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Game Distributed Online Forgoes Publishers 84

KrackHouse writes "A group of developers from Black & White got together and used their bonuses to fund a project called Live For Speed. This online racing simulator uses the Internet as its distribution channel exclusively. No retail stores carry LFS and you need to use PayPal or a credit card to buy it.vIf this is successful will game publishers go the way of the RIAA and face irrelevance? LFS is much less expensive than a typical boxed title and if it ends up becoming a profitable venture more devs will surely jump on the solo bandwagon." It'll be a long time until this sort of thing becomes more common, and there's still a lot of consumer reassurance that comes from buying something in a box and having the disc laying around. It's a nice case study for what will inevitably become the way things are done, though.
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Game Distributed Online Forgoes Publishers

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  • They sure gonna need some pretty good product-activation/cd-key scheme, already having downloaded the files... what's gonna stop you from emailing it to all your friends ?
    I'm getting a flashback from the HalfLife/CS cd-key problems already... and the site hasn't even loaded in the background (seems mildly slashdotted)
  • This is nothing new (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Tuxinatorium ( 463682 ) on Monday July 28, 2003 @06:32PM (#6554348) Homepage
    Ambrosia Software, Inc. has been exclusively using this distribution model for its excellent line of mac shareware for 10 years, (somewhat) successfully. They're not exactly becoming the next microsoft, but they're not going out of business either
    • I thought most shareware used this distribution model... It not normal to get shareware that comes in a box. SHAREware kinda implies that you're supposed to share it, and then pay for it if you like it/find it usefull, sometimes that unlocks more functionality or remove a timelimited demo, etc...
  • The frame on the left side looked exactly like 'bug online'.
  • When you buy this game, is the download simply an executable or can you download an ISO? Although not really that important, I could definetely see iso's as a value add, simply to make the cd installable, etc. I know, not a big deal one way or the other...
    • says on the site that you have to purchase an activation code, using paypal or similar. This code then unlocks several levels and new cars and let you play both online and offline...

      rtfa

    • You download a 140 mb .zip file. Just unzip it to your games folder and its installed. This install will then act as a demo, limited to 3 cars and 2 reversible tracks, until you buy the game an unlock the rest.
  • hmmm (Score:2, Insightful)

    by i8urtaco ( 663163 )
    I don't know about everyone else, but I like having my install CDs available. I'm the type of guy that has reinstalled Windows a bunch of times for one reason or another (mainly becuase I'm anal retentive about my system), and I hate having to enter the Product ID for each game on every reinstall, let alone having to download a mega-huge file and having the publisher have a shifty eye pointed at me because I do a complete overhaul every 6 months or so.
    And yeah, yeah.... I know... I'm planning on eventuall
    • You can easily take a copy of you install folder for LFS. Every time you re-install Windows, just copy the files back in. As there is no registry keys associated with the game. The only way you'd have to enter a key again is if you do hardware changes.
  • by MBraynard ( 653724 ) on Monday July 28, 2003 @06:42PM (#6554413) Journal
    Typical Price of a new game: $50
    Price of this game: 12 lbs (~$18?)

    Assuming this isn't a crap game (and often enough those $50 games are), this is the price you can expect to pay when you wipe out all the expenses of the box, the disc and jewel case, the instruction booklet, and the cut that everyone along the way gets.

    So that means that even with the developer making a profit along withthe distribution bandwidth, they cut the price of a game by +60%.

    Given how many stupid Xbox games I've bought, I hope that Phantom is able to have games similarly cheaply distributed using this same model. And considering it's a closed system, maybe it's the only fool-proof way to distrubute games this way.

    • However every time these guys do big updates they seem to change the activation scheme, leaving your code unusable for the new version...
      Depending how they play their greedy-card, they might turn out like Microsoft who charge an arm and a leg for minor updates... or be more friendly and give away stuff to keep their users...
      • You really have no idea what you are talking about do you?

        This is the first release requiring activation. All previous versions of LFS were free beta tests.
        • Well according to the website, there will be 3 more stages before the game is "released"... All of which will cost money...
          I'm not refering to the beta version but the S-series...
          As the programmers probably know, pricing and release-schedules can be make or break for games...
    • The crappiest game I've ever played was Black and White. If this game were free and as good as Starcraft, they'd still owe me about $20.

  • how do you put this under the xmas tree, wrap as a birthday present or give to someone without good internet access?

    all of those are reasons for retail boxes. if a publisher would wake up and not demand exclusive rights, they could sell a happy retail box of this for $10 more than the online version.
  • See subject.

