Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Splines and how to sell GSB

I’m looking into using some splines for a few things in GSB. The thing is, I need super-fast splines, which I haven’t found yet. Still… it’s my task for the day.

I’ve been reading more and more about the whole piratebay trial and peoples attitudes to it, and their attitudes to intellectual property and copyright. I’m a strong believer in IP and copyright. I’m glad they exist, because they are what enables people to make movies like Star Wars and TV series like Star Trek. I’m glad we have those things.

But increasingly it seems like it’s the ‘general consensus’ that copyright is somehow evil, and that people should have the right to copy anything they want for free. I find this really sad, because there are only two alternatives for me in the future:

1)Use some really harsh-ass DRM to try and force people to pay for the games rather than pirate them. or

2)Somehow engineer all my games so they are based around being on-line to play them, or micro-transactions.

I’ve always lied the idea of micro-transactions because I believe they give more freedom and options to both the gamer and the developer, as long as you can’t ‘buy’ an advantage in a multiplayer game. However, the idea of designing a game to be always-online annoys the fuck out of me. A lot of people have flaky web connections or game outside or on the train, and it also means I have all those people hitting my server all the time they are playing. Plus it means doing a ton of web coding I don’t especially enjoy.

Ironically, there *is* a lot of really cool ways to integrate GSB on-line, which I have at the back of my mind, and would probably do anyway if I was more familiar with web coding. Unfortunately, I’m now looking at this sort of thing as essential and inevitable because I just don’t think you are going to be able to sell singleplayer games on the PC within a  year or so. Stardock recently discovered that even original PC strategy games without DRM get pirated to oblivion, and supposedly stardock are the good guys.

I like singleplayer offline games. I just wish our friends in sweden and their pals hadn’t done such a good job at making that whole genre almost unsellable :( Nice work guys…

26 thoughts on Splines and how to sell GSB

  1. Ah but remember Cliffski, EVERYONE who benefits from copyright and IP protection law is an evil, faceless, giant American corporation with billions in the bank!

    Oh, wait…

  2. Cliffski, I also believe single player games will not sell in a year or so. Why? I didnt buy *any* sole SP game for the last two years or so… Nor did any of my friends… We play DOW series, Totar War series, and Valve games based on Source (counter Strike, Day Of Defeat, etc.) engine. All of those games offer, or are totally focused at MP… If any of us wants some SP fun, we go for flash games, like The Space Game.

    It might be harsh, but more and more people are getting fast internet connections (I mean 2Mbit+), and it seems that MP games will always provide a better challenge than SP games. I guess no commercial AI (not a “non-cheating” one, that is) can beat the human in terms of game-skill, not yet anyhow…

    Maybe you should change you customer target group then? If not, your games will be pirated. And no DRM solution will stop it. It will just screw-up things for legal owners.

    In my opinion, sooner or later we will have games prepared in such a way, that SP will be free, or almost free, but people will have to pay to get MP… But the fun part will be mainly that MP gaming.

  3. …hey Cliffski, did you see the game “Star Trek D-A-C”?

    …looks eerily like GSB…

  4. @Pawe – there are many gamers that prefer SP to MP.

    @anyone else

    It must be fairly obvious to everyone now that DRM simply doesn’t work, and the money invested in it, and the infrastructure surrounding it is wasted.

    Equally, it must be slowly dawning on everyone that even with the Pirate Bay result, that using legal processes to “solve” the problem of sharing doesn’t work either.

    Surely there isn’t anyone alive today thinking that if we just keep suing and prosecuting that eventually people will stop sharing? If so, these people should not be in business in any case, due to dire stupidity. Smell the coffee.

    It will be a tragedy if SP games are no longer economically workable, but if they aren’t they aren’t. The current methods of protecting the SP product and business model are failing, not because there isn’t enough effort being put into them, but because they cannot hope to be effective in any meaningful way that scales to the size of the problem without ruining the product itself.

  5. How are the pirates pirating the game? I mean obviously it can’t be as simple to fix as sticking an authorization code into the game right?

  6. I don’t believe that video game piracy comes from a desire to gets something for nothing, it comes from a frustration with various aspects of the industry — high prices, lack of support for online distribution, poor quality games without demos and, of course, heavy-handed DRM. By that logic I’d guess piracy shouldn’t be much of a problem for your games because you get all of those things right, but obviously you know better than me if that’s true.

    Sure there’s a lot to be said for new ways of marketing like micro-transactions, but I for one am still happy to pay a reasonable price for the convenience of downloading a great single-player game and having it just work.

