Tobold's Blog
Thursday, August 04, 2011
 
The future of games is online

Imagine you invested millions of dollars to construct a roller coaster. It is quite successful with lots of people taking rides, but at the end of the month you find barely enough money in the till to pay your employees. Closer inspection reveals that you have one booth where paper tickets are sold, which people then just have to show to a guy at the entrance of the roller coaster. So people just photocopy your tickets, or resell used tickets that haven't been properly devalued.

Clearly the physical distribution of the tickets is a mistake. You just need to move the booth selling entry to your roller coaster directly to the entrance, and do away with the paper tickets. You might get some people complaining that not being able to buy physical tickets is less convenient, but those complaining loudest will probably be the people who used to photocopy the tickets. Mostly your new system has a lot of advantages for many people: For you, who will finally make money from your investment. For your employees, who will keep their job. And for your honest customers who will not only profit from you being able to pay for better maintenance on your existing roller coaster, but also from you making enough money to invest in a new roller coaster.

Physical distribution is also a problem for video games. Nobody reads the legal text which tells customers that they are in fact purchasing a roller coaster ride, an experience. People think they bought "the game", and imagine they have all sorts of rights to redistribute the game they bought, when in fact legally they only purchased a limited license to use that game (with reselling rights determined by local laws). But before broadband internet access was ubiquitous, putting a game on a physical medium was the only practical way to distribute it. And that physical distribution has tons of disadvantages: Not just piracy and reselling of used games, but also a "blockbuster or die" game industry developing due to limited shelf space, in which small and medium game companies couldn't compete, and where indie games were hard to sell, and older games hard to get hold of.

Thus the game industry is moving away from physical distribution. Digital online distribution is the future, with distribution platforms like Steam, Direct2Drive, Gamesload, or Origin. By linking games to an online account, piracy is if not eliminated at least made a lot harder. Getting last year's game at half price goes from being a lucky find in a bargain bin to becoming the norm. Indie games flourish. And game companies make enough money to stay in business and make more games.

Some games will require players to be always online, which obviously can be an inconvenience, but on the other hand has the advantage of eliminating cheating. Digital distribution systems which enable players to still play offline after downloading and validating ownership already exist, e.g. Steam has an offline mode. And the digital online distribution also enables different business models. No longer do you have to pay a game before knowing whether you like it. Digital distribution enables easier distribution of demo and free trial versions, or of Free2Play games in which the majority of players never pays anything. Games with a full price of $5 or even $1 become a possibility. A single guy making a brilliant indie game on his own can make millions of dollars with it.

We used to be discussing the imminent death of PC gaming. It turns out the only thing dying is the physical distribution of PC games. PC gaming is alive and well, up to a point where even a game blogger like me can't keep up with all the games being out there. Of course Sturgeon's Law applies, and a lot of games are crap. But if 90% of everything is crap, you need to increase the total amount of games to also increase the number of good games, and there are now more good games around as well. Consoles gaming, which was poised to kill PC gaming, is now rushing to get on the online distribution wagon too. Sony eliminated their physical medium (Universal Media Disk) for the Playstation Portable and went with digital distribution only for the PSP Go. The PS3 has the Playstation Network, and the XBox has the XBox Live for digital distribution of console games. Clearly physical distribution of video games is on its way out. The future of games is online.
Comments:
[...] but on the other hand has the advantage of eliminating cheating.

I have seen this line written so many times without a sense of irony that I almost believe people mean it.

Let me give you an example of an always-online game like, I dunno... World of Warcraft. There is no cheating going on whatsoever in there, right? No level 10 characters teleporting underground speed-farming ore/herbs. No one speed-hacking in BGs. No private servers running current-expansion content. Nope! Warden and always-online DRM is working as intended. Now excuse me while I buy 500 stacks of Elementium Ore for 23g/stack...

I am not against always-online per se, I just think it is asinine to force it when the game itself does not call for it. WoW is an MMO, obviously you need to stay connected. Meanwhile, Assassin's Creed has zero reason to be online. None. The way this DRM should be handled is by the carrot of achievements/trophies, and not the stick of "you can't actually play your games."
 
So you are saying that if we cannot eliminate cheating by 100%, the 99+% reduction of cheating we can achieve shouldn't be counted?

Do you honestly believe the amount of cheating in Diablo 3 will be the same as in Diablo 1 and 2?
 
The problem is that stable, secure and fast internet coverage is not yet ubiquitous, even in urban areas.

For that reason, developers making 'online only' games will always be leaving money on the table.
 
developers making 'online only' games will always be leaving money on the table

Simple calculation: If we make an 'online only' game, we will lose X customers who don't have internet access. If we make a game with physical distribution, Y customers who would have bought our 'online only' game now get a pirated or used version instead. If Y > X, we make the 'online only' game.
 
