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Talking to Pirates, with Cliff Harris!
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SethP



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PostPosted: Fri Aug 15, 2008 3:52 am    Post subject: Talking to Pirates, with Cliff Harris! Reply with quote

Cliff Harris, the man behind positech games, recently asked the greater internet why people pirate his games. I didn't feel like trudging through all the responses he got myself, but he posted an interesting executive summary here:

http://www.positech.co.uk/talkingtopirates.html

Does this about line up with Moonpod's experiences? Personally, I'm a fan of all the changes he's implementing, especially the no DRM one. What does everyone else think?
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Poo Bear
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 15, 2008 7:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It's still early days, I think he'll make changes slowly and see exactly what happens and everyone will be watching to see what works and what doesn't so they can follow. We are in contact with him so we are keeping a close watch.
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Poo Bear
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 16, 2008 8:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yet another major publisher moving focus away from consoles:

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/ubisoft-guillemot-E3-games-piracy,news-28947.html

I don't care whether what he says is true or not, it's just alarming that so many big publishers now see the PC as something to port to some time after the console release. Sad
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Konedima
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 16, 2008 11:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Here's what I think of his points:

The semi-political ones
If you create something truly original, then you have the right to try and protect it. If you're churning out the same **** as everybody else, you can't really protect something which isn't yours in the first place can you?

Money
What might seem like insignificant amounts of money to some people can seem like huge amounts to others. I have to admit to impulse buying a couple of the steam weekend specials though (despite how I feel about digital distribution - I'd really prefer to have a physical copy that can never be taken from me and I can still use years from now if the original company goes out of business). What I've also ranted about before is how games are ridiculously overpriced here in Australia, frequently it's cheaper to import even with shipping costs. Doesn't really apply to downloaded games though.

Game Quality
If you go to a restaurant, order a steak but it's burnt and while you try and eat it, you really can't finish it, do you expect to pay for it? Most game stores these days will give you a 7-day return on games, but in most cases this won't apply to downloaded games. Although when it comes down to it, if it's a bad game why would you buy or pirate it? If it's not worth my money it's not worth my time.

DRM
I'll say this: DRM doesn't work. People who want to pirate will get around it like it doesn't exist, yet it still manages to make life harder for legitimate users, the exact opposite of the target. Anyone remember when HL2 came out and the Valve authentication servers went down? Anyone upgraded their computer and had to call Microsoft because Windows activation won't let them continue? Anyone had to reinstall all your programs but been told that you've gone over your maximum allowed number of installs? Are you the person that these measures were supposed to stop?

Digital Distribution
I said what I had to say about digital distribution earlier in the post. I prefer to have a physical copy that's mine forever. Although considering how many games these days require an online check to install or even run, physical copies are suffering the same fate. Does it affect the pirate? No, they've patched or cracked or whatever themselves around it.

Confessions
Yes some people will pirate no matter what you do. I wouldn't consider them a lost sale because if they're that determined, if they can't pirate it then I highly doubt they'd buy it anyway.

And that's what I think.
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SethP



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PostPosted: Sat Aug 16, 2008 5:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Konedima wrote:
Here's what I think of his points:

The semi-political ones
If you create something truly original, then you have the right to try and protect it. If you're churning out the same **** as everybody else, you can't really protect something which isn't yours in the first place can you?


Well, without getting into a IP debate, I think those people have the right idea but are in the completely wrong forum. There is a lot messed up about IP laws (at least here in the US), but most of that happens on a different level than one-man indie games operations.

Konedima wrote:

Money
What might seem like insignificant amounts of money to some people can seem like huge amounts to others.


Which is why I don't envy anyone the job of pricing their games/apps/what have you. Speaking as a veteran of high school economics, finding the sweet spot price where you'll maximize your revenue is just a couple derivatives away. In the real world, I have no idea how to go about getting the data that'd let you make a reasonably accurate guess.

It'll be interesting to see what happens when he drops prices -- if nothing else, lowering prices will get his game into more hands, which will get him more word-of-mouth advertising; that should lead to even more sales. Then again, you know what they say about theory and practice -- in theory, they're the same.

Konedima wrote:

Game Quality
If you go to a restaurant, order a steak but it's burnt and while you try and eat it, you really can't finish it, do you expect to pay for it? Most game stores these days will give you a 7-day return on games, but in most cases this won't apply to downloaded games.


Maybe the lower prices will help Cliff out, here. I'm much less upset about a burned $2 hamburger (man, if only you could get $2 hamburgers anymore...) than I am about a burned $40 steak.