    PS. what’s the Stardock game that you’re referring to?

  7. There are still legions of people who play single player games. I personally never play multiplayer games although i’m not saying that i never will, its just i like single player.
    As far as piracy is concerned, you’ll never stop a bunch of thieving assholes.

  8. I was referring to demigod, the new stardock game. I’m very much opposed to in-game ads, partly because I think they totally break the continuity and mood and immersion of a game, and partly because they just do not work, they generate a pittance at best, and aren’t really viable for indie games anyway.

    I have a solution for GSB, it just means me writing some code I’m excited about, but haven’t got tons of experience doing :D

  9. I think I said in a comment here a while ago, I’d make it have some strong online features. Trading, stats, tracking, new items, scenarios, aliances, races, whatever.
    But, keep the single player game still fully playable (tricky perhaps, but 2 different game modes).
    I dont know if the game lends itself well to that approach.

    I have to agree that PC gaming is a losing battle with piracy. At least with consoles there is a big barrier to pirating, but with PC its just too common/easy/accepted now.

  10. I think you’re off the mark with regards to copyright and games. Take a look at World of Goo as a counter example. It’s a single player only affair, it had no or little DRM, it was intensely pirated according to 2DBoy’s own reports, but nonetheless it was still a major financial and critical success.

    Ultimately we have to ask whether all those pirated copies led to a net loss of sales. Personally, I think not, I don’t believe the pirates would have bought the game if it wasn’t available for free. I also think that some percentage of the pirates probably did end up buying the game out of appreciation or some other motive. Finally, I imagine that some pirates contributed to the “word of mouth” advertising for the game which most likely led to some additional sales.

    Clearly all of the above are conditionals which need to be researched. I’m sure there is an excellent research paper in all of this.

  11. IP is a difficult thing….

    While I totally agree that developers / authors / song writers should get paid for their material it really sticks in my craw when:

    a) they (And by they – I mean their publishing outlets) don’t help you – How many copies of the same album / film / book have you bought. I still play BoF but if my disc gets scratched then I’m buggered and have to go out an buy anotherone.

    b) You see some of the simply obsence amounts of money some people make in various industries through either exploiting said authors or the actions of those authors (And I agree that gamers are the poor relations in all this.) Why on earth is Tom Cruise or Julia Roberts worth $15M a film? How much more money does Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney need? In a little way it also annoys me when I am “offered” the chance to have an electric copy of something direct for the same price as if I went in to a shop and bought it. C’Mon guys – I’m not an idiot !!!!

    Also I really hate paying twice for stuff. The big companies bleat on about costs and supporting new artists etc but yet they accept product placements in the films / shows and sponsorship at gigs.

    And everything online is sponsered by ads (Although BIG UP TO CLIFFSKI for not go down this road !!!)

    Also no-one has addressed the issue of true IP vs licencing….

    If I buy something – what am I buying ?

    If I buy a book or a DVD then am I paying for the delviery system? – paper & ink / box & optical disc? or am I also paying for the rights to use that “media” in any way shape or form? If I’m not buying the rights then why don’t I have to pay for a ongoing licence such as a PRS or PPL ?

    Its like when Cliffski talked to the pirates – there are some who will always pirate stuff cos their assholes but there are more and more of us true law abiding people who are getting fed up with the relentless marketing machines behind the big boys.

    Even something like Steam doesn’t work because it annoys me when I can’t get online / it is offline. I love online / MP games cos they challenge you more but i still like SP when I’m alone / not online or just wanna break.

    Hmmmm – Don’t have the answer but I do know things have to change.

  12. I don’t think that TPB, BitTorrent, or anything else changed the nature of game pirating. I was trading pirated shareware DOS games (which fit on a 1.4mb floppy at most…) in the early 90’s on BBSes at 2400 baud. If there was some sort of key required, working together we’d usually be able to find a way around it by stack tracing the process, decompiling the program to assembly to figure out what instruction changes we needed to make, and then editing the binary with a hex editor to either work around or artificially set the condition of being licensed. Later, we did the same thing with an iso loopback mounting tool so that we could play games at a LAN party without having to haul 80 CDRoms with us.

    These days I tend to pay for the games that I like … but at the same time, if a game has really horrible licensing restrictions or is a pain in the butt to move between computers (great example: ATCSimulator), I might buy it once but I will NEVER, EVER give the owner money again (buying upgrades, support, etc.) if I can at all avoid it.

