PC – The Subscription Platform
There is an urban legend in the restaurant industry that often quotes a study with the following conclusion:
“Over 90% of Employees surveyed said they would steal if they were guaranteed they wouldn’t get caught”
I don’t know of the study, and can’t google-find it, and if you know if it is true or a lie please chime in. Regardless of the factuality of that statement it seems reasonable in its truthfulness. While we all pretend to be good little people (and many of us wouldn’t do it) if you picture the poor little employee who hates his job and his employer who makes bajillions of dollars, I can see how it would be hard for a lot of people not to under those circumstances.
This analogy easily transposes into the gamer and the big bad developer relationship. Gamers don’t want to spend money to support million dollar developers, because they are evil. Because they are evil it is okay to pirate their games. You can pirate, easily, and you won’t get caught. If you do somehow get caught nothing bad will happen to you. So why not pirate? Rhetorical question, before the morality arguments ensue. Developers use piracy as an excuse for lost revenues and the validaty of those arguments range from rediculous to maybe-somewhat-truthful. The counter arguments have been hashed, rehashed, re-rehashed, and re-re-re-rehashed that it isn’t even worth discussing anymore. We are at a stalemate as consumers with our entertainment partners. They want more, stronger DRM, to which (vocally, at least) we tell them legitimate consumers won’t play. Developers are in a no win situation. Develop a game with DRM and lose consumers. Develop a game without it and lose sales. I discussed the possibility of a new purchase model that would only work on PC games sometime ago, somewhere, and want to discuss it again. Maybe we can design a program that will save PC gaming. If it really needs it.
I don’t play a ton of PC games. I buy the titles I am interested in but with limited time to game I am very selective about which I buy for the sole reason that I know I won’t have time to enjoy them. In MMO’s I get to max level, mess around, and decide if I stick around or not. In single player games I am far from a completionist – I still haven’t finished Doom 3, although I really enjoyed the game. I play for as long as my attention is grabbed. DRM doesn’t bother me and hasn’t given me a bad experience to date, but DRM does bother a lot of people and seems to hurt games more than it helps. The solution? Every PC game should be a subscription model. Or at least the option to be one.
Simple enough. Developers have a login/authentication/account model for all of their games. This in itself isn’t the solution unless the pricing model is changed. Let’s look at how to do that.
1) You can buy a game outright, for $50. Login, play while connected to the internet, log off when done. Basically the same now.
2) You can buy the first “chapter” of the game for $5. Play it while connected to the internet and when you are done the content, can choose to buy the next level, for $5. The entire game this way will cost more (say, $60?) but that way you can truly pay to play.
You can twist and turn different purchase models to give the consumer incentive to make larger purchases (first 1/4 of the game, first 1/2, etc) but it all leads to easing the entry into a new game. I can list 10 games right now that I would “buy” under that model to give a shot – all titles which I will not purchase otherwise. Once I get into the game, if it is good, and captures my imagination, I might buy the whole thing – or, just buy the “next” part if I am on the fence to see if it improves, and/or still captures my imagination. I won’t download the demo to give it a shot because it would still be a $50 purchase afterwards if it is good – and what is stopping a company from front-loading awesomeness to get me on the hook – and not follow it up with a good game afterwards? The lack of trust between game company and gamer is hurting the industry. Create a purchase model that gives me the option to trust the company outright from the beginning, or give them the opportunity to earn my trust – which I will gladly pay for once won. Even if it is in small chunks.
I am not sure if a developer would even buy into this model as it puts an awful lot of pressure on them to perform, but it is truely a win win for that reason. Instead of developers turning away from PC gaming altogether (bye bye Madden 2009 on the PC, RIP) I believe the extra income from people willing to give their game a chance with a small up front purchase would turn into substantial revenues. I would probably pay dual/triple MMO’s under this model – $5 for levels 1-10? Sounds good. If I like it maybe I will pay $10 for levels 11-20. When (if) I hit max level, then, and only then, I will pay a monthly recurring rate.
I know we are all tired about talking about this, and the same ideas get churned around and around like butter (mmmm.. butter) but if something isn’t done, and there isn’t a change in the model more and more marquis titles will go the way of the Madden and PC’s will turn into MMO/Casual platforms. Let’s just skip the arguments on the drama and move all PC games to a subscription model in the meantime, get rid of other DRM schemes and hokey pirating headlines, and game away.