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.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2014 @ 4:22pm

    That's "Braben"...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Feb 4th, 2014 @ 4:31pm

    No, IF a game is popular, it'll be bought AND pirated a lot.

    "If a game is pirated a lot it will be bought a lot." -- Oh, joy. Another truism.

    "his ability to put that into its proper perspective" -- Is to not worry about it because he's already rich, AND almost certainly can't personally hang all the pirates as he might like. Piracy really only affects those on the margin, where loss of a just a handful of sales makes difference between profit and loss. -- Conclusion: you kids should means test the producers and only steal from The Rich. That'd at least have some philosopy.

    But if everyone was a pirate, what would happen? Hmm? Anyone want to REALLY tackle the logical result of trends to piracy?

    "He acknowledges that, from his perspective, piracy of his games is irritating. I can understand that. Who couldn't?" -- Evidently you don't read Techdirt very closely, or you'd know that Mike and his piratey fanboys don't grasp that. At all. They think they're totally promoting so it's not stealing in any degree.

    Where pop-culture anomalies are used to "prove" that "give away and pray" will work for entire industries! (4 of 195)

    12:29:46[n-842-1]

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Feb 4th, 2014 @ 4:34pm

    @ "appeared to be very angry about the way retailers promoted used-games sales instead of pimping new games."

    Hey, Timmy: PROVE your headline! Noticed late that you say NOTHING about this person's change on used game market here, NOR is any at all hinted, only on piracy. Typical.

    Mike Masnick on Techdirt: "its typical approach to these things: take something totally out of context, put some hysterical and inaccurate phrasing around it, dump an attention-grabbing headline on it and send it off to the press." (71 of 195)

    12:34:42[n-157-6]

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Rekrul, Feb 4th, 2014 @ 4:46pm

    Elite was a fantastic game (although the Amiga version felt shallow and empty), but the Frontier games were never any fun for me.

    One of the key features of Elite was the dogfights with other ships. Because the Frontier games used realistic physics, it was impossible to decelerate for fights or make any kind of maneuvers. Instead it was as if you and the other ship were bolted to parallel tracks and all you could do was speed up or slow down slightly so that you occasionally passed each and could fire off a few shots. Even if you intentionally started a fight near a base while you were still at maneuvering speed, the combat never felt right compared to Elite.

    Use of realistic physics also meant that the majority of players were pretty much forced to use the auto-pilot to actually get anywhere as trying to manually follow the movements of planets was an exercise in frustration. Not to mention that when flying at 50,000,000,000,000 KPH, it takes you about a week of (accelerated) game time to decelerate to maneuvering speed, but the auto-pilot can do it instantly. Of course the auto-pilot also has a bad habit of crashing into planets while trying to land...

    Then there are the bugs, such as star systems that crash the game if you try to get info on them, passengers who won't leave your ship, and just game crashes in general.

    The Frontier games were amazing tech demos, but lousy games.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    rd, Feb 4th, 2014 @ 6:07pm

    Re: @

    "its typical approach to these things: take something totally out of context, put some hysterical and inaccurate phrasing around it, dump an attention-grabbing headline on it and send it off to the press."

    No, that is YOUR typical approach - in EVERY SINGLE post you make

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    fred, Feb 4th, 2014 @ 7:01pm

    the rich

    The rich can afford the business models,that is for sure. in software, kickstarter transfers all of the rusk to consumers. Get funded, you make the game inside budget and call it a day. Zero risk entrepreneurship, like virtual skydiving without a parachute has no real chance of anything bad happening.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Feb 4th, 2014 @ 7:47pm

    This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it

    Ah, Techdirt fanboys! Gosh, they're rabid.


    MIKE: you are hereby notified that your inaction isn't acceptable. Just because I try to poke fun at your fanboys doesn't mean that I enjoy this concerted harassment, nor endure it willingly. As you've taken zero (visible) action to my previous complaints, I don't expect you to this time, either, BUT you don't have any defense from sharing whatever liability the rabid little fanboys might cause. I wouldn't advise you to let them diminish your fine site further. A word from you would stop this targeting of me, and in any case, YOU do have the power to remove posts. So long as you leave me to defend myself, I'll do so.

    And now here the comment your fanboys "report":


    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Feb 4th, 2014 @ 4:31pm

    No, IF a game is popular, it'll be bought AND pirated a lot.
    "If a game is pirated a lot it will be bought a lot." -- Oh, joy. Another truism.

