Kickstarter & marketing stupidity

Kickstarter is a wonderful thing for reasons that I’ve already touched upon. It lets game developers finally do whatever they want as long as they can find the funding. It lets indies be indies and for some of them it eliminates the need for a publisher. Publishers cease to be the almighty gatekeepers of the industry. Kickstarter is a net positive for the games industry, no matter how you look at it.

But there’s a problem. A problem that I’ve seen in almost every single videogame kickstarter campaign. To put it simply: Developers are misusing backer exclusive updates, and in the process failing miserably at marketing.

Now don’t get me wrong, backer exclusive updates are actually good when used properly. That is to say, when used for developing a conversation with the people that are invested in your product. It’s an awesome tool for refining the final product, but of course it’s being used in a very misguided way. Basically, some developers have turned it into the proverbial carrot at the end of the stick.

What's inside the mystery box? Pay us and find out!
Ooohh, what updates could be hidden inside this box? They sure look mysterious … I must know! HAVE MY MONEY!

It’s stupid. It’s stupid in oh so many ways. My best try to condense the stupid in a single sentence is the following: You are wasting money/time developing a marketing strategy that is being exclusively directed at the people that have already bought your product. All in the hopes that a mysterious promise of exclusive updates will push someone out there from not-buy into yes-buy.

It’s incredible that a company like Double Fine would hold a documentary ransom when they could just as well release it. Look, Double Fine, you are not going to get more people to buy your game if you don’t tell people anything. It’s been radio silence since you released the first episode for free. That is possibly the worst type of marketing: no marketing at all!

If you, dear reader, haven’t payed money to Double Fine yet and you are waiting for them to release ANY information as to what is it going to be apart from an “adventure game” I’d go as far as saying that pirating the documentary is your best option.

Yeah, let that sink in for a moment.

The Turret Anthem

Awesome, right? What’s more impressive is that this video wasn’t done by Valve itself but by some guy. What’s even more impressive is that in an era where everyone is suing everyone for copyright infringement, where videos in youtube are locked by country, where videos are being shut down under fair use and sometimes not even that, here we have a company that actively encourages people to mess with their stuff.

Valve is all like: We’ve worked really hard on these tools so we can deliver those “Meet the …” videos to you all, so here, have these tools and have all of these assets for free. Go nuts!

While the music industry is all like: B*tch, if I see ONE more video using MY song in the background I’ll CUT YOU, I mean, SUE YOU.

It’s an interesting issue. Here we have these gigantic music companies that are suing everyone and everything in a desperate attempt to “protect” their business because they are threatened by … well, the internet. But on the other hand we have the videogame industry that is actually flourishing for exactly the same reason. Yes, industry giants are dying, like THQ, but that has more to do with videogame budgets than the threats of the internetz.

danger your tie might kill you
DANGER, DANGER, approaching dangerous topic! Must avoid at all costs! … on a related note, I didn’t know that there was a sign to indicate that in this place, your tie might try to kill you.
Of course, then we get into the topic of piracy, which depending on your world view can even be a good thing (more people are getting access to products they would never dream of buying) but at the same time it permits assholes to get stuff for free when they could perfectly pay for it, and then the creators are the ones that suffer … aaaaaaaaand how the hell did we end up here? *sigh* I remember sort of promising not to talk about this kind of stuff.

Anyway, the thing is, even in the videogame industry where most companies don’t pull down youtube videos and unofficial remakes*, it’s still a breath of fresh air to see Valve release this kind of stuff. Sure, it’s perfect marketing and that may be the only reason why they behave this way, but it’s still great to see such good will.

*MOST don’t, assholes exist everywhere.

Image taken from flickr.

An interesting point about piracy

It has being said time and time again that not every pirate would actually buy the games he downloads if he suddenly lost the ability to pirate. That’s a given, yes, but there’s one other thing that I haven’t seen people pay much attention to and that point is, as David Rosen puts it:

[…] most pirates that I’ve met have downloaded enough software to exceed their entire lifetime income, were they to have paid for it all. A more plausible (but still overly optimistic) guess is that if piracy was stopped the average pirate would behave like an average consumer. […] So how do we calculate what percentage of the market consists of pirates? Do we just go with 90%? […] The answer is simple — the average pirate downloads a lot more games than the average customer buys. This means that even though games see that 80% of their copies are pirated, only 10% of their potential customers are pirates, which means they are losing at most 10% of their sales.

