March 03rd 2008

Ghosts - another Nine Inch Nails album - got released. Now, I haven't listened to the 36 tracks yet, and after Year Zero and Y34r Z3r0 R313373d I'm a bit cautious regarding new stuff of NIN in the first place. But what I'm really excited about is the distribution model. NIN are completely independent now, there's no label pulling the strings, resulting in a lot of freedom and possibilities. There are several options to get "Ghosts" on the official website. Either you download the first nine tracks for free, or download the whole album and a 40 page PDF for five bucks, or purchase a 2CD-package for $10, a deluxe edition for $75 or the ultra-deluxe limited edition for $300. Or, and this is the most exciting option of them all, you can just download it via torrents. Hold on, isn't that illegal? Well, that's the fun part. "Ghosts" has been released under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike license. If you still can't believe it, there's even an official torrent created by NIN themselves (although it only includes the first nine tracks). Also important to note: all MP3s are DRM-free 320kbit files.

No matter what you think of the music itself, the utilized distribution model is leading the way into a better world. Now imagine if everyone would release their products like that. Want to watch a movie? Go to the offical website and either download the free file with a resolution of 480p, or pay $7 for the 1080p version, or purchase some kind of deluxe ultra-shiny edition for $20-$30. We're not quite there yet, but the independent film The Man From Earth became a success only because of illegal downloads. Emerson Bixby, son of the movie's writer, even thanked the people for downloading the film, spreading the word, and finally increasing DVD sales and donations.

Some may think the whole thing wouldn't work. Why pay money for some movie which can be downloaded from any torrent site (or rapidshare or any other "abused" download network)? That's easy, because most people aren't quite fond of performing illegal actions (best example: the success of iTunes). The best result of such a business model would be that you download the movie, and if you like it, pay for it. If the movie's bad, nobody's gonna spend any money on it. That's probably one of the things that big film studios want to avoid...

What about games?

Take Mass Effect, for example. BioWare's action RPG is set for PC release on May 6th 2008. Imagine being able to visit the official website on the date of publish, and choose "download". Not a demo - the full game. Second option, pay $10 to support the game and maybe even get higher download speed. Another option would be the boxed edition for $25, with instruction booklet, and a map of the galaxy the size of a poster (and a high-speed download link for immediate access). And as a third option, the obligatory Collector's Edition for $60 with an art book, soundtrack CD, galaxy map, booklet, and one random poster.

Would it work? I believe so. People who're tight on budget but still want to support the game (because they enjoyed it!) should easily come up with $10 - and that's better than the $0 BioWare gets if somebody downloads it through torrents. Providing a free - and legal - download spreads the game, increases interest (if the game's good), which in the end brings more people to the website, which results in higher sales, which in the end tells BioWare to produce more gaming-goodness.

In general, developers are already shying away from the PC market because of the high pirating level. Maybe it's time for publishers and developers to realize that one of the reasons for such a high rate of piracy is because an increasing number of people have broadband connections. Somebody should take advantage of that.

Games on the Nintendo DS are pirated like the seas of the 14th century. According to ELSPA, "90 per cent of all DS users in North America are playing pirated games via the notorious R4 cartridge". Imagine Nintendo would react and open a website where you could download roms for the DS for free, or $5 to $15 each. Wouldn't that be heaven? Test the game, enjoy it, pay for it. Or, test the game, hate it, delete it. No harm done.

The current model of digital distribution is new and old already. For example, we have Valve's Steam, XBox Live Marketplace,, Wii Shop - all of them digital, and yet still somehow connected to conservative market habits. CDs and DVDs will sooner or later fade away. Sony's BluRay may have won the format war against Toshiba's HD-DVD, but it has already lost against the internet.

So has everybody else who's trying to swim against the stream. Whenever I hear about a CEO whining about piracy and the obvious need for more ways to restrict the consumer, I can't help but think of old websites, that displayed a Javascript alert message upon right-clicking, telling me that the displayed content isn't available for download. Maybe deactivating Javascript should be made illegal.