We are Gamers - Manifesto for a better digital distribution

The age of digital distribution has dawned upon us, and games, movies, tv-shows and music has flocked to it. It’s a brave new world. We have streaming services that allow us to see the first episode of a tv-show for free and we have free song listens before we can purchase them to download to our device’s library to listen on our way to work.

What do gamers have? Nothing more than the same wait for reviews to come out to see if a game tickles our fancy, some Let’s Plays which are often unindicative of what you will think and how you’ll enjoy the game and are more focused on entertaining than informing, and a hodgepodged refund system that’s a risk as much as it’s a boon and varies from nonexistant to extremely limited.

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In an age where we are assaulted with options and chances to do and be entertained by so many pieces of media, a lot even free supported by secondary, indirect, economic pillars, it’s ridiculous to keep the burden of investment on the customer’s side. Games have to transition, and the industry has to realise that it’s no longer in control. We are. We WANT to purchase your merchandise. Make it easy and appealing to us, and we will pay. Gabe Newell said it best, “Piracy beats the current platforms in the quality of service they offer”, even if that has seen some walls lately with Denuovo, the recent bypass ‘crack’ has revived and resurrected interest.

So what’s all this about? What do we want?

We want this:

All online distribution services to feature allowing the developer to issue for their games an inconsecutive, fracturable and granular, ‘cooldown’-renewable, monthly-replenishing and/or story locked, dev-defined, free period of time which gamers can use to play games for free, to be ‘tempted’ into engaging with the product/service, and pay for the game on their terms. Terms which every Nvidia salesman that sells 600+ usd boards and every indie developer which got any bit of traction in the media or on kickstarter can attest, are very generous.

Here’s some examples of the future i envision.

- John is 33 and has a wife and a kid. His play times usually are friday evenings and maybe sundays. He’s been seeing mentions of a game in his RSS feeds and wants to give it a shot before saying to the wife he’ll churn 60 euros on a game that may not run well on his aging PC or that he may not enjoy. He installs the game, and sees the developer decided to allot 4 hours of game time, and that the game features story-locked points which he cannot pass unless he purchases the whole game. John installs the game and sees it runs fine and he manages to play through the story to the locked point on his friday evening, barely an hour in, and leaves the game for the week. Next week, he uses the rest of the 3 hours to give multiplayer a shot. He has enough fun on that sunday, buckled with the story he wishes to see finished, that he purchases the game.

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- Jimmy is 18 years old and enjoys playing all the survival sims under the sun. He goes through curated lists and plays each of them, a lot more than he’d try out if he had to purchase each and every one. A lot of those are even Early Access games in various stages of completion. Given that each month the number of free hours refreshes, he has an ever-growing list of games he keeps on his radar and checks back for free every once in a while. Eventually Jimmy purchases more games from smaller developers without feeling ‘locked in’ with founder packs and Kickstarter missed rewards. He can jump in whenever he wants, and pay out when he thinks the game’s worth the purchase to unlock play-time.

- Anna is 26 years old and she plays a lot with her friends, playing various co-op and versus games. But due to schedules and varied preferences, they can usually leave her hanging on some games. Still, she gets attached to some games and buys them to forge on on her own or with public games, games that usually would not interest her, a point and click adventure enthusiast at heart. She loves the new trend of adventure developers that have given up on story-locks and episodic content per se, and offer a good few number of hours per month allowing people to play for the entire game for free. They know that if someone checks back to play every new ‘iteration’ for three months, they’ll end up buying the game (or variably tipping) even if as a ‘thank you’/donation box recompense instead of a straight product-sell.

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- Sarah is a game developer. She recently gave an interview and she’s seeing a lot of traffic that correlates with about a quarter the of people that try out the game, which she has set at 30 minutes since it’s a pretty unique, free-flow experience and doesn’t want people to demystify it, but wants to give them an idea of how it plays. Of those, she’s seeing a pretty staggering conversion number to people that purchase the game right after because people become enthralled, even if the experience lasts another hour at most. Especially with the option some people enable to having games auto-purchase if they go over the time or the story-locks. It’s also great that for this she had to make no ‘special’ demo version of the game, and at most, when she was considering hard story-locks, putting in the same triggers as for acheivements.

- Anon is an old-age pirate. All these games are free to try, so he tries them anyway with the rest. The DRM is not draconic, and easily crackable, if still playing the old versions of the games of the time they were packed. He plays the cracked version for a while, and likes it enough to check changelogs to see what’s new and what’s fixed. He notes a particular new feature and a UI improvement that’s been bugging him. He thinks a bit more, and then purchases the game for the lesser hassle, and improved experience. He’s also trying out a new AAA game which has been fun, but the cracked multiplayer is fiddly if it even works with some private servers. He decides to buy it to skip the bother and join the fray, battling with the rest of the world. He also gives a shot to an expensive indie game that he doesn’t think much of, but a friend mentioned, and which he falls in love with and ends up paying for it in sign of respect to the developer. At the end of the year, Anon still remembers not paying for various games for various reasons, some more selfish than others, but he also notes he’d bought more games than he thought he would and intentioned.

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Do you see yourself in any of the examples? I’m sure you do. So how about not preordering, or paying up front and watching the clock, hastily making video settings so in case you don’t like it, you’ll fit in Steam’s 2 hour refund limit? How about we’re treated with respect for our money and time?

We are Gamers.

~ Signed, all the thumbs-wrestlers and wrist-flickers in the world

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