In the November 20th edition of
Jeff "Ethec" Woleslagle lauded the virtues of the digital distribution
games. Ethec made valid points about the convenience of
acquiring MMOGs via download: no disc swapping, no target="_blank"
hassles, no trips to the retailer, and no inventory shortfalls. His is
a compelling argument, but I'd beg to differ from his assertion that a
100% digital download service is the best possible outcome for gamers.
While Ethec conceded some of the pitfalls of digital distribution, he
didn't really address F2P games in his column. That's where I come in.
But first a quick story about a subscription game.
nearly had a heart attack downloading Warhammer Online.
It was a dark night, and I was alone in my house. I was
already a little spooked because my
wife and daughter were out later than planned with the girl
scout troop, and the police had reported a cougar wandering the
area near our home. (Yes, we have wild animals roaming the outskirts of
our town from time to time. Shut up and just let me finish.) The wind
was howling outside, causing the branches of trees
adjacent to our house to scrape up against the siding in a jarring
email with the directions to download the href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/war"> style="font-style: italic;">Warhammer Online
beta was the newest message in my inbox. Mythic had recently
packaged it into a 9.3GB torrent for
(supposedly) faster downloads. I clicked the button to start the
download and ventured to the kitchen for a refreshing
beverage. Said beverage in hand, I slammed the refrigerator slightly
too loud and was ready to go see how long my wait would be. I started
at my reflection in the bay window as I passed the threshold from the
kitchen into the living room. I chuckled to myself and turned off the
did a hop that would not be described as masculine by the average
observer. I laughed again at my foolishness and headed back to the cozy
comfort of my beloved computer chair. As soon as I entered the room, I
saw it and dropped my drink to the carpet. The once-tasty fruit punch
in my mouth soured as the cool liquid soaked into the carpet and looked
like blood. My hand flew to my mouth as I tried to suppress a scream.
The download was going at 33 KB/s over my DSL connection and
the estimated completion time was 108 hours away!
That WAR download ended up taking 93.5 hours, and I rarely saw
download speeds above 110KB/s until the final hour, when they reached
350KB/s. At almost ten hours per GB, I was not feeling cozy with the
idea of digital distribution at the end of those four days. Even so, I
hear a reader somewhere protesting, style="font-style: italic;">Well, most F2P games aren't over
a couple of GBs! That protest is absolutely correct, but
the size of games will only continue to rise, especially as games with
micro transactions try to deliver as much content as the archaic
The challenges F2P games that support themselves with
optional micro transactions face in contrast to the ones
subscription-based games encounter is a topic for href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/44088">a different day,
but let's review a favorite tune href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/45545">I keep
replaying: F2P games have a very short window of
opportunity to impress a player. The benefit of a game being free to
download immediately disappears the moment the download takes so long
that the gamer who was casually considering giving it a try says screw
it and plays something else.
Because of the short time in which a F2P games must make a
first impression, digital download (almost exclusively the way
developers distribute F2P games) limits the options of developers.
Think of it as href="http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=4197626">a
glass ceiling for designing games.
style="border: 0px solid ; width: 200px; height: 150px;" alt=""
briefly enjoyed renewed popularity two years ago, Ralsu always found
jellies made his feet sweat.
Back. Why Can't the Box?
The few readers who had faith that I am not insane are now
excused. You know better. Sorry to disappoint.
Admittedly, even after positing that the lack of retail boxes
restricts the growth of the F2P industry (in case you didn't infer it,
I implied it), I recognize that box sales are not a viable solution.
Still, the box has some very real benefits.
Every time I go to the local
target="_blank">Megalomart, I stop in the
pathetic, unloved pc games aisle to peruse the wares. You know the one,
where the crappy href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/147"> style="font-style: italic;">Myst
wannabes in their jewel cases clutter the shelves with actual boxes? On
each trip, I pick up that box for href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/aoc"> style="font-style: italic;">Age of Conan
or some other big name title, staring at the images and bullet points
on the back until my daughter pulls me away so she can play the display
model Nintendo DS.
A box sitting on the shelf automatically gives a game
advertising that a F2P game does not get. Many consumers use ad
blocking tools in their browsers and never see the ads for games that
display on the internet. Short of sporting some dark sunglasses like
the guy in target="_blank">this video, I don't know of any ad
blocker for that shiny box sitting on the Megalomart shelf.
The Answer to Life, the
Universe, and Everything
Since 42 doesn't solve the problem of how F2P games can
their way into the market in the same way other games with retail boxes
does, I guess it's up to me to fix this mess. Unless of course Beijing
Perfect World has already beaten me to it. The makers of style="font-style: italic;">Perfect World International,
this savvy company is not willing to let its 2.2GB download deter
would-be clients. They offer a service that allows gamers to receive a
copy of the DVD while PWI only charges for the shipping of that product.
This could work
very well in retail stores, too. It works even better for the gamer who
does not like to use his credit card to make purchases on the web.
Imagine a display box for Ralsu's
Awesome F2P Game sitting in your local GameHalt.
You take the display box to the counter, just as you would in many such
stores. The cashier takes your cash and hands you the DVD from the
glass case behind him. Sure, the price might need to inflate a bit to
cover the shipping and third party fees, but gamers could get that
instant gratification of a box in hand while skipping the lengthy
download and the wait for postal service. Perhaps the cost could even
be defrayed by the inclusion of a redemption code that grants a few
item mall coins. That might also encourage shoppers to pick up some
Combining Beijing Perfect World's maverick marketing approach
idea similar to the one I espouse above could allow gamers to get a fun
title for $5-10 and increase the market reach of the games themselves.
the end, digital distribution is a decent option most of the time, but
I'm not ready for the industry to give up on box sales yet. How about
you? Tell me your take href="http://forums.tentonhammer.com/showthread.php?t=38899">in
The Top Ten
to page two to see Ralsu's
latest Top Ten list.
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Perfect World International Game Page.