For years, it’s been the dream of gamers and game makers alike: a direct pipeline between players and developers where you can have the latest PC title on your desktop mere moments after it launches. Now, thanks to digital distribution, it’s a reality. Platforms like Sweden-based GamersGate have become an integral part of the way we consume games, allowing players to expand their game libraries without leaving the house and giving both large and small developers access to a new audience of consumers.
GamersGate began as little more than an experiment for developer Paradox Interactive. “We had a lot of customers approaching us telling us they could not find our games in the stores,” explains Theo Bergquist, CEO of GamersGate. “And then one day a guy from Argentina asked us if he could download a game instead of us sending him a box. We let him do that, and the news spread fast on our forums. Suddenly we got a lot of inquiries about others who wanted to do the same thing.”
Initially branded as “Paradox on Demand,” the web-based service focused on bringing Paradox’s titles to an audience that wouldn’t otherwise have access to them. But it wasn’t long before third-party publishers started calling Bergquist to ask if Paradox wouldn’t mind selling their games in addition to Paradox’s first-party software. Obviously, the old moniker was no longer suitable, and GamersGate was born.
The decision to start distributing games online has led to some impressive numbers for the company. “We’ve had 100-percent growth last year, and 100-percent growth this year,” Bergquist proclaims happily. GamersGate isn’t alone in this success, and other game retailers are taking note. “Publishers get almost twice the revenue from a game sold online,” Bergquist notes. He even predicts that “within two to three years, I think more than 50 percent of all distribution will be online.”
Bergquist believes a key aspect of his company’s success has been the ease with which players can purchase and access games through the service. GamersGate is fully browser-based, meaning players don’t need to install any additional software onto their computers before they can begin buying and playing games. “We believe in the concept of an open and consumer friendly service,” Bergquist says. “Forcing gamers to download a client is not making them happier.”
This user-friendly approach extends to GamersGate’s account management policies as well. Unlike platforms like Steam, GamersGate allows players to transfer games between accounts at any point in time, ensuring that they always have access to the products they have purchased. “For us, it’s all about anywhere, any time,” Bergquist explains. “We want gamers to access the games wherever they are, and we trust them.” Though this policy opens the door for unscrupulous players to abuse the system, it’s a source of comfort for the service’s customers.
Moving from retail to digital distribution is an intimidating prospect for the biggest of developers, let alone a small team with the noble goal of reaching a niche market regardless of location. But by starting small and staying in touch with its community, Paradox has gradually built the service that its player base wanted. “We have had the opportunity to learn a lot of what the customers would like to see, and how they would like things to work,” says Paradox CEO Fredrik Wester. “We’ve been working very closely with our customers to provide the services and titles they’ve been asking for. Having our own platform has made it easier to experiment.”
One thing customers would like to see is more content for their favorite games. Thankfully, digital distribution makes it easier to get add-ons into the hands of players. “New ways of reaching customers, like downloadable content, will be a new way for customers to increase the lifespan of their favourite game,” Wester says. “I think most people want to continue playing the games they love, rather than buying new games all the time.”
For those who want more variety in their gaming experiences, GamersGate’s current library of over 1100 titles offers plenty to choose from, and that number will only continue to climb. “Another ambition we have is to build a big catalogue of games from both triple-A publishers and smaller indie developers,” Wester says. It’s clear from its wide range of available titles, from Fallout 3 to Braid, that GamersGate strives to ensure every game gets as much attention as possible – after all, big names aren’t always a symbol of quality.
Of course, Paradox accepts that GamersGate isn’t the only option for getting their games into the hands of players, nor should it be. “We use all digital distribution channels that are interested in working with us,” Wester says. “Digital distribution is important to Paradox, and we cannot limit ourselves to only one or two portals.” Going hand in hand with their willingness to work with other platforms, GamersGate strives for a level playing field for the titles sold through its own service, opting not to give Paradox titles preferential treatment. “GamersGate is first and foremost a retailer so all good games are getting good attention,” Bergquist says.
“We are already today one of the top tier digital distribution services,” Wester says, “and I hope we can stay there.”
Christos is a freelance videogame journalist living in London. You can find him at his site, www.forthegamergood.com.