He arrives at this conclusion by two means: common sense and by analyzing the case of the iphone: there’s an 80% piracy rate but only 10% of the iphones have been jailbroken. So, basically, 10% of the iphone users are the cause of that 80% piracy rate. On the PC side we normally see a 90% piracy rate… but jailbraking an iphone and just downloading a torrent require very different levels of expertise. The more difficult it is to do, the less people will do it, that’s a given. So there’s probably more pirates in the pc market than in the iphone one. But wait, there’s more: when pirating games, size matters. I’m willing to bet that the average iphone app at the very least is ten times smaller than the average pc game. So that will also affect the circumstances here: iphone pirates will likely download more apps than pc pirates.

So, taking into account those three factors(higher rate of piracy, bigger size and easier to do), then one could estimate that the pc market worldwide has something around a 30% of pirates. But that’s not the whole story, there’s at least one more thing to this whole issue:

Anecdotally and from studies by companies like the BSA, it’s clear that pirates for the most part have very little income. They are unemployed students, or live in countries with very low per-capita GDP, where the price of a $60 game is more like $1000 (in terms of purchasing power parity and income percentage). When Reflexive games performed a series of experiments with anti-piracy measures, they found that they only made one extra sale for every 1000 pirated copies they blocked [7]. This implies that their 90% piracy statistic caused them to lose less than 1% of their sales.

It’s probably more than 1% and even then it’s only one case, but it’s strong evidence of the point made at the beginning: pirates are usually people that couldn’t afford the games in the first place. If you took out the piracy numbers coming from latin-america, russia, india and china you’d get a better picture of pirates that could potentially convert to real customers. And even then you’d still be ignoring unemployed students.

After all that, how would the estimate look like? My guess? Probably less than 8%.

pirate ship ride
Yes, the whole reason why I keep talking about piracy is because I get to post amusing pictures.

And then, as a final example, let me bring up Ubisoft for a second. Yes, they molested their PC customers, but Assassin’s Creed 2 stayed practically impervious to piracy for 6 weeks. Let me say that again: 6 weeks. That’s exactly what they wanted, to fend off piracy for as long as they could, but not forever. After all, almost every sale is made in the first few weeks of any big AAA game (not counting Blizzard).

How much did they actually sell? Apparently nobody tracks PC sales, or just aggregates them with other platform’s sales, which makes it very difficult to say for sure if the PC version of AC2 sold more or less than the predecessor. But what I can say is that apparently, AC1 sold 8 millions in total, and AC2 shipped 8 million by february 2010, and that’s before the PC version hit the streets, so at the very least the console versions of the sequel outsold the previous title. A similar result would be expected of the PC version then, regardless of the whole piracy issue… right?

If that were the case, then one would imagine that Ubisoft would have been shouting this fact from the rooftops. “Hey everybody, this whole DRM deal works! Let’s continue to molest our customers, they apparently love it!”. But no, not even a single word about sales numbers has been uttered. Sure, they shouted about outselling the original title, but that was before the PC version came out.

Mmmmhhh, strange isn’t it? It’s almost like this time they sold less, even when piracy wasn’t an issue like the first time around. I wonder why would that be. I mean, it’s a better game, it had better reviews, it already sold better on the consoles, it had no piracy for 6 weeks…

Huh.

Is it possible that the amount of people pissed off at the DRM was greater than the amount of pirates converted to legitimate customers?

I don’t know, I’m leaning towards a resounding “YES!” but maybe that’s more wishful thinking than actual objective analysis.

We’ll see, time will tell. *possible victory dance*

Image taken from flickr under a Creative Commons license. (Yes, took me long enough to find a way to search for images under CC)

Piracy… again

Dammit.

Reading this rant about piracy and DRM was a very peculiar experience. The guy says some things I can agree with, some things I’ll never agree with and some other things that just left me confused (drivers? what? pirates don’t have to deal with DRM drivers).

The guy advocates the use of DRM, and I suppose that’s hardly a surprise  – why would I be talking about him otherwise? – but he is clearly against the use of badly coded DRM. Mmmhhh, interesting.

Basically, what he’s saying in that rant is that if you are going to implement DRM, you have to do it right so it pisses off the least amount of people. And that takes work, hard work. So, let me get this straight: You have to pay the license to use the DRM (money spent, a few customers lost, game requires more resources than it would otherwise), then implement it early on and work hard at it so nobody complains about malfunctions (much more money spent) in order to get a few days or weeks without a pirated copy circulating the torrents (gained money: ???). We end up unsure if the benefits of DRM out-weight the cost.

