Sins of A Solar Empire by small independent game company Stardock (and their developers Ironclad) is the biggest selling pc game of 2008 so far, despite a tiny budget and much less coverage by the gaming press. Stardock owner Brad Wardell posted an excellent analysis of why their games are having success. (last year’s Galactic Civilisations II was another underground hit.)
He talks a lot about the bad policies taken by much of the PC game industry. For example, why bother targeting the Chinese market when piracy is so rife many people won’t purchase your game? His main point, and it’s a very good one, is that very few people upgrade their computer often so targeting the graphics of your game to only work for the ‘hardcore’ pc gamers is limiting your market. Rather than trying to break the latest processor if you just make a game that’s fun and works on most computers people will play it.
Sins is a fun game that combines the 4X ideas of ‘eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate’ of games like Civilisation with Real Time Strategy elements of space games like Homeworld. I’ve enjoyed myself whenever I’ve played it but what’s even more impressive is the attitude of the people behind it – updates are frequent, there’s no DRM, the developers comment frequently on the game’s forum and they listen to requests from players about bugs and new features. In an industry full of high budget Hollywood games, it’s comforting to see that small companies can be a big success if they just concentrate on pleasing their audience.
For the past few months, people have been talking about the give-it-away-and-they-will-buy-it model for content distribution. Now, NiN’s Trent Reznor has released his new Ghosts I-IV albums at a variety of price points, from the first album free to $300 for the super-duper deluxe version – and he sold all 2,500 of the latter.
While it’s not exactly the same as Radiohead’s deal – there were price points of $0, $5, $10, $75, and $300, each of which got you different things – it demonstrates innovative thinking on how to get music out there and be noticed, yet still make money. The notable thing about NiN and Radiohead are both famous groups already. It’s hard to know if this sort of model would work for unknown bands.
Incidentally, for another album-funding method, check out Scottish band Amplifico, who got the funding for their first studio-produced album by asking fans for donations. As an apology for releasing the album late, they made a 3-track album available for free download from their website.
(image from NiN website)
Canadian sf author Karl Schroeder brings our attention to an Australian judge who warns that technology has outstripped legislation’s ability to regulate it, and suggests that restrictions of use are best embodied into products themselves:
“The challenges that technology present continue to beat even the best legal minds in the world, Kirby said.
Despite this, lawmakers should attempt to implement checks and balances. Without them, corporations pose an even graver problem for humanity.
“To do nothing is to make a decision to let others go and take technology where they will. There are even more acute questions arising in biotechnology and informatics, such as the hybridization of the human species and other species. Points of no return can be reached,” he said.”
Within this legalese and obfuscation is, essentially, a defence of (and/or advocacy for) DRM-like technologies. Schroeder points out the logic flaws in his reasoning:
“… his idea implies we may have a legal system that operates not according to what’s allowed, but according to what’s possible. If criminal use of a particular technology is simply not possible, then that’s the same as having a law against that use.
I think most people would prefer to live in a world where things are possible if not allowed, rather than the nightmare scenario of a world where many things simply can’t be done.
However, Kirby is wrong about one crucial thing. Laws will not be expressed in their effective form through code; code does and will continue to effectively create law–without reference to the legal system. Groups like the record companies and the RIAA are finding out this out now.
Technology is legislation, but it can’t be controlled on the level that Kirby is talking about. Any attempt to do so can only result in Orwellian, and unintentionally hilarious, results (again, the entire current state of the music industry is both).”
Quite so. This will be an ongoing issue until we have people involved in the legal process who actually understand how technologies work. It’s also one of the reasons why Second Life is such a fascinating experiment – because, up until quite recently, it has been arguably the only MMO where code is not law. [Image by K?vanç]
Yesterday was quite a big day for virtual goods. In addition to Valve releasing the Half Life 2 Orange Box online (which Jeremy blogged about earlier), Radiohead released their new album ‘In Rainbows’ via their website. Both mark a considerable move away from the traditional business model in video games and music, offering their content directly to the user at a lower price than would be available in brick and mortar stores.
Happily as well as being delivered in new formats, both products are very very good. Radiohead’s album sparkles and is more accessible than anything I’ve heard since ‘Kid A’. It feels less jagged than previous work and easier without losing that challenging nature that requires 40 listens before you get it. I still feel like I need to listen more but the alienation I felt listening to some of ‘Hail To The Thief’ is not there – I can enjoy listening to ‘In Rainbows’ even when not concentrating on it. I decided to pay £6 for the album, which charges a 47p transaction fee but otherwise lets you pay whatever you want. When it’s as good as this I can imagine most people paying more than expected.
Valve’s Orange Box was also out yesterday on their ‘Steam’ delivery service. the pack contains Half Life 2 and it’s two additional chapters, Episode 1 and the new Episode 2, as well as multiplayer shooter Team Fortress 2 and the incredible Portal. The real trick of Valve’s single player work is how it tells a story without cutscenes by creating events that make the gamer want to look in that direction – a very real rendition of ‘Show Don’t Tell’, as many writers are instructed early in their careers. The sheer joy of messing around with momentum using the portal gun in Portal is worth the entry price by itself.
[photo from Valve’s website]
I’ve been saying for a few years now that as soon as a major band started selling their own records on their own website, the music companies were doomed. Today it looks like the revolution has started. Radiohead, the superstar band that finished their contract with EMI following their last album ‘Hail To The Thief’ have announced that their new album ‘In Rainbows’ will be released on October 10th, purely through their website. In a move that’s going to send ripples through the music industry, the album download has no set price. The website literally says ‘Pay what you want’. With Nine Inch Nails pledging to sell all their records direct to fans after their contract ends, it’s looking like the future of music is going to be very different.
Radiohead’s move is a very smart one – bands make the majority of their money by touring under the current economic model. Even if large numbers of people download the album for free, aside from the small cost of recording and the bandwidth for their website, the album has virtually no overheads as a digital download. That means that any money donated by downloaders goes straight into the band’s pockets without going through ten different middle-managers first, exactly as I said in my post about amazon’s DRM free model last week. Even if the average payment for a download is £3, Radiohead will perversely still get a fair bit more money than the 5% -odd royalty cut of a £10 CD sold in HMV or Virgin. It’s reassuring that the move has been made by a band that in my opinion is one of the best in the world.
[via boing boing and music 2.0, picture from Radiohead’s new album site]