Experienced Points: One Platform to Rule Them All

 By Shamus Apr 1, 2014 89 comments

So my column this week is about the ongoing platform wars. Spoiler: It starts off talking about the Nintendo vs. Microsoft vs. Sony thing but then jumps in with some numbers suggesting that Steam is as big as any living room console in terms of customers.

Originally I was going to write about how well Valve is integrating into foreign markets, which is always a tough hill to climb. But the more I looked into it, the less confident I was to talk about it. The subject is just so vast. I spoke with Robert Rath, who writes the Critical Intel column at the Escapist. (Highly recommended.) His article on buying games in Hong Kong can give you an idea of just how different markets can be once you get outside of North America and Europe. There are so many countries, and every one of them has a completely different and equally outlandish way of doing business with consumers.

Some other facts about Steam that didn’t make it into the column:

  1. The “users” number represents active users, not existing users. Publicly available numbers for Xbox or Playstation are given in existing users.
  2. The growth of Steam users is accelerating, and has been for the last three years.
  3. The Oculus Rift could bolster the PC market even more. The buzz surrounding the VR market is that “VR makes converts on contact”. This hasn’t been true in the past. After twenty years, we finally have the technology to make this work, and apparently the results are amazing. Note that this buzz is coming from engineers like Carmack and Abrash, not marketing types. I find their recent talks on the subject to be very convincing.

202020209There are now 89 comments. Almost a hundred!


  1. Tychoxi says:

    All hail the PC Master Race!

    Anyhow, I really wish STEAM manages to make publishers think of the PC and stop making exclusive titles. If there’s one positive thing that can come out of its hegemony, it’s that.

  2. Dev Null says:

    The Oculus Rift could bolster the PC market even more.

    Yeah but… Facebook.

    I say that half-facetiously, but only half. Up til now, the target audience for the Rift has been hackers and geeks. Pretty much exclusively. I haven’t seen any evidence that they’re selling to mainstream crowds much. Those same hackers and geeks are exactly the sort to look at Facebook’s involvement and say “I’m outta here”

    I’m already looking forward to what the Rift team does next, after they cash out and take Facebook’s money off to do new fun things.

  3. Adam says:

    Wow. I count three separate nested comment threads that have devolved into console vs. pc/console vs console flame wars and I’m not even out of the fb comments yet.

    • Shamus says:

      Amazing, isn’t it? I even spent a great big paragraph framing this as a discussion of trends, but all they can hear is “my platform is superior and yours is crap”.

      • Retsam says:

        I think the next couple blog posts need to be about the grass being green, the sky being blue, and midi-chlorians being one of the worst things to ever happen to Star Wars; there’s just been too much controversy recently.

        • Ciennas says:

          Ya know, I never got the hatred for midichlorians thing. I never heard ‘The force is bacterial burps’ like everyone else seemed to. I always thought it was just a macguffiny lifeform that happened to flock to strong sources of Force power.

          So, a quasi-scientific method of tracking the power levels of your magical laser sword wielding police-monks, without ever mentioning the number 9000.

          Was I alone in that?

          • Retsam says:

            While I can see the “Midiclorians as creatures attracted to the force, not creatures that cause it” idea, and agree that would be less offensive to most Star Wars fans, part of the problem is that Episode 1 didn’t really present it that way.

            “Without the midi-chlorians, life could not exist, and we would have no knowledge of the Force. They continually speak to us, telling us the will of the Force. When you learn to quiet your mind, you’ll hear them speaking to you.” -Qui-Gon Jinn in the Phantom Menace

            But even if they had, I think the more fundamental issue with midichloreans is that the sci-fi explanation (or at least, quantification) of the force just didn’t match the fantasy genre that the original movies established, and served no real purpose. They could have established the “this kid is special” any number of ways that would have fit in the genre better. (Or simply not established it and trusted the audience to draw the appropriate conclusion about a character named “Skywalker”)

            • Ciennas says:

              Yeah… it’s been a while since I watched that movie. That quote does seem to cement it more towards magical bacteria with a religious hive mind. (Huh. That would actually be pretty neat, too.)

              I don’t see it genre breaking for them to try and measure how strong somebody is though. Certainly something we would do if we had magic.

              ‘You must have a class 3 pyromancy license to work in the forge’, or something.

              I agree though. They could have cut out a lot of grief by having Anakin demonstrate some force potential beyond riding in a fancy jet assisted race car. Maybe have him leap a story, or have him block some sort of damage supernaturally while Qui-Gon was watching.

              (I dunno, maybe some of the shoddy junk at Watto’s explodes, and the shrapnel bounces away from him identical to how Qui-Gon deflects it?)

              And then Qui-Gon says that whatever he did without thinking takes most Jedi years to properly learn.

              And then he drops his last name.

              Then the midichlorian line could have been rewritten a little, and we would all go home happy after throwing more money at Lucas.

          • Primogenitor says:

            Yes. Well, you and George Lucas.

            I thought of it like the reveal of the wizard of Oz, or watching sausages being made – explaining how it works ruins the effect and concept you had before.

            • Ciennas says:

              Oh, the death of the magic. That is a tragic thing.

              I hope at least you found another magic, or a deeper one. That can happen- when one trick is revealed, a deeper, more subtle trick comes to the foreground.

              Perhaps Star Wars just needs somebody to reveal a new layer of mystery.

              When did the Jedi show up? Or how come force lightning is ‘evil’? Is there any non Jedi Force users? Could the empire be reforged into a force of harmony?

              something like that.

