Friday, September 10, 2010

Interesting idea - Bad headline

CNN has an article with a headline asking whether video game piracy is good for business. Fortunately the article has nothing to do with the headline, but instead presents an interesting idea: Why don't we go and make single-player games "Free2Play"? Nobody pirates Farmville, so why not do the same business model for single-player games?

Basically the proposal is that games would all come as free downloads, with minimal content, just enough to see whether you like the game or not. For everything else you need to open an online account and buy various downloadable content (DLC).

While the idea sounds interesting, I don't think the solution is all that easy. First of all it doesn't solve the problem of offline gaming. If you need to be connected to the internet to validate that you are allowed to use that DLC, that is equivalent to Ubisoft's hated copy protection scheme, and people can't play while offline. If you don't need to be connected, because you already have that DCL downloaded and installed, then what is to prevent you from copying the DLC and putting it on Bittorrent?

The other problem is that if the free version of the game has only minimal content, players will feel that they are nickled and dimed for everything. And people who don't play a game much will also not buy a lot of DLC, so the game company needs to make people who want everything pay more than they used to pay for a full game to get the average back up to the previous business model. Suddenly hardcore gamers will have to pay $100 or more if they want to have access to all the content of a game.

I like the idea of using online registration as a copyright protection scheme, but I think that is better handled in different ways. For example only being able to access the online multiplayer part of the game after registering the game. As you can't play online multiplayer offline anyways, nobody can complain that this keeps him from playing offline. And the registration could be "free" with a code that comes with the box. Lots of games are already working like that, e.g. Starcraft 2. Going further and making single-player games completely "Free2Play" is probably not going to work all that well.

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