Tobold's Blog
Thursday, March 04, 2010
 
Voting with your wallet

In the past weeks I only made some passing remarks on two stories which caused a much bigger uproar on other gaming sites: The Allods item shop, and the new Ubisoft DRM. There was loud complaining about Allods making items for cash "necessary" to play, and them being too expensive. And even louder complaining that Ubisoft DRM was robbing the players of fundamental rights, by requiring them to be always online to play. This week two things happened: Allods lowered its prices by a factor of 3, and the Ubisoft games with the new DRM came out. And suddenly all is sunshine again. Reviews are friendly, and apparently the Ubisoft games are selling like hotcakes. Even people previously complaining loudly about Ubisoft are buying their games, and I'm guessing they are buying Allods items too.

As a form of protest that isn't very effective.

Now you might say that the protest against Allods Online was successful in bringing down prices. To that I have to respond that many of the protesters arguments were not just about cost per month, but about the changes to gameplay which basically require bought items to play, and the generally negative impact of a cash shop on game design. Nothing changed for that. And I'm not sure whether gPotato didn't plan all this exactly as it went: Present a cash shop 10 times more expensive than the Russian version, "listen" to the inevitable protests, and then "lower" the prices to just 3 times the Russian prices. Oldest trick in the book.

Game sites complaining about something a game company does is only of secondary concern to that company. I doubt Activision is having sleepless nights over the protests against the higher price of Modern Warfare 2, not after they sold nearly 5 million copies of the game in the first 24 hours. What price do you think the next surefire hit game of Activision will have? And the same will be true for Ubisoft: They'll look at the sales numbers for Assassins Creed 2 and Silent Hunter 5, and decide that all is good, and that customers don't really mind the new online DRM. The next Ubisoft game will have the same form of DRM.

The only effective form of protest is voting with your wallet. That is somewhat easier in MMORPGs, because you can send a message by unsubscribing, which was pretty effective for AoC and WAR. In Allods Online you could protest by playing the game for free and never buying anything, quitting once that strategy doesn't work any more. But for single-player games, once you bought the box, the game company will count that sale as a vote for whatever change they made, be that a price increase or added DRM. I think the player base is about to send a loud and clear message to Ubisoft that after all the requirement to be always online isn't too restrictive as a DRM method.
Comments:
"I think the player base is about to send a loud and clear message to Ubisoft that after all the requirement to be always online isn't too restrictive as a DRM method."

The requirement is mostly invisible for people with a stable internet connection and those without it are not gonna buy the game anyway.

Let's face it gamers will go through a lot to play a game they want to play. Any 'old school' PC gamer will remember all the tinkering with Autoexec.bat and Config.sys to get your Extended Memory to work so you could play that new flight simulator. As long as the game is deemed 'worthy' we will put up with a lot to get it working.
 
I so wish that the average consumer of any wares were just a bit more selective of where to spend the cash. As consumers we only have power over the market if we all are concious of our consumption.
And that is why I prefer real free games like PlaneShift.
 
Why do these games do so well despite the protests?

Is it because the protesteors are not voting with their wallets or is it because those who are vociferous in blogs and on forums represent only a small percentage of the actual buying public?
 
I'm all for voting with your wallets. It however becomes a problem when you can choose to either accept or stop playing.

For Ubisoft games? I won't buy any at full price but I wasn't planning to in the first place. Maybe when they reach the €5 mark I'll be willing to put up with it.

But my other main problem these days is price discrimination. You can either pay more or don't use the online services. Local retail shops will have the same discriminating prices. So what can you do? Pay 30% more than USA stores or stop playing. I bloody hate the system but it's either that or stop playing.

@Nielas. That "tinkering" these days would be downloading the crack for the game so you can play it offline...

And I disagree that gamers all have a stable internet connection. My wifi connection fails at times. That really shouldn't matter when i'm playing a single player game.
 
