woensdag 2 januari 2013

Piracy to blame?

This blogpost is a response to the blog post about piracy written by Jools over at: http://joolswatsham.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/3ds-piracy.html

Jools writes about his fear of the 3DS getting hacked and how his game Dementium II sold around half as much as the first game (Dementium). Jools blames these poor sale figures solely on piracy.

Every time a developer brings up piracy it feels to me they are putting their heads in the sand. It’s such an easy scapegoat to point your finger at, especially without any factual proof. 

There are tons of other reasons that seem just as legit as piracy. For one, the game wasn’t as wildly available (at least I haven’t seen any copy on store shelves). Secondly, it came late into the Nintendo DS lifecycle opposed to the first game. At this point the Nintendo DS established itself as a casual gaming handheld, yet the game was aimed at a more mature and hardcore public.

This might also be the reason why the game wasn’t as wide spread as the first game. Shop owners might have been more inclined to put the latest puzzle games on their store shelf instead of a FPS game.

I notice this myself all the time. While I struggle to find a publisher willing to publish my own original titles as retail products, I have no trouble finding a publisher willing to put out yet another bejewelled clone (in fact, a bejewelled clone of mine is coming to stores this February).

The above mentioned problems are all speculation, but so is the claim of piracy.

Another point of interest might be the pricing of games. Especially in Europe (and this is interesting because he talks mainly about poor sales in Europe). An average game upon release costs between 40 and 50 euro over here. Now this is ‘expensive’ but doable where I live, in the Netherlands. Over here the minimum salary is around 1200 euro. However, the game prices stay the same even in countries that have a minimum salary of around 300 euro. 

How many games can be expected to sell in a country where the average game takes up around 16-20% of a family’s income? 

I also think it’s important to take a good look at the quality of games.

As it turns out Dementium II is a really good game. The people who played it (including me) all seem to really like it and the game got a lot of good reviews.

However, most of the Nintendo DS library of games consists out of horrible shovelware and quick cash-ins. Making it even worse by bearing a famous (kid) brand and getting ill-informed parents to hand over their hard-earned money only to see their kids toss the game away after 30 minutes of play.

This hurts the complete industry. Why? Because it is already a big gamble for them with famous kid brands they at least know from Saturday morning TV. So imagine how big the gamble feels like when they are holding Dementium II in their hands, a product they have never heard of, from a company they have never heard of. 

And how many times can a gamble go bad on them before they resort to other means of obtaining the products?  I’m not justifying piracy, but I can at least see where they are coming from.

The seal of quality means nothing. It only makes sure the game doesn’t lockup or mess-up the players system. It does nothing to prevent poor quality of game design or length versus price. My cousin once got a famous kid game that consisted out of 8 mini games that could all be played through within 30 minutes. You feel miserable if you spend money on such a product as a parent!

Jools goes on to claim that ‘If these hackers really want to mess with the guts of a 3DS, why not become legit developers for it and let the world enjoy their talents’.

I started programming and hacking on the original Gameboy Classic when I was around 11 years old. Most of the hackers/programmers are quite young. Should all those young people go and rent office spaces and buy equipment worth of thousands of dollars? Because that is what Nintendo requires of legit developers.

Most likely they cannot even produce a game good enough to publish, because before you can make good game you need to make a lot of bad ones. That’s how you learn the craft. I remember looking and trying to take a part Super Mario Land and learn a great deal from it. Like you said yourself; many of today’s great programmers used to be hackers back in the day.

So it seems only natural that many of the great programmers of the future are the hackers of today.
The world has changed, and it seems that Jools (but also Nintendo itself) are a bit disconnected. We live in an age where bedroom coders can create the most creative and awesome products all on their own. Not only that, but they are welcomed to do so by the hardware manufactures. In fact it is these hardware manufactures that provide the needed tools... for free!

You can look for this at the PC and smart phones. But even more close to home; like Microsoft and XNA for the Xbox. Or what about Playstation Mobile SDK? All free! and you can test your games with a normal retail PS Vita! 

Nintendo hasn’t changed a bit on this level, which is almost ironic since Nintendo is THE platform for unique and creative games, making it only seem natural to support indie development.

So instead of blaming piracy (which occurs on every platform) or blaming hackers for something we all did at one part of our lives, I would like to suggest that we take a hard good look at ourselves and our industry and try to improve.

8 opmerkingen:

  1. Looking at some of the writing on your site. I can guess your from Europe. Where most of these Hackers dwell away from being charged for crimes. I can understand you want to play safe with them out of fear Anonymous tries to take your site offline. Still you can't lie to your self or others that piracy has had any effect on consoles. PSP was destroyed by piracy! Jools Watsham did say piracy was the sole reason, but feels it had something to do with it.

