David DeMartini is the head of EA’s Origin digital distribution service. At this year’s E3, he gave a few comments on Valve’s Steam digital distribution service, the 800 pound gorilla in the field. Steam is known for having sales on games. These sales have been a source of criticism. The criticism centers around the idea that people will not buy games for their full retail price–that they’d wait for one of the big sales and only purchase the game at a generous discount. Discounting elicits different responses from different game developers. Most developers find the sales useful as a promotional vehicle for their titles. These titles typically move a lot of copies during Steam sales, but DeMartini thinks it damages the health of the intellectual property:
“We won’t be doing that. Obviously they think it’s the right thing to do after a certain amount of time. I just think it cheapens your intellectual property.”
“I know both sides of it, I understand it. If you want to sell a whole bunch of units, that is certainly a way to do that, to sell a whole bunch of stuff at a low price. The game makers work incredibly hard to make this intellectual property, and we’re not trying to be Target. We’re trying to be Nordstrom.”
A month later, Valve responded to the “Nordstrom” comment. Valve’s Jason Holtman commented:
“Ask our partners,” he said. “Ask the large to the small and see what they think about that. Putting it all in the bucket of, it’s all about the discounts, I don’t think that’s everything about it.”
“Discounts serve a lot of functions. Highlighting serves a lot of functions. The qualities of the games serve a lot of functions. Everything we’ve seen, PC games and IP and all those franchises are more valuable today than they were four or five years ago.”
“Discounting is one small function of what we do. It’s one small function of our market and our store. It certainly doesn’t seem to be anything that cheapens IP.”
Anyone who has worked in retail knows there is more to selling things than cheapening prices. Elastic prices certainly help, but real merchandising comes from placement of items. Grocery stores know how placement works. Companies pay for better placement on supermarket shelves with eye level having the highest premium. Steam offers a premium experience, but I would be shocked if games that appear on Steam’s front area, the area you see when you go to the website or launch the program, don’t have at least some kind of increased revenue sharing with Valve if not outright paying for that placement and the promotion that comes with it. Promotion is the other key value to Steam’s publishers/developers. If a publisher/developer is having a sale, but your game is placed near theirs on the home page, it’s a win for you as your game’s exposure is increased. Steam has been instrumental in exposing smaller games like Audiosurf. Games like Audiosurf have also participated in other promotions Steam has launched like last year’s potato collecting madness. That madness led directly into the launching of Portal 2, one of Valve’s own titles, sharing some of the launch promotion with independent developers. These independent developers are often strong supporters of Steam sales. Supporters also include the game buying public who visits the site regularly to see what new games are on sale generating purchasing opportunities for other titles in Steam’s main area which strengthens their position as the leading digital distribution service.
Edge talks with Matt Firor, the director for The Elder Scrolls Online in next month’s magazine. An excerpt is online. In the article, they talk about the different generations of MMORPGs, starting with Ultima Online and Everquest. The second generation is described as the time of Dark Age of Camelot and World of Warcraft. The modern age is Star Wars: The Old Republic and perhaps Rift.
What separates these generations for me is the role of the developer after the game launches. With Everquest, which I played quite a bit in its first two years, the developers were very active. There were always times when word would trickle down to you that something was happening on the other continent. You’d run to Freeport and hop on the boat and hope there was something to see when you got there. These events were controlled by the game masters and their minions. They gave you a reason to play every day. I never went to these events because I thought I could aid in battling whatever creature might be Godzilla-ing the countryside. I went because I wanted to be a part of that event even if it meant losing experience points.
Since Everquest, I have sampled several of the later MMORPGs. Rarely have I seen a locally run event. There were some things that could have been, but weren’t. When World of Warcraft launched the Cataclysm expansion, there was talk of dragon attacks that would unlock an in-game achievement if you were killed by the new Big Bad. That has promise, I thought. I did end up getting the achievement, but only in an older zone and a year after the game launched. The new Big Bad, it turned out, was on a timer. There was no game master controlling him.
The new crop of MMOGs can tab into the role of the game master to push the genre forward. Yes, they will have to pay someone per every few servers to do it. But the dynamism an event run by a game master can add will keep people playing. If you have an overarching story to tell, let these game masters implement it. The more you allow those game masters the freedom to shuffle how that story is told, the more interesting it will be for us as players.
It has been literally years since I bought a new game the day it was released. That changed today with the release of Heavy Rain by Quantic Dream.
I played through the prelude and opening scene before turning in last night. It is a game that will suck you in, although I am still hampered by never having memorized exactly which buttons correspond to which letters on the Playstation controller.
The intro events were kind of neat. I enjoyed helping the character Ethan do his architectural design work. Playing with his kids was fun, too. The tension when his son was hindered by bad controls for me unfortunately.
All in all I am looking forward to continuing to see what the game has to offer. It’s definitely different which is always a plus.
So digitalbattle.com has crafted a list of the top 10 reasons the PS3 is in the crapper. Even though Sony is a solid third, their list is kind of a bullshit.
For the first point, they list that there have been too many SKUs (that’s different models if you didn’t know). For it to be a PS3 failing, they’d have had to have been the only ones to do it. Unfortunately they learned this from Microsoft with the 360. While Microsoft managed to be successful with it (and more so with selling things the cheap models were lacking), Sony has given you all the good stuff you need to use the system with every version, at least. There’s also the point that as far as I can remember, there have only ever been two SKUs available at a time and for the last two years or so, the only difference between models has been the size of the hard drive. digitalbattle.com lists the multiple SKUs causing confusion. While I do think a tremendous number of people are idiots, if you are into game buying, I don’t think your head will explode because of the choice between a 40gb and 80gb hard drive.
Their fifth point is that there still isn’t a strong game library for the PS3. I disagree, mostly based on the games released last year. While certainly slimmer than the 360s, Sony is in much better shape than other third place companies have been. Remember the Gamecube and how the only games to play on it were the two or three Nintendo released a year? That doesn’t happen here.
Their fourth point is that ports for the PS3 generally suck compared to other systems. This is pretty fanboy. I remember reading in reviews that GTA4 had better graphics on the PS3. Command and Conquer has been mentioned as having better graphics. Alone in the Dark is actually a good game for the PS3. Only bad or lazy developers don’t use a time differential to put out a better product down the road.
Their other points are all pretty valid but they go about them the wrong way. They say that it’s too late for any killer apps for the PS3. Given that one game released in Japan gave the PS3 the top sales for that week, I think killer apps are always relevant and can grow a system faster than anything.
I’d honestly like to see the companies enforce a Player Code of Conduct. If you are in public, you can’t just go around acting like an ass without some sort of ostracization. There should be mechanisms for this in these online worlds. I suppose having the score by your name in Live is supposed to help with this, but it doesn’t seem to.
Maybe what really needs to happen is all game consoles should be in the bedrooms of parents if the person playing is 17 or younger. Maybe then hurling slurs would slow down a bit.