Oh, did CoD 2 really sell that well on PC? It sold well on consoles...
 
Wallet-voting is far from perfect. I will buy a computergame if the price is worth it. Full Stop.

If the company does something absolutely stupid, but the game is still worth the cost, I will buy it. That's rational behaviour. It is even consistent. But it makes the company try to find a tradeoff where the most people are just willing to buy the game.

Just like Star Trek movies are made in such a way that the fans will still watch it, but the non-fans are also willing to watch. In the end nobody thinks it is a great movie: The fans think it's not ST and for the non-fans it is still too much harcore.

Fazit:
Wallet voting isn't the worst thing there is, but it's far from the best way to guide a decision.

If buyers vote with wallets the revenue-maximizing developers will have to offer a product that is just good enough for the most people. That's completely different from: The best product (for anybody).
 
I think this pretty much sums it up:
http://imgur.com/abXW9.png

I hate to use the old "kids these days" line, but really, it seems as though there's no sense of what it means to actually protest something any more. It's not enough to threaten a boycott - you actually have to follow through on it. Game publishers are smart enough to realize that if there's a massive protest against this or that feature or business decision, but the bottom line is not significantly impacted, then they're making the right decisions (or at least, not the wrong ones).
 
A couple of points:

1) Voting with your wallet will not work on the Ubisoft DRM because it's possible the developer will take away the wrong message. They are more likely to attribute the lack of sales to a negligible PC base instead of protest. And thus, they just cease making PC ports of popular console titles.

2) How do you know the Ubisoft PC games are selling well? Silent Hunter 5 was released on March 2nd, with no appreciable sales data available yet. Assassin's Creed 2 (except in EU and AUS I believe), Settlers 7, and Splinter Cell are all not yet released.

3) Silent Hunter 5 (a day after release) and Assassin's Creed 2 (days before wide release) have both been cracked and release already according to some sources. So the DRM doesn't seem to be working well.
 
So the DRM doesn't seem to be working well.

What kind of argument is that? Of course the DRM isn't working, it never is. But if anything, the fact that people crack games even with DRM only encourages game companies to put more of it into the next one.

In the voting with your wallet election, pirates don't get a vote, as they would steal the game with or without DRM, with or without price increase. And they can't even be accurately counted, not like sales numbers.
 
I think the "voting with your wallet" has one serious flaw.
It's never measurable, because you don't have a 100% mark.

Elections:
Party A gets 20% votes.
Partby B gets 10% votes.
70% did not vote -> that's a *sign*

Game A sells 1mio. copies
Game B sells 2mio. copies
3 mio gamers don't buy A or B.
=> "Hey, we thought it would sell better, but the reasons? Well, there are about 20 possible (and likely reasons)"

I don't see how you could vote with your wallet reasonably.

Well, maybe by donating 1 cent via PayPal with a message "I would have bought Game A if it wasn't for the DRM" - and yes, I know that's not possible. Was fun at the German Wikipedia Deletion Discussion though :)
 
Quoted from MBP

"Why do these games do so well despite the protests?

Is it because the protesteors are not voting with their wallets or is it because those who are vociferous in blogs and on forums represent only a small percentage of the actual buying public?"


I think this pretty much sums up my feelings regarding the topic. The large majority of gamers don't care one way or the other about DRM/requirements/changes/etc.

Look at Left For Dead 2. That was arguably the largest internet "boycott" of a game and yet it comes out and sells like hotcakes. The average person buying games either isn't exposed to any of these huge "problems" that pop up on video game sites/blogs or they just don't care. It's a little of both I think.

And lets say there is some hypothetical situation where people actually follow through on a boycott. Chances are it STILL wouldn't matter, because the number of people that would even know about said boycott is incredibly small compared to actual buyers. If 100,000 people really didn't buy LFD2 would that really do much against the millions of people that did? No, it would't.
 
