This article from "Elf-Inside" about his experiences with games and with Stardock really underscores where the PC game industry needs to go. He has a really good analogy:
When I buy a pizza, I expect to get a pizza. I expect it with the toppings I order, and I expect it to be delivered promptly. By calling Domino's or Papa John's, I've contractually agreed to pay for a pizza when it arrives. But if the deliverman shows up 2 hours late, with cold pizza, with Anchovies instead of Peperoni, then, no, I'm not going to pay for that. The problem with typical game publishers, is they expect you to eat that pizza, and be happy for it. You paid for hot pepperoni, and got cold anchovies, but you have no recourse.
Which is so true. It is also one of the reasons why I think the console market is really starting to eat the PC's lunch. I've been outright hostile to consoles for years but even I find myself starting to buy console games. Why? Because they work out of the box. I don't have to "Wait for the first patch" to play the games.
And PC games have a perfect storm of bad habits:
- First, I am expected to devote hundreds of megabytes to them. Okay, I can live with that.
- But then they expect me to keep the CD in the drive.
- And then I usually have to keep track of a little tiny paper serial number (usually taped to the back of the CD jacket).
- And all that so that I can play a game that needs a couple of patches to play.
And when the PC sales go down, what's the reported reason? Piracy of course. Yea, it's piracy. Sure. In my experience of writing games, it's not pirates ripping us off of our hard earned money, it's been publishers. The tale of Galactic Civilizations is very similar to the tale of Swamp Castle from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
The other developers told me I was daft to write a space based strategy game for OS/2! So I wrote Galactic Civilizations for OS/2. I was a college student back then so I couldn't afford to get it into the stores. So a publisher called Advanced Idea Machines "published" it. They never paid us royalties and disappeared soon after. Since I had no money, I couldn't afford a lawyer at the time.
So I got smart. Stardock would publish the OS/2 sequel Galactic Civilizations II. So we made the game, manufactured the boxes, took care of all the marketing and getting it into the stores. And just to be safe, we had two distributors. One called Micro Central and the other one called Blue Orchards. Both went went out of business owing us hundreds of thousands of dollars.
That particular incident nearly wiped out Stardock.
But no matter, we recovered. We clawed our way back up and made it into the Windows market. We decided to make a Windows version and we decided to work with a well known publisher on it (Strategy First). This time everything would go perfectly...
Well, that was a year and a half ago and we're still waiting for royalty payments on most of their sales. But this time, we had an out -- direct electronic sales. People were able to buy the game directly from us and download the game.
So don't talk to me about piracy. It's not the pirates that have ripped us off of hundreds of thousands in lost royalties. It's been "Real businesses" doing that thank you very much. The position of royalty eating parasite has already been taken.
It's the demographic of people who allegedly do all this pirating that's been paying our bills. People with Internet connections who download games. They pay my salary. They are my overlord now. So I hope you can excuse me if I don't lose sleep at night that some 15 year old might have downloaded my game while some executive at a company (or former company) is sailing on their boat paid for by my hard work. The software pirate can go to jail on a felony, the business executive who doesn't pay royalties gets off the hook.
So yea, tell me again how I need to put some dongle or whatever on my game to keep 15 year olds from pirating? When our contract with publishers forces them to wear a shock collar that I can press a button to shock them if royalties aren't paid on time then we'll talk about forcing customers to deal with massive copy protection. But it's not the pirates I worry about.
I'm sure that Galactic Civilizations is pirated somewhere. But I highly doubt it's pirated in significant quantities. I know it sold over 100,000 copies out there. But people didn't pirate it much. Why? Because we didn't force them to pirate it. We didn't make someone have to create a CD crack so that they could play it on their laptop on the plane where the CD drive is replaced with an extra battery. We didn't make them have to download "patches" to get the game working. The version of Galactic Civilizations that won Editor's Choice Awards from most of the major PC game publications was the 1.0 version out of the box. And we encouraged people to pay their hard earned dollars for the game by giving them value by putting out updates after release. We put out a bunch of free updates that added tons of features. A BonusPak, a free expansion pack. Heck, GalCiv 1.21 is due out this week! You want to fight piracy, don't give people a reason to pirate.
In fairness, the retail version of The Political Machine will have a CD check. However, the electronic version from TotalGaming.net will not and users of the boxed version will be able to forgo the CD check after January 1, 2005 as part of our compromise with our publisher. A win-win since the main problem with CD checks is losing the CD or damaging it in the long term and it satisfies the publisher's concern over "0 day warez" sites (though it'll still get pirated I'm sure).
I think that's a major reason consoles are starting to really crush the PC game market. People are getting fed up. They're getting a cold pizza and being told to lump it. It doesn't have to bet that way.
For example, The Political Machine comes out in August. We plan to have a free update available for it on the first week that adds some new features and extra goodies. There will be "bug" fixes but they'll likely be bugs no one would run into. And we'll put out updates as regularly as Ubi Soft will let us (unlike with GalCiv, The Political Machine updates have to go through Ubi Soft's outstanding QA department).
We don't do this because we're nice. We do it because it is good business. If the competing technology (consoles) can't be updated with new stuff after release, then you should exploit that advantage. And that means add new features, not use the Internet to supply updates that finish the game!
I'm not against copy protection schemes on the PC because I'm some sort of flower child developer. I'm against them because they're bad business. They discourage people from buying PC games in the first place. Once you make someone have to hunt down a CD crack, you've set them on the path of pirating the whole game and future games.
That's what I hope to see TotalGaming.net prevent. Make it a no-brainer for someone to purchase games electronically by keeping costs reasonable and make using the games they've purchased easy and convenient. After all, it's their pizza, deliver it to them as they want and they'll support you with future orders.