A Microsoft exec has claimed the only solution to piracy in the PC market is to embrace free-to-play downloadable games.
Microsoft Games Studios’ general manager Dave Luehmann told MCV he is confident his current project – Age of Empires Online – will suffer from less piracy than it would have at retail.
The game is part of Microsoft’s renewed push into PC gaming. It is a download-only title that is free to play, although users will be able to purchase additional content in-game.
“Of course we’re concerned about hackers and their ability to thwart our transaction model, but producing a downloadable game – and a free-to-play one in particular – really helps to prevent that,” he told MCV.
“It’s just the evolution of the business. Console retail space has been strong and valuable for publishers, developers and retailers for a long time.
“In the console world, piracy is a little better understood and managed. Whereas on an open platform, you need to have a different kind of business model that’s more resilient to piracy.
“In Eastern countries, transaction-based online games have demonstrably been more secure against piracy, and I think it makes sense for us in the West to catch up to this.”
However, Luehmann believes that retail will always have a place in the PC gaming market, primarily for short-term hits.
He said: “Retail is still an important part of the business and I don’t think it will ever really go away. Real estate at retail is valuable and has a high turnover – as it should – but it’s not always good for individual products.
“The online marketplace gives you more possibilities of having longer legs and a stronger business.”
And such a switch would not be without its disadvantages, either.
"However, the launch of your game becomes less of an event," he added. "It’s hard to have a big get-together and launch party for a download game like the ones we had for titles like Age of Empires 3. It’s a different sequence of events – the launch isn’t one big event, it’s something that grows over a longer period of time.
"As you get out in the market and establish yourself, it can be more of an event when you introduce new content. We’ve certainly seen WoW have great success with that, although that’s partly because retail is still an important part of their business model.
"I think that’s the challenge with these sorts of game. You have to slowly build that word of mouth, it doesn’t come in a flash, it’s a persistent ongoing marketing campaign."
Still, the online solution also addresses another problem – the battle for store shelf space.
"Yes, I think this is the best way of addressing that," Luehmann conceded. "Real estate at retail is really valuable and has a high turnover – as it should, because it’s good for the retailers – but it’s not always good for the individual products.
"And the online marketplace gives you a lot more possibilities of having longer legs and stronger business."