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Time to rethink gaming and money

5 min read

When I started out playing games, things were pretty simple.  There were game developers, retail game stores, and gamers.  I could go to a store, buy a (typically) awesome game, play it, and lend it to friends or sell it back to the same store.  Now, everyone believes piracy and the internet are killing gaming.  Stop telling me this crap and change your mindset.

I’m not just a gamer, I’m also a bookworm, movie buff and music aficionado.  All of these industries are apparently being killed by piracy and the internet.  Music can be downloaded for free, as can movies, books and games.  For years, everyone was convinced that music was going to die – blame Napster, it’s OVER!  And yet, musicians are still making money, and I might argue that they are even closer to their fans due to social media.

Amanda Palmer (a musician and one half of the Dresden Dolls) did an interesting TED talk about the relationship between artists and fans, and it involved rethinking the whole scenario.  She actually releases her albums for free online.  She also had one of the most successful Kickstarter projects.  According to her, it comes down to asking, and to recognizing who your fans are.  Sure, someone might find you because they download your music.  But, if you come to town, they’ll most likely give you a place to sleep for the night, or pay to see your concert, or give free publicity to their thousands of twitter followers and friends.

Neil Gaiman also gave an interesting talk on the topic, this time relating to books.  He spoke about music and literature, about content and experience.  He made two notable points for our situation in gaming.  

First, our society has moved from a situation of scarcity to that of abundance.  This is the case in books, but also in gaming – if I’d had more money when I was younger, I probably could have played all the great games that came out each year, with time to spare.  Now, there just simply aren’t enough hours in the day, let alone the funds to purchase them all; we’ve got indie games, AAA titles, MMOs, etc.  The issue now comes down to selection – which game to play and why, finding the signal in the noise.  And, like favorite authors or musicians, finding that game can be tricky.

A world in which anyone can publish anything, in which there’s too much information is one in which we no longer rely on gatekeepers as we once did, but we rely on guides and on recommenders to point to what’s good. We rely on word of mouth. And we rely on luck.

Second, we need to give people a reason to buy something beyond simply content.  Anyone can go online and get a pirated version of just about any game.  There has to be a reason to spend hard-earned money on a piece of someone else’s intellectual property.  Sure, if the game is really great most of us feel the urge to support the developers and buy the game.  However, I am usually most motivated by something unique or special.  A collector’s edition with a bobble-head, or even stickers and a keychain.  It doesn’t have to be big and expensive, but sometimes it helps when it is.  As Gaiman explains:

I suspect that one of the things that we should definitely be doing in digital in the world of publishing is making books – physical books – that are prettier, finer, and better. That we should be fetishizing objects. We should be giving people a reason to buy objects, not just content if we want to sell them objects. Or we can just as easily return to the idea that one does not judge a book by its cover.

(You can watch the video if you like, or read the transcript if you’re interested)

In general, I don’t buy most second-hand things – not books, movies or games.  Nothing against them, it just doesn’t really seem to happen that way.  So I buy new, for the most part, and it better be worth my while.  If I buy something, it’s generally for one of two reasons – I’m already in love with a franchise/developer and must get the latest release, or I’ve gotten time to play with the game/seen awesome gameplay videos (by people I actually trust or like).  

So, maybe the gaming industry needs to stop worrying about piracy and DRM.  Let people play games.  If they like your game, they will find a way to give you money, even if it’s just by ordering collector’s editions of your next games.  Make buying a game something worthwhile – spend the time to work out any glitches in your game, but also give me a sticker, or a matchbook with a QR code for something, or a mousepad.  These things are cheap, but make the experience unique and desirable.  Let people ‘upgrade’ their pirated version to a paid version of a game – sometimes it’s just the idea of starting over or losing progress that keeps people away.  If you need help funding a game, ask for help!  Kickstart, crowd fund, whatever.  Sure, there will always be people who think crowd funding is horrible, but there will be just as many people who are willing to throw money at you if you’ll make something worth their while. (If I found out that the reason we haven’t gotten a Beyond Good and Evil 2 game was funding, I’d Kickstart the crap out of it!)  

Stop worrying about how to make gamers pay for games, start thinking about how to let them.

Last Updated: June 20, 2013