Just to add onto what I said a boycott of a game would only work if the game completely and utterly fails. And when I say fail I mean a game like Halo 3 coming out and selling barely a million copies, because it everyone complained about DRM.

Even a moderate success defeats a boycott of a game.

Now if Splinter Cell Conviction comes out and sells a couple hundred thousand copys I suspect we'll see Ubisoft reverse on their DRM position, but everyone knows thats not goign to happen. Conviction will come out, sell a few million the first week, and gamers will be happy and content. Ubisoft will see that all the people complaining about DRM make no difference and continue on their path. The game being pirated more because of their DRM is also a non factor because they will sell millions of copies regardless. So why exactly would Ubisoft change anything?
 
In the voting with your wallet election, pirates don't get a vote, as they would steal the game with or without DRM, with or without price increase. And they can't even be accurately counted, not like sales numbers.

And yet the point of the DRM is to theoretically give them at least the two week window in which to sell things. In that it has failed. Which brings back the larger argument of, why are you punishing paying customers for the work on pirates?

I note, the rest of my points seem to have fallen in vacuum.

I have no problem with always online DRM if that's what the company wants. But in that case they need to provide some reason for the consumer to be online. Ubisoft's provides no benefit for me personally and in fact, provides a rather large detriment because I play on wireless, which sometimes goes down. Meaning I'll be without a smooth single-player experience, which I find to be a problem.

Provide value to your players. Multiplayer modes with online activation (SOCOM PSP), DLC (I prefer EA+Bioware tactics in this arena), or additional game enhancements while connected online (like Burnout Paradise or Demon's souls). Allow ease of purchase and price your games accordingly. I have 52 games on Steam, 29 of which I've never installed. Untouched. The publisher/developer got their money and I've yet to even play the game. I bought Sins of a Solar Empire on Impulse solely because of Stardock's DRM policy on Gal Civ 2. Also untouched. Provide ease and value to your customers and they will follow you.

The music industry got the point with MP3 sales. So why is the game industry so willing to follow them down the same road?
 
I'm in the Starcraft 2 beta.

I will not purchase Starcraft 2 because:
-Must be logged in to play
-Does not have LAN (offline) play mode
-Offers nothing new except pretty graphics

It won't make a bit of difference.
 
Unfortunately, most people don't bother reseraching the game they buy. They go 'shiny' and hand over money. And of those that DO read reviews, quite a few will still say "Well, there are no alternatives" and buy it despite knowing better.

Except there are alternatives.

So voting with our wallet does not only include NOT buying Ubisoft products (in this case), but also BUYING products from companies that have a way better DRM scheme. Or none at all - yes, there still are those.

Good further reading is this article at gamepro: http://www.gamepro.com/article/news/214178/analysis-digital-rights-management-in-pc-gaming/
 
Like all things in life when it really comes down to it no one cares. Look at video game protests, gas price protests to politics. People have a big mouth but when it really comes down to it no one is willing to do anything about it. Everyone is just to lazy even we the blogging community.
 
Actually, voting with your wallet is not that effective because it doesn't explain WHY.

If Ubisoft games fail to sell, they will move away from the PC market. They are likely to do this anyway, blaming piracy, smaller market size etc.

What WOULD be effective is if every person that bought the game ran the (illegal) patch will enables offline play - yes Silent Hunter and AC2 have already been h*cked.

Ubisoft would see the sales figures, the volume of websites hosting the patch AND the lack of players active on their servers. This would send a clear message...
 
I agree that voting with your wallet is the most effective form of protest.

I don't agree that playing a game like Allods and never spending anything is an effective form of protest.

F2P PVP games work on a lords and peons system.

Some players spend significant amounts of real life money and get to be lords. Their reward for their expenditure is the ability to mow down large numbers of cannon fodder peons.

In a game like Allods if you play and never spend you are providing entertainment for the people who pay. In fact you are the reason someone would spend more than $15/month. There are players who actively want a less level playing field than found in a game like Darkfall, they want to buy success.