    • Amazon_warrior says:

      It might be the title, which I (as a PC gamer, I might add) assumed initially was going to lead to an article about PS4 vs. Xbone – I still decided to read it because Shamus. Then I found it was more “Look, PC gaming is more relevant than perhaps you thought it was!” If I was not alone in my initial assumptions about the article, people were probably going in and expecting their choice of console to be validated in some way and were going to leave empty-handed and feel hoodwinked no matter how you sliced it. People who need their purchasing decisions validating by total strangers tend to be a bit knee-jerky at the best of times, so they headed off to be flamey in the FB and forum comments because the internet.

  4. Someone says:

    Interesting article. Not sure about some of the arguments though:

    Cutting the Xbox 360 sales in half based on the failure rate is probably a bit dramatic. I don’t actually know how it works, but surely most of them would be changed based on warranty? Correct me if I’m wrong. Would those still count as sales?

    Saying that Steam games don’t get pirated is a bit reaching as well. Steam provides a decent alternative to piracy, sure, it probably converted a good number of pirates into paying customers, but flat-out stating steam games don’t get pirated is a bit overly enthusiastic.

    • Alexander The 1st says:

      The point Shamus was saying is that publishers *typically* consider PC to be a pirating nightmare, but Steam still ends up with a large amount of users who have not pirated *at least* one game.

      Similarly, with the Xbox 360 sales – even if the initial Xbox 360 sales numbers don’t account for the warranty replacements, that’s still pretty bad, as over half of the Xbox 360′s currently being used cost *twice* as much for Microsoft to make due to returns – at 54% failure rate, that does end up meaning that if Microsoft used the sales of the ones that didn’t need to be replace to “cover” the costs of the ones that did get replaced, they *still* would have a 4% loss – even assuming they weren’t loss-leading. Only 37 million of them are still in service after being sold for the first time without needing to be replaced. The other 43 million consist of ones that had to be replaced if they’re still going to be counted.

      And if that number includes the consoles that replaced the 54% that failed, then it makes the Xbox 360 look like an even smaller audience.

      • Mr Mister says:

        I don’t think every console gets “replaced” just repaired. My Xbox 360 went wrong, sent it to Microsoft and the same xbox came back (It had the same serial number). I was actually a little disappointing that it wasn’t a new xbox.

        Microsoft still loses money for the repair costs but that wasn’t the point Shamus was making any way. In cases where they did replace the broken console with another, I highly doubt they counted that as a “sale” (It would be nice to be sure though).

        The point doesn’t really matter because it doesn’t takeaway from the fact that Steam has a higher active player base.

    • guy says:

      It actually doesn’t matter how many people pirate a game. What matters is how many people don’t, and games purchased on Steam are defintionally not pirated.

      • Mike S. says:

        “It actually doesn’t matter how many people pirate a game. What matters is how many people don’t”

        I may be stealing that the next time I get into a discussion of IP, DRM, etc. It’s a concise expression of what I think is a key insight.

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    You are wrong about steam being more resistant to pirates.Steam games can(and have been)pirated,and console games need a modified or bootlegged console in order to work while steam games can work on any pc.

    • Shamus says:

      Are you telling me that you can pirate a game but still have the Steam overlay, achievements, and community features work?

      The distinction I was making is that if you pirate a Steam game, it’s no longer “on” Steam. It’s just a pirated PC game.

      • mwchase says:

        For whatever reason, a particular game that I own both on Steam, but not on my platform, and DRM-free on my platform, is able to get me trading cards when I play it (with Steam running?). So, it’s apparently possible to build a game in such a way that it does not require Steam, but it does interface with it if available.

        Which isn’t the same thing, but the point is, the machinations of Valve, their code (which is probably pulled in various directions by some of the publishers), the developers, and possibly the porting team, combine to expose all sorts of random edge cases.

        So, while it’s not the case that any arbitrary game could be trivially ripped from Steam (although some games seem to have a relaxed attitude towards DRM, and will happily play outside of Steam), I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some corner case that… no, wait, wasn’t there some racing game with cute animals that used to utterly break Steam DRM in some obscure fashion? Like, you install the demo on a fresh account, and that would somehow enable you to… I didn’t really look into how this worked, but there used to be a way to play arbitrary Steam games free, or something like that. At least, until something or someone noticed that you weren’t supposed to be playing the stuff you were playing.

        • DrMcCoy says:

          Yeah, several Linux versions ported by Humble Bundle that haven’t been uploaded to Steam by the original developers (for whatever reason) do that. The steam overlay library does some inter-process-communication with a running Steam instance, passing achievements and the like.

          No idea what it does if you didn’t register the game with Steam beforehand. And from the point of view of a pirate, tipping off Steam about what games you played is usually not what you want.

      • Disc says:

        You can definitely do it with stuff like New Vegas DLC which Steam seems to treat as mods as opposed to official game material. At least that’s what I figured when one of my Steam friends told me that he had pirated all the DLC and was still getting the achievements for them. This was a couple years back and he’s still around, so make of it what you will.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Thats true,but that holds for console games as well.Especially now that internet connection has seeped into this generation of consoles.

      • RandomInternetMan says:

        “Are you telling me that you can pirate a game but still have the Steam overlay, achievements, and community features work?”

        Adding non-Steam games to your library will make the overlay work with most of them. Admittedly it’s a bit hit and miss, on some games it will refuse to work on your machine while showing up just fine on another computer with identical specs.

    • BeardedDork says:

      Most of my Early X-Box experience was with pirated games on a commercially available Modded X-Box at a friends house, so I’m not sure how much more secure the consoles are than PCs (We played hours of Star Wars: Battle Front, and also the original Gauntlet). About 30 secs on Google and I found a couple communities that claim to be modding the Xbone if it’s not actually happening I’m sure it will be soon.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        They arent.The only barrier is the accessibility of a modded console to your average player.In some countries,those are the only ones you can buy,so no problem there.But in countries where legit consoles are affordable,you need to do it yourself,or have a friend who knows how to do it,and that decreases the number of non-legit users significantly.Its all about convenience.

