So I'm thinking about buying your game, however anymore, I'm particularly wary about buying anything from this industry. The licensing business model and other practices such as treating me like a criminal, installing malicious and unnecessary software on my private machine without my knowledge, and making it harder for me to play the game then those who obtained it by less then desirable means, are making it hard to complete the purchase.
However, my biggest gripe is the software industry's unwillingness to adapt to changing technology, which is incredibly ironic seeing as how they develop the systems that drive the technology. I'm not even sure how software developers can be so technophobic (I almost used xenophobic) and still turn a profit. Oh yeah, people are sheep and there are way too many of us.
You guys seem pretty responsive to your community which is rare and you get points for that. However I was a little troubled by the actual substance of those responses. After reading my entire post I thought it might be necessary to add a little context. It might seem I'm being too harsh on these guys. While I'll admit the problems with the industry I once loved are not entirely these guy's fault, I think their efforts to regain trust with the once enormous PC market ring slightly hallow. They're asking us to spend millions of dollars, essentially making them very wealthy people, and I think we as a consumer base need to start questioning these business practices and then let them know how we feel with our dollars. That's all I'm doing here. Here we have a rare occurrence, a company willing to try something new, and talk about it openly.
So yeah, I'm going to take advantage of that to find out as much as I can about the company and their practices. Not only because I'm about to plop down $60 bucks for their game, but also because they're asking me to trust them. You can't really put a price on trust but I can tell you at its minimum it's at least worth the lost sales if you lose that trust. So yeah, the post is long and some of the offenses I claim this company have made are rather light, but these are all things that are consistent throughout the industry, things you notice happening time and time again. That combined represent a pattern of behavior that no one should have to put up with. These are things I look for before making any purchase.
Surprisingly, however my problem isn't with your copy protection per se. I think it's a bold move to try something so unproven in the PC game market, although this method has been used for a long time in other areas of the software industry with pretty much no effect. As has been said in this post multiple times, it's not perfect but it is the preferred method. My only real obstacle to buying your game are the responses by Stardock representatives, which include a lack of basic logic, proper research on industry trends and consistency in your responses regarding this issue (copy protection and distribution).
My first problem with the responses in this thread is the inconsistency from one Stardock representative to the next when dealing with policy. Even the largest companies do this, EA and Blizzard being the most notable.This is another practice I've added to my list of stuff I can't believe companies are getting away with (yet I keep buying their games). In most cases this is just a simple miscommunication due to the lack of body language, eye contact, and voice inflection we're cursed with using text. But it's those miscommunications that cause much of the strife within these small online communities that represent the most active of your player base. Someone accidentally thinks something negative was directed at them and 11 pages later they still haven't realized they were actually on the same side of the original argument. When these miscommunications are coming from the company and you start seeing a pattern of disturbing behavior, you have to start questioning whether or not they're just mistakes or if the company is being deceptive.
This inconsistency is present throughout this board, however Ill keep my examples confined to this thread. These are fairly benign but the point still stands, inconsistency fosters fear of corruption.Yarlen says - "It is against Stardock's license terms to sell used copies of the game, and as such, they will not be supported."
Further along Yarlen posts - "Stardock cannot stop you from reselling your game, it's just not possible to put chip implants in people to control your actions."
A couple pages later Frogboy writes - But we have to have some way to know that the person downloading the update has the actual game.
The multiple uses of the word 'game' in these responses cause confusion as to the true intent of your overall policy. The confusion in the first two examples is pretty clear, Yarlen is saying that you can't sell your game (serial/license) but Stardock can't stop you from selling your game (theCD's). The second sentence as it stands just doesn't make sense. Why would I be downloading a patch for a game I don't have? Oh, you mean "have some way of knowing the person downloading the update has actually purchased and registered the game."
With so many people arguing the point of license vs Cd's vs software vs serial and where true ownership lies, I would think it important to make it absolutely clear when you're addressing each. Your games attract a much larger group of higher intelligence gamers, but it doesn't mean they're mind readers. More intelligent base also means more scrutiny, which means more diligence is needed on your part. Poor community management can kill a game faster then poor sales, and certainly faster then piracy. This plagued WoW boards forever. Their boards are still essentially useless but it's a lot better then it was.
