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Game Distribution Platforms Becoming Annoyingly Common 349

The Escapist's Shamus Young recently posted an article complaining about the proliferation of distribution platforms and social networks for video games. None of the companies who make these are "quite sure how games will be sold and played ten years from now," he writes, "but they all know they want to be the ones running the community or selling the titles." Young continues, "Remember how these systems usually work: The program sets itself up to run when Windows starts, and it must be running if you want to play the game. If you follow this scheme to its logical conclusion, you'll see that the system tray of every gaming PC would eventually end up clogged with loaders, patchers, helpers, and monitors. Every publisher would have a program for serving up content, connecting players, managing digital licenses, performing patches, and (most importantly) selling stuff. Some people don't mind having 'just one more' program running in the background. But what happens when you have programs from Valve, Stardock, Activision, 2k Games, Take-Two, Codemasters, Microsoft, Eidos, and Ubisoft? Sure, you could disable them. But then when you fire the thing up to play a game, it will want to spend fifteen minutes patching itself and the game before it will let you in. And imagine how fun it would be juggling accounts for all of them."
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Game Distribution Platforms Becoming Annoyingly Common

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  • by suso ( 153703 ) * on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @07:48AM (#30902338) Homepage Journal

    Another thing to worry about is that in 10+ years we will have a whole generation of games (not just MMOs) that will no longer be able to be played on emulators, etc. because the networks they connect with will be gone.

    I think people will get fed up with it and the game publishers will have to change eventually, but not before a lot of damage will be done.

  • by sopssa ( 1498795 ) * <> on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @07:54AM (#30902378) Journal

    I don't think so. 20 years is lot of years. Even the TV I bough 10 years ago doesn't work anymore (not showing tv channels at least), because digital TV got instructed. Did it really bother me that much? Not really. I just bough a new one with lots of new fancy features and HD picture.

    Not everything in life last forever. The pizza I ate yesterday is gone. It was still good and I enjoyed the experience. So is my ex but I enjoyed that experience too and now its time to move into new things.

    And theres always private servers, if the player base actually is large enough.

  • by Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @07:57AM (#30902404) Homepage

    Just so we're clear: you're renting the ability to play. When, not if, they go belly up, you've just got a hard drive full of random bits.

    Don't get me wrong, I use and love Steam (it even works well through Wine on Ubuntu) but I'm under no illusions about ownership.

  • Tell me about it! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by gravyface ( 592485 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @07:58AM (#30902408)
    Steam is such a huge PITA! Right-click > Exit. The nerve of them! And if I don't want it to load at startup? I have to (again) right-click, go to Settings, and uncheck that option. All this just so I can download games at almost 9Mb/s, whenever I want, at really competitive prices? BS, says I!
  • by sopssa ( 1498795 ) * <> on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @08:00AM (#30902432) Journal

    You actually don't own the games you buy physically either. You're getting a license to use them, like with any other software.

    But more than that, I don't think that will be such a big issue though. What are the changes that Steam will go away anytime soon? And even if it happens in lets say 20-30 years, that's still many years. Many of the games I bough in 90's are too scratched, lost somewhere along the years or do not work with current operating systems and are unplayable now. Doesn't bother me too much, theres great new games now.

  • by sopssa ( 1498795 ) * <> on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @08:07AM (#30902474) Journal

    But they have a lot larger costs to make than 20 years ago. And to be honest, in terms of dollars spend per hour games as an entertainment are really cheap. Two hour movie ticket with popcorn and cola costs at least $10 per person (and then possible a dinner in restaurant $40). One night out in a bar can easily cost $100.

    With a good game you can top hundreds of hours of gameplay, which makes the per hour price come down to like $0.10-$0.20. Not much, if you ask me.

  • by Antique Geekmeister ( 740220 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @08:09AM (#30902484)

    Steam usually operates fine in off-line mode for single player games. And the trade-off of getting integral patch updates, being able to delete and restore a game at will, the low cost of downloadable games (especially ancient ones) and being able to transfer games to another client without media are all big advantages for most players. They seem well worth the risk of losing the Steam servers.

  • by Gr8Apes ( 679165 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @08:32AM (#30902612)

    So you'd be ok with that book not being readable in 10 years? (Self-destructing a la Mission Impossible)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @08:34AM (#30902620)

    If there's any video game developer I'd trust to not fuck everyone over, it's definitely Valve. They've got to be the single most community-oriented developer out there right now.