        • Jeff says:

          I’m in one of the largest cities in Canada. The place to mod your consoles is in one of the largest malls in the city, for maybe $20. That’s comparable to finding a good pirated copy of a PC game and getting it to work.

    • ET says:

      I can understand this working for single-player games, since you don’t need to be connected to any servers, and that in the past, there have definitely been ways to play pirated games multiplayer.
      I wonder, however, about Steam’s DRM, and how effective it is at stopping piracy of multiplayer games, compared to the past DRM schemes by various companies.

      • Ciennas says:

        I have zero research done, but I’ll bet it works better overall.

        For one thing, it doesn’t punish you.

        (Well, aside from forcing you to sign up for an account in the first place, and then requiring the internet to actually download the rest of the game you just purchased.)

        But… It’s like a hotel chain. Steam is busy, and rather well appointed, and leaves chocolates on the pillows. It started out where you could still hear construction crews… but now… it’s kinda stately. And the staff are pretty friendly and helpful. And so are the other customers. You know… a resort town or something.

        The others are days late and egotistical. From what I remember of Origin, it would only sell you EA brand items, and would randomly toss you out of your room because they weren’t communicating with themselves properly. They’ll probably get it… as soon as the market ignores them enough to make them renovate the hotel into something palatable.

        Same with uPlay and the others.

        Since all of them are ‘free’ though, most people will go with the one that’s already well established.

        In short, you have to be amazing right out of the gate, and then still also be incredibly lucky to hold on.

        I’ve only experienced Steam though, and even then, only barely (New Vegas). Anybody wanna take the hotel metaphor for a spin?

        • Wide And Nerdy says:

          Oh Origins is crap. Just the other day, I had to reload Dragon Age and then Origins wouldn’t let me play it due to a problem their client was having. I had to wait a day before they got that straightened out. And I only own 5 games on Origins. Compare steam where I own 50 and have never had such problems.

  6. Piaw Na says:

    I’m not so sure about this. A lot of Steam games have compatibility issues, so switching hardware (or sometimes just upgrading the OS) could cause a game to be unplayable for no known reason. Steam doesn’t help with that. And Steam games are much cheaper than Playstation or XBox games, so the total revenue to the developer might end up being similar.

    • Duffy says:

      That’s more a symptom of the PC platform than anything to do with Steam. That is one of the nice things about consoles, being closed hardware insures compatibility with all released software.

      The PC trade off is the ability to do many different things with your hardware and upgrade it’s capabilities yourself. The trends seem to indicate that compatibility isn’t a big problem for the average user or that the number of PC proficient people outnumber the console users significantly. (Probably some combination of both)

  7. TMTVL says:

    So, how about that Steam OS, huh?

    • Now that’s an interesting issue, raised oh so innocuously.
      If I might unpack what I see as the issue: PC games are normally written for Windows. Steamboxes are not going to run Windows, they’re going to run Linux, partly because half of Gabe Newell’s purpose in this is to make Windows irrelevant/unnecessary as a gaming platform, in turn partly I think just because he generally prefers an open platform not under a competitor’s control, partly more specifically because MS appear to have been making stabs at undercutting Steam with built-in app stores on recent Windows versions, partly for technical reasons which I don’t understand.
      OK, so the big problem: How do you make headway releasing a PC gaming platform that doesn’t run PC games?! Linux has traditionally had a very small desktop market share, partly because most games aren’t released for it, and most games aren’t released for it because Linux has a small market share.

      Valve clearly intends to break this chicken-egg problem, by getting enough game producers to buy into the idea that Steam OS will be a big enough platform that they should release their games for Linux now. If he can build enough momentum on the game releases, the platform will be viable, and if the platform is viable, market share will grow, and if market share grows, more will release, and suddenly problem all gone. The question is, can they do it? Can Valve’s influence, and Gabe’s personally, really shift the game producing space to the point where Linux becomes a major target for game development?

      I think maybe they can. I’m a Linux desktop user, and what I’m noticing in the Linux news is a massive increase in game releases for Linux, ports to Linux, ports of major game engines to Linux, Kickstarter goals including Linux, and so on and so forth. Suddenly there’s masses of Linux games, and it feels like the momentum is growing and a new conventional wisdom that it’s probably worth releasing games for Linux, and coding them to be easily cross-platform in the first place, is forming. Now, I may be getting an exaggerated view of this; what seems like a flood of games, and engines, by Linux standards may be relatively minor by normal PC gamer standards. But it sure seems like a big shift.

  8. Primogenitor says:

    “Boardwalk and Park Place” – not being American, I assume these are the high-value dark blue ones?

    • Mr Mister says:

      Wikipedia says that American monopoly is based on Atlantic City. I find it surprising that it isn’t a “more famous” city when in the UK, London is the city used (Park Lane and Mayfair being the two dark blue spaces).

      • Flavius says:

        Atlantic City was, and to a degree, still is, an upscale beach resort town, not unlike England’s Brighton. I believe it was chosen to evoke a consistent sense of luxury, frivolity, and splendor in a way that another, more major city could not. Furthermore, I think Atlantic City was historically more in the common knowledge than it is today, so more people would have recognized the (colorfully named!) streets.

  9. Tse says:

    There is another point that’s worth making. Gaming PCs are cheaper than ever. It’s possible to build a 500$-600$ machine that can play all current PC games and people still need PCs for school/university, if nothing else. You can browse the internet on a smartphone, but you can’t write an essay as easily without the use of a full-sized keyboard. Not to mention that demand for jobs which require better-than-gaming PCs is still on the rise.