These examples are essentially innocent but this kind of word interchanging can get you into real trouble fast. It's fine to kid around with you're community but keep it out of official policy statements. Also get someone else to do this. Why is the lead dev spending hours reading message boards and then spending countless more hours formulating and typing responses? If you're going to tout a robust post purchase experience I want you working on that and not trying to quill an uprising. I don't mean you should completely cut yourself off, but give us someone else to demonize besides the CEO.
Considering how important corporate image is in any industry, you want to be perfectly clear with your policy statements. Use specific language, don't worry about using multiple words of the same meaning to add variety. Use the same word over and over and make sure everyone is on the same page, everyone should be using the same word. The fewer words that have more then three syllables the better. I'm not saying people are dumb, this is just a basic concept of communication. As the information you're trying to convey becomes more complicated, the simpler everything else should get. I'm turned off as a consumer when companies overlook these very basic rules. It makes you look sloppy and amateurish. Remember, be as transparent as possible and keep your community well informed and they will buy games from you forever.
Onto my second criticism, proper research on industry trends. I'm going to try and make this short. There are multiple instances of this but I'll just pick on this one.Frogboy said - "Some of the responses here explain why the PC games market is in decline.
That is, some people will be unsatisfied no matter what policy is created."
So basically in these first two sentences Brad is claiming to have knowledge of a single source for the decline in PC sales. If his little bit of wisdom sounds familiar that's because it's essentially an adage that's older than him, his grandfather and his great grandfather which goes: You can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time. - JohnLydgate
I say it's older than his great grandfather to illustrate a point, this adage, this little bit of knowledge, which has been around longer then the PC games market, has been a constant piece of the equation since Computer Space
. It was there when the market boomed and it will be there when the the market is no more, until there are exactly two humans left on earth will this adage be true. My point being it has no effect on the PC game market decline. If it's responsible for the decline then it was responsible for the rise, resulting in a net zero effect.
I'd have to say the PC games market is in decline for a number of reasons, just like everything else in economics. I think the largest contributor to the decline would have to be the influence of publishers over developers to migrate their major franchises to console. Also included in this is a developers willingness to switch to consoles simply because they're more lucrative.
EA over Dice is a perfect example. Certainly the Battlefield series is going to rank high in a lot of people's list for best games. This game has a pretty decent PC player base worldwide, however EA, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to have Dice develop their next major release for console only! All we get on PC from them is a cartoon shooter. Personally, I'm not really into games like that. I'm sure it will be fun but it's not really something you can play hardcore, competitively. Well, I'm sure you can but you won't see me in any of their leagues. I think a lot of people feel this way. We want the games on PC! Also,TF2, hello?! If you can't beat em join em I guess...
I'll bullet point my last two reasons
1. Developers pushing the limits of hardware faster than their player base can, or is willing to upgrade.
2. World of Warcraft... They essentially took 10 million people (or some fraction thereof) off the PC gamer market. I played off and on for two years, and it was the only game I played during that time. I bought no other games.
Number three, lack of basic logic. I'm just going to use a single example here. Constantly Brad and others as well, but mostly Brad bring up the point that their game doesn't have any CD copy protection. Usually this is in response to any claims that a better system is out there.ManOWar2 - "I gave my Battlefield 2 to me brother, he registered new account on a different pc without any problem."
Frogboy - "Battlefield 2 requires a CD to be in the drive."
Now, I don't think Battlefield has a better system. My brother had to repurchase the game after losing it, however this time online. When purchased online Battlefield requires no CD in the tray, and you can download the game from them more than once, sound familiar? Although I will admit it's not as desirable as Stardock's method. EA will only allow you to download it for 6 months, longer for a fee, something like $5 dollars.
