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Gaming - The case for digital distribution

Supreme Cmdr

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Recently I was in talks with several companies that offer digital distribution for their games and I am close to signing a deal with Trymedia. They power services like AOL's game trial, THQ's Software Direct, IGN's recent Direct2Drive service etc.

The reason for this is not only to offer an alternate distribution method for my games and one in which I have 100% control over my product, its revenue etc, but also because it is becoming pointless to waste time signing with publishers and not to mention risky since you increasingly (now more than ever) run the risk of being screwed.

This Gone Gold thread to which I contribute (I have posted the entire text below) highlights some of the issues with this as it pertains to indies like me. Of course it would be harder for a startup indie - without financial backing - to up and develop then self-distribute their games, but the fact is a LOT of indies are doing it; albeit on a smaller scale. For e.g. I have a ton of games and apps for my PocketPC - ALL of which I purchased online (and immediately copy to a DVD+RW disk). Companies like Handango thrive on this and making a fortune for themselves and the indies who distribute through them.

So what about PC games? Why is it that most gamers are so highly resistant to this method of game distribution, especially now that broadband and CD/DVD writing technologies are so prevalent?

When our next three games become available, they will be available online first, before you see (if ever) them in the retail channel. So my question is, are you likely to buy it (or any gamme) online or in the retail channel. What are your reasons for going either way?


Back in 2001, I wrote
an article
about how the industry works as it relates to figures, sales, royalties and whatnot. If you read it, you will see just how ridiculous it really is; and its only getting worse.

Unlike most, I speak from experience and because I have friends in all corners of the industry, I know a LOT more about what goes on, than those who are foolishly posting up wanton speculation.

Fact is, digital distribution is not going to replace retail distribution of games. Ever. Why? For the same reason that Linux, OS/2 etc failed to unseat Microsoft's operating system. The same reason that, despite having a lot of more powerful browsers, IE remains the dominant browser - with ALL its flaws. You can offer changes and a better product to people; but if they're comfortable with what they have - flaws or not - they're not switching.

Even publishers realize that digital distribution offers a service whereby they can make extra money from their existing and back catalogs and especially to those who haven't been in a retail store in ages. If the likes of Amazon, GoGamer, EBworld etc weren't making money selling their wares online, they won't BE in business. So clearly, there is a market there - somewhere.

Broadband makes digital distribution that much easier for those who prefer to use the service. As long as it is seamless, painless and is fault tolerant (e.g. I lost my key, now what?); they will continue to thrive as an alternate means of distribution.

But that is a whole different ballgame when it comes to the indie developer.

Gone are the days of crazy funny money. They're gone. Most of the indie titles signed up nowadays are either games in final stages of development, fully finished and complete, ready to go in a box or sub licenses of previously released titles in other territories. It is less risky for the publishers who KNOW that it is now an uphill climb to turn a profit from any product, if its not based on some sequel, established property or whatnot. Even THEN, there is still a risk of failure at retail, despite all best efforts.

And since publishers are the only way for indies to get products onto shelves, they are likely to get screwed than to reap the financial benefits of their efforts and hard work.

Most publishers play
...lets rob Peter to pay Paul
on a regular basis; whereby despite the contract, devs with more prospective properties get paid first, get their products promoted better etc etc. And guess what happens if on the off chance the product they spent more money on fails to meet expectations? Yep, you guessed it; the other guy with the product that is selling and to whom they have a lower expectation, gets to shore up their shortfall. That is the #1 reason why publishers shove so many products into retail - regardless of competition and period - in order to see what sticks.

Eventually, they run into trouble and out of money; not because of bad products, but because of bad business decisions. Rather than take the small guy with a good product, lower overhead etc and promote+sell the crap out of his products and PAY him; they would rather spend a fortune on a bunch of has been rejects from some other failed venture or another and THEN wonder why the hell they're in financial trouble when those
fail to perform and meet expectations.

There is no known cure for bad products and it has nothing to do with money. You can have the best product with the best production values, but if it is not appealing or within the scope what a gamer deems as being up his street, they're not going to buy it. Look around and count the number of publishers who have gone under, are going under, are in financial trouble etc. Then look around again (the next time you go into a store) at all the new labels you see on those crappy, campy, shovelware games and I bet you that most of those new labels are from the same people from other
companies. I know of no less than SIX such labels; so I know what I'm talking about.

They all seem to think that somewhere out there, all the gamers are hiding and there is money to be made. They all come in with their big names, stories of success etc and don't produce squat. Instead, they milk those indies who can't get signed with big names, dry and then either disappear or play catch me if you can games with them. Why else do you think it is HIGHLY unlikely that you would see more than one game from an indie you never heard of before? Think about that for a minute. And while you're at it, think about why you see indies moved to different labels frequently. You think its because they're being treated so well, are making all this money or are just being greedy and move on to greener pastures? No. Thats not it.

The process of getting a game signed is the most harrowing and mentally challenging procedure this side of getting someone shove a probe up your ass. So its not like its fun to jump from one publisher to the next.