    • Daimbert says:

      The issue with this is that for school or work most people don’t want a desktop or gaming PC, but instead want a laptop/tablet. Even I’m now using a laptop as my main desktop both at home and at work, and for the home machine I don’t expect to ever leave the house with it. Buying an additional gaming machine is like buying a console, except that with the console I don’t have to do any research to make sure that the console I buy will play its games.

      • Tse says:

        You can pay 200$ more for a powerful enough laptop to game on, a PC is a PC, no matter the form factor.

        • Daimbert says:

          But I’d still have to make sure that I got a laptop with components that worked for playing games (ie right sort of board and graphics cards and whatever) and enough power even if I didn’t need that for whatever else I wanted to do. The console still has the benefit of my knowing exactly what will work on it once I buy it.

          When I bought my laptop, I specifically bought the cheapest one that could stream SF Debris and could run a web browser and mail programs. That system will likely last me for years and years until it stops being able to play videos again. It’s unlikely that that system will be able to play most games without problems for the time I’ll own it and use it as my main system. At which point, if I’m going to buy something just to play new games, a console is easier. I originally wasn’t going to get a new PC desktop to play games but got one mostly to play TOR. I hardly ever use it now.

          • Tse says:

            Yes, it is easier, not cheaper, though. With some research you can get an idea of what kind of laptop video card you need to play games. Also, the browsing requirements have increased a lot in the last few years. If this trend continues, the monetary gap between gaming and browsing PCs will continue to shrink.

            • Daimbert says:

              Well, my main point WAS about easier, not necessarily cheaper. Essentially, I can buy a laptop and ask about and only get what I need to do my work/school/browsing, and then get a console for my gaming and not have to think about what I’d need to play games or generally for how long (when they make the new console, then it’s time to start thinking of thinking of replacing my gaming system). Combining the separate machines into one laptop doesn’t allow for that and probably doesn’t save much money … and has the benefit that if one person in the house wants to play games and the other wants to do work, we don’t have to fight it out [grin].

          • Trix2000 says:

            This is really not so difficult anymore – there’s a number of gaming laptops out there, and even a basic laptop with integrated graphics can handle a surprising amount these days.

            A basic laptop might run ~$300 or something, whereas one with some decent hardware might run $800-1000 (enough to run pretty much any game on acceptable settings). Considering consoles have been running $400-500 these days, it’s hard to say price is the reason for picking them anymore. They ARE easier in terms of setup, but that gap has been closing quickly.

            • Ciennas says:

              Yeah. There’s the problem with laptops.

              Spend 300 for ‘basic’. Spend 800 to 1000 for ‘standard’.

              And laptops can’t be upgraded. Or at least they couldn’t back in 2009 when I was seriously looking into it.

              I’d love a gaming laptop, but…. I also like eating so much more.

            • Daimbert says:

              It’s the ease of set-up that I was after, not price … although even in your case the laptop/console combination is cheaper, and also leaves me the option of sticking with the old PC/console if I can’t afford it or, in fact, can’t afford it at the moment.

              I think the key is that having one general, all-purpose box isn’t as desirable anymore, because the problem with that been in at least the recent past that you have to specifically build/design/research it to get all of the components you need to be able to do everything you want to do, whereas if you distribute it you can get precisely what you need for the job you want that thing to do, and with consoles you don’t need to research AT ALL to get it to play games well (since it’s built to do only that).

  10. Tizzy says:

    “We’re getting very late in a game of Monopoly where Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft are fighting over Boardwalk and Park Place.”

    They might agree with you, but ultimately, it’s their choice, for a good reason.

    Earlier comments brought up the idea that the margins are bigger on consoles, so that comparing user bases for Steam vs. console is apple and oranges. I am not so convinced, given that user base is objectively what these guys appear to be fighting over.

    But I hope I have a better point: for whatever reason, those console manufacturers decided that’s where they wanted to be, fighting over Boardwalk and Park Place. If they weren’t in the hardware business, and the perpetual rent that they can charge to publishers. If they are not going to do that, then what would they do? Where would they channel their efforts, and is there any guaranteed revenue in it?

    I think that’s where the problem is: having only Boardwalk and Park Place may not be the most attractive option, but it’s still brings in rent money…

  11. Olly says:

    You have my sympathy Shamus. The Escapist comments are a prime example of your article On the Internet. A few commenters immediately latching on to any number or fact and then using disagreement with that as a way to attempt to discount the entire article, amazing.

    Sure, it’s entirely possible that of the 75 million steam user accounts some are simply for the purpose of F2P farming. Certainly some accounts will not generate new sales. It would be nice if the commenters deigned to make some kind of point to follow up their (often aggressively framed) statements which genuinely contributed to the discussion.

    • kingmob says:

      A few basic concepts make the internet a horrible place for discussions:
      - The internet is a huge echo chamber for your own opinions, you have to put effort into realizing you are wrong.
      - Ignorance and confidence have a strong correlation.
      - Stupidity gets noticed much more (somebody is WRONG on the internet!).

      These together – and I’m sure much more – make sure that almost any discussion over a long enough time is doomed. depending on the topic and the user-base, it is simply the length of time for that to happen that gets adjusted.

  12. John Magnum says:

    A lot of this article seems driven by those Gameinformer failure rate reports. I don’t know if it’s warranted to cut 360 sales in half and declare it a failure because the results of a magazine survey from 2009 (!) tell you half the consoles ended up bricked. I mean, jeeze, even if you assume that the survey was accurate at the time and as of 2009 half of all 360s had failed, that wouldn’t tell you that five years later the same ratio holds.