    "his ability to put that into its proper perspective" -- Is to not worry about it because he's already rich, AND almost certainly can't personally hang all the pirates as he might like. Piracy really only affects those on the margin, where loss of a just a handful of sales makes difference between profit and loss. -- Conclusion: you kids should means test the producers and only steal from The Rich. That'd at least have some philosopy.

    But if everyone was a pirate, what would happen? Hmm? Anyone want to REALLY tackle the logical result of trends to piracy?

    "He acknowledges that, from his perspective, piracy of his games is irritating. I can understand that. Who couldn't?" -- Evidently you don't read Techdirt very closely, or you'd know that Mike and his piratey fanboys don't grasp that. At all. They think they're totally promoting so it's not stealing in any degree.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Feb 4th, 2014 @ 7:48pm

    This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it

    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Feb 4th, 2014 @ 4:34pm

    @ "appeared to be very angry about the way retailers promoted used-games sales instead of pimping new games."

    Hey, Timmy: PROVE your headline! Noticed late that you say NOTHING about this person's change on used game market here, NOR is any at all hinted, only on piracy. Typical.



    Mike Masnick on Techdirt: "its typical approach to these things: take something totally out of context, put some hysterical and inaccurate phrasing around it, dump an attention-grabbing headline on it and send it off to the press." (71 of 195)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2014 @ 8:16pm

    Mike has handled it the correct way, ootb. The community not Mike votes for what is or is not acceptable posts. The fact that you are collecting troll votes, is because of your snotty attitude, failure to be on topic, and general pain in the ass.

    Enjoy some more report votes while you continue to complain. At least that is a break I can enjoy from your usually dunce filled rants.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Strafe, Feb 4th, 2014 @ 8:46pm

    Re:

    ootb is just proving that it really is ok to circumvent something you do not agree with. :-)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Just Sayin', Feb 4th, 2014 @ 9:18pm

    Re: No, IF a game is popular, it'll be bought AND pirated a lot.

    "Anyone want to REALLY tackle the logical result of trends to piracy?"

    Nobody does, because piracy is based on the idea of someone else paying the freight. Once all the someone elses are pirating, there will be a real problem, because nobody will pay.

    Unless as a society we choose to have our tax dollars fund all art,culture, and creation (the star trek model), we will face serious problems at the point that piracy becomes the defacto standard. It's particularly an issue in things like computer games, where the market is often limited by the device or target market - when too many of those people are routinely obtaining the product through piracy, your business models will start to fail.

    The current response is basically what this guy did, he accepts piracy by building his game on a freemuim model, which is to say that certain things are not possible without payment. Yet it won't be long before that model too is destroyed by pirates who will open private servers and issue patches to bypass the restrictions and play outside of the developers paid server area. Then that model will be toast.

    "He acknowledges that, from his perspective, piracy of his games is irritating."

    He also accepts it pretty much the same way that an prison inmate rooming with Bubba accepts the fate of his butt. Either lube up and enjoy it or take it raw and hate it. Those aren't two very good choices, but when presented with them as an "either or" most people will grab the lube. Should we celebrate that as a "new incarceration model" too?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Rabbit80, Feb 4th, 2014 @ 11:03pm

    Mistake?

    " The Telegraph, Braben spoke about Frontier: First Encounters, the latest iteration in the Elite series, which Braben's company funded through Kickstarter."

    The new game is Elite: Dangerous not First Encounters which was released in the mid 90s.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 5th, 2014 @ 12:18am

    Re: This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it

    "I wouldn't advise you to let them diminish your fine site further"

    Blue if anyone diminishes this site it is you.

    The report/voting system is the communities way of moderating the posts, if you posted on topic without personal attacks and actually debated your points instead of just moaning at everyone then we would listen to you. However continuing to insult everyone is getting you nowhere!

    Anyway you think that constantly attacking Mike is going to persuade him to do you a favour?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    icon
    PaulT (profile), Feb 5th, 2014 @ 12:39am

    Re: the rich

    So, the consumer gets what they want, the artist gets to make what he wants without having to give up creative or copyright control (as usually happens under other models) and the risk is minimal as well?

    Sorry, were you trying to say this is a bad thing? I'm yet to hear a valid argument against crowdfunding models, and I'm not seeing one in your comments either.

    "The rich can afford the business models,that is for sure."

