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The Dark Side of Digital Distribution 270

Posted by Soulskill
from the careful-not-to-lose-your-right-hand dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Game journalist Stuart Campbell has written an incisive piece on how the digital distribution model users have grown to know and love over the past several years still has some major problems that go beyond even the DRM dilemma. He provides an example of an app developer using very shady update techniques to screw over people who have legitimately purchased their app. Touch Racing Nitro, a retro racing game, launched to moderate success. After tinkering with price points to get the game to show up on the top download charts, the developers finally made it free for a period of four months. 'Then the sting came along. About a week ago (at time of writing), the game received an "update," which came with just four words of description – "Now Touch Racing Free!" As the game was already free, users could have been forgiven for thinking this wasn't much of a change. But in fact, the app thousands of them had paid up to £5 for had effectively just been stolen. Two of the game's three racing modes were now locked away behind IAP paywalls, and the entire game was disfigured with ruinous in-game advertising, which required yet another payment to remove.'"
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The Dark Side of Digital Distribution

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  • by alen (225700) on Friday February 24, 2012 @02:10PM (#39150131)

    come to the cloud, updates are free, automatic and easy

  • Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MightyMartian (840721) on Friday February 24, 2012 @02:11PM (#39150141) Journal

    I guess there might be a case for misrepresentation, though I'll wager the licensing agreement allows the company to do whatever they like.

    The real solution here is, of course, not to pay these guys. Don't play their stupid game. If their stunt loses them customers, they're not likely to try it again.

  • by ackthpt (218170) on Friday February 24, 2012 @02:13PM (#39150181) Homepage Journal

    There was something on Slashdot a few years ago about people buying a service, then having to pay more to disable advertising.

    I'd dump them without a second through. Cut your losses and move one.

    I'd probably warn others as well as prospective future clients, by going to /. and other sites and writing about the craptivation of the game.

  • by MetalliQaZ (539913) on Friday February 24, 2012 @02:13PM (#39150191)

    In response to the underhanded update, users take to the ratings system with a vengeance and downmod the developer into oblivion. Thus, the app ecosystem sees shady behavior as 'damage' and 'routes' around it.

  • by alen (225700) on Friday February 24, 2012 @02:13PM (#39150197)

    i noticed it a while ago that the price points were way to low to be sustainable. Not only were they low, but users expected unlimited updates for their $.99 game. and not just bug fixes, but new functionality. it worked for a while as the iOS installed base exploded but as growth slows down expect the return to version numbers.

    it already started with "HD" versions of games and apps. separate iphone and ipad versions. sure you can run the iphone version on the ipad but it looks like crap.

    next is the return to version numbers

    cool racing game
    next year is version 2 with new features and new IAP
    and a new version every year and dropping compatibility with new iOS versions after a year or so

  • by Thanatopsis (29786) <despain.brian@gm a i l . com> on Friday February 24, 2012 @02:14PM (#39150207) Homepage

    Oh yeah. Delete the app. If you don't like it post change, don't use it. I mean I think it's a foolish move but it's their game. You are just buying a license to it.

  • by Kenja (541830) on Friday February 24, 2012 @02:18PM (#39150257)
    Explain how you not agreeing to the terms of use for a service disables said service is evil. If you dont plan on using the features of the marketplace, why do you care if its disabled? What exactly is it stopping you from doing? Your phones OS updates dont come from there, only apps and add updates. And since its Android, you can just install apps from the APK files and totally ignore the app store.

    So how is it that your "paid-for phone is now becoming less and less useful"?
  • by calibre-not-output (1736770) on Friday February 24, 2012 @02:22PM (#39150321) Homepage
    Neither of these is a dilemma. Any righteous person should feel the moral obligation to boycott DRM-inflicted products and inflict physical violence on the people who make them, their loved ones and their property.
  • by TheSpoom (715771) <slashdot.uberm00@net> on Friday February 24, 2012 @02:23PM (#39150331) Homepage Journal

    Poor ratings do not help those who have already paid for the shadily-updated app.

  • by ackthpt (218170) on Friday February 24, 2012 @02:26PM (#39150377) Homepage Journal

    Neither of these is a dilemma. Any righteous person should feel the moral obligation to boycott DRM-inflicted products and inflict physical violence on the people who make them, their loved ones and their property.

