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Games for a Nominal Fee
Eidos’ recent decision to relaunch their Championship Manager franchise with a 1 p (one penny, or 1/100th of a UK pound) preorder offer has been a massive success – a pay-what-you-want model that attracted gamers and press alike to download and try the game out for a nominal fee.
Despite the occasional problem with the payment process and comparisons to its rival Football Manager, Championship Manager 2010 has been very well received, due in no small part to being easily available to a large number of potential buyers.
While losses were no doubt expected on the pay-what-you-want pre-launch offer, the buzz that this created has been remarkable and lead to a massive influx of new members on the CM 2010 community forum.
This is hugely significant - the Championship Manager series had been on its last legs following the departure of Sports Interactive to Sega in 2005, taking with them the recognisable game engine that is now an integral part of Football Manager. A 12 year long relationship bit the dust, and the most popular soccer management franchise in the world was suddenly looking around for a new team to program a game from scratch. The intervening releases have been strictly below-par affairs, so a big buzz and a big impression for CM 2010 were highly desirable.
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Pointless to Pirate?
For a games publisher to release a game for 1p sounds like some sort of commercial suicide – when that very game is the last throw of the dice for an otherwise dying franchise, it seems on the face of things to be an absolutely insane move.
With the game now available at full price (a lowly £19.99 – hardly expensive) across Europe, the 1p offer has given the game a major boost, raised its profile and given the soccer management genre a much needed shot in the arm.
Interestingly it’s also been relatively difficult for pirates to grab a copy of the game on the torrent indexes until around two weeks after full release. The game was launched on September 11th across the UK and Europe in various language versions – pre-launch buyers were informed via email that their download was available which involved a sticky bit of automated online activation; some buyers were frustrated by bad internet connections and poor server responses.
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The DRM Backlash
For a game to take so long to appear as an illegal download on a torrent site so long after its launch date marks a success in both the war against piracy and the backlash against DRM. While there’s little chance of there ever been a repeat of the Demigod debacle (a poorly executed release which resulted in the game servers being annihilated by pirated copies of the game) the games industry has been taking the piracy question more and more seriously ever since the theft of the original version of Half Life 2 back in 2003.
Electronic Arts meanwhile received a huge backlash from fans concerned by the destructive nature of the DRM that was packaged with The Sims 2 – this anger grew and grew over the intervening years until with the release of The Sims 3 EA announced that no DRM would be used. The reason? Nothing to do with the way in which the DRM destroyed the game, but everything to do with Spore, the previous release from Will Wright which had been heavily DRM’d with SecuROM... and ended up as the most downloaded game on the torrent network as gamers queued to get a version of the game without SecuROM.
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Number One - For How Long?
There have been plenty of lessons to be learnt in the battle against piracy, but the real story here is the success of the 1p offer and the subsequent press coverage for Championship Manager 2010. The game held the number 1 spot in the PC games charts for two consecutive weeks and a month after release was still in the top 5.
With the old enemy releasing the next installment of Football Manager in late October however, Eidos will be keen that their new game proves it is more than a low price, overnight sensation and that it holds its own in the PC games sales chart.