"Freeloaders" help F2P games, they're actually essential to the success of those games.

DDO, the poster child for recent F2P success introduced several measures to encourages non-payers including 4 new free dungeons and the removal of levelling sigils in the last patch a couple of weeks ago.
 
I think Penny-Arcade said it best with their Cyclical Argument With A Literal Strawman. I feel that the more companies try to lock down their games with DRM the more they give PC gamers an excuse to pirate those games.

Maybe they should treat their paying customers with decency instead of treating them like criminals.
 
My plan for Allods was always to pay nothing, concentrate on PvE and level characters for as long as the game held my interest.

As it happens, I've had so many other good MMO options that I haven't even got round to playing Allods at all yet. I've withheld my custom and I'm not even protesting!
 
@Carra "That "tinkering" these days would be downloading the crack for the game so you can play it offline...

And I disagree that gamers all have a stable internet connection. My wifi connection fails at times. That really shouldn't matter when i'm playing a single player game."

I'm a longtime WoW player who has managed not to be hacked so far. The last thing I want to do is download some strange executable from some disreputable website. :)

My cable internet can be quite unstable at times but I would still probably play these games uncracked if I cared enough about them (I don't). I would prefer not to have that DRM but if the game is still 'playable' with it I am not really gonna care one way or the other.

I simply do not see a reason to 'stand on principle' over a 'stupid, video game'.
 
Although I strongly advocate voting with your wallet, there are a few problems. And, the big game companies are aware of these problems and take advantage of them.

First, as pointed out, the people complaining are often the vocal minority. Some people who are cranky might just be there to "hang with the crowd". As Aaron's image points out, a lot of people who joined a "boycott" group still bought and played the damned game.

Second, gaming is a very social activity. It's hard to stick to your guns if your friends don't care and they buy the game anyway. You'll go with the flow. You may think WoW is a mediocre game, but as long as your friends are there you are likely to keep playing it if you play any MMO.

I think a lot of people have poor self-control to be perfectly honest. Sure, they'd rather not have to be online all the time to play the game, and they'd rather have dedicated servers, etc. But, that's not going to stop them from buying the game. So, there's no point in listening to the whines if its not going to cause a lost sale. And, here's a kicker: Pirating a game is not the same as not buying it. Publisher know how to follow torrent stats. They know how many times a game is downloaded. They can figure out how many people would normally play the game. All pirating a game tells the publisher is "We need more DRM so those people will be forced to pay if they want to play."

Finally, big publishers know how to affect perceptions. Modern Warfare 2 sold a record-breaking amount. Doesn't matter if it sold like crap on the PC, because it still sold a LOT overall. Plus, it was interesting how the console players got all worked up about how PC gamers were "whining" about no dedicated servers. Gotta wonder where that idea got planted from....

Overall, voting with your wallet works. Unfortunately, it's not as simple as "don't pay for it = they have to listen to you."
 
I am getting tired of the all too frequent canard that players have any right to a particular type of DRM scheme (or lack thereof) or that developers are unfairly treating the potential PC audience like criminals by implementing them.

For one, the PC audience has no right to anything, and if you're confused by that I recommend a good dictionary and/or Philosophy 101.

More germane to the topic of the post, no matter what developers do their DRM implementations will most likely be cracked and their games pirated. This works both ways, so that even for a company like Stardock that publishes games without any meaningful DRM, their games are pirated before release and are downloaded illegally an order of magnitude more than their games are sold.

If a DRM implementation can prevent 0-day cracks and is unobtrusive for the average user, I am willing to support it. I'd wager that the average player of Assassin's Creed II on the PC will never know the DRM implementation exists, besides possibly noting not having to enter a serial key and have his save games backed up online automatically. For all he cares, that is a value added service, not draconian DRM.

All of this will be moot with ubiquitous internet access anyway and that will be coming sooner rather than later.
 