While your response may certainly be true it doesn't address his issue at all. It simply states an irrelevant fact. This is called Ignoratio elenchi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignoratio_elenchi), similar to a red herring but that involves intention to lead us astray by changing the subject. I don't think you're intentionally being deceptive here, it's a pretty common fallacy in all forms of debate.
The CD copy protection argument is irrelevant because CD copy protection is irrelevant. It doesn't matter that Battlefield requires it and it certainly doesn't matter that your game doesn't. This protection scheme is one of the first to be bypassed and the method to bypass for any given game is usually available withing hours of a games release. Also, almost every game you can download has CD copy protection removed by whoever compiled the download. Even if your argument were valid what it comes down to is you're removing the least effective method of protection and in return not including one of the most effective. Battlefield, Half-life and WoW are some of the hardest games to pirate.
This is really simple, so simple I don't know how I'm not rich and you poor. If a copy protection method doesn't work remove it. If removing it makes your business model unprofitable change it. You're half way there, you saw that CD protection was a declining and unpopular method so you decided not to include it. So when are you going to take the next step? Dump the serial registration, it doesn't work, all of your updates and expansions are available online. The only thing someone is not getting by taking that route is the Metaverse, and from the last I saw, they're not missing much.
If this makes you uncomfortable about what effect it has on your profit margin, change your business model until you are comfortable with your profits. If you think this is impossible, which I've seen you state multiple times, then I'm sorry but this is just plain ignorance and goes to show how out of touch you are with how your industry has developed recently. At the end of this post (if it ever comes...) I'll include a business model that would be highly effective for your PC game sales.
I'm just going to make one point on the topic at hand. Whether or not your copy protection method is legal or not is pretty much a moot point. The fact of the matter is you're undermining the consumerist culture in this country. People can become patriotic rather quickly and if you ask me this is borderline un-American. With the exception of airline tickets (and do you really want to be in the airline's current position?), pretty much everything with mass can be resold, yes even eaten food, although we won't talk about that.
More specifically you're undermining a key driver of first hand sales, and that's second hand sales. If you think I'm making this up check out this NYT article
about the economics of the second hand book industry. This article clearly shows that used media has a value. The used book industry is far more mature then the shrinking second hand PC game market. It's likely a more accurate indicator of what a used PC game industry could look like if managed properly, considering all data on second hand PC sales is going to be skewed by the withdrawal of retailers who no longer want to hassle with a product with such fluidity.
The point is here in the US we're taught that every purchase of a durable good is an investment. Every thing we buy has two values. The value we initially assign the use we get out of the thing. And its liquid value, the ability to reclaim some/all/more of your investment after the first value reaches zero. By removing this second value completely you're effectively lowering the amount gamers are willing to pay for the game. The gamer is left with little choice because he just can't reconcile the loss of that value. Result? He doesn't buy your game. Also his stance on theft has suddenly gained a new exception.
My biggest argument on this topic, that claiming you make no money off the sell of a used copy is a poor excuse for sticking with an aging method of copy protection and distribution. Your claim is not only false but a perfect example of the narrow minded thinking that is hurting the sales of other types of digital media right now.
So how about that business model I mentioned earlier? Now you may ask why I would help someone who it would appear I don't like. First, I do like them, they seem nice and helpful, and they made some great games. I just think they're stagnated a little and need a kick in the butt. Second, I'm helping because I think this company has potential to make a difference and help other companies avoid the practices that are going to lead the PC game market to the same fate as music and movie sales. They started off on the right foot, however after that they just kinda stopped advancement in that direction. I'm hoping to show that there are alternatives than what the majority does. You may not like my ideas but as long as they get you thinking I don't care what your opinion of me is.
First thing you need to do is go completely digital. If you're worried about losing sales of people who want the game CD's or don't have Internet then provide a materials cost only service to deliver game CD's directly to them. This would be more or less OEM packaging. The disk, with no art in a simple media mail (http://www.usps.com/send/waystosendmail/senditwithintheus/mediamail.htm) CD sleeve that it's mailed in. The important thing to keep in mind here is that the CD's should never cost more then it does to burn, print and mail them. If it was ever discovered you were trying to make a profit from this I personally would dump you in a heart beat as this is an incredibly abusive practice.
