The Registered Player Service

Over 7 years ago now I was involved in the global marketing of the game Operation Flashpoint for the PC at Codemasters. This game had a couple of expansion packs, Red Hammer and Resistance, that were very interesting in their impact on the market. This, along with several other PC games we published at the time, such as Prisoner of War and IGI2, taught me a number of lessons. These I distilled into the concept of the Registered Player Service.

The idea was to release the game when it was incomplete but playable. Imagine a Formula One game with 6 tracks and ten cars. Each customer would then provide us with an email address linked to the unique serial number of their copy of the game. So for every game sold we would have an email address. The rest of the content of the game would then be available in a series of downloads over a period of time. Remember most people were still on dial up then so each download would have to be manageable in size.

Here are some of the advantages that this would have given:

  • We could sell the game and generate cash flow far earlier. Before the game was fully finished. It would have been for sale on the shelves whilst the development team were still working on it.
  • The unique numbering and connected email addresses would have enabled the implementation of a number of non obtrusive anti piracy mechanisms.
  • We would have been in one on one interactive communication with every customer. So via newsletters, blogs, forums and other community marketing we could have built the game up to be a far bigger event. Each gamer would have had a far more immersive experience.
  • The content of the game could be driven by what the customers wanted. For instance we could have a vote: Do you want more cars or more tracks? Development could then interactively follow demand. All different genres of game would have benefited from this feedback loop.
  • We could very easily integrate user generated content into the service. Giving the game infinite possibilities.
  • After a few games we would have had millions of email addresses of known, active PC gamers. The marketing upside from this would have been massive. Being able to directly and individually speak to so many potential customers for each new PC game.
  • To start off, and for maybe the first year, with Codemasters would have been in a very powerful position of wielding a great USP.

The idea was to start with say 20% of content of a game being delivered in this way, gradually increasing the percentage with each successive game as we climbed the learning curve. As you can see there were many advantages both for the publisher and for the customer. But Codemasters didn’t do it. Looking back at some earlier articles here you can understand why. Politics mainly. This was a great pity as it had the potential to have helped prevent the subsequent destructruction of the boxed PC game market by piracy, which has benefited nobody.

Of course the idea now looks old and clunky. But we can see the ethos of it in Steam and in games like Spore.

This is the first time I have ever mentioned the Registered Player Service to anyone not a current Codemasters employee. Like so much that you know when you work in publishing it is essential to maintain confidentiality. Only now do I feel that the industry and technology have moved on so much that secrecy is no longer necessary.

(btw I am one of the characters in Operation Flashpoint, or at least my likeness is. The producer, Richard Blenkinsop, took the photographs. So I ended up on millions of computers around the world.)

1 Comment

  1. Did you intend to sell the boxed product at a cheaper price and then sell additions? Or was it going to be full price with free additions?

    I think the trouble with this method of delivery is trying not to make it look like the customer is getting ripped off or they are only buying half a product.

    As I’ve mentioned in other comments, the boxed product can’t be sold for any cheaper than it is now because of the way the slices of pie are dished out. So selling a cheap initial version would be a bitch.

    So instead you’d have to hope that people will be sold on there being additional content and services for free further down the line. This is a really hard sell.

    For most games, they have to appear like you are getting a full product in the box and any other content is additional and optional… but this additional content has to be ‘must have’ at the same time to sell it! It’s a difficult balance to get right and very few do it well.

    The best example I can think of is Team Fortress 2. Not only did they sell the game in a bundle first for value for money, but every addition is free and they just keep on coming. This seems really generous but they take the line that they are offering a service. However, they can afford to, cuts down on piracy and it helps promote steam and future Valve games that will probably also get additional content.

    I don’t think many other publishers or developers would be happy doing that. Most games are just one-offs and developed and budgeted in that way and it’s easier just to pretend that making console games and adding useless DRM will avoid piracy.

Comments are closed.