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Wednesday Morning Trends August 22, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Guild Wars 2, Lord of the Rings Online, Sony Online Entertainment.
Tags: , , , ,

Ubisoft Finds a New Rationalization for Free to Play

From The Register, Ubisoft says more than 90% of PC gamers pirate their game, so they might as well go down the free to play path.

Money quote from CEO Yves Guillemot:

“It’s around a 93 to 95 per cent piracy rate, so it ends up at about the same percentage as free-to-play”

I still find it hard to believe that 90% of gamers pirate their games, and people who spout such numbers rarely go into detail on how they arrived at them, so color me skeptical.

Riders of Rohan Delay

Casual Stroll to Mordor reports that the launch of the Lord of the Rings Online expansion Riders of Rohan will be moved back from September 5th to October 15th.  I expect conspiracy theorists everywhere to proclaim that this delay was to get out from under the weight of the Guild Wars 2 launch the way they declared the Mist of Panderia launch date to be a defensive move against the game.

Chalk another one up to the might of Guild Wars 2?

Your Virtual Currency Has Expired!

Massively Multiplayer Fallout brings up a topic from the RuneScape forums.  Apparently somebody discovered a statement in Jagex’s terms of service that indicates that RuneCoins, the RuneScape virtual currency, can expire.

Jagex responded, indicating that the terms were correct, but that they had never, to this point, had to expire any RuneCoins.  The actual shelf life of RuneCoins was left unstated.

Of course, this makes me wonder when companies like SOE, which seemed to be picking up bad habits from its free to play neighbors, or UbiSoft, which just seems to hate its customers pirates people in general, will jump on this potentially lucrative idea.

And then there is how local law applies.  In my own jurisdiction, companies cannot expire things like gift cards.  Where does virtual currency fit in that equation?

Bonus Trend: Windows 8

After watching this, I foresee another Windows Vista level PR fiasco looming.

If Microsoft needs to learn something from Apple, it is how to produce software that doesn’t make people angry.

Apple drops OS updates more often that Microsoft, charges for them, and people tend to be interested to indifferent.  Microsoft drops a huge OS update every few years and manages to make people run around screaming like their hair is on fire more often than not.

And don’t get me started on how much I loathe every corporate mandated Microsoft Office upgrade.  In my mind, MS Word was perfected with version 5.1a about 20 years ago.  Everything since has been… uh… Windows dressing?

[Credit to Derek Smart for finding that video, but his Twitter account is locked down so I can't even link to the tweet.]


1. Merric & Goldenstar (@strolltomordor) - August 22, 2012

Re: Rohan
Actually the reason has to do with corrections to the expansion. As someone who is in the closed beta, the expansion had a lot of really cool stuff but enough broken stuff that would just frustrate players. I’m sure Turbine had a hard decision to make choosing to just go forward or delay. I think they’re making the right choice and try to put out a polished expansion for the players.

2. Wilhelm Arcturus - August 22, 2012

@M&G – A good conspiracy theorist never lets mere facts or corporate statements get in the way of their pet ideas. Fear of GW2 all the way!

[I am poking fun at certain in-love-with-GW2 fanboys.]

3. Aufero - August 22, 2012

Ubisoft has been making unsubstantiated claims about piracy for years to justify their DRM methods, which are successful only at making people less likely to buy their games. It’s gone beyond rationalization and into doublethink.

4. Gank - August 22, 2012

Yea, I’d say he pulled that number out of his ass. There is no way of actually knowing how many people are ‘PC Gamers’ let alone what percentage of them pirate games. It’s a ridiculous statement and one that the ‘reporter’ who wrote that fluff piece on behalf of Ubisoft should have been all over.

I’ve always wondered what Assassin’s Creed was like…. perhaps I’ll grab a pirated copy and see, just to prove him right.

5. flosch - August 22, 2012

Aufero: But it’s clear. What _other_ reason would there be to not buy Ubisoft’s games than that now, they’re harder to copy, so people won’t bother? It’s obviously all the players’ fault! Lower sales numbers are a sign that it’s working!

And especially these days, with cheap Steam offers if you wait for the right moment, the number is completely off whack. I’ll say this, convinced that it is about as well-founded as his 90% number. 53% of all statistics are made up on the spot anyway, right?

6. Wilhelm Arcturus - August 22, 2012

It reminds me of a certain shareware author from the late 1980s who used to go from BBS to BBS, count how many people downloaded his software (or how many downloads in any case… failed downloads and repeats were not uncommon back then) and then make a wild ass guess about how many people ended up really using the software (he felt 50-80% was reasonable). He would then rage incandescently about all of the people who were ripping him off.

He then went to a direct sales mail order plan, which he did by himself because he hated the idea that anybody else would make money on his software… retailers and distributors and the like.

I remember the commercial package included a forward from him which said he had to do this because we were all a bunch of software pirates along with legal threats about what he would do if we were caught pirating this new software. (I recall that legal threats also went out to any BBS still hosting the shareware version of the software.)

Oddly, the Wikipedia entries on all of this tell the tale of a successful shareware program that was able to go commercial due to its popularity and everything was rainbows and sunshine.

Of course, that was in the dark ages of online computing. I still think I have the software manual that includes the forward about people who download shareware being generally awful.

7. Jacob - August 22, 2012

Re Windows 8… I work tech support. I find Windows 8 intriguing. I’d use it myself. However, a key skill for tech support is being good at learning new things. It’s hard to predict how “normal people” will react to the new interface, but I’m guessing there will be friction. I would not recommend Windows 8 to someone who “just wants a normal computer”.