    I certainly hope you are only joking about inflicting physical violence, etc. It is a vexing new model of business, which the best possible means of making displeasure known is the age-old Voting With Your Feet (or dollars) by walking away from anyone practicing such things. I'm a slow adopter on quite a few things, largely because of my elevating level of disappointment with the way people are deciding is appropriate for doing business - by wrecking something you have already paid for and are using.

  • by GaratNW (978516) on Friday February 24, 2012 @02:38PM (#39150537)
    This is purely developer/publisher fault. Perhaps Apple and Google should put more in place to prevent this sort of thing, but the correct, and customer friendly route, to changing something like this, create a new version. Now you have Touch Racing Nitro, and Touch Racing Nitro+. Already bought the first? Awesome. Enjoy and have fun. It's no longer available for sale, but if you bought it, its yours. Play TRN+ for free, and here's all these IAP things, such as paying to remove advertising. If those various pay things are important to you, you have them, if not, you can keep playing for free. This keeps their early supporters happy, with the version they bought, and provides them a better revenue generating version for fans, new and old, that they can probably even afford to update and add new content to. This was just crappy behavior, or poor planning, on the part of TRN team.
  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Friday February 24, 2012 @02:51PM (#39150689) Journal

    The trick is to do it gradually. You don't make people pay to remove advertising immediately. You give them a useful product, then a bit later you introduce a small, easy to ignore, amount of advertising. Then you give them the option of paying to turn it off. It's easy to ignore, so most people won't bother. You also add some new (minor, easy-to-implement) features or, better yet, a security fix, at the same time, so people will want to get the update. Then you increase the number of ads. Now people are locked into your app or, at the very least, used to using it. Now they'll pay to remove the ads. Repeat and you've got a revenue stream.

    This is a small variation of the business model of a lot of proprietary software where you pay for 'major updates' which include features like 'not crashing on launch when you run it on the new version of the OS' or 'not corrupting your documents'.

    I've come across this behaviour so many times that I now have a standard reaction: find the open source program that's closest to the proprietary one and give them a donation equal to the cost of the upgrade. The problem is that other people are willing to continue to pay companies that have screwed them over in the past.

  • by causality (777677) on Friday February 24, 2012 @02:55PM (#39150751)

    which the best possible means of making displeasure known is the age-old Voting With Your Feet (or dollars) by walking away from anyone practicing such things. I'm a slow adopter on quite a few things, largely because of my elevating level of disappointment with the way people are deciding is appropriate for doing business - by wrecking something you have already paid for and are using.

    You're right about "age-old". In fact I'm wondering what the news is here. That digital distribution is not abuse-proof or fraud-proof just like brick-and-mortar sales? That there are dishonest people with exploitative business practices? This has been going on in one form or another ever since the origin of barter and the later invention of currency.

    How is this not another "... with a computer!" story?

    The solution to this is to make such people notorious, so that potential customers think twice before doing business with them, same as any business that causes legitimate grievances and dissatisfied customers. Make them more famous for their terrible business practices than for any software they have created. Let them be the ones who fail while honest people with good business practices thrive. That's how you create an environment hostile to this sort of thing and select against it. It's just an iteration of that old saying, "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me."

  • by petermgreen (876956) <plugwashNO@SPAMp10link.net> on Friday February 24, 2012 @02:57PM (#39150769) Homepage

    In the old days if an upgrade removed functionality it was annoying but you could always reinstall from your original media and not install the updates (or install an older update since in the old days most devs made standalone update installers available) but with online activation and/or digital distribution systems that may no longer be an option.

  • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Friday February 24, 2012 @03:02PM (#39150823)

    Here is how it is different.

    I sell you a book, car, TV, shirt, power drill. You pay a fair price for it.

    Then with an update, I remove your book from your reader, limit your car to driving 30mph, your TV to only working with bluray content so you can't use your DVD's any more, remove the pocket from your shirt, and limit your power drill to using phillips head bits so you have to buy a nother drill for star, hex, and flat head bits.

    You can't do those things. But with digitial updates, not only can you do it, it is happening already.

  • by davidwr (791652) on Friday February 24, 2012 @03:13PM (#39150955) Homepage Journal

    This is not a technical issue. This is an issue of unfair trade practices.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 24, 2012 @03:28PM (#39151103)

    Aaaannnnd welcome to the licensing model, which allows for legal theft.

