Ubisoft's CEO Yves Guillemot talked candidly about why the company is focusing on free-to-play titles for PC, and it's all because of piracy rates. He throws around some confusing figures about how only five to seven percent of free-to-play users pay for the product via cash shop, which is the same for the amount of people who pay for boxed copies of their games.
If I didn't know any better, if the same percentage of people are feeding your cash shops that are buying your boxed products then I would probably assume you're doing something crappy (i.e., DRM) and even if it's free people don't feel your crap is worth paying for. That's just my opinion anyway.
The interview comes courtesy of GameIndusrt.biz, where Guillemot states that...
"The advantage of F2P is that we can get revenue from countries where we couldn't previously - places where our products were played but not bought. Now with F2P we gain revenue, which helps brands last longer.
There's a twofold paradigm attached to free-to-play 1.) publishers control the content, content distribution and how long a game will run and when it will end. 2.) You can never own a free-to-play game so a lot of the content you acquire is actually leased, so the small percentage of cash shop users usually have to keep dumping money into the game in order to sustain their character, guild, status, etc.
Yves Guillemot throwing up the 93-95% piracy figures echoes his comments from last year where he was joined by other publishers who put the piracy rates at around the 90% margin, this is despite the fact that PC gaming as a whole topped the charts in a record year in 2011, racking up more than $18 billion dollars in revenue. Nevertheless, what metrics are they using to gauge piracy rates? We can only guess that most use torrent sites like Torrent Freak, which indicated how many times big games like Crysis 2 and Call of Duty are downloaded.
Some companies use unique IP logs or serial registration attempts via multiplayer or leaderboard access to gauge whether a legit or pirated copy is being used, such as Bohemia Interactive, who found out that for every 100 false login attempts three of them were legit.
The accuracy of the piracy percentage rates are debatable at best and erroneous at worst since we never get a detailed explanation of the metrics. The thing that troubles me is how they ignore console piracy rates, in which case Gears of War 3 was pirated nearly one million times for the Xbox 360 in 2011. No extra DRM measures for Xbox 360 users?
I'm also curious what the digital and retail sales comparisons are for these games that are pirated by 95% of the userbase? It's easy to yell “fire” and cause panic but is it just a room or the whole building? I mean, how many times was From Dust pirated and how many times was it legitimately purchased via various digital distributors? You can't tell exactly how bad the figures are unless you legitimately compare the numbers.
According to Yves...
"We must be careful because the consoles are coming. People are saying that the traditional market is declining and that F2P is everything - I'm not saying that. We're waiting for the new consoles - I think that the new consoles will give a huge boost to the industry, just like they do every time that they come. This time, they took too long so the market is waiting.
Guillemot believes there will be a re-invigoration to the market and that there will be a continued boom once the new consoles land. In the meantime, they'll continue to badger PC gamers and yell “Fire!” as a means of drawing attention to piracy rates.
I think one of the biggest problems they seem to be missing is that high piracy rates and high sales are not mutually exclusive. Look at the The Witcher 2, which managed to sell more than 4 million copies despite high piracy rates.
One of the things that CD Projekt talks about frequently is treating customers well and respecting the community. Yes, they led a hard and troubled road to get to that point, but they got there and the community loves them for it. Ubisoft, alternatively, keeps at it with the universally panned DRM.
For Ubisoft, it's like a bank that keeps getting robbed and so instead of making things more hospitable and accessible they add reinforced doors, steel plating, bulletproof glass, an iris scanner and a rectal identifier for customers, all while they keep getting robbed. I'm sorry but making it inconvenient for customers and forcing them to get their rectum scanned before accessing something they paid for does not make for positive public feedback.
Uplay is still being heavily criticized for its poor DRM facilitation and hopefully, even with a free-to-play model, gamers will keep peppering Ubisoft until they get the hint that maybe more people will be willing to shell out dollars for their products when they stop making it hard for legit consumers to use the products they paid for.