A Look At Digital Distribution And Free-To-Play
In today’s eGamer boardroom we’d like to tackle the various ideas of digital distribution and free-to-play games – including the feedback we received from the readers. These ideas, if executed properly, may lead to many interesting gaming creations that doesn’t have the budget to go all-out and go retail, which on the other hand may progress as publishers using these to abuse and incorporate them into our games via features nobody asked for. Will this lead to gamers being less interested in future games or become all the more nostalgic about their experiences with gaming in the past, perhaps even more excited about the future?
Let’s get cracking, shall we?
A short while back we asked the readers via the mysterious entity that is Facebook the following:
“Ed Fries, former executive at Microsoft, stated that big publishers won’t exist in the future. He based this statement on the idea of free-to-play games and how the industry has changed since the introduction of digital distribution.”
We would like to know if you agree with him or not by running a poll here on Facebook. Are other publishers going to follow THQ in liquidation? Or do you see a bright future ahead for publishers? Will publishers be forced to downsize to cut costs?
I present to you our responses: (These are quoted verbatim. Please do not make plans or arrangements to murder our editing staff.)
Zhameer Hashim: “I hope more places shut down”
Kyle Michael Ernstzen: “Big publishers arent all bad eg Valve. I hope they stick around, if not for them we wouldn’t have Dota 2″
Sushil Ranchod: “With EA around, there’ll always be dlc to pay for”
Dominic DemonSlayer Louw: “i can’t say for sure what the future of gaming will be like but all i really wish is for gaming to go back to what it used to be. Too many companies focus more on graphics and online than they do on the actual campaign, leaving you with half arsed gameplay, a storyline that’s ok but not amazing and in about 3 – 4 hours the game is done. Gaming has become expensive and boring, so much so that i find myself enjoying my Nintendo emulator with Circus Charley, Battle City, Contra, Elevator Action, etc, more than my Xbox or Playstation simply coz the games back then were fun and lasted hours. I just want gaming back to what it used to be”
Theo Lübbe: “Big publishers will exist for a long time still, the need for them is just rapidly declining.
Big publishers tend to come with big restrictions on what developers and studios can do. Have a fresh new idea? Belongs to the publisher. Developed a great new engine? Belongs to the publisher. Want to start a new IP? Not unless the publisher says ‘yes’.
On the other hand, studios self-publishing have a lot of things borne of their freedom that could make them far greater than big publishers.
If two studios have assets that they know would work great together for a game, whether those assets are people with skills, IP, concepts to integrate into a game, a good engine or the like, they can approach each other and co-develop a game.
Imagine, as an example, an Elder Scrolls or Fallout game that incorporates EA-Maxis’ The Sims free will, aging etc functionality – combine that with an AI that will continuously build on the game world and have supply/demand for resources, and weather with natural disasters ala Sim City.
Bethesda has the IP and the team(s) that know how to build a TES or Fallout game, but lack all the other experience and developers that could bring the functionality EA has in their fold. I’m sure you can guess, but there’s no way in hell EA would make a deal with Bethesda that wouldn’t screw everyone but EA over in order to bring such a game to light – but that doesn’t mean the developers behind the aforementioned games haven’t thought of combining these sorts of things themselves and haven’t been left frustrated with their publishers’ restrictive policies.”
Summary: We’re looking at odds that are mainly not in favour of the digital distribution concept – with the exception of good old Valve. The future of anything on this planet is never a certainty, especially in this case, the gaming industry. As mentioned above, we crave for less focus on graphics and online components and more on the actual single player campaign. Luckily we still have quite a few developers that believe the a single player-only notion. Something I wholeheartedly embrace. A mention of EA and how there will always be DLC to pay for is really showing us the way EA is being seen of late. I cannot remember the last time I heard something positive about them and the way they go to work. We even have hopes of some of the big guys being shut down. Not something I agree with – I do wish for publishers granting developers their creative freedom and encouraging them to make the game they set out to make. Not restricting them to generic ideas because Call Of Duty is doing it. We’re even seeing interesting an interesting idea here about studios working cooperatively and do what they do best in one game. A neat idea – I agree, but I’m not sure if this will turn into a reality.