    ...but not only the "rich". Unless you think that a Kickstarter project is somehow not possible for poorer people. Plus, why is this any worse than the older models - are you somehow under the impression that they were fairer to lesser known artists and developers or treated people with less personal capital more fairly? If so, you might want to do some reading...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Just Sayin', Feb 5th, 2014 @ 1:54am

    Re: Re: the rich

    An easy way to explain it is this:

    When this guy puts a project out there on kickstarter, he will almost certainly also be moving forward with development without the funding - HE CAN AFFORD IT. So the cycle time from posting the kickstarter project and delivery for this sort of guy can be shorter, which makes it less likely someone will rip his ideas or otherwise "shade" his concept.

    Someone with a fresh new idea and no capital can only do a certain amount without money, they reach a point where they need the funding. So they have to risk their idea / concept / design on kick starter and hope like heck that nobody else duplicates it before they make it to market, otherwise what they get from the kickstarter deal will be all they get. Those projects are likely to have a much longer cycle from concept / prototype to production, and thus the risks for crowdfunding an idea are higher for people who cannot afford to move the project along with their own funds.

    Remember this:

    "Following the success of the Kickstarter campaign, Frontier made another bold move, listing on AIM last year with a market capitalisation of nearly £40m. This freed up £10m in cash to fund the firmís expansion, an enviable position considering the economic climate a year ago. Turnover at the firm hit £12.1m last year."

    Most kickstarter companies will not be so well funded.

    There is another point here: Rich guys can afford to fail, poor people cannot. He can risk putting his idea or concept out there and failing to attract attention and write it off, where as someone with no capital but a great idea may not be able to move forward if their idea is crushed - or worse lifted by someone else and exploited before they can truly get to market.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    icon
    Violated (profile), Feb 5th, 2014 @ 2:54am

    Purchase Theoy

    Well I am certainly buying Frontier: First Encounters once available when I already own every Elite game made.

    My only choice is if to pirate it first or not when as a value shopper I never like the RRP and would prefer to wait for the price to fall. I would buy the game in the end so such a long piracy trial should not be a social problem.

    A recent compatible game was Kerbal Space Program when while this was a much wanted game I had no desire to buy or to pirate this game all the time it was stuck in a buggy Beta version. So only after I played the KSP demo which worked well enough did I pay out for the full version. Due to my value shopping nature I of course searched around for the best price.

    So to me when it comes to computer games then piracy is only a temporary stop-off on the way to a full purchase.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    icon
    Violated (profile), Feb 5th, 2014 @ 2:58am

    Re: Mistake?

    Indeed you are correct. A shame I did not read that before I posted below but damn you TechDirt for having no edit in your obsolete reply system.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    icon
    PaulT (profile), Feb 5th, 2014 @ 3:27am

    Re: Re: Mistake?

    While an edit button would be nice, there's a certain contingent here who already lie their asses off in order to attack other commenters and refuse to offer a name lest they have to account for previous comments they made.

    It's better to put up with the occasional mistake (hey, we all know what you meant even if the game title was mistaken!) rather than give those people tools to misrepresent facts even more than they do.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 5th, 2014 @ 6:32am

    Re: the rich

    wrong, they still have a risk and that is to burn their reputation. If they fuck it up nobody gives them money again.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Feb 5th, 2014 @ 9:28am

    Re: Re: Re: Mistake?

    It's entirely possible to have an edit function and prevent the sort of misrepresentation you're talking about. My blogs have done it by allowing you to edit your own comment up until someone replies to it, but there are other ways as well.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 5th, 2014 @ 11:44am

    How ironic

    Considering the only way you can experience anything he had to offer for years was by playing his out of print old games, for free, on the internet. Seriously, I still play Elite 2.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    icon
    DocGerbil100 (profile), Feb 5th, 2014 @ 1:13pm

    Elite:Dangerous

    Thank you for an interesting article, Mr Geigner. The original Telegraph article is slightly confusing on the point, but as Rabbit80 pointed out, the new game's title is Elite:Dangerous, not Frontier: First Encounters, which was the previous installment.

    Link to finished Kickstarter:
    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1461411552/elite-dangerous

    I've been looking forward to this for decades. I contributed quite heavily (relative to my income) not just to the Kickstarter but also to it's satellite projects (licensed spin-off books and audio-books from third-parties, with proceeds going to the main project's total). I'm not sure how much I spent, but it's by far and away the most money I've ever thrown at a game, including when I've had to buy a new console to play it.

    I applaud Braben's engagement with the new marketplace of funding - if he sticks with it and doesn't slide back into old habits of tying his projects to the whims of mainstream publishers, then I'll be more than happy to back his future work above and beyond the call of retail prices.

    I also appreciate his recognition of piracy as not being of the ridiculous, monstrous character that anti-piracy campaigners would have us all believe.