You have to deal with people you wouldn't be otherwise caught dead talking to - let alone sign a deal with.

You get to listen to a bunch of rejects tell you - the game developer and designer who KNOWS the game better than they do - what they think you have to do in order to make your game sell.

You get to see deals that'd make a donkey crap golf balls; and if you're strapped for cash - as they expect that you are - you get left with no choice but to sign. And even THEN the thieves aren't likely to PAY. And if they DO pay, you have to chase them, threaten them, SUE them. All this time, they're SELLING your game and pocketing the money to fund their inflated overheads as they continue to shovel crap into the retail channel.

For indies, the digital distribution is going to end up being the only avenue for selling your product and getting
. The more relaxed contracts (they don't pay, you yank the title) makes it that much more difficult to get screwed.

For example, most contracts have the publisher paying royalties 30-45 days from the
of a quarter. EVERY SINGLE PUBLISHER that I know of, will wait until almost the VERY LAST day of that grace period to report sales and pay (assuming they do) you. THEN if they are late, they know that contractually they have an additional 30 days (called a cure period) to cure their breach of contract. This gives them a total of 90+45+30 days in which to report sales and cut you a check if they owe you money.

Most times they WILL
introduce errors so that - if you notice and question it - this just further extends the time they have to pay you. During this time, you may not even be in business. And thats how most disreputable publishers have forced small indies either into bankruptcy or to abandon their IP and start over.

And the funny thing about all this is that ALL these publishers KNOW whats going on out there, even if the indies aren't talking about it. So if, like me, you are a known indie with recognizeable properties and you go to Company B with a game when in fact you previously worked with Company A, the FIRST thing they ask you is, what happened? Then you are caught in a rut because how can you tell them exactly what happened without them thinking that one day you are going to be doing the same thing to them? In my case, a publisher pisses around with me, I just sue them. This puts everything in records and when asked, I just ask them to look up the records, press materials, complaints etc and draw their own conclusions. At that point, its up to them to make up their mind about why I'm even talking to them. I never even have to talk about it because most people know that with limited resources an indie won't take legal action on a publisher unless they had a strong case and the money and resources to see it to the end. Once in a while, they'd find out who else you're talking to (besides them) and they will make it a point of conversation and start telling you horrow stories about the other party. Guess what
does? It now gets you thinking. More often than not, you sign with them (instead of the other party), only to find out later that you've not only jumped from the frying pan into the fire - but ass first and stark naked.

I have a very simple principle that I live by. I give you my game, you sell it, you pay me. You don't pay me - or you act outside the boundaries of my contract - you get sued. Scorched Earth doctrine all the way. No exceptions; because I don't give a shit about people enough to care what the end result would be other then me getting what I rightfully deserve and worked hard for: My goddamn money.

But being able to self fund and distribute your game, the indie is able to cut out the middle man from the equation, control your inventory and your income. There is a BIG difference between HOPING you get paid every 135 days and being paid every 30 days from an online provider who gets paid immediately and either wires the money directly into your account or send you a check. And thats why I'm in the final stages of signing a deal - like most - with Trymedia so that my upcoming and all future games, can be available online, even if I have them in retail.

And because my games are complex and require large manuals, the online PDF manual for the download will only be an issue to those not already familiar with my games. But if you have a Kinko's nearby or a printer with 100 sheets of paper (and the ability to print on both sides of the sheet), you get to save yourself $5 between the retail and the download version. And if I don't make the game available at retail, well, you're screwed I guess.

Again, not all publishers are run by scum sucking scumbags. A bunch of them are really good to the devs who provide them with products that they sell and make money from. But guess what, they ARE the minority. Companies like EA, MS, UBI etc have their own internal nonsense going on, but you'd be hard pressed to find a dev who would complain about not being paid. If anything, they'd be *****ing about the politics of actually getting signed and how long and unnecessarily complex the process really is.

If EA, MS and two others end up dominating the

retail gaming market, it wouldn't be too soon. At the very least they would be ridding the industry of the scum sucking retards who just prey on hapless indie devs who
their resources in order to get their games out and be paid for their HARD WORK.

So, I for one wholeheartedly support the advent of digital distribution. You either use it or you don't. No debate there.

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I think it is a fabulous idea, as distribution for an indie goes.

I just spent ten minutes writing something that turned out to be meaningless drivel, so I erased it all and will leave it at this:

online distro = good, but keep an eye on price. I would expect games distributed online only to cost less than a retail game due to savings in national distribution, box & manual printing, national print marketing, etc.

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" And if I don't make the game available at retail, well, you're screwed I guess."

What I love about this guy is his no apologies approach. This is the product; this is how I do it; if you don't like it, find someone else. So many people in general fall all over themselves trying to accommodate every whiner and potential customer, that they never follow they're own will and do what they intended. Most fall into the pit of mediocrity and never get to shine.

