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Article - Online Game Distribution

by Orochi Avlis on Thursday 22 September 2005

This article talks about the vantages and disadvantages of online game distribution

This is my first article on and I decided to report on a subject that seems to be very controversial nowadays. No, I’m not talking about Hot Coffee, but something else – online content delivery.

Now, now, I know how people feel about it. I’ve gotten into discussions about it, but I’m not here to make this a one sided argument. I’m here to show both sides of blade, discussing the pros and cons of this method of content delivery.

Let’s start at the beginning.
This whole thing started when Valve release a program called Steam. It was received with mixed reactions. Some liked it, other not so much (to say the least).
It had a shaky release with quite a few people complaining about not being able to play or update. Time has passed and Steam has gotten more stable, and they (Valve) have used this technology to distribute updates and new content to the consumers.

But one question comes to the mind of a lot of people: WHY?
Why create something like this? Why not keep using the old methods of selling games?
According to many developers, it comes down to these 2 points:
• Cutting down on the retail price
• Total control over the project

I know you might think this is just a method for them to get more money, but let’s look at all the angles here first.

With online distribution, developers cut out the middle man: the publisher.
We all know that out of the retail price of the game, a portion has to go to the publisher, who is responsible for creating the box, mass copies of the game, the manual and advertising.
And we can’t forget the biggest role of a developer: Funding.
Most game companies out there do not have the funds to be independent, so they rely on publishers to help them fund their projects. In doing so, publishers get a say in the development or whether a game will get released. Lots of games have been cancelled due to the publishers being unsatisfied with the product, or thinking there won’t be an audience for it. Several games have met this fate, Sam and Max: Freelance Police and the sequel to Full Throttle, to name a few. Sin 2 (or Sin Episodes) wouldn’t have seen the light of day if not for this tech.

But how does this really affect the consumer?
Referring to the point made above, less cost goes into distributing the game since there is no cost in making a manual or box, or even a CD/DVD. So, theoretically it should be cheaper. Now, there has been a noticeable cheaper price to online distributed games compared to retail games, but it’s not the decrease we had expected. Day Of Defeat: Source, Sin 2 and Bone have prices of around 20 dollars (American). That would come to about 30 Canadian, which is around a 20 dollar discount compared to new games that are released.
Maybe due it being a new concept, they need some insurance if sales are low. Half Life 2: Aftermath might prove this theory correct seeing how it’s rumored to cost around 13 dollars. Only time will tell.

I think the main point that people hate about this would be the dependency that it brings. That was one of the bitter cries when Half Life 2 was released. For the first month, people could only play online. After that Valve implemented an offline mode for those who wanted it.
There also the fact that the company distributing the game could go out of business, therefore shutting down its servers. Sure, it is a possibility, but I’m sure all possibilities are thought through before implementation incase they do go out of business.

But is all of this really necessary?
Some would say it is, but others not so much. But this tech allows indie programmers and studios to develop games and give them to the masses at cheap prices without compromising their project (i.e. publisher influence). A good example would be Ragdoll Kung-Fu developed by one of the programmers at Lionhead. There wouldn’t be a chance that a publisher would distribute that game. But now thanks to this tech, he can distribute it. Other games as well are starting to use this method. Prey will be distributed through GamesStream (if I recall correctly), Bone through a custom made program for the game, and Sin 2 will be distributed through Steam.
Another positive point to this whole system is automatic updates. Users will be able to avoid looking for reliable servers to download the file from.

The following is my opinion on the whole thing:
I, personally, like this method of game distribution. More money goes to the developer and games also become more pocket friendly. It gives the developers more creative control and allows them to experiment more.
Ritual has stated that in Sin 2, our direct impact within the game could affect later chapters. An example would be, if lots of people let a certain scientist die, he might not be in the next chapter (seeing how is dead and all ). This sounds highly promising.

But I can see the negative aspects of Online Game Distribution. Like not having a cool box or manual, But I would be willing to give it up if I could buy the game at less than half price. And seeing how publishers (*cough*EA*cough*) are starting to skip out more and more on these types of things, I can welcome this with open arms. Then there is the dependency I spoke of earlier, but I’m pretty sure there is a backup plan in case that does happen.

Now the million dollar question: Would I buy DNF online?
Depends. Seeing how I've been for this game for a long, long time and seeing how 3D Realms could probably add a whole bunch of extras (seeing how it's there first release in a while), I would probably buy the hard copy so I can worship it so.
If they offer more through a online deal, I might be tempted to get both

I find that the pros outweigh the cons, but this my personal opinion and everybody might not share the same views.

Ragdoll Kung Fu has a price of $12.95 dollars (US). So it seems low priced games might be around the corner after all.

Another occurance where publishers can ruin a good thing: Serious Sam 2 or the demo at least.
Now don't get me wrong, I love it and I do want to get it.
2K Sam (a PR representative of Take 2) recently said (on the Croteam's forum) that he made the decision to make the demo "short and sweet".
And no doubt it was also their decision to make the game more console friendly, hence the console like interface on the demo.
Again, we PC users get the short end of the stick.