This tells me one thing, the only one I need to know: He’s a man of principles. And that’s fine by me, nobody has any hard evidence of the DRM’s impact on sales, so the whole issue turns into a matter of principles more than anything else.

However, there is one thing that I can’t get over with:

Most gamers tend to justify their THEFT by saying that they wanted to try the game first before buying it – so they pirated it. Bollocks. Theft is theft. I can’t go next door and “borrow” my neighbor’s Ferrari just because I wanted to see what it drives like.

Piracy is NOT theft. You may feel it’s theft and you are being robbed, but that doesn’t make it theft. Piracy is copyright infringement.

I especially love the analogy, particularly because it doesn’t make the least bit of sense (you can drive a car around before buying it). Because, first of all, one owns a Ferrari, but one doesn’t own a videogame, one owns a license to play a videogame. See the difference? Well, apart from that, the users would have to be able to “copy” cars. Therefore, if you want to pirate a ferrari you would only have to walk a few meters to a very crowded place at plain sight in the middle of a shopping (a torrent site), copy one of the cars that they have (download a game) and drive away (play the game). Oh, and in this weird world, Ferraris cost 60 dollars at most and car companies are still magically solvent in spite of all the piracy. And the cars pirated use a little bit less fuel and go a little bit faster than the ones sold. And cars may be incompatible with the user, but there are not that many ways of making sure if you’ll be able to use the car after buying it. Oh, and there are no refunds.

And the car may not actually run properly and you’ll have to wait for patches to be released that would fix the problems. And the steering wheel may be missing, but hey, you only need to pay 15 dollars more for that to be included (badly made DLC).

And after you bought the car you have to sign an EULA. You know, a binding contract. After I bought the freaking car you won’t let me drive it until I sign a binding contract? Why would that make any kind of sense?

Yeah.

Starcraft 2 ditches LAN

I promise I won’t turn Indigo Static into a news blog, but with that said, I just have to comment on this story:

It turns out that Starcraft 2 won’t have LAN support and will replace this feature with Battle.net. Blizzard is currently trying to excuse this by talking about how awesome Battle.net is while avoiding the actual reason behind this move: filthy, dirty pirates. Well, yes, now they admit it, but it took them long enough.

Several Battle.net features like advanced communication options, achievements, stat-tracking, and more, require players to be connected to the service, so we’re encouraging everyone to use Battle.net as much as possible to get the most out of StarCraft II.

Bullshit. You can do all those things without any internet connection. And more!

Ooohh, so pretty! I think I'll give it a chance *5 minutes later* Hey! Where my wallet?
Ooooooohh, so pretty! I think I'll give it a chance ... *5 minutes later* Hey! Where's my wallet?

Yes, yes, I know, I’m talking about piracy again, but please indulge me for a second:

You see, I call this types of decisions “Screwing the consumer over, in the name of piracy”. Most DRM is such the case, but this time around the scheme chosen actually works against piracy, so it stings a little less than usual.

They are basically shoving a DRM scheme down our throats without sweetening the pill. Which is not how you are supposed to do DRM. You see, what Blizzard is actually doing is removing a feature altogether and then pretending that it can be replaced by this other, wholly different feature that, oh, by the way, requires internet connection. And it’s not a simple copyright check either, everything has to go through the internet first, like any other online match. Except everyone is right next to each other… why can’t we just use LAN cables again? Oh, right, those filthy, filthy pirates are ruining it all for everyone.

Except they are not. This is Starcraft 2 for crying out loud! They already divided the game into 3 different campaigns sold separately, which was a clear money grab, especially if they plan to price each one at 60 dollars (although to be fair, it really depends on how much content is packed in each campaign).

Anyways, the point is: It’s an uber-recognized franchise with 3 installments planned and even then they thought they needed more money? Because that’s what it is: money talk.

… oh, I get it. It’s Activision isn’t it? Their whole strategy revolves around maximizing profits, and that’s exactly what they are doing here. Even when they are clearly screwing the paying costumer to squeeze out a few more dollars.

