Ubisoft Realizing That Perhaps 'Pirate' Users Are Really Just Like 'Free To Play' Users Who Don't Pay

from the same-percentages dept

Game maker Ubisoft is pretty closely associated with annoying DRM and an insistence that it needs DRM to fight infringement. And yet… the company seems to be recognizing something fundamental as it experiments with “free to play” games that have elements that you can purchase within the game: the percentage of people who pay are the same in both cases.

Yes, you read that right. According to Ubisoft’s stats, when they determine how many copies of their DRM’d games are infringing vs. how many people play free to play games without ever paying… they’re both right about 95%. From that you could make the argument that the people playing “for free” in either case, just aren’t that interested in paying. Thus, cracking down on the infringement isn’t likely to make much more money — and, in fact, may be an expensive waste of time.

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Companies: ubisoft

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Comments on “Ubisoft Realizing That Perhaps 'Pirate' Users Are Really Just Like 'Free To Play' Users Who Don't Pay”

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77 Comments
Monkey with Attitude says:

Re: Re:

I agree ALOT ^
I play games… Right now Blizzard/Activision are in my crapper… why because I bought Diablo III – annoying DRM, Crap Story, and no (IMO) replay value for what? 20-30 hours worth of content and a stupid auction house (out 60.00 USD)

I also play World of Tanks… I have logged Many Many more hours playing that Free to Play game (5K+ Battles at 15 mins a battle = 1250 hours of game play over 1 year – 3.5 hours per DAY), and i have happily spent lots more money than i needed to (15 per month min) and gotten alot more out of the game….

Developers take note, make a good game, work with the community (WOT is always asking for input and comments, lets us test changes, and all kinds of things) and YOU WILL MAKE LOTS MORE MONEY than over-hyping crap titles with stupid DRM and no real conversation with the people paying.

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

World of Tanks is pretty fun, but admit it, you about never end up in the full 15 minute battles. I think the time might be a bit overstated. There are also a few of the newer game modes which top out at 10min.

Time aside, how about the 8.0 patch coming out soon adding physics. You see any of the trailers or people testing it out on youtube? Holy cow. The whole game is going to change, to be a whole lot more tank-like. Can’t wait.

Anonymous Coward says:

Or maybe what the numbers really mean is that free to play is really a waste of time. 95% never pay? Really, can that be right? If I were writing a business model that involved resources (server resources, networking resources, support staff, etc..) and 95% of my “customers” never paid a dime, I would be fired!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Depends on what the cost vs benefit of all those free players is.

If the word of mouth of the free players brings in the payers then you may well win out in the end.

Or if the payers only bought because there was no risk involved that could also be a gain.

All this assumes the costs do not outweigh the gains of course.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

[s]
I’m fairly confident that that 5% would enjoy being that 100% who play with themselves.

I mean c’mon. More people will buy a game that they can only play with themselves. Less people will buy a game where there are more players playing – whether they pay or not. I mean, who buys a computer game to play with others?!?!

League of Legends is such a goddamn failure where 95% of the customer base don’t pay. They company should be belly-up already and all their employees fired!!!! More than likely 95% of the customers never paid there!!!!

Same with Dungeon and Dragons Online!!!! Fire them all!!!! They even failed with Lord of the Rings Online!!!!
[/s]

Kevin (profile) says:

Re: [free to play a waste of time]

Or maybe it’s an indication that you’re not giving the customers what they want, since 95% of the people you have IN YOUR STORE are ignoring your product offerings.

I’ll never understand the mentality of people who generate a ton of interest, fail to monetize it, and then blame it on the interested people they failed to serve.

My boss the other day told us this amazing story about how he ran an expensive ad that generated so much traffic in one day (something like 8000x normal) that it shut the website down! Except, he only sold 8 extra products. Problem with the website or successfully capturing the interests of that flood of extra people? Nope! He confidently told us all that the ad “didn’t work” and was a “waste of time”, as if there was just no money to be made there. Simply amazing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

. . .

F2P greatly increases your userbase, for one thing. (Usually, at least). So that 5% of F2P is a lot larger than the 5% of ‘other’.

Second, what does it cost them to have a F2P user? A few cents a year for the extra storage & server? Oh, the horror!

Spending a few dollars to allow 20-25 people to play for free per year in the likelihood that 1 of them will pay $15 once every 3 months forever? Sounds like a very profitable plan to me.

