Who doesn’t love video games? I’m a big fan, but sadly, I don’t manage to find time to play them. Time is probably my biggest enemy when it comes to games. But there’s another reason why me and many others can’t play the games they want – the price. Many games have a pretty high price that not everybody can afford. Not to say that the games themselves require quite heavy system requirements in order to be played.

So, you’ll have to buy first the gear to play the game and then, to buy the game itself. And unless you’ll catch a hot deal during BlackFriday, CyberMonday or God knows what, then you end up paying quite a lot for a video game – the average is around $50. This has been on my mind for quite a while now – why can’t game developers lower the price for their games, thus ensuring much more sales and cutting down on piracy? They can do this and some extra things to keep consumers interested.

So, what’s the solution that is left when games are too expensive? Yes – piracy. And that happens at incredibly high rates. It’s almost impossible to make a video game “resistant” to hackers. And since it’s also almost impossible to control what you keep in your computer, we have the high-rate piracy scenario. I imagine that game developers make more money from gaming consoles, such as PlayStation or Xbox, because it’s much harder to bypass buying games there.

Just how big is gaming piracy?

Now, let’s be honest – have you bought all the games that you played? Most of people have played at least one pirated game in their lives. In this article we’ll talk more about the PC industry but we’ll also mention the gaming consoles industry or mobile handset industry. And don’t think that piracy isn’t happening there, as well. Imagine this – between 2004 and 2009, only for PSP and DS, the total “damages” done by piracy amount to an unbelievable amount of almost $42 billion. And lowering games’ prices couldn’t help, you’re telling me?

But when it comes to PC piracy, it’s really hard to know how big the numbers really are, but officials from Ubisoft, even the CEO himself, suggests that the number reaches a 95% rate per title. Here’s what he said:

On PC it’s only around five to seven per cent of the players who pay for F2P, but normally on PC it’s only about five to seven per cent who pay anyway, the rest is pirated. It’s around a 93-95 per cent piracy rate, so it ends up at about the same percentage. The revenue we get from the people who play is more long term, so we can continue to bring content.

So, why aren’t you people lowering the prices, then? You’re all complaining about high piracy rates, but nobody’s actually doing something about it! And it’s actually getting worse. Gaming piracy is obviously spreading to “new opportunities”, such as mobile application stores. Developers of games like DeadTrigger or Madfinger had to make the games free because of high piracy rates. So, it seems that lowering the price might not always work out. PC gaming piracy is big – just how big, nobody knows.

Cut down the price – make more sales

Let’s have a look at the most pirated games in 2011 (2012 is about the end, data’s not yet available):

  1. Crysis 2 – almost 4 million
  2. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 – 3.7 million
  3. Battlefield 3 – 3.5 million
  4. FIFA 12 – 3.4 million
  5. Portal 2 – 3.3 million

Now, let’s take the top dog in this small chart and do some basic math and pure assumptions (too sad there aren’t statistics about how many people actually buy video games). At launch, Crysis 2 had an average selling price of $50. Now, we’re not sure just how many sales Crysis 2 managed to bring in, but we can calculate how much sales it could’ve brought in if the price had been right. Once more, this is a tricky part, because, a “right price” might not seem that right for a teenage with no money at all.

But for the sake of the example, I’ll consider that the right price is around $15-$20. If 50% of those that have pirated Crysis 2 would’ve bought it, then we have the following probable revenue: 2, 000, 000 * 15-20 = $30 to $40 million! Sure, the game becomes cheaper as time goes by, but usually, you’ll have to wait from half a year to even one year to get a substantial cut on the game. For example, you can find Crysis 2 for lesss than $20 on Amazon, but the official price remains not too distant from the launch price – $40.

Would it be that hard to cut down the price for a PC game? Would the gaming industry really suffer that much? How can they be sure this strategy won’t work, when they never tried it out? And games aren’t quite cheap to be made, too. Don’t think that game developers = money printing mechanisms. Not all games can become successful and not all games can sell. That’s why cutting down the price + adding some more features might work well for them. Here are some suggestions.

Solutions to stop gaming piracy

What I’m going to say now will not suprise anybody and will come as something natural – to be sure to have lots of sales, be creative and make your game stand out of the crowd. There are plenty indie games that are very creative, despite of not being part of the “premium” category, but they still meet the appreciation of users. Make your game innovative and users will appreciate that. Then cut down the price and add some of the things that we’re going to talk about below and you’ll see that consumers will respond.

1. Offer a Free demo

Some games are already doing it, but try and make this a rule. Offer a smoking hot free demo of your game so that you can attract potential buyers. Don’t do it like the guys that developed Hitman Absolution did it: they offered some sort of a free demo but only when you pre-ordered the game. Make it free, make it as similar as possible to the final version and people will be very curious to see how the game looks like. Ask only for their emails in return and when the right time comes, amaze time with, say, a $15-30 price instead of $50-$60.