    Sure, they finance and ensure the marketability of a product, but they're occasionally cabable of quality and innovation. They haven't tried to arrest the majority of their customers yet, either.

    Making games cost money. Game publishers have money. They'll be around for a while.
    • They also block distribution, World War 2 Online is only available in a boxed product, for which the sole thing you get out of it is a piece of paper with a cd key on it, you then chuck the cd and manual it comes with because you have to download the game from the devloper because the game has changed so much from the version in the box.

      Since you have to download the whole thing anyways why not sell the cd keys online? Simple, because the publisher locked Playnet into a contract forbidding them from doing
  • Huh? (Score:5, Funny)

    by OneFix ( 18661 ) on Monday July 28, 2003 @07:05PM (#6554547)
    Next thing you know they'll be telling about this "new thing" called the GPL... It's Shareware, and it's been around a lot longer than the internet.

    See there used to be this thing called Mail (No E at the beginning) and when ppl used floppies (that's the slot in your PeeCee that you never use) they had Public Domain collections (Like Fred Fish for the Amiga). And some were freeware and others were shareware...like, oh Castle Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, etc (ID Software distributed via shareware for a long time)...

    And why this game? There 's a much better Open Sourced game called Racer [racer.nl]...and unlike this game, it's available for Linux...

    My guess is this KrackHouse guy probably has a stake in the company...

    Honestly, Racer just looks better than this...
    • Please stop spreading that. Racer is NOT Open Source [racer.nl].
      • Umh, that's a little vauge. The reason that the license was not stated as "Open Source" was to maintain a high standard of quality. The page you pointed to was not as useful as this page [racer.nl].

        Unlike most copyrighted works, you can include the code in non-commercial products, Linux Distros can include the game without paying, and there's pretty much no fear of you ever having to pay for the game.
    • Because the topic of the post is concerning whether or not independant developers can survive online and neglect retail entirely. Not about what free/cheap online games have the best graphics.

    • Re:Huh? (Score:3, Informative)

      by paulcammish ( 542971 )
      And why this game? There 's a much better Open Sourced game called Racer...

      Possibly because with LFS if you go flat out down the road, and crash into the wall, you don't go flying into the air, thru the scenery, and then thru the floor into a void..?

      Or maybe beacause theres opponents to race against, either AI or on servers the game can find for you?

      Or it might be that the keyboard controls (once you work out how to use they keyboard) arent entirely digital, so when you press the left cursor to turn,

    • OMG.. Racer ain't open source... You are right.. racer *just* looks better (high poly car). Crappy physics. Only one car at a time. Low FPS etc etc etc...it's garbage... There is no company... I am a mod of the official LFS forums and I never heard of Krackhouse...
    • Uh, this KrackHouse guy doesn't have a stake in the company and this KrackHouse guy has driven both Racer and LiveForSpeed and there is no competition. Racer just isn't there yet. Doncha love it when some doofus rambles on condescendingly for a few pargraphs with the wrong facts? :p
  • No publishers? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Mike Hawk ( 687615 ) on Monday July 28, 2003 @07:06PM (#6554555) Journal
    Thats a laugh.

    Who do you think pays the developers while they make the game? Very few developers are in a position to publish a game without any outside funding. Web-based games are cheap to make, but does the world really need another Bejeweled rip-off? Who is going to pay for the 3 year development of a game and the engine license in the first place?

    Then lets talk quality control. Its the publisher who does the QA. Now I know we all have different opinions about how well that works, but it is something. Along with quality control goes support. Who is to say there would even be a serious customer support webpage, let alone a call and email center?

    Patches? See above for cash. Once the game is out the amount of money earned is basically set. The chance of extended support with patches is even more unlikely.

    Broadband support is not ready. If you don't believe me, look how the Counter-strike population shot up once it became a retail product. That was a free game in the first place, but since it was a huge download it didn't REALLY blow up until someone could walk into a store and buy it at retail. Broadband is spreading but its just not there yet. Is a couple thousand units sold enough to justify making a top quality game in the first place? Enemy Territory was recently released and even at the delicious price of 0 it only has less than 8000 users online at a time. Assuming TEN times that many have downloaded it, that is eighty thousand units. 80k units at $50 each (yeah right for an online buy) = 4 Large. Blizzard (chosen because I could easily find the info) has about 150 employees. The sales from that game would earn each employee an average of 27k per year. For exactly one year. They definitely need a larger base than that, even given the well rounded up and generous numbers.