    I strongly disagree with the article on one point: the implication that big budget games and movies can only be funded through Big Investment.

    Elite:Dangerous is a relatively obscure project and knowledge of David Braben and Elite is largely limited to a smaller number of Britons who have followed our country's games industry for years. Most of its backers are undoubtedly players of the earlier versions.

    According to Kickstarter, E:D (terrible abbreviation!) made just over 1.57 million pounds (about 2.5 million dollars) from just over 25,600 backers.

    By way of contrast, current charts have the upcoming Elder Scrolls Online now pulling pre-orders at 28,000 people a week in the US alone - and the chart-publishers are calling it "a slow week".

    [ http://www.vgchartz.com/article/251500/usa-preorders-chart-25-january-2014-another-slow-week/ ]

    As time passes and the infrastructure and marketing get better - and more and more people get used to funding projects ahead of development, via sites like Kickstarter - the reputations and popularity of both crowdfunding sites and crowdfunding-focused developers will undoubtedly continue to grow - and the revenue will grow with them.

    Translate TES: Online's 28K preorders a week into crowdfunding and you can see what kind of money can be generated.

    Translate GTA V's seven million total worldwide preorders into crowdfunding and you can see a budget of 420 million dollars - completely outgunning the budget of every film and game ever produced.

    Whether piracy exists or not, content creators of all hues will start to seriously kick the various conventional investors to the kerb, in favour of leaner, smarter and more cost-effective specialists in marketing and distribution.

    No more EA. No more MPAA companies.

    I think it's inevitable, it's unstoppable and it's something I look forward to. :)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    icon
    BeeAitch (profile), Feb 5th, 2014 @ 4:33pm

    Re: This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it

    Just so you know: I often click report on your comments even after they've received enough clicks to already hide them.

    I know it does no good, but you are simply so vacuous and offensive that it feels right to do so.

    To the rest of the community: QUIT FUCKING FEEDING IT! Simply click 'Report' and move on.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    icon
    PaulT (profile), Feb 6th, 2014 @ 12:39am

    Re: Elite:Dangerous

    "According to Kickstarter, E:D (terrible abbreviation!) made just over 1.57 million pounds (about 2.5 million dollars) from just over 25,600 backers."

    I'd add one caveat to that figure - "so far"...

    One mistake that a lot of Kickstarter detractors tend to make is conflating the funding it gets with its overall revenue. This is wrong - nothing prevents Braben from selling many more copies of the game once it's completed. The Kickstarter is merely the funding to get the game to a releasable, sellable condition, not the end goal. He can easily make many times that if the end product is received and marketed well. This merely guarantees that he keeps creative control and has pre-orders from loyal fans to keep him in the black as quickly as possible after release.

    To my mind, that's the real power of this kind of backing. Sure, these projects aren't as mainstream as something like Elder Scrolls right now. But, they certainly are projects that either wouldn't get funded under traditional systems, or would have borne great risks (and thus probably lower production budgets). I doubt we'll ever see a fully crowdfunded version of something on the scale of GTAV (doubly so if it's a new title rather than a sequel to an existing franchise), but that's not the only measure of success.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Cliff, Feb 6th, 2014 @ 5:27am

    Crowdsource funding for multi-stage appeals

    Just for info

    Crowdsource 'grass roots' interest and funding still turns movie studio/investors OFF not ON! It's a failure of imagination on their part, but they still see it as a bad thing, not a good one. Bonkers, but in case anyone is hoping to get multi-stage funded movie going it can scupper your chances down the road. Now you know.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    icon
    PaulT (profile), Feb 6th, 2014 @ 5:37am

    Re: Crowdsource funding for multi-stage appeals

    "Crowdsource 'grass roots' interest and funding still turns movie studio/investors OFF not ON!"

    Of course it does, it removes the need for them to be involved in the first place. This is not a bad thing, especially since most of the product currently being funded by crowdsourcing is product they either would be unlikely to have funded - or have already refused the opportunity to fund.

    The biggest hurdle for independent product nowadays have more to do with marketing and distribution - sadly still widely controlled by the old industry - but hopefully good alternatives will continue to appear for those stages of production as well.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    icon
    ana fernandez (profile), Feb 12th, 2014 @ 7:03am

    sistema venus

    is the first time that I visit this site and I've enjoyed this information it'll be happening oftener

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 27th, 2014 @ 9:39pm

    Re: Re:

    Keep sucking that blue cock, horse with no name.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 27th, 2014 @ 9:44pm

    Re: Re: Re: the rich

    Whined the RIAA cocksucker.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This