Let us examine the various aspects of the topic at hand.
Digital distribution applies to music, books videos, software and most importantly; video games.
It eliminates the need for physical copies such as discs and the good old fashioned, impetuous smell of paper one gets when digging your nose into a newly bought novel.
This is convenient, no doubt about it, but making use of the internet is a requirement. I know about people that enjoys reading a novel(s) on their mobile phones. Everyone with a mobile calling device have music on it that they listen to in awkward silences or when prancing down their driveway; looking for a lost and ill-begotten sock.
One may look at this in either a positive or negative light. I, myself look at this in both way. It has indeed changed the gaming industry in various different ways. So many small and indie developers have had the chance to let their creations come into the gaming light and make money without having to go to the lengths of having to put the game on a flat and shiny piece of sturdy plastic.
To me, this is downright magnificent. These small developers have a great chance to encapsulate gamers with their creative worlds and earn money for it. What’s not to love about that?
Look at titles such as Amnesia: The Dark Descent (my favourite horror game), LIMBO, Super Meat Boy, FarCry 3 Blood Dragon and Bastion. All of which are remarkably great AND fun games in their own respective ways. Without digital distribution we wouldn’t have had the chance to experience them. Given enough freedom, the developers have the opportunity to let creativity ooze from their respective games and create a marvelous interactive ride.
I’ve been playing Plants vs Zombies on my phone and it’s been a joy to play a level or two when taking a break between work or selling illegal substances – a joy that wasn’t possible without something like digital distribution.
However, on the flip side, guys with little internet data per month cannot download sizable downloadable games or DLC for that matter. Making prominent use of the internet in your games as seen in SimCity and Diablo III is not the way to go. We witnessed the implications and read about them.
As long as you still have your large publishers and supported small development teams – you’ll have the best of both worlds still there. My only fear is that the gaming industry grows to the point of having to download everything, but I think that’s still a bit too extreme and far down the line. Physical copies is still and probably will stay my preferred way to obtain games.
The pros outweigh the cons, in my opinion, but one simply cannot deny that gaming used to be so mush simpler in the past. For example, buy any game on the market on disc or cartridge, insert in your chosen platform, play and you’re happy. Done.
If you are not limited with a said amount of data; you’re golden.
The “smaller” games that can be found on Steam, the iStore, Samsung Application Browser or Play Store is growing in numbers and creativity and continuing to do so.
I must admit that I do not have extensive experience in the free-to-play field. I’ve witnessed free-to-play games and read about them and know about the sneaky psychology involved.
This is prime real estate for the PC and mobile platforms with ample opportunity for our beloved micro-transactions. (Beloved? Hell, no.)
These games began as Massive Multiplayer Online games and are available to download without asking the user to pay before playing. These are no triple-A games and aren’t too rough on system requirements. However, these games make use of micro-payments to gain revenue – players may choose to buy in-game items or level up their character(s) using real cold hard cash.
Crytek themselves stated their enthusiasm towards the free-to-play idea. I do not agree with this idea – I like their current way of making games, even if they are tremendously focused on graphical fidelity.
Your patience will be tested by these games and buying that one item that might make life much easier will look all the more promising as you struggle. You may choose to ignore these options, but your subconscious will remind you of them regularly.
The mobile market has extensive amounts of free-to-play games or free-to-play versions that include the option to buy abilities or items. Take Temple Run or Temple Run 2 for instance; addictive game with simplistic controls, randomly generated paths and enough challenge to keep things interesting. When the egregious monstrosity catches up to you or you plummet downwards into the abyss, you may choose to use gems to avoid having to start from the beginning. These gems take some time and skill to gain in-game, but you have the option to buy additional gems. Think long and hard about that one. You are being tested. Your patience is being tested by an addictive and fun game.
That is but one example and there’s plenty more out there with the same idea behind the gameplay.
In the end of the day we are not the ones in charge. We are the consumers and we may choose what to buy or not. If the publishers decide to go about in a direction that doesn’t work and lose a lot of gamers in the process, will the industry be able to recover from a generic, graphics and online focused or online-only puddle of extruding waste? Let us hope they make the right choices as time goes by.
Care to indulge us with more feedback on this topic in the comments section?