Second, give away the game! That's right give it away. People eat up free. Even if they don't need it, if it's free, they'll at least take it home. This is all about market saturation. Get the game on as many PCs worldwide as possible. If you're worried about the cost of distributing digitally then don't do it yourself. This is something that can be almost completely offset to the customer who, as it turns out incur no extra cost. It's called distributed delivery, aka BitTorrent, the bane of your industry. Wouldn't it be nice to never have to worry about old, tainted copies of your game floating around on trackers because the best, most recent release is always available on them. You would also never have to worry about counterfeit copies.
Third, come up with a method to make money. You've already stated multiple times that one of your key selling points is post purchase experience. I have yet to see it for myself but if the experience is what you claim then it might be enough to support a subscription based system or maybe even a micropayment system or hell, even an ad based system (being against ads is un-American btw). However, I doubt, that on its own what you have would suffice these systems to deliver the profits you see now. And the point is to increase profits right?
From the outside it would appear you pretty much offer two things in the post purchase experience. The ability to get patches and the ability to upload games to have them scored and posted on the Metaverse. This just doesn't pass muster, almost all games offer these things for free, there's just no way you're going to convince people to pay for this even if they are getting the game for free. Adding a system for players to send and receive two or more player games to each other might help. Of course you would need to allow more then one human player per game. And that little trick you mentioned somewhere to play hot-seat games just isn't going to cut it.
So you're going to need something people are going to want to pay for. What I suggest is coming up with a real multiplayer element to your game and either charge a subscription or rent preconfigured servers where players could set up their own universes which others players can join in. The latter is my favored method, the possibilities are endless. You have no idea how much I want to set up an empire where I'm the evil ruler and the players who join are trying to overthrow me. Also this is a way you can have hardcore players offset the cost for average more casual players.
Hardcore players rent the servers from you for a premium and the casual players join their servers for free. You could even manage the size of their universe by price of server. That way empires (guilds/clans) can divide the cost among members so they can afford a server that will fit them.
If you so choose you can make these servers available exclusively from you, but only if after I rent it I get full control to add mods and configure the game how I want. If you're worried about unauthorized servers, don't. These servers are going to have an IP address which can be traced to an ISP who are more then happy to honor cease and desist orders against their customers. Offer a bounty to players who find these servers and you don't even have to have anyone you employ look for them. And seriously, this bounty could be nothing more then their name listed with how many servers they've found, and they'll eat it up. The only problem I see with this is countries who don't honor foreign cease and desist orders, (even China will honor a cease and desist if your game has a legitimate presence there). One way to combat this would be to only allow your server version to run on servers with IP address that matches their region. This wouldn't stop them from running the server with say an American proxy. But the proxy would probably slow the connection down so much that the game would unplayable to all but their next door neighbor.
I highly doubt this is something that you would do with GalCiv2 as it's on its final expansion and you're probably already developing your next major release. Also, turn based, multi-player isn't something that's very practical and not something I would play. You could probably use Sins of a Solar Empire as a base, however I was disappointed with how basic certain aspects of the game are, such as planet development. However, I was incredibly impressed by the galaxy viewer, GalCiv should look like that.
Your best bet is to combine Sins and GalCiv. A real-time living universe that has the depth to satisfy even the most anal micro-manager but with governors who can ease that burden from players who just want to mix it up or players who want to have the game running 24/7 for a month and come back and not have it completely trashed by poor management.
The idea's in this post regarding policy, copy protection, and distribution really aren't that new and they're certainly being used by successful companies.
So that's basically it, I wrote this post over the course of two days off and on for a total of about 10 hours. I believe its well constructed and well researched. I had a lot of fun writing it and hope it gets the reception I'm hoping for, that is simply that those who read it keep an open mind. Yeah, I'm crazy for writing this much about something that is likely going to be ignored but this is a subject, for some odd reason I feel very passionate about. Ugh now I have to read the whole thing one last time...