CDProjekt RED’s Example: What other’s need to learn

First of all, Steam has a great sale on both The Witcher Enhanced Edition Director’s Cut and The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition for about another 14 hours on steam. Getting both for less than $6 has me purchasing them through their service, even though I already own both on disks.

Second, I have to commend CDProjekt RED for doing something few other companies with its presence in the gaming industry do: it puts the game and the players who play it before the profit. Given, I don’t know the people who work at CDProjekt RED personally, but my experience as an owner of The Witcher games supports the points made in this article on PC Gamer, which is that satisfying the players who purchase their games is more important than trying to ring every penny they can get for every minute addition that they create for the game. This is the exact opposite of what infuriates gamers more than anything: day-one DLC (the non-free kind).

On top of this, CDProjekt’s games don’t require disk-checks, at least not following all of the updates that I applied to them upon installation. I believe the first game may have asked me for the disk before I updated it to current, which I had to do manually by seeking the update file online and applying it (learning of the Director’s Cut convinced me to do it quickly). However, the second game updated automatically with prompts as soon as I installed it (never asking for the disk when playing). Either way, I have both games and can play without any no-cd cracks and still free of spinning my disks in the drive. CDProjekt isn’t broke, but I have to assume that its bank isn’t anywhere near as dense as companies like Bethesda, EA and Ubisoft. So, why do they act as though nerve-wrecking DRM is so crucial to their survival? Do pirated copies of their games truly make such a dent in their return? How many die-hard fans of past SimCity games had to deal with disappointment on day-one of playing their pre-ordered copies of SimCity thanks to EA’s paranoia? How about Blizzard’s Diablo III? Find a chart that displays how much these games brought in from initial sales (pre-order and day-one), and tell me if the DRM used was truly necessary to the point taken. A starting company releasing a new game franchise with these tactics would never have seen returning customers for a sequel. It would have been its undoing.

Truth be told, I have always been a bargain-hunter with games. Few games have seen a pre-order from me over the years. I even waited until The Witcher games were both below the $20 mark before I bought them, despite my praise for the company (note: I wasn’t familiar with the company or its games prior to purchasing them at the bargain prices). On top of that, I’ve always sought after the security of physically owning the medium that I buy the game on (preferring disk over download). Yet I’ve been forced to transition to cloud-based purchases through services like Steam because owning the disk is nearly useless now. You’re given a disk with the data on it, but the activation key for the game is the only real item of value, which usually still requires you to download the game in-full from the net without using anything on the disk. In the end, the disk is worthless without a Steam, U-Play or Origin account – unless someone produces a hack that allows you to install the game using the disk’s data independent of those services. In other words, piracy – or the potential for it – remains either way.

The main point I wanted to make of CDProjekt here though is that they don’t use DLC to amplify their profit from a single project. I have always waited on the past Elder Scrolls games, because I knew the likelihood of an edition including all DLC would be released and dropped to a bargain price. The same goes with BioWare and 2K Games titles. But if you look at what CDProjekt did with Witcher 2, you see that whether you bought the standard game on release-day or bought the Enhanced Edition after it was released, you ended up with equal overall content for the game without dishing additional out-of-pocket to get it.

It’s obvious to me as I read online to research a game’s DRM requirements before purchasing that more people are growing to accept the presence of services like Steam as we move forward, and the cries of foul over over-priced and day-one DLC have diminished as well, but I simply couldn’t help but point out how the evidence from CDProjekt’s success in the gaming industry shows that the excessive DRM path, as well as leeching customers for additional content, is surely not necessary for a company to thrive from its product, let alone successfully create and distribute a product that meets or exceeds the standard. Here’s to hoping that their practices continue, and perhaps they may influence others to share the same strategy.

Steam Customer Support?

First of all, if you’re reading this and have never bought a Valve game on PC before, make sure you never ever buy a used Valve or Steam-activated game. Fail to heed that advice at your own loss.

My personal experience happened just a few days ago. I purchase a lot of stuff on Amazon, and I had developed an interest in playing the Half-Life games, especially since I’ve never played anything from the Half-Life series, and I love FPS games with story. So, I searched for some Half-Life stuff and came across Half-Life 2: GOTY Edition for about $8, along with the Episode 1 & 2 pack for another $14. The Episode pack was new. The HL2 GOTY game was used yet sold by a merchant whose goods were handled and shipped by Amazon (lending me the Prime shipping benefits – without additional tax).

I ordered the games on Friday, received them early Monday (before 10am), installed all included software on the five disks in the HL2 package and hit a roadblock at the Steam activation. Duplicate Key. Some researching landed me with two apparent possibilities: either Steam support would release the key after I provide proof of ownership, or I’m screwed. Well, when I say screwed, I at least expected Steam’s Customer Support to confirm that for me. I submit a Support Ticket before noon on Monday and wait the rest of the day with no response. That’s no surprise, really. After all, a lot of Support departments often take up to 24 hours to respond. Well. Around 2pm on Tuesday (a little over the 24 hour window I decided I would limit my wait to), I’ve still heard nothing from Steam and decide it’s not worth my while to hold on to the games any longer. I submit a return request with Amazon. I never update my Support ticket with Steam to let them know, and for a reason.

