Hot on the heels of Triton’s recent demise comes news of NeoEdge (thanks hahnchen), a distribution service promising a series of new twists on the Steam/Triton formula.
Its pitch is a delivery system based on a proprietary peer-to-peer technology, supported by an astonishing variety of advertisement models: in-game, pre-game, around-game, you name it. The result for NeoEdge Networks’ clients, across “casual”, “core” and “MMRPG” markets, is “free” distribution and a recurring, ad-based revenue stream.
But what really makes you sit up and take notice of NeoEdge is the screenshot from Bioshock prominent on its front page
I inquired about the image’s use and have yet to receive a reply, so take the association with a pinch of salt for now. But if Networks really is the digital distribution partner for Irrational Games’ upcoming sure-fire hit, we’re certain to be hearing a whole lot more about their service as the game nears its projected 2007 release.
In the meantime, we’ll delve a little deeper into exactly what NeoEdge Networks are trying to achieve with their service—and in fact what they are full stop.
Even without Bioshock, NeoEdge’s two-pronged model is an intriguing prospect. How will gamers respond to a service that uses their upload bandwidth to deliver content to other paying customers, and then pipes adverts to them?
Far more content can be delivered
Networks’ bet is that they will be placated by a knock-on effect from the advantages their system gives developers. Free distribution allows far more content to be delivered than is possible on centralised services like Steam, free content in particular, and recurring advertising revenue is offered (albeit probably after Networks take their cut), allowing prices to be driven down and providing steady income for ongoing development even if sales dip. The system’s users see the benefits of NeoEdge by way of the ‘more for less’ effect resulting from all this—at least in theory.
One issue that the system doesn’t solve is the inability of digital distribution to undercut retailers for signed games. The reduction in overhead NeoEdge aims for will need to be expressed to users if it is to become an established service rather than a despised one, but for signed titles, including Bioshock, the obvious method of price reduction is extremely unlikely to be available. There are plenty of alternatives (NeoEdge-exclusive content for one), but few avoid angering publishers and/or retailers in the same manner as undercutting.
No mater was Networks do however, there will always be those who aren’t prepared to put with advertising no matter what. With NeoEdge they might just be vindicated:
NeoEdge’s powerful reporting capabilities provide unsurpassed insight into how gamers use your games. Anonymous information about game playing and downloading patterns are gathered, aggregated and reported to game providers via easy web access. This information is gathered in a way that both respects the individual gamer’s privacy, yet provides valuable information to companies providing the games.
“Patterns are gathered, aggregated and reported”
NeoEdge’s advertising is “targeted”. Usage patterns are uploaded to Networks’ servers (as the above quote explains) for analysis by central client software, and adverts calculated to be appropriate are then downloaded and displayed. From the quote we are led to believe that only gameplay data that is uploaded, as with Steam and Half-Life 2: Episode One, but “downloading” could also be taken in the context of web browsing, the traditional target of malignant spyware and unquestionably a more fertile data source.
Networks certainly wouldn’t deny the charge of malignancy when confronted by Computerworld’s Dan Tennant a few months ago. But neither is it impossible that the data collection will be kept in-game: despite the recent “spyware” furore over Battlefield 2142, its monitoring software does not extend beyond gameplay (the actual text of the legal note that sparked the row can be read here).
Nevertheless, the mere presence of monitoring and uploads will undoubtedly be enough to put a subset of gamers off NeoEdge for good. Don’t expect too many NeoEdge-exclusive releases.
Networks’ reasons for creating NeoEdge aren’t difficult to spot. “NeoEdge drives more ways to make money with your games than any other ad or delivery network” blares their corporate site’s front page; “More profit from new & past games”.
“Drives more ways to make money with your games”
Much like Vivendi, who migrated from shipping bottled water to shipping computer games, NeoEdge Networks—or Kinitos, Inc as it was formerly known—started out elsewhere. It was founded in 2002 to develop corporate software deployment systems, automating and aiding the roll-out process of new or upgraded applications over large networks. While I haven’t been able to dig up any reviews per se, their technology was enough of a success for Microsoft to extol it and its integration with their software (the .NET framework and Visual Studio) in a February 2005 joint press release (MS Word DOC).
Kinitos re-launched itself as NeoEdge on January 10 this year, with the same managerial staff and the same underlying technology but a new and more lucrative market. Indeed the press release tells us how “content providers can cash in” with the newly-registered company. Don’t mistake the move as a mad rush however: the group were owners of the
neoedge.com domain as far back as 2003.
After all this, that managerial current managerial team consists of an entire one person with anything remotely like games industry experience, a “vice president of sales and channel marketing” from Atari, shouldn’t come as too much of a shock. “Chief Product Officer” and “Corporate Development” are the most common positions on each manager’s bio: in fact the only two vaguely hands-on looking staff listed are both mere “advisors”. At least the team come largely from AOL and not Thames Water.
Overall, it’s safe to say that NeoEdge is a good and proper capitalistic venture. Let’s just hope that gamers get something out of it too.