    In the end, I think the argument comes down to making it worth it to pay for it. I don’t like crippleware (where did I put that daggum license key email?) or DRM licensing servers (see also the MS FairPlay issues since some of the vendors have shut down) … all these “old-school” approaches to DRM and licensing are just begging people to find ways around them.

    The iPhone App Store world, while being a “locked in” channel in the first place, still has a lot of issues with people passing around hacked versions on jailbroken phones. (one popular application developer who people thought was overpricing his apps put some phone-home functionality into one version, and about 50% of the people that downloaded the update did so from an unlicensed application) On the other hand, a bunch of developers have released cheap applications that present the basic game functionality and then regularly released content expansion packages to people who were willing to pay for them. If I were developing a game today, that would be the approach I would take… some of it’s set up to where by the time you’re done getting all the content packages, you actually end up paying more than you would have for the “full” shrinkwrapped game.

  13. With a game like GSB, internet and multiplayer could be a real reason for people to buy the game.
    Think about the classic ladder games. Microtransaction that lets you buy bigger ship/weapons/shields/devices.
    When I made my game Supernova 2 I thought about that, but like you I have no experience in web coding. I think though that if I had to make another game like that from scratch, I would design it that way!

  14. I just love the way the casual assumption is repeatedly made that ‘pirates wouldn’t have bought the game anyway’.

    Whilst this is probably true in the vast majority of cases, the point is that the number of pirate copies so dwarfs the number of legitimate ones (10-to-1 by many reports), that even if only a small fraction of the pirates had bought the game then sales would have been dramatically increased.

    And the odd outlying data-point does nothing to convince me that single player PC exclusives, particularly big budget, are dying. Almost everything is now cross platform or console led. The stuff that isn’t is often tied into some kind of online service or component. PIRACY IS DOING THAT!

    Pirates often decry that the industry should ‘learn lessons’ from piracy – that stuff is too expensive, that DRM is annoying etc. The industry IS learning – it’s learning that making single player PC games is a dead end.

  15. The whole thing depends on whether you see each pirate download as a lost sale or not, WoG was a success because enough people bought it, regardless of piracy figures. Would more have bought it if it wasn’t pirated? I expect so. I’d question, however, games not being profitable purely due to piracy.

    I hate piracy myself. I don’t accept any of the excuses about it being about anything other than Getting Free Things. I hate EA’s godawful DRM as much as everyone else and so, rather than pirating the game, I don’t buy it. That way I don’t have to put up with the DRM and save £25. If you want the game enough to consider pirating it rather than living without it then buy it! :|

    Anyway, didn’t you write an article about piracy in the past, Cliffski, leading to all your games becoming DRM free. I really thought that was great and it certainly made me feel happier about buying Democracy 2. The fact you’re considering DRM so seriously now worries me. Did the no DRM thing not work out? :(

  16. I’m not interested in DRM for the sake of it, but if I have any features of the game (which I’m just trying out now) which connect to my server I will *have* to have serial code checks for the online bit or I will just get my server overloaded by pirates, which I don’t want :(

  17. Are we over complicating things here?

    Surely the arguement has to be – If someone wnats to play my game – how much am I willing to sell for and therefore what point to I put a break on people playing it?

    In order for people to play / buy games they have to meet three key criteria:

    1. (not @ Ciffski – cos you do this soo well ;-) ) THEY MUST BE PLAYABLE – in either single player or multi player mode. Multiplayer mode is good as it challenges you more but some times you want a single player mode.

    2. They must be REPLAYABLE – Too many games are one time onlys – Once I get to kill Big Boss then I know how to do it each time…. I stopped playing WoW cos I was just thinking same place – different graphics. Whereas I still play Starship Tycoon & BoF cos they throw up something different each game.

    3. ENTERTAIN ME !!!! – I got about 3 mins into Dungeon Quest and stopped as it was soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo linear (Even to the point I couldn’t step of the fecking path !!!) .

    So if you crack this then you have a game that people will play…..

    Next step is to say – Whats the RoI for me???? How long did take me to make this and therefore cost and then what is the extra value I place on a really GOOD game….

    So then you have a game people wanna play, that you have a base line for costs and profitline and so you move to final stage ….

    get Corporate sponsership ( And I can already hear Cliffski coughing in his tea when he reads this..) – post adverts in game same way as online websites

    or do a simple deal of everytime anyone logs on you either get a cut back from the ISP and / or advertisters before game boots (Cliffski – You ok there Mate? – Need me to clap you on the back? I’ve told you not to try and eat toast and drink at the same time.)

