that if you don't have to feel like you're throwing money down a hole if you're only likely to play the game one night a week or some such. What sucks about this model is the low level content is thick with 10 year olds.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:21 PM on December 10, 2009


what a shitbag move, dude.

I brought up L4D2 as an example of a company shifting business models towards an EA-style annual release system, and explained how that is a consequence of GfW and the various demands imposed on game developers by the console market. Apparently this was construed as some sort of infringement on one of metafilter's sacred cows, and I got a giant essay of but it's a GREAT GAME! who cares about the business model!! which is fine if this was the man-I-love-Valve-so-much thread, but I thought it was a thread about something else.

And then, of course, a bunch of ad hominem attacks ensued: thanks guys, love you too.
posted by mek at 7:05 PM on December 10, 2009


Reasons a Person Buys a Game in Order of Importance by Bruce Everiss from Analyst: Review Scores Least Important Factor For Game Purchases by Leigh Alexander

makes me wonder how DLC will play into those factors, and how it will otherwise change & grow in the future

honestly I think "word of mouth" should be higher in the list, but maybe that's my bias
posted by gkr at 3:50 PM on December 12, 2009


One of the more interesting idea came out of EA: If you bought Dragon Age online or iun a box, you got a ONE TIME USE code for a party member. If you pirate the game or buy it used, you have to cough up 10 bucks for another code. Not a bad idea, especially given the awesomeness of that party member.

Yeah, unless the publisher goes under or they stop supporting that feature. Then all used copies get nothing extra forever.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:03 PM on December 12, 2009


DLC has ruined gaming in general. Period. It is the big trophy that corporate greed is waving in our stupid little faces every day while shouting "WE WON" because most gamers are too lazy to get off the couch and get some goddamn consumerist principles.

Which group of consumers actually "gets off the couch and get some goddamn consumerist principles?" I can't see any. I am not sure, but I think if you talk to an average person about "consumerist principles" it would make their eyes start to glaze over, but the same average person does want to play games. I agree about DLC to an extent, but I wouldn't rely on anyone developing some internal sense of duty for things to change. People will resist when it becomes too much of a hassle or too expensive. And I can see where consoles have an advantage in the less hassle department, but the cost of a new-release console ($400+) tends to be beyond the price point of most consumers. The type of game can matter, too. For many strategy/RPG games, PCs still have a big advantage.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:09 PM on December 12, 2009


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