A Tale of Two Business Models
This weekend I was treated to an interesting contrast between two entertainment business models.
As most people probably know The Avengers came out in theaters on Friday. Given all the hype around the movie, I was quite eager to see it. So I jumped online to see if I could get any tickets in my area... no luck. It was pretty much sold out at every halfway decent theater within 20 miles for every halfway reasonable time slot for the whole weekend.
Now, I wasn't exactly surprised. This is more or less the case whenever any blockbuster movie comes out, and it's one of the reasons why I usually avoid movies on opening weekends. But it's no less frustrating given that it doesn't have to be that way anymore. Movies regularly show up pre-release on services like Amazon and Zune. Granted, they're generally from indie film studios, but it's not the technology that's the hurdle for giving lots of people access to movies on or near their big screen release day, it's the business model.
Why won't you let me give you my money?
But I'm just getting started here. After resigning myself to the fact that I wasn't going to see The Avengers this weekend, I was still in the mood for some Avengers style action. So I first watched Iron Man (which I own), then decided I was going to rent Thor. So I checked the Zune marketplace, and there it was, except it turns out it's not available to rent, only to purchase. A quick check turned up the same result on Amazon and PSN. Now I've already seen Thor, and while I was in a particular mood to see it again, I didn't really consider it a good enough movie to spend $15-$20 on to own.
Annoyingly restricted access to content is not a new story online. There are countless stories out there on the Internet that start out like this, and it's usually at about this point that the author says they went to Bittorrent and got the movie in 5 seconds. But my stance on these issues has always been that there are just too many other options for entertaining myself to even bother with piracy. So I simply decided that I was done with the whole Avengers fixation for the weekend and went to find something else to do.
So despite the millions of dollars that Marvel and Paramount doubtlessly spent marketing the Avengers, and despite the fact that it worked exactly as intended on me, the grand total I spent on Marvel/Paramount products this weekend was $0.00.
The next business model I witnessed was that of Hi-Rez Studios, the game developer that makes Tribes Ascend. If you're not familiar with it, Tribes Ascend is an online multi-player shooter. But here's the thing, it's completely free to play with optional paid content for additional weapons and classes. So after I decided I was done with my Avengers kick for a while, I went and downloaded Tribes, which I'd been hearing about for some time now on podcasts and forums. I wasn't even sure if I'd end up playing it, but it's free, so why not download it anyways?
More fun than I expected
After it finished I booted it up, gave it my email address, and created a password and I was up and running. They didn't even ask for a credit card up front. It turns out that I really like it. It's got a great pace to it that really clicked with me. So after playing about a dozen or so matches (roughly 3-4 hours of entertainment), I decided to splurge on one of those upgrade packs for $10.
So to recap, amount of money I spent on Marvel/Paramount products this weekend = zero (despite very much wanting to), amount of money I spent on Hi-Rez Studio products this weekend = $10 (despite not even knowing if I really wanted to play their game when I downloaded it).
It seems pretty clear to me that one of these business models has a future and one does not.