Friday, October 30, 2009

Hulu Charging For Shows? Oh noes!

There are rumblings that awesome TV show site may have to start charging for TV shows. This has resulted in the predictable Nerdhate and rage.

But come on. I'm no happier about this that you. But. Of course they will do this, and it's hardly a terrible idea, for two reasons:

Advertising Is Not An Infinite Pool of Money From Which We Can Drink Without Limit - If the net should have taught us anything over the last few decade, it's that, "Hey, let's give things away for free and make money from adventising" only works if you're Google. Hulu is an awesome, awesome deal. It's just too beautiful to live.

People Pay For TV Shows! - Look at iTunes. People will happily give a buck for a TV show they like if it's really easy and convenient. To say that nobody will pay hulu is ludicrous. Some people will turn back to torrents. People like me, whose time has value, will just pay the dollar.

People hate to hear this, but it's true. Making TV shows is difficult and expensive. If ads don't make enough money (and I really doubt that the handful of ads hulu shows pay the bills), they will have no choice but to start charging. It's just the math of the thing.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

World of Goo's Big Sale

2D Boy put their awesome indie hit World of Goo on sale. They charged whatever people wanted to pay. Then they put the results up on their blog. The sale got a ton of PR. They sold a lot of copies. A top of copies sold for the minimum: a penny. The vast majority went for $1.99 or less. A bunch more went for $4.99. Very few paid for more than that.

This was pretty cool, but I've seen a lot of people making conclusions based on these results that I don't think are justified. Like, say, that Indie games are too expensive. Which I feel is the opposite of true.

And what can we conclude about this? Well, if you have a really popular and good game that's been out for a while, you can goose sales a lot by having a big sale. Of course. (My company is taking advantage of this basic truth by having a big sale right now.)

But that is the only thing you can conclude.

Some people have suggested that these results are proof that Indie games are too expensive and that these results show that games should be five bucks. Or cheaper. Do not believe this! You can't make a living in the long term selling your game for $4.99. When the PR boost fades away, you will find yourself making no money. Don't price your games based on what the customer wants to pay. He or she does not have your best interests at heart.

On the other hand, the huge number of people buying the game for a penny might make you think a lot of people are horrible cheapskates. But 2D Boy put up a poll to figure out why people paid what they did. A lot of buyers had already bought the game on one platform and just wanted it for another. And, in this case, yeah, I can see paying a penny. When someone buys one of our games for the Mac, we give the Windows version for free (and vice versa).

So the only real moral of the story is that people like sales. Not a shock. And World of Goo is still worth buying at the regular price.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Penny Arcade Calls It.

I normally have a hard time reading the main page text of Penny Arcade. Tycho's proclivity for plethoric verbiage can make reading his writing onerous. My eyes tend to just slide off of it.

But sometimes he just calls it completely perfectly:

It is not a mischaracterization to say that conversations with the hardcore PC community about software theft follow these tenets:

- There is no piracy.
- To the extent that piracy exists, which it doesn't, it's your fault.
- If you try to protect your game, we'll steal it as a matter of principle.

It's like, who wouldn't want to bend over backward in their service?

I would also add: "Trying to protect your game never keeps anyone from stealing it no matter what ever."

I've harped on DRM a lot in this space, and I imagine I will continue to do so. There's a good reason for that. It is THE issue now for music and software and (as eBooks become more popular) publishing. Intellectual property gets easier to steal pretty much daily. Coincidentally, profits at game developers, music publishers, and (soon) book publishers decrease on a pretty much daily basis.

It's a process, and we have not seen where it will end. No matter what your views on copy protection are, this should make the topic of great interest to anyone who likes music, books, or video games.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I Hate Missing Gold Rushes

I wrote a few months ago in some detail why I was running scared from iPhone development. Recently, there have been more indications that the handful of people who made bajillions of dollars developing little apps for the platform got lucky. Now everyone and their housepets are making apps, flooding and overwhelming the store, getting the apps lost in an arcane approval process, not making money when they come out, and being sad.

It was a classic gold rush. I can't take much satisfaction in the inevitable crash, because it never makes me happy when indie developers get stiffed. I'm happy that some people made a lot of money. But for anyone else to feel bad that they missed out is like walking past a roulette wheel, see that a '17' came up, and being angry at yourself for not having just bet seventeen.

But all of this does confirm one rule about indie game development that I've felt for a long time:

In the long run, the only way to make money is to make non-trivial games. If your products don't take a done of work and care to make, you will fail, because someone will copy you and do it faster and cheaper.

There is no way that quickie 99 cent apps were a surefire route to a profitable life for anyone. The inevitable result is 20 different Sudoku apps cannibalizing the market. I hate spending a year at a time on the fiddly work of making a full-length RPG, but it is the fact that other people can't do this that makes it valuable.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Reviews - The Beatles: Rock Band and Guitar Hero 5.