2. Downloadable content + more free stuff

People love to get things for free, trust me. And if you’ve managed to attract them and they’ve bought your game, then your next concern is how to keep your users asking for more. In the end, he pays the game, plays the game and that’s it. You have to keep the buyer loyal to your game. A good solution to do that is to bring more DLC (downloadable content) to your game and, of course, offer it for free. Here are just a few ideas:

  • New levels, campaigns, mods
  • Wallpapers, songs, “secret” outros/intros
  • New in-game units: cars, weapons, armors
  • New players (in sport games)

Keep the buyer interested, let him feel that it’s not over yet. Make a forum, make a Facebook page, build a community – do whatever it takes not to lose him, but the best way is to offer more free stuff related to the game he’s just finished playing. I remember having finished the original Mafia game. They were smart enough to include another game option. Or, they could give you the option to import your “character” or even your team for example, if such is the case.

3. Keep on offering discounts

What? More price cuts? This is what developers and publishing companies will say. Making a game requires time and human resources. If you sell 5 or 500 digital copies of a game, it’s all the same. And even if you sell 5 or 500 hard copies of the game, the costs aren’t too big – you have a DVD, most likely, and a case. Doesn’t it make sense to sell to 100 clients at a lower price than to have a big price and less clients?

If I buy a game from you, you’ve already got me as a client. Make your digital game version cheaper by a few bucks to make it more appealing. What does it cost you? It’s a digital download. I bought the game from you – next, offer me a discount from your next game. Give me something sweet and I’ll buy again. Consumers will react and stay loyal to a company if they are being treated well.

4. Increase the online experience

Everything’s online these days so why not make the most of it? Be sure that there’s an appealing multiplayer mode and, why not, offer some in-game rewards for those that stay the most connected. In the online “chapter” you could be making your money. If your game is very popular, then you could offer the option of buying “log-in’s”. If the server is filled up, allow paying members to enter quickly and hassle-free. I hope that such concepts as Ouya will become reality and that cloud gaming will become more spread.

5. Make your game as glitch-free as possible and offer support

Glitches can be funny sometimes, but when there’s too much of them, consumers won’t perceive you as a professional company. I’m going back to my idea and suggestion that game publishers and gaming companies should test the hell out of games before releasing them. Make them glitch free and try even to add top-notch support to help your clients and you’ll see how grateful they’ll be.

6. Be wise with launch dates

Another reason of why games get pirated that quickly is because of different launch dates. If you’re living in Eastern Europe, you’ll be amongst the last ones to get the game. So, what other way to beat your curiosity than pirating it, right? Why not set an unique international launch date for everybody? At least for digital-only games, if that can’t be done for physical games.

Also, don’t delay games. It might be a good strategy if you’re baking such a monster like Diablo III, but if you’re not, people just might forget about your games. So, if you really have to delay them, don’t do it too often, and don’t delay them too much. Keep pirates away and consumers happy.

7. Spread the games

Make your games accessible everywhere! Partner as much as you can and offer your games to such audience that you didn’t believe was possible. The more you sell, the more you get; the more they buy, the more popular your game gets. And do that not only for physical copies of the game, but also for digital versions.

Piracy needs to be reduced, not stopped

And once more – don’t think that all gaming companies are always making money. And don’t think that all gaming developers manage to “feed” their families. Here’s an interesting explanation of how things roughly work in the gaming industry:

 When a game is sold, portions of that sale price go to the retailer, the publisher, and the developer. In practice since development can take up to several years before a game is ready for sale, the publisher may have already paid the developer a sum of money to cover their costs. The publisher also covers the marketing and distribution of the physical product, so it bears additional costs and risks, and thus typically gets the larger slice of the royalties.

Only 15% of all titles break even. That’s not “make money,” that’s just “break even.” So that’s 85% of all titles that lose money. That 15% pays for the rest. If you’re, say, working for a publisher and you’re working on one of these titles that’s losing money, you’re not going to be getting as much for it, you’re not going to be getting as much funding, because you haven’t been succeeding. For independent devs, it’s even more lethal. We put our own money there. As a result, we don’t have that advance to run out against. Every single lost sale is money out of our pockets.

Piracy also does good for game developers, because it basically means free publicity, to a certain extain. That’s just what Youtube means for rising stars (hear that, PSY?). That’s exactly why Blizzard didn’t support SOPA, because that would mean to kill of their strongest ways of spreading the game. Think about it – if so many people hadn’t pirated the game, even less would’ve bought. So, piracy is also benefitial.

In conclusion, everybody must work together to make the gaming industry more lucrative both for those that make games and for those that buy them. Price is essential and it needs to be cut down. Do that, apply some of the solutions that we’ve talked about and I really don’t think sales will stay the same. People will make a habbit of buying games, just like they make a habit of buying clothes. Gaming piracy can and will be reduced with the right measures.

Ionut Nedelcu contributed to this post

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is the Managing Editor of Technically Personal. When he has some extra-time, he writes about Windows 8 apps and reviews them on Wind8Apps. Believes that technology is the main engine of civilization. Send him a tweet or make him your Facebook friend