@Sean Boocock

So everyone in the world is going to have the internet? Everyone who travels with a laptop to game in their spare time will always be connected?

Places exist outside the US Suburbs without internet.

As for right we as CONSUMERS have the RIGHT to demand the types of service we want and don't want. If consumers do not want a DRM they have the RIGHT to protest it in what ever manner they feel is proper.

Yes video games are hacked, not just PC games but console games too. The games are going to be hacked and copied no matter what type of DRM you use, the only thing DRM does is inconvience the legitiment customer.

It goes back to an old saying pertaining to gun control. If you outlaw guns only the outlaws will have guns. Strict regulations on video game copy rights only effect the people who are PAYING customers.
 
On global mu, the the company has flooded the cash shop after new updates and the items are very expensive for some countries, almost 2x we paid to the previous company.

We the old players cannot simply stop buying their items, because we spent lots of time and money working on our characters. And there is no more fun on getting a very low experience on F2P servers and without cash items that increase the exp.

That solution doesn't work because there will be always dumbs (or smarts as you wish to call them) around the World who don't think 3 times before spending their money with the intention to become stronger than others.

I hope the only real solution to fight against these abuses of capitalism on MMORPGs is the B. Laden's solution.

That's so sad because games were made to players to have fun, not to make money by selling every kind of craps that solve every issues in the game.
 
"All of this will be moot with ubiquitous internet access anyway and that will be coming sooner rather than later."

Note: Stable as well.

Saying everyone has the internet at all times doesn't make it true.

"I'd wager that the average player of Assassin's Creed II on the PC will never know the DRM implementation exists, besides possibly noting not having to enter a serial key and have his save games backed up online automatically. For all he cares, that is a value added service, not draconian DRM."
And the first time his connection drops, he/she will be in for a shock.

I'd rather enter my CD-Key in once and be done with it, and be allow to play my single player game in peace and relative quiet. Multiplayer online? Rock out.

Again, not against DRM. I'm against this DRM.
 
@Mike

The always connected experience doesn't exist yet for most people. I didn't say it did. However, ubiquitous connectivity is coming in the relatively near future.

Secondly, I don't think anyone would argue that looser DRM measures are worse for consumers. I would prefer a simple disc check, or no check at all, to something more invasive. My point in my original comment was that developers implement these types of DRM measures to try to stop 0-day cracks of their games. If pirating your game is as easy is simply making an iso of the retail cd and uploading it to your favorite torrent site, guess what will happen the moment the game reaches retailers? Persistent online activation schemes like Ubisoft's go a long way towards stopping the sort of trivial pirating that is rampant among PC games. That their first implementation of this DRM has been cracked is more a testament to the tenacity of the crackers, or some oversight of Ubisoft's engineers, than it is of the inevitable failure of any DRM scheme. You might recall Bioshock's DRM implementation and the backlash surrounding it. What was less publicized was how long it took crackers to finally get around it (over a month post release). Likewise with Half-Life 2 and many other Steam games.

As to your point about save games, it's already irrelevant as Ubisoft has released a day one patch for the game to preserve local save files.
 
"Look at Left For Dead 2. That was arguably the largest internet "boycott" of a game and yet it comes out and sells like hotcakes."

There was a boycott? Which goes to show... Many people won't even know.
 
EA Games got burned pretty badly when they tried less restrictive DRM with Spore. Since then, they backed off a little on e.g. Dragon Age.

The fact the game wasn't very good didn't help, of course.

But take a look at Spore's Amazon.com reviews, and compare to the Assassins' Creed II reviews. I think Ubisoft may also get burned. I know that if I see a bunch of 1-star reviews on a product I'm unfamiliar with on amazon, I often don't give the product a second thought.

Word of mouth will badly hurt their sales, and the internet has powerful word of mouth utilities - such as amazon's review system....
 
Your blog is amazing, keep up the good work. Here is my wow blog. If you are interested ;).
 
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