Your main problem will be customer support. Now, if only you could crowd-source that . . .

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If I were writing a business model that involved resources (server resources, networking resources, support staff, etc..) and 95% of my “customers” never paid a dime, I would be fired!

Not if your company was making a good ROI on those costs, you wouldn’t. The key figure isn’t the percentage of users who have paid. The key figure is the amount of money in the company’s profit column.

Forge says:

Re: Re:

It’s OK, you simply don’t understand the economics. 95% do not pay. 4% make a standard purchase. 1% make the whale purchase (pay2win, mega-bundle, whatever). The 4% pay an amount that easily covers the other 95%’s operating costs. The 1% doing the whale purchases provide the full profit.

For sample numbers, let’s have 100 players, 1 server, 5$ operating costs. 95 people pay jack. Some are good, some are crap players. Now you have 4 people who each buy the 1.50$ “Xtreme Xtra Bullets” package. They generally rise above the 95% to a small amount and are the “serious” gamers. You’ll notice that 4*1.50$ easily covers the 5$ server rental.

The money comes in when that last sucker, the 1%, buys the 25$ “Xtreme Aimbot” package.

Now, the real trick with F2P is making the grading small enough that it’s not “PAY2WIN LOL”, but making the difference enough that it’s felt, and the 95% want the bonuses.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Read about this on Kotaku. Their numbers come from TorrentFreak, which tracks downloads via torrent (and is reasonably accurate, since there’s not a lot of game piracy that’s not torrent-based).

I mean theoretically, 90% of the downloads could be completely untouched, but there’s no way of knowing that.

varagix says:

Re: Re: Re:

Could also be that many of those downloads are duplicates, people who pirated once, deleted the game to free up space or w/e, then redownloaded it again at a later time. Back when I still pirated, in my college days when I had no money and too much free time, I used to do that all the time.

Now I just do that with my legally purchased Steam games. =p
If I’m not willing to pay for it, it’s certainly not going to clutter up my hard drive.

Tim K (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Free-to-play, more often than not, means pay-to-winThat’s true in some cases, but that’s if it’s poorly done. Awhile ago techdirt had the article about how Valve worked hard to make sure that wasn’t the case with TF2. And it’s impressive if they boosted their profits with only ‘5% paying’, which I’m sure is quite ridiculous number. Also League of Legends it’s not so much as a pay to win either. I did paid $25 once to get some extra rune tabs, and unlock a character or two, but that didn’t give me a massive advantage, and having not shelled out tons of money, I’m not at any real disadvantage.

tuscanitunr says:

Re: Re: Re:

Wargaming has a game out there called World of Tanks. It’s F2P…and it does quite well. Just giving another example of a F2P game out there that’s doing well. It’s not pay to win either. I mean, you can buy some really good tanks, but there are definitely better tanks in higher tiers, and the “premium tanks are just a way to earn more in game currency. I constantly hear “ohhh there’s a premium tank…must be another 13 year old kid with Mommy’s credit card..”…but what they don’t realize is the paying gamers are the ones that keep that game going…

Fickelbra (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

League of Legends I feel is a shining example of the free-to-play model done right. They have a ton of content, and each week they cycle the characters you are allowed to use for free. Not only does that allow you to fully try a character before you buy, but it keeps the experience fresh. On top of that, a majority of items are purchasable from in-game currency, and I feel the game provides a pretty adequate amount of that.

I cannot and will never play any game that has a shred of pay-to-win aspects. Truthfully, I used to play a lot of app games until the App Store allowed in game purchases and every game turned into a sort of trap where it was free but beating the game was impossible without paying. I don’t like that sort of experience and there are plenty of choices out there that do not have that feel.

Tigger says:

Freebie players have value

One thing to remember, if the free to play games are multiplayer online games then one thing you need is to have a population of players. ‘Free only’ players create the opportunity for the ‘Payers’ to interact with others. I’ve played MMOs before where meeting someone else actually online and playing at the same time as you came as a shock.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Freebie players have value

True, theres a reason f2p has exploded in the MMO market and just about every MMO is tripping over itself to go f2p. Bigger audience, with a fraction of “whales” subsidizing the “neverpays” but at the same time giving the “whales” a bigger group of players to stroke their epeens.

Even the most expensive MMO in history (Starwars the old republic) is going free to play, its getting hard for MMO companies to ignore the F2P market and justify a subscription.

