Game Marketing Tips, Analysis, and News

Monday, May 23, 2011

They Just Don't Get It

Typical software pirate?
Sometimes you just have to shake your head in wonderment at how people can refuse to see the obvious. Here's a good example: Lionhead's Mike West, the lead combat designer for Fable III, complains about secondhand sales being worse than piracy. Well, he's complaining about both, really. I can understand that if you think pirates are taking away your game sales you'd be mad. But no one really know how many actual sales are lost to piracy. Sure, sure, there are estimates... from organizations with a vested interest in estimating high. It's certainly not clear that a pirated copy would have been a purchase if piracy was impossible. Certainly, some percentage of pirates would buy a game if they had no other choice... but is that percentage really high? No on knows for sure.

Complaining about secondhand sales, well, that's somewhat different. First of all, secondhand sales are perfectly legal. And in this industry you have to be careful about saying too many nasty things about secondhand sales of games, because pretty much all the major retailers sell secondhand games right along with the new ones. You really don't want to piss off your major retailers that give you the majority of your revenue, do you?

Ultimately, though, developers can do very little about either piracy or secondhand sales. You have to figure out how to deal with those realities. Sitting around complaining about them does not help your profits one little bit. Counting up money you might have made if someone had bought a new copy of your game instead of a secondhand one is a waste of time. Developers need to embrace the realities of the marketplace and figure out how to use them to their advantage.

Piracy means that people are learning about your games and hopefully enjoy playing them... which is then an opportunity to sell them something. Perhaps DLC, perhaps a special edition with the cool figures they can't get anywhere else. If you've got a regular service going on, piracy is not a problem... Blizzard doesn't worry about it. Sell them physical goods that can't be pirated. Have them sign up for access to special forums, but only if they are registered users. Does Zynga worry about piracy? No, they don't. They spend their time refining their games to appeal more to their players, and coax them into buying items.

Secondhand sales have become a significant part of the business because prices are too high for the value contained in most games. Which is why customers are flocking to social games and mobile games, and free-to-play MMO's... they can try things out, and spend money where they see it's worth it to them. The mobile game model of free or low-cost is going to be in the family rooms soon, so developers had better learn how to make money from it. The developers who spend their time complaining instead of designing are the ones who will fail in the new game industry landscape.

1 comment:

  1. The only problem with your position is that I really don't want to see game design being dictated by the problem of piracy.
    If Bioshock were made by Zynga, would we have to make a purchase at the end of each level in order to proceed in the game? Or would we need to buy credits to open doors and weapon cabinets in Dead Space? Would these games become never-ending? Or is it possible these games would have never even been considered as viable game projects from the outset?
    If the modern gaming landscape consists of Zynga games and $100 a year subscriptions, I think I'd rather be in the boat of the complainers.

    I'm not as worried about second hand sales of games. As I see the future of game acquisition being digital.