Summary: If you ask Jakub... Copy protection? It sucks. Paper CD jackets? They really suck. Game developers who won't pay attention to the community when making sequels to their own games? They blow, not suck. 'Christmas' game releases? They suck AND blow. You wanna know what's really wrong with this damn industry...
Take, for example, copy protection. It doesn't work. I've had 10-year-old cousins of friends offering to burn me games, and these kids don't even have older siblings to do it for them. Now I'm not saying that games with prominent singleplayer components shouldn't have copy protection, but multiplayer focused games with CD keys just shouldn't bother. It's a hassle and annoyance that costs the developer, and thus the customer, money. Even as a game reviewer, where my livelihood depends a great deal upon the good fortunes of the industry, the first place I go to after receiving a game is GameCopyWorld to get a no-CD crack.
It's not that switching CDs is a huge chore, it's just that cracking the copy protection is far easier. It's too easy, in fact. I feel embarrassed for executives at publishing companies who insist that developers make disc-checking necessary. Inevitably, I think "are they really that stupid? Do they think it works?" whenever I debate the idea with myself.
Even more painful is the idea that these executives sign their names on contracts with companies like SafeDisc with technology that "prevents" burning. Come on already. When a $100 CD writer comes bundled with software out of the box that can defeat any SafeDisc technology, just stop already. If your copy protection doesn't even add the extra step of forcing the pirate (or archiver, as the case may be) to go onto the internet and search for a way to break the copy protection, it's just time to give up.
I'm also sure that I'm not the only one who has had to upgrade CD or DVD drives because of compatibility problems with copy protection. With the number of games I play, it's almost like an annual tradition. I should start a pool with the FiringSquad readers, so they can bet "which game will make Jakub upgrade his drive this year". Well, maybe I'm not being fair. I did manage to go through 2003 without swapping out my Pioneer DVD drive.
A far more elegant and user-friendly copy protection solution is being offered by StarDock.net for their Galactic Civilizations game. It's a singleplayer-only game with no copy protection, but it does have a registration key. If you register, you're free to download certain updates and expansions that come along.
Now the temptation for publishers is to make patches for only those gamers who've registered, and this is incorrect. As soon as you make something that's necessary work with this scheme, hackers will find a way around it. A better idea is to give incentives, like those expansions for GalCiv. Blizzard has a similar idea with battle.net, and after all these years - and it must be 7 years now - there still isn't a worthy, lasting competitor to bnet.
SIDEBAR: I'm too irritated to fill in Random Facts today.
The solution? Prevent abandonware. Release your old, defunct games for free. Whatever company now owns the rights to Pirates! Gold, do you really think you're going to sell it again? Is it going to devalue your share price if it's released on your website?
Keep inventories for sale through the website. People have been clamoring for copies of FreeSpace 2 for years now, driving the prices through the roof on eBay, and Interplay has only now, after four years, decided to re-release the game. I'm sure that in three years they'll notice a similar situation is developing with Sacrifice.
Publishers - use old games as promotions for new products, as Gathering has done with Hidden & Dangerous, by releasing the game for free to coincide with the shipment of H&D2 to stores. Put license limitations on so that only you can host the game on your website to drive traffic to the online sales section - just do something. Don't sit on a property, it's not getting you any value that way and it's still being downloaded online.
I also don't understand this paranoia over releasing source code. id Software does it and with great success. The releases have breathed much life into Doom, Quake and Quake II, and the free games made with those engines help promote id by stating where they got the technology. Microsoft has earned thousands of fans by releasing the source code for Allegiance recently, a game which they no longer planned to sell or support. Gamers are blindly loyal, it's one of their endearing qualities and terrible traits at the same time. Look at the three-way rivalry between Total Annihilation, C&C and WarCraft, or Unreal vs. Quake vs. Duke.
Granted, it's a bad idea to release code in some circumstances - like if you plan on re-using network code in a future game or if the game is still being popular online - but it keeps interest on the game. No community project is going to be as good as a sequel.
There are a few games just begging to be released free or re-released. A free Tribes, for example, would make a great marketing promotion for Tribes: Vengeance. Since so few people were willing to take a risk by buying Tribes in order to play it, they never saw what a great game it was. Well, release it now and you get a free advertisement for T:V - "More! Better! Faster! Better Looking! Buy now!" Battlezone, another game that didn't get a chance, is a license begging for another take on it. Offering the game up for download could get people excited for a future version. I can't even find the game on the official Activison website, for crying out loud.
SIDEBAR: Why are you reading this? I told you, I can't fill this in with cutesy, useless facts any more.
