And so it begins...
People have long talked about the day when we would just be able to buy a retail-level game and be able to download it right then and there. And for the past two years, Stardock has allowed its customers to purchase and download Stardock's retail titles via Drengin.net. But the challenge was how to expand those titles beyond the Stardock titles? How to convince independent developers and publishers to put their titles for available on-line -- especially since revenue, at the start, will be relatively small.
There is still a real concern in the PC game industry over piracy. I've written before that I believe piracy is overstated. And that was on new titles. On electronic distribution, your target audience has plenty of opportunity to pirate long before they've logged onto your service. So our view has been to try to make it as easy and convenient as possible for them to legally purchase the games.
And hence, we now have TotalGaming.net!
We've got a pretty good line-up of games to start with:
- Galactic Civilizations
- Galactic Civilizations: Altarian Prophecy
- The Political Machine
- The Corporate Machine
- Celtic Kings
- Disciples II: Ultimate Edition
- And a couple of smaller games.
If you were to buy these games on their own, even at "bargain bin" prices you would still be paying around $150 whereas a TotalGaming.net subscription is only $89. But these aren't the only games you'd get. TotalGaming.net also gives you access to all the games we add for an entire year. And we will be adding 4 more retail games to the mix by end of the year (one per month) so assuming each of those games is worth say only $20 (list price on them is higher than that but for the sake of argument we're going to say that someone went bargain bin hunting) you'd be up over $200 easily.
That said, TotalGaming.net's point isn't "get games cheap". The fact that it's a good deal is just side-effect of the lower overhead involved in electronic distribution. We think the real point of TotalGaming.net is "get games conveniently". You can purchase just a single game or buy a subscription to the whole thing. It's up to you. Then just press a button and voila.
We think there are 5 major advantages to TotalGaming.net's system over other electronic distribution concepts emerging:
1) No copy protection, no wrappers, no digital rights management, no nonsense. This has been the biggest challenge we've had thus far in getting new content onto it. We've been able to convince a number of publishers so far and we think this will grow as its success becomes apparent. Our view is simple: Warez people are generally going after "0 day warez". Other than Stardock titles which are on there from the start, our strategy with the top publishers is to try to bring new life to games that are at the end of their retail lifespan (which is typically 6 months). The demand for pirating those games just isn't there. So why hassle paying customers with limitations and copy protection? Let them download the game and use it however they want. If they get a new machine, let them put it on there. If they want to put it on their laptop to play on a trip, no problem.
2) No renting, you're buying games. While most of the emerging electronic distribution models are talking about having hundreds of games, they also want to charge $15 per month. The problem with that is that a person can only play one game at a time. So even if your selection is 5,000 games (which none of them are) what good is that? At the end of the day, you're still paying $15 per month per game. And if you stop paying, the game is gone. With TotalGaming.net, it's yours. Forever. You lose your game due to a hard drive crash in 2006? No problem. Just redownload it from TotalGaming.net.
3) Smart Downloading. On paper, downloading games sounds like a great idea. Then the idea hits the real world - games are huge nowadays. Only TotalGaming.net has smart downloading. We've broken up the games into pieces. We've figured out how many megabytes you really need to play the game and made that a module. So for example, in Galactic Civilizations, you only have to download something like 50 megabytes in order start playing. The other 500 megabytes you can get later. We've applied this to the other games as well. Lots of games are perfectly playable with only a hundred or so megabytes with the other gigabyte of movies, music, etc. being optionally downloaded later. This lets dial-up users participate and makes the whole thing more approachable.
4) Experience. We've been doing electronic distribution for half a decade now. We know how to do it. We have the infrastructure in place. Not just bandwidth (one cable modem user last night was talking about their 400K per second download speeds from TotalGaming.net) but account management, secure transactions, community features. Etc. These things all come together in hundreds of small but important ways. It probably doesn't hurt that we're game developers as well of award-winning games. We could have had a lot more games on TotalGaming.net if we just let any retail title submitted be put on. But we're trying to focus on titles we think our users will like. That doesn't mean big games only (we added BaseGolf for instance which is a small fun little game). But the quality has got to be there. But it's experience as gamers ourselves that lets us recognize that many users would not be trilled about having to download some gigabyte sized game over the course of a couple of days only to have to delete it at the end of the month or continually pay fees. Someone who's downloaded a gigabyte game they've paid for is going to expect to have it as long as they want without recurring fees.
5) Unique content. Because Stardock's games show up on TotalGaming.net starting in beta, our users can help mold the games from the start rather than the typical scenario where the game comes out and users have to rally the developer for a "patch" to make the game better. The benefits are pretty obvious -- look how well Galactic Civilizations turned out. It was beta testers who came up with ideas such as the star bases and interstellar resources.
The million-dollar question (literally) is whether PC gaming is ready for all this. Retail sales of PC games have declined in the past year as more and more gamers move to on-line games. Are those same on-line gamers ready to purchase games on-line? Only time will tell.
Let me know what you think. Visit www.totalgaming.net to see what it's all about.