    1. I do NOT support piracy, let that be clear. However, I’m not going to cry about it either. Piracy has been there ever since computer software got invented, and it’s not going away.

      However, claiming that it has a big effect on sales is just stupid. A lot of games still tend to sell millions of copies, so does this mean pirates are only after a specific game ? There is no pattern! so the game that sold millions of copies has the same piracy rate as the game that sold only 100 copies.

      Even if piracy would completely dissapear as of today, it would not increase sales by many. We can see this already on other mediums such as free-to-play games, where the percentage of players that decided not to pay for anything is the same percentage as piracy on other platforms.

      Like I said, there are countries in Europe where the price of one game takes up 20% of a family income. Do you honestly expect that if piracy was to dissapear that family would suddenly spend 20% of their income on legit games ? honestly ?

      A lot of people don’t need the game so badly that they are willing to pay.

      I expierence this myself. Ask yourself this; did you ever watch a youtube clip that wasn’t on the channel of the original copyright holder ? because then the creator/copyrightholder is losing money and you are basically pirating their stuff.

      If you did do this; how many of those clips would you actually have paided for if they weren’t available for free ? honestly ?

      PSP didn’t die from piracy, it died because it was a product nobody seems to want.

    2. PSP and DS games were both easily piratable. What "destroyed" PSP was Sony's inability to produce compelling games for the machine, despite the fact that it was much more expensive and less reliable than the DS. By the time Sony actually caught up with Nintendo and made the PSP a respectable gaming platform, publishers had already decided to cut their losses and partially or fully abandon the platform.

      Also, the "DS publishers only want shovelware" factor is something encouraged by Nintendo themselves, at least Nintendo of Europe, who pushed shovelware games more than any other branch of that company.

  2. what game is that in the picture cant for the life of me find it.

    1. I honestly don't know anymore.. I found it by searching for pixel pirate :P I just tried that search again, to see if I can figure out the source/name but the image seems to have dissapeared :(

    2. It's just concept art (http://indygamer.blogspot.com/2007/02/pixel-art-junkboy.html)

  3. I wholeheartedly agree. I think that Renegade Kid is fighting so hard against this because they're one of Nintendo's favored eShop developers, and have likely been given substantial access and favor that a garage hacker would never get.
    That said, I posit that the sales of Dementium II were bad, because Dementium I was a terrible game. The difficulty was incredibly erratic, and the save system made any misstep a horrifying setback. DS users were starved for an "adult" game on the handheld, and Dementium promised to be that title, but it wasn't. Many gamers (including me) were disappointed with Renegade Kid and didn't buy Dementium II scapegoatism.

    1. I never played either game, so I can't speak from personal experience. But I can use things in the form of numbers: i.e. Metacritic scores.

      Dementium metacritic'd at 71, Dementium II metacritic'd at 75. Not terrible scores, but most publishers condition bonuses on having a metacritic of 80 or higher for one big reason: Games that don't review exceptionally well don't sell exceptionally well.

      In general we can group game consumers into three camps:

      1. People who are hyped about the game, have pre-orders already lined up, and will be playing the game at launch.
      2. People who are ambivalent about the game, are waiting for reviews, and will be playing the game a week or two after launch.
      3. People who don't care about the game and maybe will pick it up six months later when it's on sale or available for cheap secondhand.

      People in the #1 category are already sold on the game and don't read reviews or don't care about reviews. People in the #3 category haven't heard of the game and won't seek out reviews; they'll only play the game if it's a good impulse buy.

      Because of the incredibly insane risks that game publishers take, they want to see immediate launch sales in sufficient quantities to make a profit from the game. This means maximizing people in the #2 camp, because #1's already sold and #3 isn't going to show no matter how good the game is.

      The only way to maximize #2 is to get higher reviews, and the bonuses are tied to those reviews through Metacritic scores in order to protect publishers.

      Now, back to Dementium. In general, there's a lag between media quality and sales counts. This happens because people buy their games before knowing if the games are any good to begin with. So if someone ships a bad game, that's not going to hurt that game's sales unless it's just flat-out awful. It's going to hurt the next game's sales instead.

      In terms of our three sales camps, the first Dementium had a high number of #1 buyers as it was a mature FPS on the DS, a handheld system which really needed a game like Dementium promised to be. Most likely the game was carried mostly through #1 buyers, i.e. people who bought it before reading reviews. Then they played the game, hated it, and when the sequel came out, they wound up in the #2 or #3 bin. There's your "piracy drop" right there: people burned by the first game deciding not to buy the second one.