  • by ethorad ( 840881 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @08:50AM (#30902732)

    Yes, because if they go belly up they'll definitely have the time and resources to come up with a patch to let you play their games. Plus I very much doubt the insolvency practitioner /debtor / purchaser will be willing to let them have funds.

    The only way I'd believe that claim is if the patch had alread been written (and was kept updated with changes to the system) and in the hands of a third party to be released on a list of conditions - such as the servers going dark.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @08:52AM (#30902746)

    Where did Shamus Young ever get the idea this was about publishers wanting to be the leader in 'serving content'. Nothing could be further from reality. I think he has fallen for the public relations excuses. If there was a list of priorities for these various systems, being the leader is way down the list.

    These so called distributors or publishers want two or three main things from this.
    1) Increased Profits. Only this tops the list and is the prime motivator. There are several things to follow that help ensure they reach the prime motive.

    Following that come other reasons for the creation of these customer frustrating systems. Publishers are moving to the rental model for games. You don't ever get a complete copy of the game you paid for and are always under the control of their authentication system. This may at the moment primarily be if you wish to go online to play but is slowly extending those tentacles to every game. Even now some games you purchase on cd require you either login or phone to have the game authorized before it will play. They have even demonstrated cd versions lacking extra content unless you register before you may download. The obvious next step goes beyond authentication into missing content required just to start the game.

    The importance of getting the public to accept these streaming authentication systems, is key to exercising full control over their product. They have had the desire for many years to enforce the part of the license where you don't own the game, but only license to use it. As this has progressed we have seen companies like EA begin to turn off games like the madden series. If people just think that only online support is where it ends they are living in a dream world. This is all about pay to play and finding business models that keep the revenue steam coming in. It is easy to see other entertainment industries moving in this same direction by controlling what you can do with content and where and when you may use/view that content you paid for.

  • by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @09:01AM (#30902816) Journal

    It seems every little crappy program or tool these days wants to install their own "helper" thingy, either hidden or in the task bar. I wish all software companies would be a little more responsible about the cruft they load our computers down with.
    5 Simple rules:
    - only run stuff in the background if there's a good reason for the job to run continuously.
    - for stuff that doesn't need to run all the time (and checking for updates most definitely belongs in this category), perform the task(s) when the associated program itself starts.
    - if it runs in the background, it goes on the task bar (so we know it's there)
    - if it runs at startup, there's a simple way (config setting) to disable it.
    - if running at startup is disabled but the job is essential for the associated program, the job is started automatically when the program is launched.

  • by Aceticon ( 140883 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @09:02AM (#30902820)

    The natural conclusion from the article is that Game Distribution Platforms seem to be affected by networking effects - buyers gravitate to the one with the most games, sellers gravitate to the one where most buyers go to. This means that the market will move towards a situation where there are only one or two winners.

    This might seem like a good thing (fewer random background tasks running in people's PCs) until you think about those people that bought games in what turned out not to be one of the winning platforms: the games that they bought in that/those platforms typically will stop working when the servers are turned off (or, at best, you won't be able to do a new install ever again due to online activation).

    This is a bit like VHS vs Betamax (or HD-DVD vs Blueray) only much worse: anybody that bought movies in Betamax format can still play them as long as their Betamax player works, but anybody that buys a game that authenticates with a platform that later goes down will quite likelly be unable to play that game ever again once the authentication servers are stopped.

    Considering that the really good games are still played 5 or 10 years later (pretty much any gamer over 30 will be well aquainted with the experience of rediscovering an "oldy but goody" and playing it again), and that the game publishers rarelly have any interest in keeping the game going once they stop selling it, even those whose games which where bought in a platform that is still going 5 of 10 years in the future still run the risk of having their games killed by after-sale, arbitrary planned obsolescence.

    Me, I vote with my wallet and refuse to buy any games that have online activation and/or authentication for single player gaming (currently playing "X3:Terran Conflict" on the PC, bought after they removed DRM with patch 2.5): if others did the same the industry would give up on this.

  • by DrYak ( 748999 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @09:09AM (#30902876) Homepage

    Old school emulation suffers from this too :
    - most of the original purchased magnetic-media have bit-rotten by now and/or the necessary hardware to read them (ALONG WITH all the protection weirdness - not just any reading drive, but one producing exactly the glitches on which the protection scheme relies) might be broken.