    People just don’t wanna pay for things anymore as they are waking up to the fact that marketing pays for everything.

    And I say this as someone who has worked for a company that literally pisses 5% of its turnover against the wall every single year for no identifable return on top of all the other costs in marketing.

    Am I wrong here?

  18. Pirates are not your customers. Any DRM to them isn’t seen as a hindrance but a challenge instead, whereas it can be a hindrance to your legit customers.

    It makes me wonder if companies blame piracy for losses that occurred due to the fact that their games suck, which seems more and more likely because of the massive profits that Stardock has managed to reap with their high-notch, DRM-free games.

  19. “But increasingly it seems like it’s the ‘general consensus’ that copyright is somehow evil, and that people should have the right to copy anything they want for free.”
    This is a straw man. While there are people who believe that, from every conversation on the issue I’ve seen they’re not the majority.

    The problem is that with crippling DRM, the software vendor is selling nothing whatsoever (not even information). I believe that what you’re buying when you purchase a game is technically a revokable license to use the software given certain parameters. To protect its end of the bargain, the software industry implements certain controls, such as reliance on the distribution medium and/or the Internet, and unique serial numbers. The former is especially problematic.

    When you’re required to activate a game over the Internet, the software industry gains a massive amount of control over the way the game is used. They can, for instance, limit the number of machines you install it in your household, despite there obviously being nothing unethical about using it on an arbitrary number of you own machines. In fact, they can prevent you from using it at all. It also frequently leaves people unable to use the product they paid for at all. Reliance on optical media is also bad DRM, as they are easily damaged, again leaving people without their product (and they’re highly inconvenient to use in this day).

    Most DRM also serves to prohibit backup. If Valve goes down, what happens to all my games on Steam? If my disc gets scratched, my duplicate won’t work. This is all absurd: when you pay software, it becomes yours to personally use as you see fit. Because it’s essentially information, and you own it, you have the right to make duplicates and use them within your household. Evidently, the software industry disagrees; they want complete control over the way you use the software. By taking the license model to the extreme, they’re not even selling the user anything intangible. Only a fool would pay money for a nonexistent product.

    DRM is also fundamentally ineffective. Every game, given enough time, can and will be cracked (assuming enough people want to play it). However, it’s non-trivial to do so in the first place, and even the end-user pirate still has alot of inconvenience to deal with. There’s very often not a crack for the latest version of the game, and games are famously buggy. In most cases, they’re prohibited from playing the game online, assuming it has no pirate master server. They have to download the game, which for most commercial releases takes some time (game size has grown faster than home Internet connection speeds). Assuming these people can afford to purchase games (probably a major cause of piracy), they would not subject themselves to this unless it was better than the alternative. It is considered as such because of crippling DRM, low quality, and high prices. Every cause of piracy comes from the industry, not the end-user.

    The only way to end piracy is to sell better games at lower prices with better respect for consumer rights. Making the next big DRM is futile, because even if it’s so miraculously awesome that it never gets broken, the pirates won’t buy the game anyway. It’d be a slap in the face of customers and nothing notable to the pirates. The only sensible way to curtail piracy is to convert pirates back into paying customers. If that’s impossible, there’s no hope for the software industry.

    “some really harsh-ass DRM” is a really bad idea. I don’t doubt that you’re a programmer of considerable skill, but that doesn’t mean you can pull off something that has always failed, and that is information-theoretically impossible. If it’s crippling DRM, I assure you it can only cause a reduction in sales. Customers don’t like being treated like criminals.

  20. There will always be people who will use your stuff for free. That’s just how it works. Ever since the photocopier, people have been copying things, and many without permission of the copyright holder.

    Also, as has always been, it is great to do what you love and make a living at the same time, but there is never a guarantee that you can do both at once. If you can’t make a living doing what you do now, maybe you need another job. Complaining about the pirates (I still cringe a little using that term) is not going to make them stop doing what they do.

    That said, there are still other ways you could try to make money from new games. As you said, multiplayer is a good model. You don’t necessarily need a serial number, but some kind of login method.

    Another (far less conventional) possibility is deciding how much you need to make on the game and then releasing it for free after raising that much money from donations, basically like a bounty. Also keep in mind that while you’d be giving away the game download, you could still sell the shiny plastic discs for those who want them.

    I definitely doubt DRM will help you at all, as pointed out by many others here. Perhaps going DRM free didn’t lessen the number of people not paying for your software, but it certainly increased your market. I personally only heard of you because of that.