@Tobold's: "Simple calculation..."

While true, it still drives me nuts that I'll be unable to play Diablo III due to a very-intermittent internet connection.
 
I've made the shift from retail to online games about two years ago.

Since then the only time I buy a retail game if I really want to have a new game but am not willing to pay the insane online prices they ask. The price in retail shops is around €38, on steam it's €50.

When the online prices drop to the retail price levels then I won't have a reason anymore to buy retail copies. It makes no sense at all to have your online games more expensive.
 
@Carra: It makes no sense at all to have your online games more expensive

This really bugs me also. Never minding just games; you can buy a physical, boxed 3 PC license for the anti-virus software of your choice from a third party supplier that costs two thirds of the price of ONE license bought online from the producer.

For games I can see that the supplier (Steam, etc) may take a cut which is made up for by the higher price, and maybe some other factors (though surely not to the levels we are seeing?). But when you are the only online source for a piece of saftware..?

Boggles the mind.
 
@Bernard

About the whole stable internet issue? While I know there are people who choose to live miles away from city centers, the fact remains that internet connection is no longer a luxury item. Many (including me) consider it a utility like gas/water/electricity.

And majority, I think, do have stable internet connection, otherwise millions of people could not view youtube or play MMORPG's or even do online banking.
 
[...]And for your honest customers who will not only profit from you being able to pay for better maintenance on your existing roller coaster, but also from you making enough money to invest in a new roller coaster.

[...]And game companies make enough money to stay in business and make more games.


I've made the switch to digital purchases for a couple of years now. And while I agree this may allow the small to mid tier companies to stay in business, I'm not so sure the larger companies plow that money into a new roller coaster. What I've experienced is minimal content at delivery with more reliance on DLC & Expansions which used to be included in the original game.

Oh, you wanted the roller coaster to do a loop? Please buy another ticket at the booth conveniently located at the top. Enjoy your ride.
 
I can stomach needing login to a server and have central storage to play 'random' groups or 'competitive' PvP.

My issue is that when I want to play offline I should be able to do so. Occasionally I will get bored with a game and decide I'm done - sometimes this is followed by using 'God' mode or trainers to finish the story (Doom3 I'm looking at you!).

Sometimes I just want a solo experience - and I have a host of games installed on my computer I use for 'if the internet is down' time.

If you follow such things you would note the Music industry has been hit with a few studies lately that show pirates are also the biggest paying customers of music. The study from France even went so far as to say the more one pirated - the more one bought.

The industry also has *very* successful companies that have publicly stated the focus on the 'evil pirate' distracts from the effort of making good game (Valve IIRC).

Diablo 1 and 2 both had online modes - and the online areas were *full* of cheats.

Warcraft - same

WoW - same

I fail to see why you think Blizzard has earned anyone's trust in this matter. To me they only notice after major damage has been done - hit people with the banhammer and or sue people they can't seem to control. In the previous games the banhammer left you with a playable game - although solo/lan only. Now you get the wonderful experience of having your enter game turned off.

I played Warcraft 1-3, Starcraft 1, and Diablo 1 and 2 all offline - I fail to see the point of online only with no possibility of anything else.

For that matter I'm also saddened by the lack of private servers in the call of duty games. I played Farcry long after it was a dead game thanks to the thriving private server community. What I see as similar between the private server move and this move by Blizzard is a pure money grab - because they can sell you advertising or upsell you every time you play the game.

I don't have an issue with companies trying to make money - I do however feel shoehorned into things when the game style changes to force you into a box for that reason - This is like buying golf clubs that can only be used at a certain golf course - still full price but you can only play on 'our green'.

Find another way to make money off me - or you are going to have a hard time selling me on a 60 dollar price tag that only makes me feel like you are constantly looking at my wallet.
 
This comment has been removed by the author.
 
I´d like to add that virtual distribution also makes it way easier for people in "out of the mainstream" countries to buy and play original. It is not only expensive to buy imported games here in Brazil, it is also hard/impossible to find indies and we get no customer service whatsoever.
 
Not only is the future of gaming online, but the future of gaming should also be cheaper. Hopefully this is something the big game companies are learning from the mobile market - why would I pay $20-40 for "super puzzle game 5" on Wii when I can get the exact same game for $0.99-2.99 on my phone or iPad? Also, with massive Steam sales every July and December, I can't remember the last time I paid full price for a PC game.
 
"The problem is that stable, secure and fast internet coverage is not yet ubiquitous, even in urban areas."

I can't think of a single person I know who has a computer but hasn't sent me an e-mail. My older relatives are on Facebook. Gonna go out on a limb here and say if you own a computer, you probably own a connection to the internet. The money left on the table is going to stay there until the people who don't play computer games buy a computer to play them on.
 
