Monday, March 30, 2009

A New Article on IGN RPG Vault.

My latest View From the Bottom article, the first in a long time, is now up on IGN RPG Vault. It's called "We're All Charity Cases Now," and it's about how we makers of single-player games should be adjusting to a world where people only pay for our games if they want to.

Adjusting needs to be done, and, little by little, people are getting there.


  1. Reading your "what the world would be like if everyone did X all the time" took me on a nice trip down memory lane to the morality and determinism section of my freshman metaphysics class in college.

    On another note, I'm curious whether the trend towards MMOs is not just a factor of the subscription model, but the realization that most (not all, but most) people who grew up on console RPGs just didn't realize that they really wanted to play MMOs. Maybe, but I do think the deep-storied playable novel kind of thing still has niche appeal. Final Fantasy VII was a good example of an epic story and interesting gameplay that I'd hate to see stop happening somewhere.

  2. It actually didn't occur to me that stealing your games was an option until you pointed it out. I'm so used to buying them (as I and my family have done for over a decade now).

    I see your point, and it is a very good point. But honestly? I don't consider it charity when I buy your games. Long live Spiderweb Software. ^_^

  3. Hey Jeff, don't you think you might of just shot yourself in the foot for promoting BitTorrent?

  4. Remember the code wheels and password sheets that came with Goldbox games? Man, those were awesome!
    But you so right about swag with games. Not to sound nostalgic, but I remember getting so much more cool stuff with computer games years ago. Like for Ultima (seven maybe?) came with a cloth map and pagan currency.
    So cool.
    Bethesda does a really good job actually of doing special edition game swag. The tin lunchbox with Fallout 3 was neat (I didn't buy it though. The store was out of them) and Oblivion came with a cool faux-leather history book about the races in Oblivion.

  5. I've been having a long running discussion with several friends about piracy. Not just video game piracy, but music, movies and books.

    The conclusion I have come to, which upsets a lot of people, is that anything that can be distributed infinitely at zero cost has no value in s free market. What I mean by this is that if I stand in front of a "free to the masses" apple orchard and try and sell apples, It's going to be hard to explain to shoppers why I am charging them $3.50 for mine. Musicians, developers and authors cannot compete with "free". Piracy, unfortunately, is competition, and should be treated as such.

    How do you compete with free? Well, we're already seeing it in Video games and Software with subscriptions(WoW, Xbox Live, online games). We're also seeing it starting to happen in the music industry with 360 degree contracts (where the label takes money from merchandise and concerts). The answer to how you compete with free is "provide something which doesn't have zero distribution costs". Then quite simply your competitor (the pirate) can't produce it for free either. If internet bandwidth cost were such that it cost more to download an MP3 than it does to buy it from the store, music piracy would stop overnight. Pirates are more competitive, because they offer the same product easier (torrent sites are the best online stores in the world), better (no DRM, no FBI warnings in your movies, no registration required) and all of that for absolutely nothing.

    Pirates can't put on a U2 concert. They can't provide you with Xbox Live. They can't get you access to World of Warcraft. These things are real services which cost real money and therefore cannot be pirated. Artists can no longer do 3 months in a recording studio and then expect 50 years of royalties for that 3 months work. Performers are going to have to start Performing to earn their crust, and MP3s will become just another marketing tool. Games will eventually all be online and require paid accounts. Software will all be run through thin clients (Google is already doing this).

    Whilst it sucks (I run my own software/web development business), I am open to the reality that I can now only charge for the work I do. The days of putting a "nifty" app online and making a fortune are long gone.

    On a side note, another thing I've seen which may be worth a look is Band Stocks. Rather than ask people to pay after the fact, bands ask fans to help put up the funding BEFORE the fact. Awesome idea, and it is working. Proof that Piracy is competition, and that competition is a good!

  6. p.s. I just tripped over your Story About the Baby. My wife and I had our first child 2 weeks ago (almost to the hour). A great read :) Thanks!

  7. I think good will really is the future. With computer users becoming more competent, informed, and individually powerful and the amount of software available growing constantly, "character" and "quality" start to mean things to consumers in the way they haven't since shareware was new. I think it's great.

  8. If you think about the situation of composers and artists during the Enlightenment, the future (or present) you envision for single-player-game developers is essentially no different than the distant good-old-days for Bachs and Mozarts. What's important is that enough people can discern the good from the rubbish, and then support the good. What's more, when you can just download games and films from the internet for free, big companies should no longer be able to sell products purely through the power of marketing, as used to be the case for some decades. For example, I recall seeing movie trailers that got me excited about the prospect of watching the film, but the film itself was a disappointment. That's the usual scenario in fact, repeated over and over again like a good farce. Maybe soon only those survive who make what people want to support. No room for big scam companies that spend more money on marketing than substance.

  9. Good article, Jeff. AJ makes some good points about the difficulty of competing with free, but I think what you're doing works, too -- create good will. By your "indie" status and candid blogging you create the feeling of a relationship between gamers and creator. It's much easier to rip off a faceless corporate suit than it is the guy whose jokes you laugh at and insights you appreciate.