  21. I admit, I’m still torn.

    I really dislike copyright and intellectual property (I’m one of those that likes calling it Imaginary Property instead). Not because I like getting stuff for free, since I still buy the stuff I like, and I’ve simply stopped using the stuff I would usually have downloaded off p2p.

    I pretty much believe that anything that can be infinitely duplicated at essentially no cost has no actual market value, and thus no one should be expected to pay for it unless they want to.

    And while that’s all pretty and wonderful in the little fantasy world in my mind, it creates the realistic problem for content creators, people like you (and me, for that matter) that we can’t make a living off doing what we want by doing the same thing we were doing before. Quality is not the issue, corruption is not the issue (although it causes more ‘anger’ downloads), “a bit more expensive than they should be” is not the issue. The issue seems to be more on the lines of trying to force an archaic business model onto a world/market that already has something better.

    Sure, you can give up and not make things anymore… but I don’t really expect you, or most companies to be willing to go with something like that. To top it all off, people are willing to make stuff like this for free, so how can for-profit businesses compete when volunteer work starts spitting out better and better quality stuff? (what was once commercial quality is now in the realm of endless clones by amateur programmers, and games like Nexuiz and Warsow compete in quality with very recent commercial games — and they’re completely open source)

    The only things I know for sure is that any attempt at creating artificial scarcity is bound to be doomed. If -someone- can have it, everyone else will be able to, too — even if that means emulating your server-side authentication and giving themselves permission to use it.

    The reason things like online games work is because you’re providing people with value for the money they pay you. WoW, EVE, EverQuest simply can not run unless a dedicated group of people is sitting behind the scenes, improving it, maintaining the servers, paying for the bandwidth costs, etc.

    Maybe the money really lies in treating your work as a service (the work you put into it, not the product). I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a decent but basic version of a game, and creating online contracts where users can start pooling their money, which after a certain threshold is crossed, basically ‘pays’ for the work you’ve done on the new feature — then you release said feature.

    Basically, I think the key here lies in changing how you think of your work. The thing that matters to me the most is not the end product (as a tangible object/artifact, which in the Digital Age it most definitely isn’t), but the time, creativity, and effort I put into my project. That’s what I think I should put more emphasis on selling. I think when someone comes up with a model that works together with the fact that digital media works the way it does, as opposed to a model that tries to artificially suppress that reality, someone will become incredibly rich. Or at least, they’ll get the reward they deserve for their hard work.

    I hope you find something that works for you that also makes your customers happy. I’d totally buy your stuff if I could run it :)

  22. Hi!

    First of all let me just say that this game is something I’ve been waiting for too long :) I look forward to playing it and I wish you strength do finish the job asap :P

    On the topic discussed here, I just had to say that, for me at least, the multi-player/online aspect is not very important (I wanted to say un-important, but I feared it might sound rude:D ) and I hope the game will provide a rich single player experience. Again this is me.

    I have no problem to buying a game (be it expensive – inside reasonable limits) but, as I do that, I expect that running the software I’m buying is my inalienable right (and should not be restricted in any way – location, time, type of internet connection, race, etc. etc.). Therefore a DRM or other similar restrictive measures are a show killer when deciding to buy a game. I do not mind copy protection, code activations, and so on that provide protection against illegal duplication, but that should have a decent limit. Again, .. that is me. Last, I should add that protection-free games (Galactic Civ. & Sins of a Solar Empire & etc.) were a nice gesture from my point of view and, frankly I bough such games also because they gave me the feeling of civilized partnership between producer and used and that of freedom (also because I’m a sucker for space strategy).

    End – hopefully I was intelligible.

  23. Probably a dead thread, but…

    … I think that GSB would be well suited to in-game advertising. The rebel ships are covered in flat surfaces that scream out to be plastered in ads; selling ad space on their fleet might be how they keep their finances in pace with the Empire’s. Planetary rings and so on can have ads too; we’ll be doing that in real life as soon as Sachi & Sachi can get a really big can of paint to the moon.

    And if you take the Evolution (film) approach to it, you could easily and blatantly slot it into the after-mission summaries.

    Oooh; just thought – let pairs of rival companies put up ship designs – three of each weight class – and missions, as downloadable modules. I’d love to get hold of the Pepsi vs Coke campaign and war fleets. You could charge the compaines more for how much you tweak the looks from normal, and per download by registered users.

    If you tie a registration key to an email address and only allow downloads of mods through that email, and allow one address change per 24 hours, that might reduce people passing cracked versions around.

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