top 20 game industry trends of 2008

20 12 2008

Gamasutra has published their annual ranking and analysis of the most visible and relevant game industry trends observed throughout 2008. Topics three and four immediately stand out as highly influential in regard to the future welfare and evolutionary path of the industry. Excerpts and comments:


3. You Don’t Want DRM – You Want Services

As piracy grows ever easier, and as users become more and more vocal about the measures publishers take to try and stop it — witness the Spore DRM controversy — the appeal of user-friendly DRM lumped into a subscription service seems like the best solution.

After all, very few players complain about the fact that World of Warcraft is tied to a unique account that costs a constant $15 per month fee to keep playable — because that’s the very point of the game. 

But even for games that don’t require online interaction, the tied-to-an-account model can work a charm: Valve’s Steam service is typically extremely well-regarded, thanks to its selection of games, its appealing community features, and most recently, the addition of its Steam Cloud service.

This makes online integration all the more relevant, as user data is stored on servers and accessible on any PC the player logs into. Surely, providing a tangible benefit for users to tie themselves to a verification system is the way to make to help the copy protection-related medicine go down?


The DRM machine’s face-palm-inducing obliviousness to the universal repudiation that surrounds it is a phenomenon that defies comprehension. Invoking the “draconian” label in its characterization is now not only acceptable but thoroughly appropriate.

Traditional rights management approaches have proven themselves ill-equipped to contend with the untouchable and unknowable force to which they stand opposed: a rogue army of highly skilled black hats and scenesters of whom the majority are driven purely by ego and the pride of victory.

Any notion that these sides are equally matched is simply laughable when the entire history of the conflict can quite accurately be described as a lopsided slaughter of the DRM camp through the systematic circumvention and nullification of not most but all of its efforts since the beginning.

4. Downloadable Content – A Cure For All Game Ills?

Whether or not GameStop’s management wants to admit it, many developers and publishers consider the used game market to be, well, less than benevolent. Whether it should or can be stamped out completely is not the issue; few would disagree that at least discouraging players from selling games back quickly is a good idea. 

One of the best current tools for doing so is downloadable content — or as Xbox Live group program manager Alvin Gendrano put it at Microsoft’s GameFest this year, “Using [premium DLC] we can keep your games being used over a long time. The longer your users play your titles, the less chance they give those titles away to retailers and sell them for used.” 

Moreover, stats Gendrano released suggest that games with strong DLC retain their market value for longer: “Games with PDLC were still selling for $59 in [the second quarter of their release lifespans]; those without were selling for $56.” And Microsoft’s Gears of War 2 recently took a new tactic; it shipped with one-time-use coupon for free DLC that can only be downloaded by the initial purchaser.

Perhaps the boldest mover in this space, however, is EA’s Criterion studio, which has launched the “Year of Paradise” initiative for the company — its Burnout Paradise, which was first released in January, is still receiving substantive free DLC on a regular basis, with its first paid pack, Big Surf Island, coming approximately one year after the game’s retail release.

As a developer I passionately support the philosophy of extending product life for disc-based media so long as the application of said philosophy acts to add value to the product rather than impose restrictions upon the consumer.

The restrictive methods are manifest through requirements such as “online account <-> product key” registration, MAC address binding and hardware data-mining,  all of which seek to prevent resale of the product. Unfortunately such techniques work only to damage the image of the cause for which they are designed. The rights of the consumer in regard to purchased software are in many cases still open to interpretation, and the right to resale is highly dependent on those interpretations.

On the other hand, adding value to a product over time (as in the case of DLC) relies on persuasion and appeal instead of force. The consumer is given options rather than denied them. It is then in the developer’s best interest to ensure that those options are in fact appealing, and as a result both parties are better off to some degree.

However, there is also the unfortunate case of developers intentionally omitting content for use as DLC… but I won’t get into that right now.