    • Tizzy says:

      My understanding is that the high initial failure rate was due to them shipping with below-par components in a rush to meet the demand. If I recall correctly, it did happen to Shamus, so it may explain why he’s not willing to let it go. ;-)

      That being said, it does not really detract from the main argument of the article. Actually, what should we make of the people who own both platform. If that number is high, I think it would paint an even bleaker picture of the ability for manufacturer to make money out of their market share.

    • Trix2000 says:

      Even if it was considerably lower – more like PS3′s with 10% maybe – the Steam number still compares favorably to the consoles.

  13. Anorak says:

    You know, I’ve never really looked at comments on The Escapist before. Were they always so ignorant and hateful?

    *edit – wait. That may be overstating it a bit.
    Instead – are they always filled with idiots who seem to get offended by actual statistics?

    That’s not much better actually.

    • Bubble181 says:

      No, but it’s been a few years, at least. Back when Zero Punctuation was a new, up and coming thing, so…a few years ago, I guess, the Escapist was actually one of the best gaming sites out there – the comments and (later) forums were a good place to have civil discussion, and the articles and reviews were good because they weren’t on a 8-to9-out-of-10 scale, nor based more on ad revenue than actual game quality.

      Unfortunately, that quickly made the Escapist “the” go-to gaming website, and with that came an ever-increasing horde of what unfortunately isn’t only the “stereotypical” gamer, but often seems to be the actual majority of gamers as well…Cave-dwelling, self-rightuous, entitled f*cks with no social skills, no social grace, no actual human interaction, and horribly misogynistic. I’m an introverted cave-dwelling troglodyte with a social handicap myself, but….Ugh. The Escapist’s user base is barely a notch above YouTube comment quality these days, a real shame.

      • Someone says:

        A notch above Youtube is being a bit generous in my opinion. At least Youtube comments waste less of your time.

      • TMC_Sherpa says:

        The proverbial straw I had with the Escapist was when the comments under the videos shifted from coming from their own site to Facebook. Maybe it’s just me, I don’t book or tweet or whatever the cool kids are doing these days, but that’s when I noticed a shift in the community. It could be coincidence, or I could be remembering it wrong, but it really got my goat at the time.

        Can I take this moment to squeak about the Gawker sites while I’m at it?
        Listen kids, I can read whatever crap you’re posting about anywhere but I come back to your site for the community. I’m more interested in what five or six of of your regulars post than anything any of your staff write so stop messing with the dang comment section.

        To end on a positive note; I love Twenty Sided, the posts are great, the community is amazing and there should be a third thing here to make the comma and and thing work but I’ve forgotten what I was going to say…

        • Dreadjaws says:

          You can still access the old comment section on The Escapist. It just so happens that the Facebook mode has been made more prominent.

          Right next to the article’s title there’s a blue speech bubble with a number on it. Click on it and it will take you to The Escapist’s comment section.

  14. Dreadjaws says:

    Steam has single-handedly been pushing away piracy in my country for the last few years. It’s always a pleasure to get into a gaming forum, seeing people complain about broken links, cracks and a myriad of problems, then you introduce them to Steam and its sales and they go “WOW!”, and they never go back.

    And trust me when I tell you, before Steam, it would have been impossible to convert these people. Original retail PC games here are ridiculously expensive and stupidly scarce, while pirated ones are cheap and you can randomly sneeze while walking at any point in the capital city and have at least three separate pirate game sellers say “Bless you!” (or rather, the equivalent in my language).

    Nowadays I’ve managed to convert people who in the past would have never even considered it, and that’s because, despite its flaws, you just can’t beat Steam’s convenience.

    • Tse says:

      Too bad my country is too small for Valve or other publishers to care. We’re the poorest EU member and we still get standard EU prices (higher than US prices). In my last job for the Ministry of Defense I made as much as the cost of 5 new games in a month. Now unemployment is equal to a little more than the price of 2 games per month. So, yeah, in my country we still have a strong pirate culture. Hell, the protests against ACTA in my country were because of support for piracy.

  15. kdansky says:

    You’ve mentioned it briefly, but I want to talk about it some more: The used game market.

    People (and that includes many big studio bosses) underestimate how big and important the used game market is, especially in the US.

    1. Gamestop actively pushes used games on its customers. Employees often try to get you to buy used instead of new for the exact same game, with a very good argument: “It’s the identical thing, except cheaper”.

    2. Used games hurt the publishers more than anything else: Not only do they actually lose a sale (after all, you did buy the game!), unlike piracy, you spend money which you can’t spend on other games.

    3. The pricing is abominable. A new game is $49.99. The same game used is 44.99, that’s just 10% off! And guess what the margins are? Gamestop buys used games for much less than what they have to pay to the publisher.

    4. Used games have none of the problems of other used products. They don’t age, there is no wear and tear, and the bytes are guaranteed to be in pristine condition. And since the games are so low on replay value, selling them makes perfect sense.

    Used sales are a much bigger issue for publishers than piracy will ever be.

    Ironically, that makes piracy less morally questionable than buying used, even if it is more legal. Not the only problem with current copyright laws, but I digress.

    • Tse says:

      It’s like this for most digital content. Music, movies and even some non-gaming software get resold just as easily as console games.

    • Peter H. Coffin says:

      Which kind of leads to a question that nobody really wants to look at in terms of “installed console base” is the number of used consoles that places like GameStop have warehoused. And they’re ALL the working ones, at least at the time they were brought in. But every GameStop I’ve ever seen could sell you five PS3s and ten 360s of assorted configurations that you could walk out with, without even having to call another store… And those are figured as “users” for the bragging purposes.