@grinderrobot:

It's not about lacking an internet connection; dial-up, which is likely what elderly relatives and other non-tech-savvy people have, will work just fine for thinks like Facebook, email, YouTube and posting comments on a blog.

However, it's completely insufficient for playing an MMORPG, as you'll be disconnected 3 times an hour, and lag to the point of being unable to fight in any situation involving more than one player against one opponent.

It's about lacking, to quote Bernard, a "stable, secure and fast" connection. In my area, there are only two options for service, dial-up, and a tiny local company that's only better in that it doesn't occupy the phone line.
 
Online-only might be the gaming future - for companies and not necessarily for gamers.

Claiming that everyone in the world has a good internet connection these days is a bit disingenuous. Read my post World of Diablo to discover some reasons why it is a stupid idea to force a single player game to be always connected. And BTW, NO ONE's internet is 100% reliable.
 
Tobold, haven't you had trouble with games that use an internet connection because of all your travel? You have no problem with you having been hurt in the past by the policy of not being able to play offline or change IPs far and wide without having issues?
 
It will be interesting to know what proportion of posters would be interested in 'jailbreaking' their copy of D3, when that becomes available.

I can see this being very popular if it allows LAN multiplayer and disables the online requirement, as Darth alludes to in his blog.
 
We need to differentiate between online only distribution and online required authentication. Online distribution is fine. Though the internet is slowly killing small business and turning downtowns into ghosttowns that ship has pretty much sailed.

"People think they bought "the game", and imagine they have all sorts of rights to redistribute the game they bought, when in fact legally they only purchased a limited license to use that game (with reselling rights determined by local laws)."

Online all the time for authentication is about controlling a product. Tobold talks as if the customer is wrong to think when they brought the game they own it. The purchaser is not wrong - when you buy something you take ownership of that copy and can do anything you want to it short of selling it as your product. The buying a ticket analogy is psuedo-law invented by the RIAA and flies in the face of 1000s of years of commercial precedent. Now this is different with MMOs where you are actually buying a ticket for a ride..but when it comes to regular games where you purchase a copy of the whole product..that is yours to do with as you wish, within reason.

" Gonna go out on a limb here and say if you own a computer, you probably own a connection to the internet. The money left on the table is going to stay there until the people who don't play computer games buy a computer to play them on."

Quite a number of people outside the US do their gaming at internet gaming cafes. Online only leave these customer at the mercy of what games the cafe owner will download.

Online only also disenfranchise regular travelers who depend on games on their laptops to get through flights and train rides and waiting at terminals.
 
The buying a ticket analogy is psuedo-law invented by the RIAA and flies in the face of 1000s of years of commercial precedent.

I doubt you could buy video games 1000s of years before. What you buy exactly is determined by the contract you make with the seller. In the case of video games the contract clearly states that you don't buy the game, but only the right to use it. That isn't "invented" or a "pseudo-law", that is regular contract law. If you don't like the terms of the contract, don't buy the game.
 
precedent based on 1000s of years of sales of art, property, and literature. When you buy a painting, an apple, a book or a ford truck that copy of product is yours.

"In the case of video games the contract clearly states that you don't buy the game, but only the right to use it."

Its hard to explain this without getting to technical..but there are all sorts of rules and regulations that determine what certain products are classified as under the law. Entertainment paraphernalia is still considered a physical product not a licensed service and I'm guessing that game companies business license/charter describes them as manufacturers and producers, not distributors.

I'm sure digital property distributors would like things to be the way you say but in all honesty the law hasnt caught up with technology and at the moment people are just saying whatever they want and hoping it sticks.

Also technically those contracted terms have to be agreed upon at the time of purchase to be valid. After an exchange has been made previous owners cant start dictating terms.
 
"If you don't like the terms of the contract, don't buy the game."
Or try to get a different contract. Somehow that part always gets left off.
 
How many people who are PC gamers exist without internet access?

In short, who the f is spending 500-1000 bucks of a pc capable of playing Diablo 3, but does not have an internet connection?

There's a portion of the population that doesn't have a DVD player yet. Not a reason for movie studios to keep releasing movies on VHS.
 
Asterik, your comment about internet cafes doesn't make a lot of sense unless you mean that cafe owners won't be able to pirate as many copies of games as they want if the internet requirement works as DRM.

That's pretty much the only way this would harm cafe users. Is that what you meant?
 
Entertainment paraphernalia is still considered a physical product

Not in every jurisdiction.

And the fact that some people consider a CD/DVD an "entertainment paraphernalia" is exactly the reason why soon you won't be able to buy any of those any more. Disc gone, your legal argument gone.
 
Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link



<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

  Powered by Blogger   Free Page Rank Tool