I've written a lot about music games. How saying people should learn an instrument instead of playing them is dumb. How I think the genre is kind of doomed. But I'll love them while they last.

I've spent a lot of time lately with The Beatles: Rock Band and Guitar Hero 5. I am not proud of it, but it keeps me from playing with my children, so it's time well spent.


It's like a Rock Band game, but it's all Beatles songs. Therefore, it is awesome.

(That's pretty much it. But there is one interesting thing. Rock Band has totally changed the way I listened to music. Instead of hearing the song with all the instruments mushed together, I find I now often listen to individual tracks. I'll listen to the bass for a while, then the drums, and so on. It's a side-effect of listening to the songs and paying attention to individual notes, and it's pretty cool.

Thanks to the game, I find that my Beatles albums sound fresh and different. And, considering that I've heard these songs so many times they're part of my DNA, that alone makes the game worth my sixty bucks.)


I've always had the subtle feeling that Guitar Hero games hate me. Guitar Hero 5 is a huge step forward. It hates me, but only a little bit.

It has a million songs. Two of them I was desperate to have in a music game. (Smells Like Teen Spirit. Bullet With Butterfly Wings. Both awesome.) And 999,998 that make me go, "Whuh? Who?" 29 of the games 85 tracks are from the last three years, and none of them make me feel that there is any point in humanity producing more music from this point on.

The party modes are totally excellent. Anyone can play any instrument. The harsh tyranny of ever having the "Who's gonna' have to play bass?" conversation is gone forever. The campaign is really relaxed ... you can play each song on any instrument at any difficulty. The individual songs in the campaign mode each have a special challenge attached to them (hit all the notes in a certain section, play a bass song with only upstrums, etc), and these are surprisingly fun. Everything is much more polished.

Also, you can play as Kurt Cobain. My current basic line-up is my XBox Live avatar and three Kurt Cobains. This is just as awesome and appalling as it sounds. Especially when I play Jessie's Girl. Which is daily.

Also, the ability to play Cobain or Johnny Cash keeps you from having to look at the default musician models, which are just as unpleasant as ever.

But then, there is the hate. The guitar songs always seems to be a little bit unnecessarily complicated and overcharted, as if the designers wanted to make my hand hurt. The Guitar Hero people also haven't picked up Rock Band's knack of only picking songs that are fun on all instruments. Sure, having Sympathy For the Devil on your music game sounds awesome. Then you realize that the song is basically piano and conga drums. It's as awful to play as it sounds.

And sometimes, the hate is just mischievous. You know. Playful hate. For example, they boldly answered the call of the multitudes and put in a song by 70s rock sensation Peter Frampton. And, of course, the only reasonable option was to go to a live album and pick out a song FIFTEEN MINUTES LONG. Thinking about teenage boys going head to head online and randomly getting this song make's me giggle.

But, overall, it's fun. I've played it a lot, something I can't say for Guitar Hero: World Tour. Plus, buying Guitar Hero V early netted me a free copy of Guitar Hero: Van Halen, which I got in the mail last week. It's an awesome game ... If I place the disc on my new coffee table and then set my drink on it, it does an excellent job of keeping the moisture from damaging the wood.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

We're Having a Sale.

Every year, we at Spiderweb Software hold a sale. It's a happy tradition we've carried on for all 15 years we've been in business. It's also a way of preserving my sanity. When we release a game, it sells a lot at first, but sales tail off quickly. A temporary discount gooses sales a little bit so that I get a break from freaking out as our cash reserves start to slip.

Then we release a new game and everything is OK. For a while.

We always make an effort to make the sale press releases funny. It makes it a lot more likely that web sites will print them. I'm not sure how professional it is, but it does get results. It's a pleasant perk of being alone and crazy.

Spiderweb Software October Sadness Sale!

October 1, 2009 - We at Spiderweb Software feel that it is being a long year. Continuing economic tumult. Everyone shouting at each other. The heat of summer fading into the winter's chill and damp. All it would take is an invasion of ravenous killer ants to truly make the year complete.

And this is why we feel that now, more than ever, is a good time to retreat into a fantasy world. And, if you can do it on the cheap, so much the better.

So, for the entire month of October, Spiderweb Software is having its Sadness Sale! Everything we sell is 10% off. A host of fine Indie fantasy role-playing games, for both Windows and Macintosh! The award-winning Avernum series. The just-released Geneforge saga, all on one disc. And remember, all of our games can be ordered on CD. It's a great chance to get a jump on the tiresome holiday shopping.

Still not sure? As always, all of our games have large, free demos. Stop on by!

Remember, nobody will hold it against you if you escape from reality for a little while. What's the point of being in the world if you can't drop out of it occasionally?