    Everything you mentioned above is an actual product, not a license to use the product....which nobody in their right mind would buy if they had a real alternative.

    The problem is all of our new devices are being treated as if they are still ideas that need licensing, as if they never made it though a production line(ereaders, cell phones, etc), and somehow are different from any other tool you can buy. I realize they are more complicated tools, but tools nonetheless.

    This isn't a problem with digital distribution, this is a problem with a lack of integrity, and a willingness to force others to suffer your bad ideas for your own profit. In any REAL free market, this shit would never fly. But we live in America, where an actual free market is as elusive as the Dodo.

    It's a sad day for justice and equality when a guy who steals a small ticket item will see jail time, meanwhile these asshats who steal en masse will go without so much as a visit to the local police station.

  • by brit74 (831798) on Friday February 24, 2012 @03:29PM (#39151119)
    Piracy is the reason DRM exists. Next time I get burned by DRM, I'm coming to your house and punching you for not supporting the companies who are doing the work. And punching you a second time for suggesting that the pirate bay is part of the solution rather than part of the disease.
  • by TheCRAIGGERS (909877) on Friday February 24, 2012 @03:37PM (#39151183)

    The solution to this is to make such people notorious, so that potential customers think twice before doing business with them, same as any business that causes legitimate grievances and dissatisfied customers.

    In the non-digital world, this is a feasible approach. Opening a store and stocking merchandise are both expensive acts- a shopkeeper can't keep reopening his or her store repeatedly. Changing your name or moving doesn't help with this.

    In the digital world, this is far harder. You have no stock. You have no manufacturing costs. Changing your name / the location of your store is a trivial matter ranging from completely free to taking back a few loads of bottles for deposit and buying a new dev license.

  • by forkfail (228161) on Friday February 24, 2012 @03:43PM (#39151277)

    And then the company rebrands, rinses and repeats with the next app.

  • by causality (777677) on Friday February 24, 2012 @03:52PM (#39151401)

    I agree that physical violence is appropriate in the case. If an update locks up an application that I have legally paid for and then demands yet more money to unlock it, I'd have to say that the developers need to be publically flogged and run out of town.

    Hypothetically speaking ... the funny thing about that, is when you won't tolerate this kind of behavior no matter what, when those who feel tempted to try it know that there is a certain and severe consequence, it does not result in more violence. It results in such people finding in the external world the restraint they failed to find within themselves. They are selfish, and rather than the nearly impossible task of (anyone other than them) changing that, you provide for them a selfish reason not to behave this way. It's a shitty alternative to them developing a human conscience, but it does work.

    It's the same principle behind law. People who can govern themselves from a genuine, compassionate concern for their fellow man don't need external consequence to dictate their actions. Force or threat of force is for all the rest.

  • by amoeba1911 (978485) on Friday February 24, 2012 @04:02PM (#39151517) Homepage
    Sharing without the copyright holder's consent has existed and will exist regardless of DRM. Humans are social creatures, we like to share stuff. We've had 100 thousand years of sharing knowledge through spoken language and thousands of years of sharing knowledge through written language. Our impressive ability to share is what differentiates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Sharing of knowledge and ideas is an indispensable component of the human success story. The whole idea of "must not share" goes against the very foundation of human nature and is an insult to the roots of our civilization.
  • by Shagg (99693) on Friday February 24, 2012 @04:07PM (#39151573)

    Piracy is the reason DRM exists.

    You'd have to be pretty foolish to actually believe that. Piracy is the red herring that provides the excuse for them to force DRM on legitimate consumers, but preventing piracy is not what DRM exists for. It's not even very useful for preventing it.

  • by MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) on Friday February 24, 2012 @04:12PM (#39151637)

    Boycotting will not actually do anything useful in this context. Bitching loudly about it, now that actually does something. Take a look at what happened to Spore.

  • by Surt (22457) on Friday February 24, 2012 @04:22PM (#39151809) Homepage Journal

    Voting with your dollars doesn't communicate WHY you made the decision not to buy, just that you made the decision. Burning their houses down and explaining why you did it on the news and in court makes that clear.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 24, 2012 @10:47PM (#39155507)

    And all of those are covered by laws and you have a chance to recover your money through the courts.

    This one is not, though it should be.

    It's like if you buy a power drill and then the seller comes, breaks off the reverse switch and tells you to pay him to put it back.

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