Pirates of Penzance
by Sean Timarco Baggaley

"I want to play this game. I do not wish to pay for it."

"Got somebody pointing a gun at your head who will shoot you if you don't play this game, have you?"

"Er, no."

"Got a life-threatening disease that will kill you if you don't play it?"

"None springs to mind."

"So why do you feel you have the right to play this game for free?"

"Er, umm... yeah: To see if it's any good!"

"I see."


"Well, wouldn't you test-drive a car before buying it?"

"Yes, but cars tend to be orders of magnitude more expensive. I can't test-drive a newspaper, book, arcade game, video or movie, can I? Why should games be any different? Just because you say so?"

"But you can rent videos, and I can read newspapers and borrow books from my local library!"

"And I can rent most popular games. Your point?"

"Well, okay, but not all of them can be rented."

"What about shareware and demos? There are tons of those, and most are given away 'free' on magazine cover-CDs. There's a way to test your game!"

"But some games don't have demos!"

"Then don't buy them! Nobody's twisting your arm, and it's not like the industry is releasing only one game per genre: there are plenty of alternative titles to test and choose from."

"But this is supposed to be the best of the genre!"

"Oh! Well, if it's that good, why not just buy it?"

"Can't afford it."

"Then you can't buy it."

"But I still want to play it! I wanna! I wanna! Waaaaaaaaahhhh!"

"And I want to kick your selfish little head in. Doesn't mean I should, does it?"

"Well, no! It's illegal!"

"Correct. And so is ripping off computer games. Just because you can get something for nothing, such as a satisfying game or the gratifying crunch of boot on bone, it doesn't mean it's _right_."

"But physical violence and data theft are hardly the same thing, surely?"

"It depends on circumstances. Some industries rely solely on abstract data for their income. People like writers and game developers, for example. These people need an _incentive_ to create what they do, but fame alone won't put bread on the table."

"But surely the fame should be enough?"

"Ah, but without money, a game developer cannot pay for their equipment; computers aren't free. Remove the incentive of fortune and you remove the support required to create great games. Even Charles Dickens and Herbert George Wells wrote for a _living_, not merely because they wanted to be famous. And Shakespeare also wrote his plays primarily to make ends meet."

"So they need _some_ money! Okay, but why should they fleece us for so much of it?"

"Most of that money never even sees the publisher, let alone the developer. Even putting a game on a shop shelf costs money."

"Seriously? But computer games are a billion-dollar industry; that's more than the music industry!"

"It is, but is also has massive overheads which the music industry simply does not have. You can't just throw two programmers into a studio and expect a hit game to come out the other end within a couple of months. Yet this is how people seem to think games are made."

"So - I ask to provide a highly contrived link - how _are_ computer games made?"

"Well, usually, a designer will start with an idea and, if he thinks it's a good one, with plenty of market potential, use it to develop a Game Design Specification. This is then discussed with a Producer, if it's an in-house system, and any licensing requirements are usually settled at this stage. If it's approved, the rest of the development team is selected according to needs and they _all_ sit down and create a Game Design Document. The Producer then works out how long each stage should take (in theory, at least), and prepare a Project Schedule. Then any assistants needed will be brought in, work commences and shortly after, the testers start getting hired to playtest the game."

"Sounds like a lot of people."

"It is. At this stage, a game like Tomb Raider will have over twenty people working on it already. That's over a million pounds a year just to get the project off the ground. But that's not all! When the project is advanced enough, the Marketing & PR people are brought in to work on how to sell it to the public. Box artwork is prepared, reviewers are buttered-up, posters made, movie licensing deals negotiated, advertisment space is booked, paid-for, prepared and placed. Trade show space is booked accordingly, beautiful models are hired -"


"- and then they start the _hard_ work: convincing the trade that =this= is the game they want to stock on their shelves! That's what trade shows are really for. Convincing chain-store buyers that this game is far better than a rival product; that =this= is what they should put in their shop windows..."

"That does sound a little more like hard work."

"It is. No amount of great reviews will help you if nobody can find somewhere to buy your game. That's why marketing and PR are considered such an important part of publishing. And yet, it is only when the game _leaves_ the publisher that the major costs are incurred: distribution and retail."

"Really? How so? Surely all they have to do is stick the boxes onto some trucks and drive them to the shops!"

"Not quite. You see, shops are built in places like the centre of town. This is expensive, so shops like to use as much of that space for selling as possible. This means that your boxes are sent to warehouses, _not_ straight to shops!"

"So who owns the warehouses?"

"The Distributor. They own massive warehouses to store your games and - for a fee, of course - they take care of checking how many copies of your game each particular store wants, and deliver them to the thousands of chain-stores, independent stores and the like. Unfortunately, warehouses cost money as well - especially large ones. So does diesel for the trucks used to deliver everything. So does the computer system which keeps track of the demand and stock of your games - and everyone else's. So this has to be paid for."

"And then...?"

"And then we get to the final link in the chain: the Retailer. These people charge for shelf-space rental in their stores so they're certain that what the Publisher sends them is designed to stay on the shelf for as little time as possible. This has a major effect on the kinds of games we see and not just the price-tag. And all those fancy displays, posters and gimmicks cost money, too."

"Phew! You certainly know a lot about the computer games business!"

"Well, I _am_ a fictional policeman."

"Good point. But if games cost so much to make, why don't cinemas charge that much? After all, movies cost so much more to make!" "Ah, but games have a very limited shelf-life. There's no equivalent to 'straight-to-video'. Neither do games get released for viewing on TV after a few months in the cinema. There are many more ways for a movie studio to make back its money than games publishers have open to them."

"But what about bargain bins and compilations?"

"Pin money. Once your development costs have been met, anything else is easy money, especially as these aren't advertised. But it does highlight what I've been saying: the cost to the publisher, including royalties, at this stage is about three to five pounds at most, so the rest of the price tag goes to the retailer and distributor. Everything else goes to the Retailer and Distributor."

"Ouch! Okay, I'll stop complaining about the price of games now. And I'll stop ripping them off. I'm a reformed perp, so I am!"

"Glad to hear it! Now clear off!"

...long pause...

"Why are we still here?"

"I think the author wants to use us to crack a really awful joke."

"Oh great. And I bet it's linked to a certain Gilbert & Sullivan light opera, too."

"With a subject line like that, I wouldn't be at all surprised."

"May as well get on with it, then."

...another pause... "'Course, he could just be having a sly wank -" ...fx: slap!...

"Owww! What was that for?"

"I'll not have language like that in any post I've been written into."

"'Ere, you wouldn't _really_ have kicked my head in like you said earlier, would you?"

"Well... the thought did cross my mind. A good four or five times, as I recall."

"But... you're a policeman!"

"Ah, well. It's a grim life being a policeman - even a fictional one."

"Oh. (May as well get it over with). So there's not much joy in your work?"

"No. In fact, it's fair to say that a policeman's lot is not a happy one."

"Oh dear..."

-- Sean Timarco Baggaley

[Reprinted thankfully with Sean Timarco Baggaley's permission]

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Date this article was posted to GameDev.net: 1/15/2001
(Note that this date does not necessarily correspond to the date the article was written)

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