      • Asimech says:

        I’ve heard people buying used consoles from GameStop and getting obviously broken ones. I know they’re supposed to check them, but apparently rules haven’t been translating into practice.

    • Steve C says:

      There is nothing wrong with having a used game market. Any manipulation or infringement of the used game market is extremely morally questionable. This “problem” of used sales as you define it isn’t a problem at all. It’s exactly how it should be.

      • Shamus says:

        I think in this case, we’re talking about a problem from the publisher’s point of view. Like, “people are paying a lot of money for our product, but we’re not getting it.” It’s one thing if a retailer skims 10% off the top. It’s another if they skim that 10%, and then absorb the next sale entirely by re-selling the game a week later. It’s not that used games are immoral or should be blocked. It’s that used retailers are capturing some significant portion of profits.

        • Steve C says:

          I agree used retailers are capturing a significant portion of profits. I just don’t think that’s a bad thing. Everything from used car trade-ins to used books to flipping real-estate all have the same issues. The video game industry is the only one calling foul.

          I personally don’t like GameStop and don’t deal with them. I wish there was a better posterboy for this issue as they are a very unsympathetic victim. I have no problems with their business model of used games though. I likewise have no problem with game rentals. How profitable each link in the chain is immaterial to me.

          • Ciennas says:

            The problem with you not caring does have one nasty repercussion you’re not seeing.

            (Do wait until the end to bring up objections. I know most of them anyway.)

            When the publisher starves out because they failed to actually make a profit, or indeed even break even, it will become your problem when they decide to no longer front making games you enjoy. Or any games at all, depending on how badly they got starved out.

            I know, it seems silly that you could bring them to their knees with one used games purchase. It’s the long term effect- it builds up.

            If you fail to pay the publishers of the material, eventually they will go out of business. That’s why they cry and wring their hands so much over piracy.

            All the things that muddle the issue, like publishers being phenomenal jerks to paying customers in an effort to stamp out piracy, are immaterial in the long run. No money= no games.

            (Before you suggest I’m in with the publishers, I’d like to point out: I hate DRM and related shenanigans. They make me rather angry, and I stop doing business with publishers who utilize it past a certain point. Ideally that point is at all, but then I wouldn’t be able to play New Vegas or Skyrim or even Morrowind. I’m simply saying that without being paid, the game will rapidly find itself unsupported.)

            • Steve C says:

              I don’t know where to begin as I disagree with pretty much everything you said. First off I want publishers to starve and go out of business if they make bad business decisions. I support that as a good and proper element of the economy. ‘No money, No games’ is a false choice. That’s basically “either we give them what they want or we don’t get what we want.” That’s not how it’s supposed to work.

              Companies are supposed to vie for our money by delivering things we want. If consumers want something there will always be someone willing to deliver it. The want creates and drives the industry. The industry does not drive the want. The only way consumers can express their dissatisfaction is by not giving them money. I strongly support not giving money to companies and industries that consumers do not like.

              BTW I absolutely do care about this issue. I see your argument as an erosion of the first sale doctrine. Something that would have been unthinkable 30yrs ago. It’s gotten really bad now to the point that a google search doesn’t even find anything about it that’s not in relation to copyright. I consider it a ongoing danger to basic consumer rights.

              • Shamus says:

                I think we’re talking past each other. People keep explaining why used games is a bad thing for publishers, and you keep explaining why it’s a good thing for YOU.

                Fine. You like used games. So do I. But for a publisher, it’s a massively bad thing. You seem to be arguing from the perspective of “It can’t be bad, because there’s nothing wrong with reselling stuff.” But this isn’t a binary thing where we either BAN resale or celebrate that GameStop is going to capture a huge percentage of game sales.

                There are a lot of ways to combat resale besides stupid ham-fisted DRM.

                * Having prices of new games go down over time would impair GameStop’s ability to make money at this.
                * Steam is the ultimate killer of used games. People are willing to give up their resale rights for the ease and convenience of Steam. (This is different from being obliged to give it up for the INconvenience of using GFWL or UbiSoft DRM.)
                * Focus on lower-cost, longer-replay games. Publishers keep pouring TONS of money into AAA spectacle. Those games cost a lot to make, are over in a few hours, and offer little reason to play the game again. Which means that they’re very likely to end up on the used games market just a week or so after release. Better to spend less money making games that people will be reluctant to sell.

                Basically, the publishers have been doing everything in their power to make the used games problem WORSE, and then crying about how it’s ruining their business.

                In short: Just because I say used sales are a “bad” thing doesn’t mean I think they should be disallowed. It just means that I think publishers would lose less money to the second-hand market if they took a different approach.

                • Steve C says:

                  I’m saying it’s bad for consumers and bad for publishers. It’s one of those things where they interpret it as bad and then cut off their own nose to spite their face in an effort to fight it.

                  The movie industry called the VCR the Boston strangler and was going to kill the movie industry in the night. The result was that the movie industry made MORE money off tapes than they ever could at the cinema. The music industry spent millions fighting Napster and suing customers. Their reputation never recovered. While doing so iTunes put the record stores out of business and became powerful enough to dictate terms to the music industry. The music industry is making more money than they did before. But they are capturing less of a % of total sales than they did before.

                  Same thing happened in politics with Gerrymandering. Politicians wanted safer-to-win elections. They got that. They moved all the risk into the primary battles which they have far less control over. The result is that they made themselves less safe. Because someone wants something, it doesn’t mean it’s good for them when they get it.

                  I’m saying that the video game industry is like that. They have said, “this is bad and we must fight it!” If successful in fighting used games and stopping GameStop etc then publishers will find that Steam is the only distribution method left as they themselves have accidentally kill off all other links in their distribution chain. And like Apple with iTunes they will have no choice but to accept whatever terms given to them.