There is absolutely no crime in having a CD case shipped with your game. Why, there are actually proper storage options for CD cases. What are you going to do with a paper slip? You can't even stack them, because they tip over far too easily. CD booklets tend to scratch discs, so they're not an optimal solution.
Those publishers who ship manuals thinner than the pile of advertisement and registration junk in the box, why even bother with regular PC game boxes? Just ship in a DVD case. Max Payne 2 proved that this fantastic, outlandish and unproven technology is, indeed, compatible with the PC. If Max Payne 2 hadn't been a boring re-hash of the original game (with funky jumping physics), it also might have sold a few more copies as well.
Speaking of sequels, this is how it's done: read the reviews, read what your community is saying, and then read what people who aren't in the community but played the game are saying. If the general idea is "flawed gem", then just fix the flaws, don't screw with the formula. If everyone liked it, make the game again, just bigger, better and more - a la Baldur's Gate II. If everyone who played it thinks it's a good game but it didn't sell, don't punish the developers by making them work on Tomb Deer Raider Hunter XVI, go kick your marketing department in the ass. It's their job to make sure unconventional designs become familiar and acceptable to the public.
Absolutely nothing bugs me more than saying in a review "by the end of the game, the interface shows its limits as the player spends more time re-organizing himself than playing the game", and then seeing the same interface in a "bigger, better" sequel. This was the exact problem with Shogun: Total War and for some reason Creative Assembly ignored the problems that were so evident in the original and passed them onto the more complicated sequel. I understand that it is human nature to get stubborn and defensive when your flaws are pointed out, or to gloss over minor issues when the feedback is generally positive. However, somewhere along the way there needs to be a "second sober thought" session on all critical aspects of the game - interface, graphics, sound, singleplayer, multiplayer. Because when a lobotomized crack baby on a week-long Vegas bender can tell you that "there's like, too many princesses and buildings and stuff", it's time to suck it up and go into redesign.
SIDEBAR: I really hope Rome: Total War has a different interface.
You are doing yourself quite a disservice by rushing a game out into the glut of Christmas products in the hopes that the aforementioned lobotomized crack baby on a week-long Vegas bender will pick it up at random as a gift. I don't care what your marketing department says. They're tools. You're doing yourself irreparable harm with Christmas Crap releases. The franchise suffers, the developer name suffers and most obviously, the publisher's name suffers since they are the ones that ultimately sign off on a game.
Take a look at id, Blizzard and BioWare, for example. People will buy their games based on the company name alone. Yes, I understand that not every developer can be like them, otherwise the "elite" status loses its significance, but if you're a publisher, wouldn't you like to help build at least one of your in-house or contracted developers up to that level?
In fact, it's almost inevitable that a publisher will release good and bad games, like a movie studio will release good and bad movies. On the other hand, people trust certain actors and directors to make good movies. A great a game then, when attached to a regular publisher name, it will sell very well. However, a great game attached to an elite developer name, will sell far, far better. It's just how people go to see Steven Spielberg movies, no matter what studio makes them.
The three months from December to March really aren't that long, and shortly after that the E3 boom happens. Just imagine the extra polish that can go into a game in that period, and consider if it's not worth delaying it. Maybe - just maybe - it won't sell as well, but at least it will develop some loyal fans.
Right now, the PC industry is too competitive and stretched thin, publishers are intent on driving each other out of business but hurting gaming on the PC in the long run. A somewhat more responsible "when it's done" attitude would help. I understand it's not as feasible for games with smaller target audiences, or if a developer keeps missing milestones, but if that's the situation, a cancellation may be in order. Trinity was canned, SiN 2 wasn't picked up and Blizzard cancelled WarCraft Adventures. We, as gamers, will never know what we missed out on, but it's also quite possible that we could be grateful for this.
None of this excuses us, the gamers, from our rather conservative attitudes. We'd rather buy the decent games with a lot of hype around them, rather than the good games with small marketing budgets. At best we ignore, at worst we mock and ridicule those games like Tribes, Allegiance, Sacrifice, Battlezone, and Torment that dare to be different. Then, years later, we go around on forums complaining about how publishers won't make innovative games. Well, no shit Sherlock, when the only reason many gamers know about those games is because they pirated them 2 years after the fact after reading an article on GameSpy about the "Top 10 Games You Never Played", don't be surprised that publishers will take fewer risks.
Yes, marketing departments need to learn to spend more time on unorthodox games, but it's only because we gamers are so hesitant to try something new. It's like listening to the radio all day, buying the same songs you hear on the radio and complaining that music is getting stale.
Bah, forget it, like anything's ever going to change.
SIDEBAR: Bite me.
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