Nonplussed about recent developments in game-related digital rights management? The draconian 'always-on' requirement where your PC game kicks you to the desktop if you suddenly lose your internet connection? Having to run "wrapper" software that monitors your purchases and play habits just to access games otherwise designed to be played offline?
Me too, so I posed those questions and others to Theo Bergquist, CEO of the popular digital gaming service GamersGate.
Game On: What's your position on 'always-on' DRM as a requirement for single-player games? How about having to run a piece of client code like Steam in order to access and run games you've already paid for?
Theo Bergquist: Hmm, it's a tricky question. DRM is for protecting rights and as such, it is good. However, I'm not sure many publishers handle it in the right way. There is more fear than there needs to be. Let me give you an example. When we launched the "download as many times you want, but contact us after 5 activations," concept everyone said to us, "oh, this will be misused, people will let their friends use the same account and download the games all over." To date we have not heard back from one single person who used all 5 activations. I think gamers want their own account and especially now, with the GamersGate's loyalty program, they want to ensure no other person uses their BlueCoins. Usually the publisher decides if they want to have DRM or not. When publishers contact us and ask for our opinion, we say "go DRM free."
GO: The only two mainstream sites that offer downloadable Mac games are you and Direct2Drive. Valve just announced plans to bring Steam to the Mac in April. Are you concerned? Why--or if not, why not?
TB: For us, it's about recognition. I mean, we've paved the way. We were first out with a client-free solution, first out with weekend offers, first out with gift functionality, and first out with Mac games. For Mac gamers it's good that they now can buy games from different sites at their convenience. If they like a client, they go to Steam, if they like client free system with rewards for buying a game, they go to GamersGate. Steam is for a more hardcore audience, and I'm not sure Mac gamers are as hard core. We don't see Steam as a threat even though they're obviously doing well. The battle begins once the mass market moves online, and I think GamersGate is well positioned for that. We do hope that as publishers see more retail outlets for Mac that in turn they put out more product for Macs.
GO: Speaking of Valve, they occasionally bundle their Steam client with major games, most recently Activision's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. You and several of your competitors boycotted that game on grounds that having to sell Valve's digital delivery service with each copy of the game represented a conflict of interest. Valve responded by claiming you were throwing money away. Talk about online competition in your area. Is what Valve's doing fair? What happens to you if they're eventually signing deals with everyone?
TB: For us it's not about boycotting anyone, it's about serving our customers with what they want. We know from customer feedback and experience that our customers simply just don't like a client set-up. For us to then sell a game with Steam's client embedded would be a disservice to our customers. Also once major publishers--not to mention physical retailers--realize they're sending a significant portion of their customers to one retail outlet with Steam I think this will change. And to be honest, not that many AAA games carry the Steam requirement. Single games can do very well at GamersGate, but it does not affect the long term revenues--loyalty and customer satisfaction does.
GO: You recently added a universal game overlay to GamersGate. What is it, how does it work, does it impact game performance at all, and is it easy to turn off?
TB: It's an overlay feature where you can chat with your friends through all major chat channels as well as listen and manage music, etc. The PLAYXPERT In-Game Platform comes stocked with a full-featured web browser that lets you peruse the web from the comfort of your game. You can watch videos, research items, post on the forums, and anything else you may wish to do. It does not affect game performance at all and it's very convenient to turn it off, should you want to.
GO: You also just updated your loyalty program, where members earn credits toward games by writing reviews, ranking games, and so on. How hard is to earn credits, and what are you seeing customer traffic-wise?
TB: It's not hard at all, but the more you engage the more you are rewarded. We've noticed a major increase in customer loyalty since we launched the program.
GO: Thanks Theo!
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