"Keep It Simple, Stupid" – David Braben on Added Value Services
As you may already know, David Braben has recently started writing a regular monthly column for Develop Magazine where he delves deep into "technology, design, and the murky ground where they cross-over" within the games industry. You can read the first article on the Frontier website, titled "What's the Story" by visiting this link. Now, we've got the second article in the series, titled "Keep It Simple, Stupid" for you to read in full below.
Let us know your thoughts in the Frontier forums, we'd be delighted to hear them.
"Keep It Simple, Stupid"
We are very lucky to work in such a new industry; one of the few where there is a great deal of positive discussion and exchange between us, when we are, let’s be honest, competitors. This is not the case in say, the film business. Nevertheless, you go into a retailer, and you see ranks of DVDs and BluRays in identically sized packaging, where the consumer knows exactly what to do with each one – just stick it in the player. OK, there are slight menu variations, and different numbers of irritating disclaimer screens on the discs, but essentially the process is the same. Until this year, that was substantially true of games, at least console games.
This year, we have seen the first glimmers of what may be a new trend in our industry – services that give “added value” on a per publisher basis, where the first user of a game gets some extra functionality or a ‘free’ membership via a long one-time alphanumeric code that has to be entered using the controller. I’ve seen half a dozen such console games already, and each does it in a different way.
This fragmentation and complexity is unlikely to be helpful to the industry as a whole, especially if it migrates into a requirement rather than an added extra – i.e. online account-based game verification via a long alphanumeric code. Some services will require a network to validate on first purchase/installation, others may require the network always-on. This complexity will simply be used as an excuse to justify piracy, and will be a bar to the broad experience-seeking audience – in fact to all but ‘core’ gamers – if you have to go through a different, lengthy and complex installation process each time, involving 25 digit codes, creation of an ‘account’ and password, and ‘”faffage”.
We are, apparently, trying to reach out to that same broad audience that Nintendo reached so well with Wii, with great new technology like Microsoft’s Natal and Sony’s Wand. It is as if we, collectively, are not thinking about all this as a whole. We have a gun, and we are pointing it at our own feet!
The alternative is a cross market or at least platform-based solution to registration. The best solution, unique discs, are currently blocked by retailers, as they understandably fear losing their ‘free ride’ of selling used games as new, so they need to be considered as part of the equation. At the very least, if we were to bring in serialised discs, this can be used to attach a disc to your account automatically, obviating the annoying codes that I have already mentioned to get ‘free stuff’. It can also be used as a block to piracy down the line – which is already an issue on some platforms, but let’s get the process in place now.
We have already seen the damage fragmentation has caused on the PC. Even for people like me in the industry with a good familiarity of the issues involved, the process of PC installation is hateful, knowing full well a game may need new drivers etc., which in turn breaks something else – and if you want to use a laptop, forget it! Steam is a good solution to a part of the problem – but only because it is a one-stop shop. If there were five or ten different such services, would you bother?
So to sum up, let’s move to serialised discs now, as an industry. We should all agree that it will not be used to prevent pre-owned at the current price point, but to give added value functionality to the first purchasers. This also opens the door to ‘for rental’ discs – something I have banged on about for ages – at a significantly higher retail price, as with film. It also creates the opportunity to bring in, at a later date, a ‘not for resale’ version of the game, that does use the code to prevent pre-owned at a lower price point, but still on disc – especially helpful for those people who cannot buy games on line, as they do not have a fast network connection.
Gamers may read this and think that ‘pre-owned’ discs are a good thing for them. They are not. Without pre-owned, retail prices can come down, and you get to keep the disc. Also, the ‘long tail’ of sales of older games will then benefit their creators, rather than the same discs going around, where revenue only goes to the retailer. This is a powerful sales incentive for good, original games, which are otherwise harder to justify making, financially.
If the film industry can cooperate, then so can we. What do you think would be the consumers’ response if you had to enter a 25 digit code as part of a time-consuming ‘registration’ process whenever you bought a film?
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