    I was a huge Exile fan in the old days, and I'm really digging Avernum V now. The release of DnD 4e gave me a hankering for tactical team-based RPG. A5 is hitting the spot. On a related note, I think your criticism of the RPG genre is well justified, and I hope you rectify some of those problems in A6. Epic plotlines are great and all, but I've saved the world so many times that it's all rather blase at this point. I'd love a shorter, replayable, more tactical game. Terrain and positioning bonuses, more transparency with stats and probabilities, etc.

  10. Actually pirates can provide you with free WoW. They're called private servers. Now if you want the whole Blizzard package, yes, you'd have to pay for that. But that's beside the point.

    I think growing up in this age we get used to pirated software and stuff. Things have evolved to a "try it out for free and maybe buy it if I think it is worth it" mentality. Otherwise known as the extremely prolonged demo period. And unfortunately it is more cost effective to get a torrented free game, play it until you don't care anymore, and move on to the next thing.

    However, even in these times, I still found myself pre-ordering Gears of War 2 and actually enjoying shelling out $60 for it. (I bring up GoW2 only because it was one of very few 360 titles I didn't get used.) Why? I enjoyed the first one so much I felt that I needed to support the second one. The same goes for Diablo 2 and LoD, the Forgotten Realms titles, Morrowind series, etc. If you have a good product people will buy it. And they won't see it as charity =)

  11. "Not long ago, a bug in the anti-hacker code for Gears of War for the PC made all the good, honest people who bought it unable to play it."

    That's not quite correct. There was a problem with the digital signature for the game - but it wasn't related to DRM. Rather, it was part of a system to prevent people from tampering with their game in order to get an advantage over other people when playing multiplayer. I assume this means the game would detect if players had altered the exe or the artwork to do things like see-through walls (an unfair cheat during multiplayer games). I suppose some people might call that "DRM", but it's the kind of DRM that gamers would want on their system - at least the non-cheating gamers, anyway.

    Also, I recently read an article about piracy in China. It says "Despite several government-led attempts at crackdowns [on music piracy], the situation has become so bad that some Chinese artists have announced they have stopped recording because it has become unprofitable." I couldn't help but think that the pirates are reaping what they sow.

    I would add that there's not just two types of people (those who know about BitTorrent and those who don't), there's also people who won't pirate because we feel it is morally wrong. I won't pirate (though, I'm a bad example, since I'm a developer, too), but I see arguments on gaming sites about piracy. There's usually a group of people condemning the pirates.

    Anyway, I had written a long article some time ago about piracy titled "Digital Survival in the Age of Piracy". I plan on doing more writing on that subject in the future, but I've got a game to get released soon.

  12. "The conclusion I have come to, which upsets a lot of people, is that anything that can be distributed infinitely at zero cost has no value in s free market."

    It depends on your definition of "value". There is "value" in the sense of "what can I charge for this?", and there is "value" in terms of "what it this things value to me?" I assume you are using the first definition, because it's self-evidently absurd to claim everything has zero value according to the second definition.

    If you are talking about the first definition of "value", then it has zero value only if a few things are true: you can get a copy easily, you face no threat or worry of criminal charges for copyright violations, you have a clear conscience when getting a copy for yourself, you trust that the copy you're getting is authentic (i.e. contains no viruses or other malware). I'm sure there are other qualifications we could add to the list.

  13. I guess for pirates Integrity has zero value.

    Great article, BTW, Jeff, keep 'em coming!

  14. Brit: I take your point, but I think you missed mine. In a free marketplace, the simple rule of supply and demand determines price.

    The Wii when it first came out was selling for more on Ebay than it was at retail, simply because there was more demand than there was supply.

    On the other hand, if you have infinite supply (because it is free to reproduce) then it doesn't matter how much demand there is, the price point will be zero. That's Capitalism for you. Of course, your statements about quality are true, but in age where people would rather a portable but crappy sounding MP3 to Vinyl, and would rather watch DRM free DivX movies than the beauty of Blu-ray. The convenience and price point beat the competition hands down.

    This isn't a statement of what is "right" or what is morally appropriate or whether it is a good idea to pirate (and for those who are thinking it, no I most definitely do NOT pirate! I'm an independent developer myself and yet I pay thousands for my MSDN subscription, and every few years the same amount to Adobe for CS packages!). This is a statement of what IS.

    Is piracy bad? Yes of course it is! But moral outrage is not going to help anyone compete with what is a real competitor. No amount of stamping our feet and get snooty at the pirates for being "bad" is going to change the situation (and neither is taking potential customers to court for that matter!).

    When you can't compete on price, you have to compete on things like quality, service and support. Open source software is doing really well competing at the "free" price point....

  15. I enjoy paying for your work as you first satisfied my addiction to Ultima 6 type games with Avernum, then blew me away with your "Shapers" in Geneforge. If people like me - fans of your particular brand of game - don't pay you, who will?
    I used to love an old game called "Mail Order Monsters" on the Commodore 64, and I blogged about the similarities yesterday at - I managed a couple of plugs for Geneforge and Avernum, too!

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