————————-

Alright, I’m sounding a little bit too bitter about this whole subject, so let me explain: There hasn’t been one LAN party I’ve been to that had internet access. Not one. And you know why? Because it’s already a pain to set up all the connections: Cables are laying around everywhere even when 90% of us use Wi-fi. The only router on the house has to be brought to the middle of it all so it can reach to all the PCs that don’t have Wi-fi. That leaves us with no possible connection to the internet! And even then, if we could connect to the mighty series of tubes, how are we supposed to play? Where I live, a 3Mbit connection is a freaking luxury, and the common folk have 1Mbit at best. Let’s say we are 12 dudes in the same room trying to use the same internet connection at the same time… how much bandwidth do we all need in total? I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that it’s going to be a lag fest if the connection doesn’t go over the Megabit/sec.

Not to mention that all internet providers here tend to disconnect every once in a while. Just for fun I guess.

Needless to say, I won’t be buying Starcraft 2.

PS: I wouldn’t be surprised if the game required an internet connection every time it’s launched, effectively screwing the consumer even further for no logical reason whatsoever.

Update: Aaaand there’s already a petition. I really wonder if Blizzard will listen.

Update 2: Waaaaaiiiiit a minute. Didn’t Blizzard mention that they *might* monetize battle.net? They surely wouldn’t monetize LAN play, would they? I mean, screwing the consumers over by requiring an internet connection is one thing, but making them pay for an unnecessary service? Wow, that would be low.

Oh, and what happened to the spawn mode? You know, that feature on old Blizzard games that let’s the user “spawn” as many copies of the game as she wants, as long as it’s for local multiplayer? What happened to that philosophy? Because as I recall, it was the best word of mouth tool ever to be created.

[/rant]

Yeah, sorry about that, I’ll be returning to my happy, sarcastic self in the next post. Promise!

Abandon the Ship: The Pirate Bay goes legal

I'm not sure what this site was for....
I'm not sure what this site was for....

After loosing a big trial, the site “The Pirate Bay” has been bought and the new owners say they’ll go legal. Wow, what a blow to piracy! I’m sure nobody would dare to follow their steps. It’s obvious that now every pirate in the entire world is going to just surrender and buy every single product/service they have illegally acquired in the last 20 years.

Alright, alright, I’ll stop the sarcasm. We all know that this move won’t stop piracy in any way, because the pirates will just find another torrent site to use. Or maybe a new P2P program will rise in popularity, who knows. What we do know is that the death of Napster didn’t stop anybody from pirating and the death of The Pirate Bay won’t either.

So… is there anything important about this situation? Maybe. You see, in the pirate business there’s only one thing worse than pirating software and that is profiting from it. For example, oh, I don’t know… maybe sites that offer pirated goods in the form of torrents while profiting from ads? There’s also street sellers offering pirated copies of music, videogames and movies, but those guys are only a problem in developing countries (China, Russia, any country in Latin America, etc).

By the way, am I the only one who sees the used games market as a legal version of The Pirate Bay? I mean, they are eerily familiar, but only one of them respects copyright laws. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we should stop buying and selling used games, all I’m saying is that piracy and used games sales “damage” the developers in almost the exact same way. What can we do about it? Well…. not much. Except prosecuting the companies that openly profit from piracy, and at least that’s something.

I guess all I’m trying to say is that I’m glad The Pirate Bay is dead.

Another view on piracy

I have a steering wheel down me pants and it's driving me nuts!
I have a steering wheel down me pants and it's driving me nuts! ... Oh, I mean, Pika!

(Source, a Hitler Pikachu was much easier to find than a pirate Pikachu, oddly enough)

After discussing about piracy with Gareth in the comments’ section of one of his posts, I just wanted to liven up the atmosphere a little. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, I “wrote” this song, and now I want to share it with you all:

I wanna be a real jerk
like no one ever was
to torrent them is my real test
to bankrupt devs is my call

I will travel across the web
Googling far and wide
Each developer to understand
that I don’t want to go outside.

Videogames! Gotta down ‘em all
If you ask me, they have no destiny
Videogames,
Oh, you know there’s no end,
In a world we must offend,
Videogames, gotta down ‘em all,
A heart so rude
Our diplomacy will pull us through,

You supply me, and I’ll moon you,
Videogames,
Gotta down ‘em all,
Gotta down ‘em all, Videogames.

Originally I wanted to do the Avenue Q song You’re a little bit racist, but couldn’t alter the words properly. The Pokemon song though? That thing was made for this.

On a side note, a Ceville critique is on the way. I’ve already finished the demo and I’m quite happy with it, but I’m still going to shred it to pieces =)