Torchlight turns piracy into "free" publicity
There are many factors to consider about Schaefer's piracy comments. The fact is that it's not a comment every studio or CEO gets to make. Using one fully featured and fully developed video game as advertisement for the eventual pay-for model is a risky and expensive endeavor for any studio and publisher. Schaefer cops to the inevitability of piracy and makes the honest realization that fighting piracy is an uphill battle because of the nature of the opposition.
A similar anecdote to Schaefer's comments comes from Gabe Newell and Valve's problems with piracy in Russia. Valve games were being pirated left and right in Russia, a notoriously difficult piracy market to crack. Rather than fight pirates with heavy DRM and "negative value," Valve instead decided to figure out why their games were being pirated rather than purchased. Pirates were doing a better job with the Russian translation of the game and were releasing them before Valve's Russian versions were to be shipped. So, Valve beefed up the localization team for Russia and started releasing games there day one with English and other European releases. Piracy plummeted, turning Russia into one of Valve's largest markets.
Much like Gabe Newell's issues with piracy in Russia, Schaefer makes the same general conclusions -- be nice to your customers, don't overburden them with DRM, and charge a fair price and you will succeed. Fighting piracy isn't about restricting players but adding good will, long-term player satisfaction, and positive player experience to the act of purchasing, or even pirating, a game.
Not for everyone
Here's the problem with the piracy-win stories -- they are fact and situation specific. Not every studio and publisher can still succeed based on the costs associated with piracy and games development. Torchlight
was already a hit in the US and EU before this article on Chinese piracy. Their success was secure. The MMO was already in development, and it helped that Torchlight
was actually a totally awesome game. Could every studio allow for millions of copies to be stolen and still turn a profit so early in the game's life?
I would wager no. Not every studio gets to snap their fingers and make better Russian localization happen. Not every developer gets to write off millions of illegally downloaded copies of their game as audience-building advertising. I do not want to seem like I am enforcing or supporting the incredibly poor amount of DRM currently polluting the games market and turning would-be purchasers into pirates, but the Torchlight
mentality is the right one to take. It is a wonderful thing that successful developers are at the forefront of the piracy fight by extending the olive branch, so to speak, and turning pirates into purchasers not only for themselves, but creating a culture of purchasing games and building good will.
Brand recognition is key
The biggest take-away from Schaefer's comments is that brand recognition and advertising is a huge part of why he is fine with the piracy in China. Eventually Torchlight will MMO-o-tron itself into a pay-for-premium-content-based free-to-play. That is where the real money lies. With so many people accustomed to the Torchlight
brand and happy with the game they stole for free, some of those players might be totally willing to pick up a free client and put their money on the table for the Torchlight
service. It is this lesson that I think World of Warcraft
needs to learn in the next year.
Positive value and dealing with WoW's barrier to entry
Many players have an odd problem with World of Warcraft
right now -- it is hard to get into the game. Much like Everquest
showed us way back in the olden days of MMOs, barrier to entry is a problem. Once a game like WoW
grows to an insurmountable scale, the cost associated with getting the game up to date grows at a rapid pace. Using the Amazon US store, I quickly checked to see how much World of Warcraft
currently costs: WoW
Battlechest (includes Classic and Burning Crusade
) was $20, Wrath of the Lich King
was $38.99, and Cataclysm
was discounted to $26.99. That's almost $86.00 to get current with WoW
. That's a lot cheaper than it was last year, but it's still a hefty price.
Now, I don't want to sound like a hypocrite. I spend (happily, might I add) upwards of that for each collector's edition associated with WoW
. A new player, the lifeblood of growing subscription numbers, sees this as a detriment. Too many expansions without a new battlechest-like box has created the type of negative value associated with the stories above. WoW
is too expensive to completely play. To grow subscription numbers, Blizzard is going to have to get more WoW
in more people's hands at a cheaper price.
is practically free now. The are free trials, Recruit-A-Friend bonuses, and more to get people into Azeroth. But even practically free is not enough, it seems. WoW lost subscribers
over the course of Cataclysm
's life after hitting a huge peak with the expansion's release. To get players back, we need to add positive value back into the purchase of WoW
. Maybe WoW
has to, quite literally, be free?
Piracy is less of an issue and shelf space is still a thing
Piracy, admittedly, is less of an issue with MMOs and service-oriented games. Schaefer and Runic are so confident in the piracy-lite MMO model that they are willing to let millions of copies of the game proliferate in China. WoW
's problems are less with pirates and more from hackers, as we have detailed in the past.
Adding positive value to the WoW
retail box is a problem because the boxes are still selling, with prominent retail displays advertising WoW
's MMO dominance. Despite the fact that the PC game shelves at Gamestop and Best Buy have been second-class citizens for years now, WoW
dominates that retail space. We aren't in a 100% download world yet, boxes still sell, and I never want to give up my collector's editions. What we need is a new WoW
boxed (and downloadable) copy.
But what does this new box look like? Tom Chilton alluded to the potential
to turn into one game with Cataclysm
, but the idea never made it to light. Will Blizzard bundle WoW
, and Wrath
into one $30 box? The newest expansion stays at the $30-40 price and then gets bundled down into the box each time a new expansion is released? Will Cataclysm
just be re-branded as "World of Warcraft
?" Blizzard could discount down the game to $5 each like they have done at Christmas and is currently doing in the EU
for digital purchases. The easiest way to inject new blood into the game and refresh the subscription numbers is to practically give WoW
Maybe Schaefer's piracy comments and audience building will be what launches Torchlight
's MMO into the stratosphere of success. I think it will. Creating positive value from the inevitable pricing and piracy issues is a challenge for any developer, to be sure, but it's a move that needs to be made. Blizzard can echo this sentiment by changing the WoW
retail pricing structure to more easily accomodate players to their subscription service.
box by the end of the (fiscal) year? I'm willing to bet on it.
This column is for entertainment only; if you need legal advice, contact a lawyer. For comments or general questions about law or for The Lawbringer, contact Mat at firstname.lastname@example.org.