Monday, 31 August 2009

Video game publisher experiments with Radiohead release model

For once, some news that makes me entirely grateful that I don't have a top of the range computer: the developers of hellishly addictive football management simulation Championship Manager have made the latest edition downloadable for as little as 1p (+ £2.50 transaction charge) until its full release on 10th September.

Now, already I've wasted countless hours of my life on past incarnations of the wretched thing, and with Eidos seemingly going down the Radiohead release route this time around, I doubt the part of my brain that apparently hates me and wishes me ill would have kept quiet for long - "No harm in just giving it a quick try..." I can hear it whispering. "I mean, it's only one pence - how can you not? What? Oh, shush - having a life is so overrated..."

Saved, for once, by a rubbish graphics card.

But what that sorry scenario goes to prove, besides that I'm pathetically lacking in self discipline, is that with this new release model they're probably on to something.

Firstly, the price might tempt recovering users, like myself, into a relapse. But more than that, I'd be surprised if it doesn't actually improve profits, rather than see Eidos lose money.

Like Radiohead, Championship Manager already enjoys huge acclaim within its own particular field, not to mention an army of loyal obsessives who'll buy pretty much any release. And with this latest move Eidos can at the very least appear to be giving something back to them, for their years of support. However, factor in the publicity they'll have generated by becoming the first publisher to attempt a pay-what-you-like option, plus the later switch to a full price release, and the introduction of a new gameplay feature which requires a £5 payment to receive data updates at six intervals during the present football season (and the next one? and the next one? etc.), and it's not hard to see the commercial sense.

Most importantly, though, in trying this new release model Championship Manager could well steal a march on its closest rival, Football Manager - the game which many diehard Championship Manager fans still regard as the true Championship Manager (a few years back, the original creators split with Eidos, retaining the original base code and database of the game, but not the brand name or its interface) - and also perhaps grab back some of the original audience.

What might be most interesting, though, is to see a) how many other established video game brands try the Radiohead experiment, but also b) what potential it might have in combating piracy. As a distribution model, it's almost directly competitive on price, similarly convenient, arguably builds goodwill and loyalty, and may prove an effective loss-leader/trojan horse for selling later add-ons and updates. But as has been argued of In Rainbows, perhaps this is an option that's only viable for the already popular?

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