Curt (profile) says:

Do they care about increasing the number of paying consumers?

It seems not. From Eurogamer:

The publisher then claimed its DRM policy was a success, insisting it had seen “a clear reduction in piracy of our titles which required a persistent online connection”.

http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2012-08-22-ubisoft-has-endured-a-93-95-percent-piracy-rate-on-pc

Note that nowhere in the article is there any mention of increased sales from anywhere except from countries where we couldn’t previously – places where our products were played but not bought, so it seems like they have some experience of switching to F2P does actually generate more paying customers but only in countries where no-one buys their games. Which is good for them, but the fact that they don’t tell us how good is quite distracting.

I can immediately think of a few questions that might be worth answering to flesh out this situation:

How many people are paying for microtransactions in regions where they couldn’t make money before? How does income/profit from F2P/’freemium’ compare to the ‘old’ model? If 95% of ‘customers’ are actually pirates in both cases, how is that ratio distributed by region (in both retail models)? Are there more or less people (in total and by region) actually playing their games?

If they have this regional data, why aren’t they sharing it? How exactly did they calculate their ~95% piracy rate? Can they confirm that F2P actually turns pirates into microtransactioners or are they two different demographics?

minijedimaster (profile) says:

Re: Do they care about increasing the number of paying consumers?

The publisher then claimed its DRM policy was a success, insisting it had seen “a clear reduction in piracy of our titles which required a persistent online connection”.

Or there has been a clear reduction in piracy of all Ubisoft games because not only are people not buying them but not even bothering to pirate them anymore.

I used to use the pirate method to demo games before I bought them. As soon as Ubisoft started going hogshit crazy with DRM and treating customers like shit I started boycotting all their products. That includes not pirating their crapware as well.

Everyone needs to do this until this company disappears forever.

Fickelbra (profile) says:

Re: Re: Do they care about increasing the number of paying consumers?

I can confirm Ubisoft has to be suffering from this to some degree. I also personally boycott their games. In fact, I demoed Outland on Xbox 360 a few months back and found the game interesting. Went to buy it, and the second I saw Ubisoft’s name I turned it off. Game seemed fun, but there are tons of games out there, and I will not support Ubisoft the way they currently release their titles. Granted, since this title was on Xbox Live it wouldn’t have any of their DRM but I don’t care, it’s the principle.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re:

And with that attitude you fail.

Let’s assume you run a Free-to-play game. There are people who play it for free and generally never pay, and there are a few people who do pay. With your attitude, the free players are looked down on as scum. You don’t bother trying to entice them into paying. You either try to shame them, guilt trip them or insult them. With your attitude, no-one actually really WANTS to pay for your game. They’ve been begrudged into it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“You don’t bother trying to entice them into paying. “

Did you not read the story? They don’t pay, they won’t pay, they have no desire to pay, and will never pay. If they can’t play it for free, they will pirate it and play it for free. They aren’t potential customers, they are AT THE VERY BEST people who might help to create a little online buzz about your game and help you find the 1 or 2 people left willing to pay.

“With your attitude, no-one actually really WANTS to pay for your game.”

If I am developing a product as a business, I am concerned with the people who want to play it – but mostly with the people willing to pay to play it. If I want to make a bunch of friends giving stuff away for free, that’s easy. That’s basic marketing, the easiest sale thing. But really, I want to have a business that sells something, not one that provides a free ride for every lazy fool in town.

Can you imagine a bus company that ran with only 5% of the ridership paying? Neither can I.

explicit coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“They don’t pay, they won’t pay, they have no desire to pay, and will never pay.”

Because they are all one homogeneous mass… Ever considered that people actually change their habits over the years? A student with little money to spend might become an employee with money to spend – on your game.

Chris Forsyth says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

And this is where the companies that don’t understand how F2P works keep failing horribly. The idea is ‘Give your players a fun experience, then entice them with *more* fun if they spend some money’, *not* ‘Give your players a crippled experience, and tell them they could have an adequately fun experience if they pay.’ (insert classic line about honey and vinegar here)
This becomes especially evident in games that are converting to a f2p model from a subscription one–they do it in such a ham-handed fashion that all the new players they were trying to lure in basically end up with the view of ‘This game is crap–why would I *want* to pay just to make it adequate, instead of finding something else to play?’
Games that start off as f2p (usually) avoid this issue, because they realize the way to do things is to provide an enjoyable enough experience to keep people around as a baseline, and then upsell things from there.

kenichi tanaka says:

The only thing that lawsuits against filesharers do is cost the entertainment industry money. The RIAA has quickly discovered, as well, that their war against those who download online are ineffective and that they should be going after those who provide the links instead of going after those who are downloading the content.

minijedimaster (profile) says:

Re: Re:

So I take it you’ve never heard of the piratebay who have been sued till the cows come home and are still online “providing links” today?