                  I’m saying that when you start screwing with the basics of the economic system you create unintended consequences. If publishers successfully get rid of all used game sales that market will not end up in their coffers. It’s more likely they will make themselves irrelevant like the record stores. Publishers and developers aren’t the same thing after all.

                  The reason why the used game market exists at all is because it serves a niche that the publishers are not serving. It’s a false choice to say the money goes to the publisher or it goes to Gamestop. If that was the choice then Gamestop would never have existed in the first place. If Gamestop is taken out of the distribution chain now then money will NOT go the publisher. It’s the only place it’s assured not to go. Something else will fill that void because it’s something that consumers want and that want lead to the rise in Gamestop originally. It will either be Steam, or piracy or some other 3rd party. If the money would *naturally* end up with the publisher then they would have already have it because they were best positioned to dominate that market years ago.

                  Publishers want to stamp out used games and replace that market with nothing. The publishers just want a void there and expect to win that market by default. Economic markets abhor a void. It’s not going to remain empty. The only thing for certain is the publishers won’t get that money.

              • Shamus says:

                Just thought of another way to help Chris’ comment be more understandable:

                If the publisher gets the money, they have more money to spend on making games, and (one dreams) taking risks on unproven ideas.

                If GameStop gets the money, none of it goes into making games.

                Even if the publisher isn’t actually in danger of going under, having them get the money is better for us overall.

                From our position as consumers, it would be more in our interest for the publisher to make the money than for GameStop. But on a personal level it’s better for me to buy Shoot Guy IV used for $45 than new for $50.

                I’m not saying it’s wrong to buy used. I’m saying publishers need to change how they do business to make sure they get my $45.

                • Steve C says:

                  I do understand what Ciennas is saying. I’m saying that on a macro-economic level it’s not going to work out that way. I know the common way to phrase the issue is the closed loop between two players. But it’s not like that. Consumers (in the broad economic theory definition of the word) will not allow it to persist.

                  Consider if all car manufacturers were able to stamp out all used sales of their cars. The entire industry remains on a level playing field. Assume it’s 100% legal and 100% accepted by the population as a good, just and appropriate situation. What happens? Ford, Toyota and most other manufacturers go bankrupt really fucking quick.

                  All things equal, Ford resale value has gone to zero. Trade in value hasn’t gone to zero as Ford dealerships allow repurchases. But the cars are worth less on the market due to the zero resale value so the trade in value naturally decreases too. Before it was $16,000 car that you can enjoy for X years and resell for $6000 for a net cost of $10,000 over X years. Now it’s $16,000 up front and a full 60% more money than before. Plus you can’t sell the car previous to it. You need the full amount in cash now.

                  Even if people were 100% accepting of that, the market itself will reject it. The market for cars was already in equilibrium and a 60% increase in price will result in far fewer cars being sold. Toyota and Ford sell on volume. Volume sales just dried up over night! They are completely screwed.

                  That scenario isn’t going to persist for the long term. Maybe car sharing will take off, or a massive leasing system or something else nobody has thought of. It probably will not be as good for consumers. But it’s completely irrelevant from the perspective of Ford and Toyota because they don’t survive to see this new world order.

                  If used game sales are stamped out then the biggest publishers (such as EA) that deal on volume will go bankrupt really quick. The publishers that sell 5 million units and consider it a failure will die off the first. And it’s these guys who keep fighting the used game market! They will not be able to absorb the market correction. They are dead without the used games market and they are so stupid and greedy that they don’t realize it. In the short term, they kill themselves. In the long term, something else rises to fill that niche. In both cases they lose.

                  There are ways that the video game industry can make more money by working in the used game market. There is no way for them to combat it. They will kill themselves trying. This is what happens when the first sale doctrine is removed.

                  • Shamus says:

                    You’re misunderstanding what I mean by “fight”. When I say “fight” used game sales, I mean trying to serve that market. You’re talking about banning the sale of used games. I offered several examples of how they could serve that market without banning. This is frustrating because we agree with the economics of it, and you keep arguing with a point I’m not making.

                    Having said that:

                    Car analogies are terrible in this case. Cars deprecate in value very quickly. They suffer wear and tear. They’re basically a need if you don’t live near mass transit. Games are entertainment, they don’t degrade or wear out, and you typically own many, many at a time. If you use a car analogy the other side will just pick apart all the many differences between the two without engaging the overall point.

                    I favor books or movies for analogy-building. They work a lot like games, and both have nominally healthy secondary markets.

                • Steve C says:

                  Yes. It’s better for consumers if the money goes to the developer. Except that bakes in a logical fallacy and an assumption that is not true. That choice doesn’t exist, and it’s not going to exist. Attempting to frame the issue that way is the problem even though that’s how the publishers themselves think about it.

                  • Ciennas says:

                    Barring Kickstarter and similar direct intervention systems (Like how Steam=Valve, so a game bought on Steam goes to their pockets to fund their development studios.) That is exactly how the model works, though- you see it in Hollywood too- The publisher/Producer has a lot of control over the creation and distribution of the end product, because they’re the ones footing the bill.

                    I’m glad to see kickstarter projects succeed, but… where is the logical paradox? I’m not seeing it.

          • kdansky says:

            Cars only have a certain number of miles in them before they physically fall apart, and the same holds true for every other physical product: Wear and tear will remove the item from circulation after some time of re-use.

            This is not true for games. My copies of games from the 90′s are just as fresh as they were when I bought them, with not a single bit damaged.

            For once I’m with the publishers on this: Used game sales should not exist on a big scale. It’s like giving your cinema ticket to your friend and him being able to watch the same movie tomorrow.