    - all the pirated versions are still around fully enjoying digital mortality (once a soft is only a bunch of bits - with no physical media or protection attached - it costs almost zero to copy it). Want to rediscover some long-lost gem ? No problem, just don't pay much attention to the "crack-tro" tacked at the beginning. And, as a bonus, you usually even got a "trainer" built-it so you can still enjoy the game even if our modern-day tastes are less into games were you constantly die.

    "Pirates" are todays most corporate-hated criminal, but tomorrow people-loved archivists.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @09:14AM (#30902928)

    You're giving them awfully lot of credit. Check the Steam EULA. You don't have ANY right to play the game you bought. According to the EULA, you donate money to Steam and they'll let you play their game should they feel like it. No guarantees though.

  • by GuyFawkes ( 729054 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @09:51AM (#30903354) Homepage Journal

    Two points.

    1/ I fail to see the difference between crapware from the game company and crapware from the kiddies.

    2/ Non sequitur, if I am tech savvy enough to not allow one, I am tech savvy enough to not allow either.

  • by MBGMorden ( 803437 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @11:10AM (#30904576)

    You CAN'T compare immaterial and material purchases directly, but that's not a problem here because if you're a copyright fanboy then both of these scenarios are immaterial.

    You see, when you buy a book if you're a copyrights fan then you're really paying for the license to read the copyrighted text. The paper it comes on is just a delivery mechanism.

    The same applies to a software CD. The CD itself is a delivery mechanism only.

    It is literally the EXACT same scenario. If you can own a book, then you can own a copy of software. If however the software is merely licensed, then so too is the book. They are the same type of critter and the way you want to interpret ownership (or lack thereof) of one will have to legally extend to the other.

  • by theJML ( 911853 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @11:29AM (#30904888) Homepage

    The battle for my system tray is getting crazy lately in general. I don't subscribe to any of the digital distribution channels (except iTunes), but things keep filling my system tray and I don't like it.

    Why does everything have to have a quick start agent? It's one of the first things I disable. I know for a fact I'm not going to use the program everytime I turn on my computer, so why waste the time when booting?! Also, if I wanted to load the program, then I don't mind waiting for the program to load, is it that hard of a concept?

    And if your program takes THAT LONG TO LOAD that you have to have a QUICKSTART feature, I think it's time to rethink your program's requirements and efficiency!

    I suppose the fact that they download updates in the background is handy for some people, but I really don't want my PC doing anything that I didn't tell it to do. In fact, I don't like patching things all willy-nilly either.

  • by undercanopy ( 565001 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @12:17PM (#30905674)
    It's exactly the same in theory and legal terms, sure, but in physical terms, that the book doesn't phone home to ask for permission every time you try to read it. I think that was the point -- whether or not you legally own 'rights' to the content, they'll have a much tougher time trying to stop you reading it, regardless of the changing whims/stability of the publisher. Or: I don't have to go find a cracked version of the book in order to keep reading it after the publisher goes tits-up.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @01:59PM (#30907248)

    People say things all the time.

  • by icebraining ( 1313345 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @02:18PM (#30907476) Homepage

    MW2 only has to work until MW3 gets out. Then Activision will be happy if Steam disconnects it.

    Just look at Metal Gear Solid 3:

    Konami has announced that the Metal Gear Solid 3 Subsistence online servers will be shut down in North America on April 2, 2007. Released less than a year ago, it seems the Metal Gear Online community wasn't strong enough to sustain interest from Konami to keep internet-based play up and running.

    Emphasis mine.

  • by mjwx ( 966435 ) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @02:13AM (#30914134)
    PC gaming is dying so fast that EA, Ubisoft et al have abandoned it so completely. I mean Modern Warfare will never be out on the PC.

    No wait... []

    Greedy motherfucking bastards

    This is an example of why PC gaming is alive and well. PC games are cheaper then their Xbox and Playstation equivalents. Lets look at modern warfare 2 shall we, from the rip off merchants EB Games it costs A$119.95 [] on PS3, A$119.95 [] on Xbox360 and A98.00 [] on PC. Now if I go down the road to JB HiFi I can shave A$20 of those prices.

    At A$21.95 difference if I purchase 1 game a month I save A$263.40 over the course of a year, If I buy 2 games a month that's A$526.80. Now if my gaming PC costs A$1500 [], holy crap in three years it's paid for itself.

    If you're serious about gaming, you have a PC. Not only is it better (graphics, control, sound and so forth) it's cheaper.

"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." -- Howard Aiken