David Braben, Once Angry At Used Games, Now A New Business Model Embracer
from the good-decision dept
If all you knew about David Braben was what you found via a search on Techdirt, you might think he’s someone unprepared for the future of his craft. There’s only one article, featuring him many years back in a story in which he appeared to be very angry about the way retailers promoted used-games sales instead of pimping new games. But, as most truly hardcore gamers will know, Braben is so much more than that. Sometimes called “The Godfather of Gaming”, Braben was one of the chief creators of Elite, the breakthrough game produced in the 80’s that was both wildly successful and still serves as the unacknowledged inspiration behind many present titles.
And now he appears to be recognizing the importance of new business models, while also realizing that piracy isn’t the all-out evil many claim. In a fascinating interview with The Telegraph, Braben spoke about Frontier: First Encounters, the latest iteration in the Elite series, which Braben’s company funded through Kickstarter.
The project was launched on US crowdfunding site Kickstarter in November 2012 and aimed to raise £1.25m. “Take a ship and 100 credits to make money legally or illegally – trade, bounty-hunt, pirate, assassinate your way across the galaxy,” read the pitch. The project smashed its funding target, raising over £1.5m, and the subsequent media furore saw a further £700,000 (and rising) added to the pot by eager investors. It is the most successful British game ever to raise funds on Kickstarter.
While I wouldn’t dream of losing sight of what a sign of the times it is that a legend like Braben is turning to new business models for his company, allow me to highlight the importance of that last bit about investors. As I’ve suggested in the past, embracing platforms like Kickstarter is wonderful, but it doesn’t have to be the first and only step. Building up interest through Kickstarter is also a wonderful way to prove the marketability of a product to investors, whose money and backing can then be used to build up a blockbuster-style budget. This is the answer to the question of, “How is Kickstarter going to fund the next AAA game, or international record release, or $200 million movie?” It isn’t, in and of itself, but it can be a demonstrative step one in the process, far more open to the general population than the antiquated process of submitting ideas to traditional gatekeepers.
While that would be enough for a hearty “Huzzah!”, no interview with a video game producer would be complete without questions about piracy. Here, too, Braben finds himself looking on the bright side.
“Piracy, while frustrating, can contribute to game evangelism,” he said. “It can also help you reach new territories. For example, we are huge in China now. In the old days of silver discs, it would have been impossible to break the whole country. We would have needed an office in every province but through piracy, our games are circulating and fans are now seeking us out.
“Piracy goes hand in hand with sales,” he continued. “If a game is pirated a lot it will be bought a lot. People want a connected experience, so with pirated games we still have a route in to get them to upgrade to real version. And even if someone’s version is pirated, they might evangelise and their mates will buy the real thing.”
This is the kind of thinking that can create massively wealthy businesses. He acknowledges that, from his perspective, piracy of his games is irritating. I can understand that. Who couldn’t? But his ability to put that into its proper perspective while also strategizing a way to turn pirates into customers is a beautiful thing. For it to come from the Godfather of Gaming only makes this more important. It’d be like the largest record labels flipping their script completely and attempting life in the new world for once.
The game, as noted, is already funded, so we’re getting it. Here’s hoping it proves to be an even bigger success than it is already so it can serve as a beacon to other creators.