            • Asimech says:

              Except DVDs can be resold. And discs can be lost.

              In fact it’s questionable that outside of GameStop’s active shove for used sales people would buy used if games weren’t priced as high as they are or if they’re not short on money at the time. This is partially the triple-A industry’s creation: They’ve pushed for a culture where you have to own a game right now, but people who are tight on money will want to save even that 5 USD or whatever the difference is and then sell it once they’re done.

              And 10% of the final price isn’t even that big of a profit margin for a brick and mortar store from what I understand, so it isn’t surprising they’re pushing for used sales. So again, self-made problem.

              Then there’s the possibility that the knowledge that one can sell a game if it’s bad means that people are more willing to take risks, thus boosting sales. Steam gets this by having actual price drops during sales, which I suspect is better for everyone, but eliminating used sales doesn’t necessarily translate into meaningful discounts.

              The only guaranteed result in removing used game sales is consumers losing an option.

            • Steve C says:

              A cinema ticket is a service and it’s a one time limited event. It’s not comparable to a computer game whether delivered as a product (like Skyrim) or as a service (like WoW). Product vs service is mostly irrelevant in this comparison. Even a continuous service can be transferred between people. If it was a ticket to a cinema that was good for a period of time (like a season ticket to a sports stadium or amusement park) then yes you should be able to give or sell it to a friend.

              A one time event like watching the 7pm showing of a movie on a particular date is consumed upon use. It will never be that day and time again. Used computer games have none of those elements.

        • Daimbert says:

          It would be difficult to do, but the solution to that sort of idea is to do what car companies do: take over the used market yourself, or at least try to be a major player. With things moving to online and downloadable, though, it probably isn’t worth doing now.

    • Daimbert says:

      Used sales are a much bigger issue for publishers than piracy will ever be.

      I strongly disagree with this, for various reasons:

      1) A used game only comes on the market after someone has already bought a game. This means that the publisher is guaranteed to have at least one sale for every used game that’s out there.

      2) Unlike piracy, used games are attached to physical media, meaning that one person can’t provide these copies of the game to thousands of people after buying it once. If one copy of a game is sold to multiple people used, it has to be serially, not in parallel.

      3) Unlike almost all other media — ie books, CDs, DVDs — game publishers have an easy way to limit resale: replayability. If people who buy the games new want to hold onto them to play them again later, the used market doesn’t get those products.

      In addition, on some of your specific comments:

      4. Used games have none of the problems of other used products. They don’t age, there is no wear and tear, and the bytes are guaranteed to be in pristine condition. And since the games are so low on replay value, selling them makes perfect sense.

      Their physical media does indeed age and accrues wear and tear. And the bytes don’t exist without their physical media. So if you install the game on your hard drive, the bytes will stay in pristine condition … as long as your hard drive does. If you keep the disk, the disk can get scratched, damaged, or lost, and I don’t guarantee that over time it won’t just lose its data due to heat or environmental factors. Except for downloads, games are as vulnerable as CDs and DVDs are — being the same media — and those, it seems to me, are more fragile than cars and books, say, generally are. My parents have cars that are over 30 years old that still run, and I have still readable books from when I was a kid which is over 30 years ago. How many of your current gaems do you expect to be able to play 30 years from now?

      (Downloads of games are different, but selling copies of downloadable games is more piracy than selling used games.)

      I already talked about replayability, but just want to highlight that there are a number of replayable games (ie my 1000 or so hours in various versions of Persona 3 and Persona 4). Again, it’s much easier to make a game replayable than a book re-readable or a movie re-watchable.

      2. Used games hurt the publishers more than anything else: Not only do they actually lose a sale (after all, you did buy the game!), unlike piracy, you spend money which you can’t spend on other games.

      On the flip side, unlike piracy money changes hands, which is probably the main reason for someone to, in fact, sell a used game: they get more money to buy a new game, and we already generally know that they’ll buy new games because they had to buy one to start the chain off. So them being able to sell the games to get more money to buy new games means that the latest games get money in exchange for MAYBE losing a sale on an older game. Except that unless those people were waiting for the game to go on the used market before buying — which likely would be because they didn’t think they could afford or that it was worth full price –they weren’t going to buy it anyway, or else they would have done it by then. So there’s no reason to think that the publisher actually lost a sale, and they might gain one by allowing it.

      And for that, they get the ability for someone to try out a game that they’re hesitant about for some reason or aren’t willing to spend the money to buy new. If they really like the game, this can a) get them gushing about it to anyone who’ll listen, giving advertising for people who indeed might want to play it new and b) might get them to buy the next game from that publisher or in that series. For example, if the idea that capturing ghosts with a camera sounds weird to you, you might not have bought Fatal Frame new, but if you see it used cheap you might give it a try, find out that it’s great, and when Fatal Frame 2 comes out run out to buy it new because you now know that you’ll like it. I didn’t get it used, but I bought Persona 3 because it sounded interesting, loved the game, and now often PRE-ORDER anything Persona related because I know I’ll like it. Publishers themselves could get that by lowering prices eventually, but this does fulfill a need.

      Note that I think GameStop is doing this all wrong. Their trade-in prices are so low that it generally isn’t worth it for me to sell the games to them, even if I don’t think I’ll play it again, and the difference in price is too low to encourage me to buy it used over new when buying it new means that I know no one scratched it in any way or ran it for 40 hours straight or something. Their only benefit is that you can do it where you also buy new games; they’d be dead if they were mainly a used store.

Leave a Reply

Comments are moderated and may not be posted immediately. Required fields are marked *

*
*

Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun.

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darth_Vader">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!