Going after sites that provide links to content is just as ineffective as suing your customers. Shut one down, five others jump in to take the users from that original one.

It’s the business model not serving the customers what they want, how they want it. Fix that.

Or at the very least, go out of business so someone else can fill the demand.

Anonymous Coward says:

perhaps making their games playable, more like the illegal copies that have none of their ridiculous restrictions, drm etc on them, instead of an absolute abomination which does more damage to the legal customer than the illegal one, would drastically help. but then, if they can keep complaining about how there products need more protection than actually trying to do things to encourage legitimate purchasing by making their games enjoyable and really work, they seem to be more happy. let’s face it, the customer is the last person on the list to be catered for!

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: hm

This…this is actually the most concise and efficient comment I’ve ever read on the whole concept of copyright infringement in video games. You’ve nailed it on the head, that the only time someone is called a criminal for playing a game for free, is when the business model says so.

Thanks. If I could, I’d give you a 1000 insightfuls.

Laroquod (profile) says:

So when will Ubisoft finally make the obvious conclusion from the parity of free-to-play and piracy rates, that their state-of-the-art DRM has not stopped and will not ever stop a single person from playing their games for free?

They believe they are stopping ‘casual pirates’ but every casual pirate (or even casual non-pirate) knows a hardcore pirate with a crack for everything. They have not stopped a single soul. Game, set, and match.

Anonymous Coward says:

As a long time gamer from the old days of running around with a blazing fast 286 shooting space cats in my space fighter…

Free to Play games are slowly evolving into one of the better ways for companies to try to make money. As long as they keep it honest and don’t make it “Pay to Win”.

“Pay for Bling” works a lot better than you would think. Or just “Pay for a shortcut” doing a double XP award thing, or just paying money up front to unlock a bunch of content and get it over with.

Assuming the game is balanced and game wise there is no difference between a long time free player and a pay for player this system works wonderfully.

Here’s the thing, with free to play, the free players hanging out doing stuff are increasing the value of your game since there are more people playing. There’s nothing more that kills a multiplayer game than not having anyone to play with!

Also lets say you have a friend you’d like to play a game with. There’s zero risk for this friend to join up with you and play around except for time lost in installing and playing with you.

Games are easier to suggest, easier to get in and start playing, and usually have more content added than games that aren’t free to play!

Spaceman Spiff (profile) says:

Yeah, about that

At a company I used to work for as principal engineer, we experimented with DRM to “protect” our product from “piracy” – this is a niche product that costs million$ to license.

1. It was possible to “protect” it.
2. The cost if the DRM caused our customers’ system to fail to run was exorbitant ($10M+ per hour of downtime).
3. The likelihood of “piracy” was exceedingly small since what our customers were paying for was support, updates, etc.

So, after some development proof-of-concept work, we decided to drop the entire idea. The result is that the software is ubiquitous in a major manufacturing sector, and there are zero recorded instances of “piracy” of the product.

Anonymous Coward says:

“I play games… Right now Blizzard/Activision are in my crapper… why because I bought Diablo III – annoying DRM, Crap Story, and no (IMO) replay value for what?”
I like how you claim the game being online only is for DRM (it’s not), and how the story is crap. Then you announce how an online-only game with no story is superior. :/

Anonymous Coward says:

Still never buying or playing an Ubisoft game ever again.

If it took them this long to realize that their shitty DRM wasn’t working and their business model was defunct, then they deserve to go out of business. Naturally there will always be people buying “Assassin’s Creed: Cyborg Ezio edition” to where that will never happen, but I can dream.

Anonymous Cowherd says:

DRM is one of the biggest scams in the software industry ever. I can only imagine a DRM-company representative holding back his evil laugh long enough to conclude contract negotiations with the next sucker who wants to pay through the nose for “protection,” knowing some bored nerds are going to break it as soon as the product is released, if not before.

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