View From the Road

View From the Road
View from the Road: When I Was a Pirate

John Funk | 14 Jun 2010 17:00
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Time for a flash of the obvious: If you release an official, localized version of your game in these regions, you'll sell more copies than you would if you just ignored it entirely and left it up to the importers. But would you sell enough to break even on whatever you spent on the localization?

The other major hangup, of course, is price. If a publisher tries to sell its games in developing nations at the same price as it does in the rest of the world, it will fail - period, full stop, no questions asked. In a country where I could get a good, hearty dinner for 10 RMB (about $1.46), $60 (or ~410 RMB) goes a lot further than it does here. People simply can't afford those prices unless they're in the very highest income levels.

Blizzard is on the right track here with its pricing models in China - sell the game at a sharply reduced price, only make it playable over there so you don't have people in affluent nations importing to get it dirt cheap, charge a small subscription after an amount of time for those who really love it - but honestly, it isn't going far enough. Skimp on fancy packaging to keep distribution and production costs down, just get the disc in stores, and sell it for 60 RMB ($8.78). The pirates still sell theirs for cheaper, but a publisher who does this would be much more competitive than it is now.

The trouble is, though, that even if a publisher did do this for its games, it'd by no means be assured of success. The pirates, who have absolutely no development costs to recoup (other than the cost of electricity, bandwidth and a blank CD), can undercut even the lowest of legitimate prices.

It's also easier for some game-makers than others. Developers of primarily online games already have a way to encourage people to sign up to their services in order to play with others, but even just the process of localization for a game like Dragon Age or Final Fantasy XIII might cost BioWare or Square-Enix more money than it'd ever be worth.

So what does this mean? Should publishers just throw their hands in the air and give up, accepting piracy in these countries as the norm?

Maybe they should. Piracy is already a nigh-unwinnable battle even in countries where it is frowned upon. In parts of the world where piracy is the status quo, it's hard to see any point in fighting tooth and nail to prevent it - you're spending lots of money for (at best) a tiny gain. If you gave content creators a magic wand and asked whether they'd like for piracy to be eliminated in those countries, they'd almost certainly say yes, but as it stands it's easier to just ignore it and suffer the losses. Sorry Nintendo, but the money you're spending trying to fight the proliferation of the R4 over there is a waste.

This gives us an unfortunate Catch-22: Gamers in places like China don't buy many legit games because they won't ever be officially released there, and they won't be officially released there because piracy is through the roof - and a little bit of DRM can't change that.

I bought the R4 and loaded it up with a few games for the flight home. These days, having graduated, and gotten a job in the industry - where I've come to personally know people whose livelihoods depend on their games being actually purchased and not ripped off - I haven't touched it in years. I grew up, and made the decision that I didn't want to be something that I couldn't respect. I didn't want to be a pirate anymore.

That's easy for one person to decide. Getting a whole country to do the same is something else altogether.

John Funk really misses the cheap and delicious food back in China. Mmm, thirty-cent steamed buns ...

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