Monday, June 22, 2009

Left 4 Dead Online Distribution

Last week I discussed Valve’s announcement of Left 4 Dead 2 and the Steam boycott group. As part of that discussion I demonstrated how Valve has shown innovation in business through Team Fortress 2. “Almost two years after [Team Fortress 2’s] release, Valve continues to release updates and new content for the cartoonish first-person shooter, free of charge. Through these updates, and free-to-play weekends, Valve continues to sell copies of their online shooter, justifying more free content and more free-to-play weekends for end-users. It is one of the few systems today that truly benefits all parties involved.”

I concluded with questioning Valve’s decision to move away from this business model in favor of a more traditional one with Left 4 Dead 2. “I can understand why Valve would not want to split up the new content into smaller, discrete updates. However, would providing the new Left 4 Dead 2 content free-of-charge not increase Left 4 Dead sales substantially?”

In the wake of this discussion, Gamasutra has posted the results of a study performed by analysis firm DFC and social media company GamerDNA, comparing Left 4 Dead user activity across the PC and Xbox 360. Based on over 180,000 gamers across Steam, Xbox Live, and Xfire, the study demonstrates spikes in PC activity during certain Valve promotions.

A slight spike in activity was evident during mid-February, in conjunction with a 50 percent-off sale on Steam. PC activity leveled out afterwards, until the release of the Survival Pack downloadable-content. Most significant however is the activity during a Steam free-to-play weekend, which saw an unprecedented spike which resulted in a significant increase in long-term usage.

The report reads, “Steam is rapidly becoming a marketing vehicle where promotions run on Steam can significantly increase product sales and usage.”

Given such significant support for Valve’s Team Fortress 2 business model, I have to again question why Valve has decided not to provide Left 4 Dead 2 content as an update to Left 4 Dead, free-of-charge. Granted, Valve has the right to decide how they release their content, and user activity does not necessarily relate to revenue. However, the point remains valid.

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