Thursday, May 19, 2011

Direct2Drive Sucks

Direct2Drive continues to go downhill. Having been a D2D customer for about 2 years, I've sensed a not-so-steady decline in their coolness factor. I think they've become too "big", now obviously very pwned by IGN. Perhaps that affiliation has always been present, but over time it's become more apparent and has really transformed the way D2D "feels." I speak for myself, of course.

Not long after I started up with D2D, I settled into a pattern of buying about one game a month, beginning with Supreme Commander Gold for a mere $5. Being a forever fan of Total Annihilation, I'd been drooling over SupCom since I'd first heard of it. Also being a cheapskate, it was just the opportunity I needed to dip my toes in the world of game digital distribution for the first time. It was probably a case of first love, but I was hooked. Prior to this, and the rare exception of Battlefield: Bad Company 2, it had probably been at least a decade since my last self-serving PC game purchase (I buy console games for my kids semi-regularly). I was a new customer, in many ways.

Anyway, over time I've discovered other digital distribution game outlets, most importantly Good Old Games, and of course the 800-lb gorilla, Steam. Apparently, there are several others, most of which I have no immediate plans to try out. The good news is, there are options. More good news is that it would seem that digital distribution is here to stay.

The big draw of GOG is that they offer classic (older) games, configured to work on modern versions of Windows (often with a little help from DOSBox), bargain bin prices, and perhaps best of all, completely DRM free! Which reminds me of the first reason I'm not down with D2D anymore.

Now that I'm getting very used to buying my games without DRM, I'm extremely unlikely to buy games that have it. Most of D2D's catalog is saddled with DRM, even a bunch of their indy games! I still have games I bought as much as 15 years ago: Doom, Red Alert, Diablo, etc. The last thing I want to look forward to is blowing the dust off a trusty old friend to find out that the DRM server I need to connect to, just to play my game, has gone the way of the dodo bird. Not to mention simple outages of either the DRM server or my own Internet connection. Maybe that will never happen, but with DRM-free games, I know it will never happen.

Price, on the other hand, is an all-powerful force at work in my buying decisions. Since I rarely buy games, I have virtually no budget for doing so. Unless I want to sleep on the couch (inside joke), my game purchases have to be at or below what I might pay for lunch on any given day. I get nervous even having to explain to my wife that a $3 purchase was for a game. If I try spending too much on such useless things, I'd really be in for it.

D2D prices are, in most cases, no longer worth the DRM headaches the future promises. I just don't see the kind of sales on attractive titles that I used to. Maybe this is, in part, due to the proliferation of indy games, dominating the low-cost end of the spectrum. Or maybe it's the mother ship IGN exerting its influence, which wouldn't surprise me a bit. Maybe it's both, or something else entirely. Since I don't buy all that many games, I wouldn't be inclined to think it's because I'm running out of high-caliber titles to choose from.

I still look periodically at what D2D has "on sale", especially reacting to their promo emails. Once in awhile they still have what I think is a great deal (not usually promo related). I think my last purchase with them was Dirt 2, which I picked up for about $5. Yes, it had DRM, but at that price I made an exception. I tend to think of DRM as a sort of tax, a fairly steep one at that. So the base price + DRM tax has to be right, or I won't buy.

The latest thing that turns me off of D2D is that I recently realized they've done away with community game reviews. This I don't understand, and I really don't appreciate. Granted, the reviews were not of the highest quality, but I found them useful. I can only surmise that the D2D staff felt the reviews were negatively impacting sales, as the reviews were often riddled with complaints that, in one way or another, had to do with D2D customer service. My suggestion would be to take that criticism constructively, D2D, rather than silencing the dissenters. It reminds me of juvenile server ops who indiscriminately ban people for having their own thoughts.

All in all, I have to thank D2D for introducing me to the business model, but I think they're going in the wrong direction, and could use a new strategy. First, I recommend putting the focus back on customers. Embrace DRM-free, and push publishers to get on board. Keep prices realistic, instead of artificially inflated just so you can offer something for a few dollars off and still be priced too high. Get rid of the price guarantee, it's foolish. You only price-match three other stores, only one of which anyone shops at (and you're probably in bed with the other two). Having the lowest price is your job, which should be darn easy in this day and age, if you are serious about it. You're inadvertently telling your customers to shop around. Once I'm in someone else's store, you're less likely to see me back. Why would you want to promote that? Bring back game reviews, and when they are critical of D2D, check yourself. Redesign your site so I don't have to whitelist a dozen different domains for basic site navigation to work properly (exaggerating, slightly). List the release date of games in your catalog. How old a game is happens to be important to some of us. Be more specific about the DRM included. The vague "3rd Party Download Required" doesn't cut it. I want to know whose DRM it is, and how it behaves. Most of all, improve your support offerings so your customers at least think you care about them.

Hey, I still have my D2D account. You still have time to woo me back, D2D.

Steam... I'm coming for you next.

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