Konedima wrote:
Although when it comes down to it, if it's a bad game why would you buy or pirate it? If it's not worth my money it's not worth my time.


While somewhat true, a game has to be really bad for it to not be worth the price tag of free. I've definitely played some terrible flash games when I had an hour to kill and nothing better to do -- I can see how someone else might take that same hour and play a pirated, poor quality game.

Konedima wrote:

DRM
I'll say this: DRM doesn't work.


Amen to that.

Konedima wrote:

Digital Distribution
I said what I had to say about digital distribution earlier in the post. I prefer to have a physical copy that's mine forever. Although considering how many games these days require an online check to install or even run, physical copies are suffering the same fate. Does it affect the pirate? No, they've patched or cracked or whatever themselves around it.


And worse, it gives the pirate a better product. Their version will keep working forever without any nagging.

Konedima wrote:

Confessions
Yes some people will pirate no matter what you do. I wouldn't consider them a lost sale because if they're that determined, if they can't pirate it then I highly doubt they'd buy it anyway.


Thankfully it's a small percentage of people that do that.

Personally, I think Moonpod's got the right idea. A simple registration code that reminds me I haven't paid yet, and no more. I pay, nag screens are gone, and I get down to the business of enjoying the game.
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Konedima
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 16, 2008 11:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

SethP wrote:
I've definitely played some terrible flash games when I had an hour to kill and nothing better to do -- I can see how someone else might take that same hour and play a pirated, poor quality game.

If I have an hour to kill and can only find a ****** flash game, I try to find a better one, and usually waste the hour doing so. That may just be me though.
SethP wrote:
Personally, I think Moonpod's got the right idea. A simple registration code that reminds me I haven't paid yet, and no more. I pay, nag screens are gone, and I get down to the business of enjoying the game.
Damn straight. Other than steam (wait... I've had problems buying games through steam, so scratch that), Moonpod gives me the least worries.[/suckup]
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 17, 2008 12:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Last week I paid $27 for two tickets to see "The Mummy 3" and it wasn't very good, not awful just below average. I've got about $60 of disposable income so that was a fair chunk.

I certainly didn't demand my money back, nor do I feel cheated, I checked out a review beforehand and suspected it might not be great. Never mind, my bad. I like films and I watch a lot, it's my main hobby outside games.

I just paid the same to see the new Clone Wars cartoon, again not great (at least no Ja Ja Binks), but above average. Certainly better value than the Mummy3 though. Afterwards I went to this new restaurant that I'd heard was cheap, the food was NOT nice, although it was indeed cheap. Don't think I'll go there again unless I'm really hard up Smile - I certainly wouldn't demand my money back though, I mean it was cooked ok and the staff were polite.

I also picked up some old games I never played: Hitman, SeriousSam2, Shadowgrounds and ScoobyDoo (not for me!). Each one cost 99c and I felt really bad for the developer doing it, but after my cinema adventure I only had $5 left. Some shops operate a system whereby when a game reaches a certain age and still hasn't sold it is written off by the developer/publisher and the shop is allowed to "dump it" no questions asked, I suspect that is what happened here.

If people can post-select only the absolute cream of the digital crop (tv, movies, music, games) what happens to the industry at large? Would cinema even still exist? Apparently iTunes is THE place to sell music now and it isn't uncommon for an album to sell very badly, while the number one smash hit track it contains is bought in large volume for 99c (known as cherry picking). Sometimes that one track sells so well the band are happy, sometimes not.

If everyone is trying to push the bar higher, the cream of the crop will keep getting narrower surely? The result seems to be lower prices, more companies going bust, higher production values, bigger blockbusters, more sequels, a small monopoly of powerful gatekeepers, less risk and silly popcorn prices at the cinema and advert sponsored free content. Maybe the end result is better for the consumer though, I don't know. I'd prefer a wider selection and the need to make a little extra effort researching my choice.

We need a balance, so the little guy can sweat blood into something that's just about worthy and be proportionally compensated so he can keep going and maybe do something wonderful. Maybe I'm biased because I spend most of my time playing little indie games and I don't want them to change. Maybe I'll just have to get used to seeing "ronald mcdonald presents" or something.