( And I got DSL today, so I finally have a connection that could download a BC game. )

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Originally posted by Supreme Cmdr:

So what about PC games? Why is it that most gamers are so highly resistant to this method of game distribution, especially now that broadband and CD/DVD writing technologies are so prevalent?

One of the reasons why I have never been able to buy software online, is because it always requires a creditcard, and they are simply not used here (as much), or totally unavailable. For instance, I make less then half what creditcard-companies require in order to give you one.


Wouter Dijkslag

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My only problem is downloading it. A 56k modem isnt exactly the fastest thing out there + the area I live in we don't even have access to broadband. However I will still buy it even if i need to wait at least a week for the download to complete.

OOOOO damn companies taking to long to bring me a faster connection.

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I've voted no because I'm stuck with a dial up connection and will be so for a long time I'm afraid.

I've chose the option "I like the feeling of a boxed product & manual in my paws " because it's true and because an option concerning connection speed and/or download capability isn't available; and which of course is the main problem for me.

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I voted 'yes'. Not mutch of a problem to order online, and also you dont need to deal with factors such as 'When is GameStop gonna get this in' or 'Sorry, we're sold out' or 'I just cant be bothered to get off my ass and drive somewhere to buy it'

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I said 'yes', even though I do love a printed manual. For those who just have to have a professionally printed manual, maybe it could be available for sale through amazon.com or something

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When I bought Dominions II they sent it to me in a shrink wrapped manual with the disk inside the manual. They sent it via US mail! I would buy the game online, but would want the option of being able to buy a printed manual if one was offered.

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Most game download sites have the option to burn to CD-ROM; sometimes for free (e.g. Trymedia's on www.trygames.com site).

As for printed manuals, it is highly unlikely that most will offer it, since the cost of these games are already low enough for anyone to print PDF manuals. Offering printed manuals adds another layer of complexity and logistix which is not possible unless the publisher is setup to offer them. The very reason for offering games online from a site like TryGames, Direct2Drive etc is for immediate access to the games offered by third parties; not the original publishers. So if Activision or 3000AD Inc offered games on TryGames for example, TryGames would handle the distribution but the publisher (Activision, 3000AD etc) would have to offer manuals as well. And that would mean two separate entities. Its get complicated. Only when the game and the manual are coming from the same source (e.g. as in the game of Dominions II), that one would most likely find the option for a printed manual; and sometimes at an additional cost.

e.g. Matrix Games sells Starshatter from $39.99 ( ) to $49.99 depending on the medium. No printed manual.

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Originally posted by cyress8:

I hope that we can buy the game with a debit card because a credit card is a waste of cash for me. I can't deal with the interest on my purchases

As long as the debit card has the visa, mastercard, or other acceptable credit card company logo on it, you can use the debit card exactly like a credit card.

The difference between the ATM and debit transactions is that an ATM transaction will debit your account immediately, where as a debit transaction will get an authorization and place hold on funds in your account, then a few days later the completion message from the credit card company will come through which will drop the hold on the funds and debit the account.

Back on topic, though, I usually prefer my games on CD, but I wouldn't have a problem getting my game online if that's the only place it is available. Something that would make it much easier to buy one online, though, would be if they would make it so you could read the electronic version of the manual INSIDE the game, so in cases where you couldn't print the manual out and Alt-Tab doesn't work, you could still look up stuff in the manual.

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I voted 'yes' as an older gamer and one who is disabled and can't walk too far, this method of purchasing a product is by far the best for me.

I purchase a lot of games on line and up until a week ago (when Broadband came to the Scottish countryside) I would tick the burn CD option and wait on its arrival

However, I share some of the concerns over lost Key's, damaged downloads etc but I have noticed that some Digital Distributors offer a 'download insurance' that enables you to obtain the product again, if the worst should happen and you lose your original.

As a Semi-retired Indie myself, I can see the posibilites of this form of delivery and anything that cut's out out the middle parasites can't be all bad



from Scotland

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I exclusively buy games which are available as online downloads.


a) Some games are hard to get in stores

B) Sometimes the game is not available YET in stores ("Let me check - oh yea, we will get it in two weeks...") Come back in two weeks and I get the same statement...

c) Even if the box title is available in stores, it is often quicker overall for me to download the game (with DSL), compared to having to drive to a store.

d) I am a lazy butt

PS.: Whish you the best of luck and success with your developments!

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Originally posted by richterm:

I'd download the next BC product in a heartbeat. Much easier than driving to the store and has the instant gratification that mail order can't give you.

Heh.. or the instant.. hour or so wait gratification a laggy network can give you

Well I would still download it because I have a pretty fast connection. I love UC.

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  • 3 weeks later...
  • 3 months later...
Guest DocHoliday

The option to download the whole package is also useful for people from countries that are not supported by on-line delivery services...

I for example had a lot of difficulty finding the right dealer. I actually contacted SC (I think it was you who replied) about it.

Purchasing and downloading would save a lot of time, but you wouldn't have the nice printed manual, but I can live with a fully illustrated .pdf instead, no problem

Besides, the game would cost less that way..

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