October 10 – a big day for virtual releases

open an orange and a blue portal and travel between the twoYesterday 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]

2 thoughts on “October 10 – a big day for virtual releases”

  1. It’s interesting how these two products are both similar and different. The online distribution is quite effective in both ways, but the pricing strategy used by each is rather different.

    Being one of those who bought Half-Life a long time ago, and then paying $20 for Episode 1, I felt quite burned when Valve axed the Black Box (which only included Ep 2, TF2, and Portal – and sold at a lower price). I think Radiohead shows the good in online distribution and being able to pay what you think a product’s worth, while Valve shows the bad in taking advantage financially of their fans. I coughed up the $45 or so for the Orange Box, and as much as I enjoy Portal and the other games, I can’t help but feel that the price wasn’t justified.

  2. I know what you mean about the price of the Orange Box – I already had Half Life 2 and episode 1. The idea of giving a free copy of those games to a friend is better than nothing (and my half-life obsessed friend who never had them is delighted) but it’s still $20 more than what I really wanted to pay.

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