    Then there is the physical product itself. There are so many questions there. Sure, I can make a backup copy once it is downloaded, but what if there is a problem with the download? Can I download it again for free? Do I have to buy it again because there was connection trouble. Don't have to worry about that if I walk into Best Buy. If the CD is defective they will exchange it for the same title. No thanks, I'll take the box, jewel case, and paper manual any day.

    Don't even think about publishers going away just yet. Wallstreet analysts will be the first to correctly predict that one.
    • So - look at ICQ. Look at how HUGELY popular it is. No publisher. Can't buy it in stores. Just some silly program you can DL for free.

    • 80k units at $50 each (yeah right for an online buy) = 4 Large.

      No, it's $4 million.

      4 large == $4,000.

      If you're going to use Italian mathematics please make sure to get the units correct. ;-)

    • Re:No publishers? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Torvo ( 559242 )
      Besides all the points Mike Hawk brings up, there are also the issues of end-user documentation and licensing. First the documentation. A lot of developers I've dealt with in seven years of being in the industry, have an incomplete understanding of end-user psychology, user interfaces and cognitive sciences. Usually, a developer's idea of "intuitive" works great if one is a programmer or an artist. Most people, however, are not. The docs -- user manual, read me file, whatever, is usually composed by someone
    • Who do you think pays the developers while they make the game?

      Oh, I dunno, maybe they originally developed it in their own time, for themselves, and though other people might enjoy it? No, im sure that could never happen. ...what if there is a problem with the download? Can I download it again for free? Ahem, read the site. You download the full game for free, as many times as you want (all 140MB of it), and its an unlock key youre paying for - until then youre limited to one track and one Car.

    • Who do you think pays the developers while they make the game? Very few developers are in a position to publish a game without any outside funding. Web-based games are cheap to make, but does the world really need another Bejeweled rip-off? Who is going to pay for the 3 year development of a game and the engine license in the first place?

      Who paid the ppl when they were working on Counterstrike in their spare time? No one? And yet CS is good enough to be a retail product. How can this be? Could it be t
      • I'll just reply in brief since you post is so full of fallacy it defeats itself... On the CS issue: That did not begin as a retail product. If they had to license the engine in the first place it would never have gotten off the ground. And you are right, hobbyists can't make a game of as high quality as professionals. CS is an inferior product. It was REALLY inferior UNTIL THE TEAM BECAME, AND WORKED WITH, PROFESSIONALS. Heh, look at an early version. Truly inferior. On the QA issue: You are just in
        • I'll just reply in brief since you post is so full of fallacy it defeats itself... On the CS issue: That did not begin as a retail product. If they had to license the engine in the first place it would never have gotten off the ground.

          Cheap 3D engines that are "good enough" for commercial useage are quickly becoming commonplace. Most of the lower cost engines aren't bleeding edge when it comes to their featureset but certainly good enough to produce commercial games. Even if bleeding edge features are r
          • Good replies, here are some more brief retorts: On cheap 3d engines: If they are so good, why isn't anyone using them? ATVI, EA, VU and the lot like to make the most money possible as well but they seem to stick to Quake3, Unreal, and to a lesser extent LithTech for FPS. On user created content: Its easy to make one good mod in your entire life. There are many functional (you say good, thats an opinion that I don't care to debate here) mods out there, but thats because there are a thousand dev teams wor
            • Good replies, here are some more brief retorts: On cheap 3d engines: If they are so good, why isn't anyone using them? ATVI, EA, VU and the lot like to make the most money possible as well but they seem to stick to Quake3, Unreal, and to a lesser extent LithTech for FPS.

              I think a big reason for this is that these low cost engines (I'd include a few others to the list like Torque and the much lesser known Fly3d) have only recently achieved a level of performance/features that would enable a dev team to pro
  • by e2mtt ( 629911 ) on Monday July 28, 2003 @07:13PM (#6554600) Homepage
    All the comments about open-source, business models, etc, and no reviews? I downloaded the final beta bit ago- it is a very good racing game. You race street type sports cars, they handle very realistically, the online racing is quite good, the cars are customizable, there is a strong online community, and the whole game can be modded rather easily. If you like sports cars, this gives you a very good approximation of actually racing street-legal real cars. http://lfs.racesimcentral.com/ is the URL
  • The publisher is normally the entity in charge of beta testing and quality assurance. With them out of the picture, who's making sure the product they release is bug free?
    • Well, no, publishers are not inherently responsible for QA. Quality Assurance should be in place from the very beginning within the development house. Don't believe me? I work within a marketing company that localizes and markets South Korean Games throughout the Americas and Europe. The games we hawk have already been fully completed without a publisher even getting involved. It's our job to involve a publisher simply to get boxed copies in the store. However, given the overly competitive nature of b
    • This is another part of the unusual approach the devs have taken with this game. Since it has been available in beta form since august 2002, there are thousands of beta-testers. We submit bugs we find to the official forum, and you know what? They get fixed in the next patch!
  • Steam (Score:3, Informative)

    by Pvt_Waldo ( 459439 ) on Monday July 28, 2003 @07:31PM (#6554708)
    http://www.steampowered.com [steampowered.com]

