I’ve been enjoying the visibility into Linux Game Publishing’s business at the LGP blog. The author is the CEO and Head of Development Michael Simms, and he is very accessible, responding to comments and listening to suggestions. Before his blog was launched, I remember seeing him on IRC regularly in Linux game-related channels.
Months ago, there was a post explaining why Linux games cost as much as they do. If you’re not familiar with Linux ports of popular games, you’d possibly be surprised that they cost as much as a new game…even though the original version of the game on Windows might cost half as much since it has been out for months or years! The basic argument: even if a game has has been out for some time on Windows, it’s new to Linux, and it costs LGP money to port the game in the first place.
At the suggestion of some commenters, he did a one day sale in which prices for most games were lowered. The sale results indicated that while the short term sales increase looked promising, the long term sales stayed flat with less revenue, not more.
But another thing LGP has done at the request of customers is offer downloadable games, including a rental option at a “ridiculously lower price”.
Most recently, there was the question of why LGP can’t simply provide the Linux version for free to people who purchased the Windows version. It’s a legitimate question, especially when companies such as id Software are providing free binaries for all platforms to people who purchased a game. I have a copy of the Linux port of Quake 3 Arena, and I know I can run it on Windows without paying for a second copy. I mention this example a lot, but I know one person who was told that she couldn’t play The Sims and all of the expansions she purchased on her new Mac because EA outsourced the Mac port of the game to another company, and that company was handling sales of the Mac port.
It’s a business model that works for EA, but not necessarily for the customer. And it’s the same with LGP.
As a customer, I prefer being able to buy a game once and play it anywhere I want. Windows, Mac, and Linux. The game is the same. Now, it could be said that I’m arguing that Xbox 360 or PS3 ports of the same game should also be available to me for free after purchasing the same game on my computer, but I’m not. In fact, 360 or PS3 games usually have some exclusive content, making it a different game in some way.
In any case, the argument for the business model is basically the same as the argument for Linux game pricing: you’re paying for convenience, and it costs money to give you that convenience. There is one additional point that Michael Simms made: companies like EA don’t care about Linux, and so the business model I’d prefer is just not going to happen.
Which is too bad. It’s why I find that I don’t purchase many games these days. If I find anything that interests me, I remember that it’s not available for Linux. Instead of supporting those games, I could spend my money on a game that is actually supported where I want to play it. Starcraft 2? Yeah, call me when it runs in Wine. Maybe. I might want to play a different game by then, one that is natively supported.
The good news is that the business model that LGP currently uses seems to be working for them. Micheal Simms said, “The business model we have isn’t ideal, I’ll be the first to admit. But it is the only one that works as the market stands.”
I’m not so sure that it is the “only” model that works today, but I’d like to hear more about other developers and publishers’ experiences. Anyone out there with a different model that works for them?