Exposure is Good For Sales

Video games sell best when they’re seen in a social context, it can be argued that online only succeeded due to the technology effectively connecting people to other people. Online leaderboards and content packs are not the driving force behind online gameplay, it’s the interactions with other people themselves. Back when online gameplay was common for pc gamers and all but foreign to home console supporters, the main point of interaction was local multiplayer. Families and friends gathering in homes to play games used to be a fairly common affair that felt as big as the Super Bowl. It had kids, parents, old folks, people of all ages sitting around playing 2 player games with primitive but well done graphics. I remember that time occurring primarily during the NES and Genesis years. After the Playstation and N64 launched I noticed that big home events, at least in my area, all but disappeared.

The social interactions started to be isolated to the local Funcoland and even then it felt like elite snobbery at its’ worst many of the times. I was one of those snobs, with insane Mega Man X and Mario Kart skills who could touch me? Video games eventually became a thing for people of my generation and below since the parents of my friends and myself refused to play with us. It seems that the major explosions of the N64 and beyond years were mainly multi-player games that helped to cultivate a community between the other kids and games that were just new, mind blowing experiences. Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Gran Turismo, Final Fantasy VII, and Metal Gear Solid are just a few of the excellent experiences that were passed around the neighborhood like playboys were in past days.

Today, it’s extremely interesting to research the past phenomenons and games that I’ve played to discover how influential some of the games were in regards to sales along with how often the higher selling games were traded, sold and shared a lot in my community. Google searches seem to confirm that this phenomenon wasn’t exclusive to Detroit, MI. Even more interesting is to check into how developers tapped into this in the past and how they do so currently.

The DS’s “Download Play” feature is one of the most obvious examples. In the best of cases it allows for one person that actually owns the game to share a copy of the game with them that’s usually limited. Meteos for the DS allows for full 4 player multiplayer with every person with an actual cartridge being able to select the Planet (stage) for competition available in their game while download players are limited to four. In some cases download plays sends an extensive demo to the unit that downloads it. Donwload Play is a great way to keep players involved that don’t own the game while simultaneously advertising the game by showing off its’ chops directly.

A recent hot topic in games has been the rights of used game owners. On one side of the fence players do deserve to be able to trade their games, sell them and do just about anything they could with a deck of cards. On the other side are game developers and publishers that that have a limited stream of revenue from their product and they see companies that make the trading and selling process more convenient like Gamestop as an obstacle to them staying in business. There are many more factors involved but it’s hard to argue that a used copy of a game selling for a lower price next to the new game isn’t funneling away profits. Unlike the board game Monopoly, video games stay wholly in playable condition as long as the disc/cartridge is in a condition well off enough for the game system to read it. The packaging value of video games has also decreased over time as evidenced by the constantly decreasing size and quality of game manuals and disappearing personal touches to video games like inserts and other unique features that allow a gamer to interact with the game without playing it.

Tiny Build Games have recently published a linux game of theirs called “No Time to Escape” and followed up the commercial release by uploading the game to the Pirate Bay, a website that specializes in sharing files that allow for people to download complete content like video games. The Pirate Bay is named after piracy, the term for accessing content illegally by gaining unauthorized access to it. Piracy is a problem since it gives users access to content but developers no revenue for that access to the content that they created. To put into context what Tiny Build Games has done, it would be like spending months writing an 800 page, APA format document on baby seals for a book publisher that would pay a sizable advance but then xeroxing and scanning copies of it and handing it out directly to people interested in buying the actual book. The company even added pirate hats to their characters to laugh it off and according to them sales of their game increased.

According to this graph people pirate because it's more convenient and they don't believe that they'll be caught.

According to this graph people pirate because it’s more convenient and they don’t believe that they’ll be caught.

Anything of value that can be placed into digital form will eventually be cracked and uploaded to the internet for anyone to download. It wouldn’t be so difficult to place an ad into something uploaded to the pirate bay to gain revenue in that manner. As evidenced by the sales increase for No Time to Escape, there are plenty of people that pirate that also purchase their content. Piracy is usually spoken of vehemently and spoken of in a way that implies that piraters exclusively pirate and that shoppers only buy everything that they own. That’s obviously not true, and the tossing around of piracy rates as a direct correlation to lost sales is also false. I’m not going to argue that people deserve to be able to pirate and to receive paid content for free. It’s just a simple fact that people will steal anything in this world and to expect anything otherwise is madness. Instead, it may be best to try to co-opt it into sales. Use the pirates as beta testers since developers have complained of pirates contacting them for support with game issues that they purposely put into a torrented copy of their game. If they’re willing to use bandwith and time to get at your game, find a way to make the best of it. I will make sure to include consideration for this in the planned release of Domipop.

Another strategy to take would be Notch’s, the creator of Minecraft. He started with a game that was in development and sold it for dead cheap and offered free upgrades forever. Purchasers were essentially funding development of the game and paid because they believed in its’ potential and jumped in on a deal. That wouldn’t be a bad path to take at all. If a game has a nice appeal and can speak to its’ audience then it should be possible for it to become funded. If it doesn’t then it’s time to move on to the next game. Have you ever downloaded a game or music and later bought it?

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