Anyway, I'm not judging, I'm just wondering. Smile
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 17, 2008 12:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hopefully not too thread derailing, but I just read that Jonathon Blow spent $180,000 of his own money and 3 years of his life making Braid. Now he went for an initially exclusive release on the X360 console where piracy is far less prevalent than the PC. A version for PC is apparently in the pipeline. Kind of a shame he went that route (I can't afford a X360), but understandable considering the huge risk he made to see it through (all the other publishers are doing it too). And yet, there's a major outcry about the price, it's $15 whereas a lot of other games are $10. This is what I don't like about gatekeepers, they've dictated that indie games are only worth $10 so that's what people expect and they rightly get upset when that changes.

I surely won't win supporters arguing that some games should cost more Smile but if we end up in a situation where it isn't really possible to sell games for more than $9.99 then how many developers will still exist and how many games will get made? I guess only the truly stellar titles will compensate their authors enough to carry on. Hang on, so there will be far fewer games, but they'll all be GREAT ! No, that's not helping my case either. Ah well.

Kind of annoying how game prices keep getting lower while food and rent keep going up Smile

Let's try some maths. Gatekeeper forces a price of $9.99 and after his "costs" and royalty the developer gets 30% or $3. If the developer sells direct at $25 he gets to keep $22 after card transaction fees. So for the developer to get the same income the portal has to sell x7 as many copies. Ok that's worrying, but the portal is a professional marketing company and knows what it's doing so I guess it's possible. The only fly in the ointment is the portal only really pushes the top10 so the developer has to raise the bar on game features and polish, maybe adding 50% to his costs (so we need X10 sales from the portal) while also focusing on games the portal is likely to want to get behind. Hmm, tricky.

The really nasty gotcha is that games are a bit hit and miss. It's easy to nail down how to guarantee a game's failure, but impossible to create a sure fire recipe for success. So you really need enough income to pay for the game's development, plus enough to get the next game done, plus a little in the bank as insurance against a flop. Very risky business.
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Weeble
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 18, 2008 6:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Although you mention marketing and distribution costs, you don't seem to include it in your maths. Then again, this is surely an area in which you have lots of experience, so maybe you know something we don't? One would assume that it's nigh-on impossible for a developer to sell any significant number of copies of games with zero marketing and web-site costs, so the argument of x7 or x10 sales to achieve the same income doesn't really seem compelling, since you're comparing net income in one case to revenue in the other.
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 18, 2008 7:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Marketing costs for an indie are mostly invisible. An indie almost never has the money for effective paid advertising so instead has to waste huge amounts of his most precious resource on it - time. The best marketing is developing relationships with journalists to secure free press, organising competitions on other websites, talking to retailers and publishers, managing forums, writing blogs and journals, connecting with vocal players (those with blogs) and exciting them, etc. Some money does go to ads, but only when many hours of leg work have discovered an up and coming website that hasn't fell into the undead grip of an ad company (very rare). Or you've managed to sweet talk the owner of a site into helping you out. Some indies manage to make google's adsense work, although I never did, but again you can't put much money into it even if you do get it to be profitable. We haven't been able to find anywhere to run ads for a long time now.

Website costs are also dwarfed by the real hidden cost, which is again time. I can't afford to pay a Linux expert or a web developer so poor Fost has to struggle with it and tear his hair out when he ought to be drawing pictures.

So yes, perhaps I did miss something there. A lot of casual indies don't bother pushing their own website at all and just rely on the portal completely. In one way this is terribly dangerous as you have no control or even insight into a portal. In another way it is probably saving 25-50% of your time if you really don't bother with your own site at all. If you worked out your per hour income and then added up how much time is spent on marketing and website development then yes that would be significant. It just seems insanity to go into business being completely reliant on a 3rd party you have no control of.

Then again, every portal wants its own version of the game and they each have their own requirements and problems. I don't think it balances out, but supporting ~20 portals is also a fairly big chunk of time.
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Konedima
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 18, 2008 10:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

While I can't really comment on the ins and outs of the indie game business (not yet, anyway... I have plans. That and are there any big studios in Sydney? Haven't heard much from Perception since SG-1: The Alliance fell through and the next closest one I know of would be Irrational (yes I'll keep calling them that) in Canberra... anyway back to topic) I can see it's not easy. Obviously some are destined to fail, some keep on going... barely, and some make it big. Personally, for a game I want, I'll pay the asking price, doesn't really matter what it is (unless someone goes nuts and wants to charge huge amounts, and as long as I have the money). I could be wildly wrong here (in fact I'm fairly sure I am), but if you get a good enough game and enough attention, you should do at least alright, even with today's screwed up world.
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