Game Developers are Just Like Musicians

Right now, everyone's attention is focused mainly on music piracy. That's because people have figured out how to get music for free (or download it easily for a small price) for a long time. This is due to the fact that the average size of a song is only a few MBs, and an album is generally less than 100MB. Downloads are quick, and "piracy" so easy that it has become commonplace. The reason that downloading isn't as widespread for movies and television shows is because the files are so much bigger, and often greater knowledge of which media player to use is needed. Pretty much every audio track you are likely to download will play on your mp3 player, as well as on your computer somehow. It seems that few video files will play on a basic install of Quicktime or Windows Media Player, and that often additional plugins are needed (and yes, I'm sure that if you are reading this blog you know how to download and play movies easily on your computer - you aren't the people I'm talking about).

However, I think that this will rapidly change. People will quickly realize how much media they can get via the computers and lawsuits like those initiated against file sharers by the major music labels might be directed at those sharing movies and television shows.

And that is why it is so refreshing to see the stance that some indie game developers are taking. Like the independent musicians before them that have managed to be successful while giving away their music for free, these developers can do the same.

"We're all here because we love making games first and foremost," said independent games developer Steve Swink, echoing similar statements from independent musicians that just want people to hear their music.

The quote is from an article on Techradar called Is Free Really The Future of Gaming? that looks at these issues from both the perspective of the smaller, independent developers like Wink as well as larger studios like Sony and EA.

The article also raises the question about whether or not advertising is really the solution to creating free medium. This applies to media besides games, and I'm inclined to think that advertising isn't really the solution.

Rather, I think that companies will work more in tandem with game developers. The obvious example is of a car company working with a game company to create the virtual experience of driving the car. To move beyond this will be more difficult, but nobody said that business is easy. Similarly, I've been seeing more and more examples of corporations teaming up with musicians to essentially sponsor a song or album, and offer downloads of it for free as a way of promoting their product.

Games have also been using the add-on content model, in which the initial game experience is free but you can buy upgrades or customization for a price. With this model, they once again have something in common with musicians that have discovered they can give their basic music away for free and charge for scarcer goods like vinyl LPs or t-shirts. The game developers will just have to create demand for in-game goods in a similar way.


More on Piracy

I wrote a post earlier today about Piracy and the Entertainment Industry without realizing that Microsoft had declared today Anti-Piracy day. What a delightful coincedence!

And since you're probably giving so much thought to piracy, why not check out an interview that Wired has with everyone's favorite pro-piracy dude Matt Mason?

From the Wired article:

“I’m convinced that Steve Jobs is currently working on a double-sided touchscreen laptop, which has a great screen density so you can hold it on its side and you can touch it and turn pages. When something like that comes along, then the e-book’s going to be a real threat. And I think the publishing industry is going to collectively crap its pants.”


Disclosure: Matt Mason's got a great last name, but we aren't related.

On Piracy and The Future of the Entertainment Industry

I'm a "pirate." Everyday, I steal. I steal music, by downloading it from music blogs.

I steal movies, by downloading them or streaming them from websites.

I steal information, by reading it online.

Except that stealing information isn't exactly stealing it. Websites everywhere are giving it away. People set up blogs for the sole purpose of giving away what they write for free. News organizations do the same thing all the time: they post content on their website, and give it away freely.

And stealing music and movies isn't stealing either. It's piracy. Stealing removes the original, while piracy merely makes a copy (see this diagram by Danielle for help understanding this concept).

So what is the difference between the print publications (those, not including the Globe and Mail, that realize they can still have a profitable business by giving away content for free) and the entertainment industry that refuses to change its business model in the face of the internet?

Its not like there aren't successful examples of entertainment organizations giving away their content for free and exploring different models.

Michael Moore recently allowed his film "Slacker Uprising" to be downloaded for free. Techdirt reports that Wayne Wang (director of the Joy Luck Club and Maid In Manhattan) is giving away his most recent film for free via YouTube.

As I've pointed out before, BMW gave away a number of short films they created with actor Clive Owen. There's no reason that kind of model of corporate sponsorship (in exchange for product placement) can't work in a future of legal, free downloads.

Similarly, both Radiohead and the Nine Inch Nails have seen a great deal of success in giving away albums or allowing fans to pay what they want for them. Rapper Lil Wayne is constantly giving away his music for free, and that hasn't stopped him from near-record breaking sales.

At least one record label seems to understand this concept, even if their hosting company doesn't. According to this story, Quote Unquote Records worked on a model that allowed fans to download albums and songs from the label's catologue for free. Unfortunately, the company that owned the space they were hosting their content on didn't understand this concept and took down their site for copyright infringement.

South Korean Jin-Young Park also seems to get the new economy. According to an article in Portfolio a few months ago, his entertainment company (I hesitate to call it a music label) is worth over $100 million US, and music sales only make up a small part of that fortune. That's because Jin-Young Park recognizes that the music promotional, and can be used to sell other products and services that his company offers related to that music. This includes concert tickets, cell phones and more.

Oh, and to the American record labels that are lamenting the loss of revenue as a result of declining CD sales: Jin-Young Park created his company in a country where CD sales declined 80% from 2000 to 2006.

The world has changed, and the failure of organizations to realize that they will be unable to profit in ways that they were accustomed to will be their downfall. Those that are capable of adapting will prosper.


Piracy and DRM: Thanks for the Entertainment

XKCD absoluteley nails the explanation of why DRM sucks: XKCD Steal This Comic

And in related news, Ars Technica reports that the entertainment industry has basically been making up stats about how much piracy is costing the U.S. Economy, while Larry Lessig (via Techdirt) argues in favor of decriminalizing musical piracy and remixing.

When will the entertainment industry learn?