That reason was to see if I’d ever get a response – and what the response would be. Well, it’s after 6pm on Wednesday and I’ve gotten no response from Steam, nor am I expecting one at this point. Various statements in forums across the net lead me to believe this is a common experience when dealing with their Customer Support, but I think it’s ludicrous, especially for an organization that surely handles the kind of money and services the kind of customer base that they do. On top of that, a lot of game distributors are partnering with them, and that creates more concern for the used PC game market. I think it’s nuts that a service like Amazon, who directly deals with Steam and sells Steam software codes, will actually sell a used game that cannot be used by the buyer. But I don’t completely blame Amazon. After all, Amazon at least has a responsive Customer Support group, and they process returns and refunds, something that apparently Steam does neither of.

I will speak highly on Steam where it works. After all, I bought a game on special through their service today that I had downloaded and playing within less than an hour, and the game cost me half of what it would cost for a physical disk on Amazon, and that disk would still require activation and use through Steam’s client. In some ways, Steam is great. But, even an unappealing response of we can’t help you regarding the used HL2 game would have been better than ignored.

Just be sure you research every used PC game you buy, especially if purchasing through a service where returns and refunds may not be accepted under any circumstances (eg. eBay). If it’s a Valve or Steam-activated game, it’s useless to anyone besides the original owner.

The Atari Landfill

I remember reading about this a long, long time ago. For some reason, it was mentioned in a magazine or something that I was reading. Maybe I was reading about the collapse of Atari, or it could have been mentioned while reading about the collapse of the Sega console. I believe the two went down similarly – being that both invested too much into a single game that flopped or something. Either way, IGN has been shooting out newsletter emails reporting that the urban legend around Atari’s landfill is confirmed true. Apparently, they are out there observing an Xbox documentary crew who’s having the site dug up to see if the horde of dump-truck-dropped Atari stuff is actually out there.

Considering the money it takes to hire dump-trucks to carry all of that Atari merchandise to a desert, where a hole probably had to have been dug, and then filled with cement – it makes you wonder why Atari didn’t just tell everyone “hey, here’s free Atari crap for anyone who wants it … you just gotta come get it yourself.”

Then again, Xbox’s new TV group and IGN wouldn’t have anything to make a big uproar about. I did have the unfortunate experience of playing E.T. on Atari, however. I’d say Atari wouldn’t have been too hard pressed just to convince everyone to bury it in their own back yards and cement it in for at least some pleasure. IGN says it wasn’t actually the worst game ever made, but I can’t agree. It is still the worst game I’ve ever played. Anyway. Here’s IGN’s latest article about it, if you’re interested. You can even see Naomi Kyle playing the game in one of the embedded videos and being just as frustrated as I was back when I used to play it on my Atari.

TES Anthology and Steam

Up until yesterday, my Steam account was practically unused. After building a new PC and purchasing The Elder Scrolls: Anthology, I was forced to use it in order to play Skyrim. Like most people probably did, I searched for any possible way to avoid having to use Steam in order to play Skyrim, but I found myself agreeing with some opinions of it being harmless. What I didn’t realize was how it actually would be useful for Morrowind and Oblivion.

I installed all five games in order, starting with Arena. With the exception of lacking DirectX 9.0c for Oblivion, Skyrim was the only game whose installation didn’t go blissfully uninterrupted – if you would consider the Steam process an interruption. I installed the games last night and decided to get on and play them today. Starting with Morrowind, I was blown away at how I was prompted for a disk to be in the drive in order for the game to run. I’ve played Morrowind in the past and done so with a No-CD crack in order to avoid having to insert my disk every time I wanted to play. So, I ventured to the net to find it now and found it was impossible to find a website that looked legit and non-harm-intending, and what websites I did try the waters with and actually downloaded what they were hosting – ended up being patches to run on my original exe opposed to a already patched one. No thanks.

So, I did insert Morrowind and Oblivion disks long enough to make sure both games booted up without hiccups, but I winded up closing both and running Skyrim. Being that the CD-check has an anti-piracy motive, and that Steam is the anti-piracy strategy for Skyrim, I wasn’t surprised to find it didn’t require the disk to be in the drive. I did, however, find both Morrowind and Oblivion listed in my games in Steam. So, I decided to install them. What do I find? I can run both games inside of Steam without the disk. Maybe I overlooked something in some info about this Anthology set, but I never saw it mentioned anywhere that installing the games via Steam as opposed to the traditional manner would alleviate the disk-check annoyance.

Well, I thought it was worth a blog post to mention it. If you have the Anthology or plan on getting it, it’s best to install Skyrim first, because Morrowind and Oblivion are included in your Steam library after you enter the license key that is required to install Skyrim. Then, you can run either game freely without the need for the disk.

Oh yeah. Steam would have dealt with my DirectX problem for Oblivion for me, also. Not that it was all that much trouble. I just admire the ease of being able to hit Install and Play without worrying about the little things.