    This is Valve's [valvesoftware.com] technology to perform this kind of function. Not only can it perform a licensing function beyond being a point of purchase, it has the advantages of being an automatic updating/patching system. Because it manages licensing it could be used for "trial" play of a game. Pay $1 to play for a week. Decide if you like it. Pay the difference to buy it forever else your license expires. A risky proposition - but only for those that make crappy games.
    • Too busy to look at the link you posted, but do you know if this service is free to developers, or has to be licensed from Valve?
  • Valve (Score:3, Informative)

    by irc.goatse.cx troll ( 593289 ) on Monday July 28, 2003 @07:35PM (#6554738) Journal
    Valve (creators of Half Life et al) is doing something similar. Theyre currently testing something called Steam [steampowered.com].

    Steam lets you download a game you have access to(meaning, subscribed to from steam once the test ends. currently its all free) and play it on the fly. You only download the sounds/maps/textures that are about to be used, so the download time isnt too bad. It caches also, so after the first time you dont notice it as much. This is helping them betatest the new version of Counterstrike much easier, as they can push updates whenever they want and fix minor things without having to wait a few months to release another patch.

    While the Steam system works great, Its scarey to think it will enable pay as you play style billing. Who really wants to pay $.50/min to play counterstrike? (example figure, again its currently all free, and in the future they'll start it with comparable prices as a one time fee, but you have no garuntee thats all they'll use it for).

    The upside is of course Valve no longer needs a distributer so being bought out would be up to them. This is nice in the face of all the vivendi buyout rumours you see every few months.
    • #1 VU does not own Valve so being bought out is already up to them.

      #2. Yeah, who wants to wait for a patch when we can play the broken patch now. Test the game for free for them, and then test the next broken patch some more later? That does sounds like a good deal to me.

      and the big #3 What if the Steam server is down? How will you play? I can play my current Steam-free version of Half-life without being connected to the internet! I think the whole offline thing might catch on some day.
      • #1 True, but having their distributor bought out wouldn't help them.

        #2 Its optional now, Everyone that wants to test is welcome to, Everyone that isnt dosn't have to. Just dont bitch when 1.6 comes out and theres something you dont like, you had plenty of time to help test and report bugs/inbalances. Personally I have 1.6(steam), 1.5, and 1.3 installed. You're not forced to play any.

        #3 Then you dont get to play. Thats why I'm probably not going to use it once they start charging.
  • This sounds similar to the Steam client that Valve just debuted for Half-Life, CS, and HL2. Downloads right over the 'net and a distributed system for acquiring updates and other bonus media.
  • I hate boxes, I want this to work so much! But a racing game? Peshaw, give me an adventure game with guns, damn it, and I'll buy.
  • A company called MoonPod [moonpod.com] has released a game with the Internet being its primary distribution method.

    You can pay more for a boxed copy if you want, but they have an instant-access online purchasing system that turns the crippleware demo into the full version.

    The game is an asteroids-style 2d shooter with some turn based strategy mixed in.

    I hope to see projects like this in the future from larger game developers. If the savings is passed on to me, I'm all for purchasing games, music, movies, or whatev

  • by Zemrec ( 158984 )
    It works great using Winex 3.1-1 on Gentoo Linux 2.4.20 and Nvidia 43.63 drivers. Just thought you'd like to know. The only glitch is some weird transparency issue when shadows are enabled where the wheels can be seen through the car, and the track is transparent in the rear view mirrors. You can disable those options though.

    Very cool, I might just buy it.
  • ... but shelf space in stores isn't. There's plenty of good boxed software that never gets to see the light of day because the company is outbid for shelfspace at PCWorld, etc. Online distribution has more benefits than simply reduced (hopefully) price.
  • I can't seem to find an "about"-type page on their main website. It'd be nice to be able to see the main features and so forth before downloading it.

Heisenberg may have been here.

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