8. Wilhelm Arcturus - August 22, 2012

@Jacob – Well, I mentally add in the fact that Gabe Newall, John Smedley, Rob Pardo, and now Derek Smart have gone out of their way to say that Windows 8 will be a disaster for gaming. Since playing games is a normal operation for my home computer, putting that in peril is a big red flag.

As somebody who works in development, new things pop up all the time, but I am forever plagued by backwards compatibility which leads to all sorts of unholy compromises.

9. Aufero - August 22, 2012

In my experience unholy compromises are built into the development process even without worrying about backwards compatibility. See every version of Windows ever made for evidence.

(I suspect ME was intentionally designed to placate Nyarlathotep by driving millions of users insane. Then there’s Microsoft Bob – have you seen the Yellow Sign?)

10. kiantremayne - August 22, 2012

I got the impression that the thrust of Gabe Newell’s prediction of disaster was “Windows will have an app store, which will compete with us, and here’s a scare story that once Microsoft have their own app store they’ll shut everyone else’s down and people will be forced to buy their games from Microsoft instead of Steam”.

Competition. We fear it, and try to head it off by demonising potential competitors as would-be monopolists.

I’m not in favour of Microsoft trying to force out other people’s online games stores, but I’ve no problem with them joining the market and giving Steam some decent competition. I suspect if there was even a whiff of Microsoft trying to establish a monopoly they’d be swarmed by lawyers scenting blood with deep pockets anyway.

11. bhagpuss - August 22, 2012

On the virtual money thing, Amazon cards in the UK expire after 12 months. The cards the company I work for expire after two years. I haven’t looked at the terms and conditions of the dozens of store and game cards on sale in my local supermarket, but I’d expect all of them to have a stated, finite lifespan.

Jagex being a British company (or based in the UK at any rate) would just be following normal UK market practice here, I think.

12. Wilhelm Arcturus - August 22, 2012

@bhagpuss – Great if Jagex only does business in the UK. I hear they range a little beyond there these days.

As I mentioned, the state of California expressly forbids companies from expiring things that are currency substitutes such as gift cards. We cannot be the only jurisdiction so inclined. I have to think somebody else in the EU swings that way.

Also, I thought the most disturbing note was the lack of statement about when currency would, in fact, expire. That is something I would expect explicitly written out. What essentially amounts to “we haven’t taken anybody’s money away yet” does not reassure me.

Not that I play Runescape, but I do have a pile of Station Cash and would hate SOE to decide some day that the best way to get people to buy some more is to expire some of the piles sitting in player accounts.

13. Shivoa - August 22, 2012

I don’t think Ubisoft have actually changed their figures, which would indicate their DRM is working (their sales have fallen (from what little I can find, but maybe that is retail sales and so pointless on the Steam box), so with the same percentages there must be less pirates) but in such a way as to make them far less money on PC. DRM: effective at turning off both pirates and consumers.

Also, the figures (if they could be generated) as skewed by assuming a pirate only downloads one copy of a game (how many times have you redownloaded a game on Steam, why would pirates be any different? Are encrypted rars still a thing and do you could crack program downloads too and so possibly doubly your values?) and that no consumers downloaded a pirated edition to remove the DRM themselves or because there was no demo to ensure the product worked at all on their PC (as most retailers try really hard to refuse the right to refund for PC games). On my shelf are copies of Assassin’s Creed II for 360 and PC, I will also appear on the statistics (if they grabbed them) for 3 cracks/binary editors/trainers and an ISO download but the purchased copies on my shelf make it very clear I should not be included in a prate figure (I don’t pirate games and haven’t for years, as a minor then unsurprisingly money was limited but my time was not – how many adult pirates who could have spend the money are these piracy figures pointing at might be a more useful statistic to try and work out).

14. Stropp - August 23, 2012

@kiantremayne — Part of the problem is that the MS app store is positioning itself as the primary (only?) way to get digitally delivered software without putting your computer at risk.

There are already, in W7 and Vista, nasty warnings that the software you have downloaded can compromise your computer. The Windows 8 messages even hide or minimise the choice to continue install. I can only see this strategy as an attempt to force people onto the W8 store.

It’s already hard for smaller ISVs to get their software onto someone’s computer. By reducing trust in third party software MS is making this harder.

At this rate, Windows 8 will be the last MS OS that allows third party software to be loaded.

15. HarbingerZero - August 23, 2012

@Wilhelm: Most of the companies I have seen have gotten around that prohibition by charging a “service fee” to upkeep the “gift account” beyond a certain time limit (usually whenever the money was expiring to begin with). They can’t take it all at once, but they will take it slowly over time…

Ubisoft… ::shakes head::

16. Fnord - August 23, 2012

It seems the original source of the quote seems to Games Industry International, and the context includes “The advantage of F2P is that we can get revenue from countries where we couldn’t previously – places where our products were played but not bought.”

Is it possible the Mr. Guillemot’s figure is not quite as absurd as it first sounds, is meant to refer to specific markets with particular problems rather than the United States or the PC market as a whole?

17. Wilhelm Arcturus - August 23, 2012

@Fnord – Ars Technica has a closer look at what he said and what it means.

However, while he talks about other countries at one point, he does make the over all comparison that pirates/non-paying customer rates are pretty much the same for commercial PC games and F2P games.

To me, that seems to indicate that he is making a blanket statement that 90% of people who play his games, regardless of location, are stealing from him.

Anyway, I play MMOs… and I have no Ubisoft PC titles that I know of. (We do own Just Dance on the Wii. Not pirated.) I am not on their list either way. I am just interested when companies make blanket assertions without any supporting data on how they arrived at the numbers, especially when those statements seem primed to annoy their legitimate customers.

I’d like to hear, for example, his specific US/EU piracy rate estimates. Does his F2P argument make as much sense in that light?

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