Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.
Published on March 10, 2008 By Draginol In GalCiv Journals

Recently there has been a lot of talk about how piracy affects PC gaming. And if you listen to game developers, it apparently is a foregone conclusion - if a high quality PC game doesn't sell as many copies as it should, it must be because of piracy.

Now, I don't like piracy at all. It really bugs me when I see my game up on some torrent site just on the principle of the matter. And piracy certainly does cost sales.  But arguing that piracy is the primary factor in lower sales of well made games? I don't think so. People who never buy software aren't lost sales.

Is it about business or glory?

Most people who know of Stardock in the gaming world think of it as a tiny indie shop. And we certainly are tiny in terms of game development. But in the desktop enhancement market, Stardock owns that market and it's a market with many millions of users. According to CNET, 6 of the top 10 most popular desktop enhancements are developed by Stardock.  Our most popular desktop enhancement, WindowBlinds, has almost 14 million downloads just on Download.com. We have over a million registered users.

If you want to talk about piracy, talk about desktop enhancements. The piracy on that is huge.  But the question isn't about piracy. It's about sales

So here is the deal: When you develop for a market, you don't go by the user base. You go by the potential customer base.  That's what most software companies do. They base what they want to create on the size of the market they're developing for. But not PC game developers.

PC game developers seem to focus more on the "cool" factor. What game can they make that will get them glory with the game magazines and gaming websites and hard core gamers? These days, it seems like game developers want to be like rock stars more than businessmen.  I've never considered myself a real game developer. I'm a gamer who happens to know how to code and also happens to be reasonably good at business.

So when I make a game, I focus on making games that I think will be the most profitable. As a gamer, I like most games.  I love Bioshock. I think the Orange Box is one of the best gaming deals ever. I love Company of Heroes and Oblivion was captivating.  My two favorite games of all time are Civilization (I, II, III, and IV) and Total Annihilation. And I won't even get into the hours lost in WoW.  Heck, I even like The Sims. 

So when it comes time to make a game, I don't have a hard time thinking of a game I'd like to play. The hard part is coming up with a game that we can actually make that will be profitable.  And that means looking at the market as a business not about trying to be "cool".

Making games for customers versus making games for users

So even though Galactic Civilizations II sold 300,000 copies making 8 digits in revenue on a budget of less than $1 million, it's still largely off the radar. I practically have to agree to mow editors lawns to get coverage. And you should see Jeff Green's (Games for Windows) yard. I still can't find my hedge trimmers.

Another game that has been off the radar until recently was Sins of a Solar Empire. With a small budget, it has already sold about 200,000 copies in the first month of release. It's the highest rated PC game of 2008 and probably the best selling 2008 PC title.  Neither of these titles have CD copy protection.

And yet we don't get nearly the attention of other PC games. Lack of marketing on our part? We bang on the doors for coverage as next as the next shop. Lack of advertising? Open up your favorite PC game publication for the past few months and take note of all the 2 page spreads for Sins of a Solar Empire. So we certainly try. 

But we still don't get the editorial buzz that some of the big name titles do because our genre isn't considered as "cool" as other genres.  Imagine what our sales would be if our games had gotten game magazine covers and just massive editorial coverage like some of the big name games get.  I don't want to suggest we get treated poorly by game magazine and web sites (not just because I fear them -- which I do), we got good preview coverage on Sins, just not the same level as one of the "mega" titles would get. Hard core gamers have different tastes in games than the mainstream PC gaming market of game buyers. Remember Roller Coaster Tycoon? Heck, how much buzz does The Sims get in terms of editorial when compared to its popularity. Those things just aren't that cool to the hard core gaming crowd that everything seems geared toward despite the fact that they're not the ones buying most of the games.

I won't even mention some of the big name PC titles that GalCiv and Sins have outsold.  There's plenty of PC games that have gotten dedicated covers that haven't sold as well.  So why is that?

Our games sell well for three reasons.  First, they're good games which is a pre-requisite. But there's lots of great games that don't sell well.

The other two reasons are:

  • Our games work on a very wide variety of hardware configurations.
  • Our games target genres with the largest customer bases per cost to produce for.

 

We also don't make games targeting the Chinese market

When you make a game for a target market, you have to look at how many people will actually buy your game combined with how much it will cost to make a game for that target market. What good is a large number of users if they're not going to buy your game? And what good is a market where the minimal commitment to make a game for it is $10 million if the target audience isn't likely to pay for the game?

If the target demographic for your game is full of pirates who won't buy your game, then why support them? That's one of the things I have a hard time understanding.  It's irrelevant how many people will play your game (if you're in the business of selling games that is). It's only relevant how many people are likely to buy your game.

Stardock doesn't make games targeting the Chinese market. If we spent $10 million on a PC game explicitly for the Chinese market and we lost our shirts, would you really feel that much sympathy for us? Or would you think "Duh."

 

You need a machine how fast?

Anyone who keeps track of how many PCs the "Gamer PC" vendors sell each year could tell you that it's insane to develop a game explicitly for hard core gamers.  Insane.  I think people would be shocked to find out how few hard core gamers there really are out there. This data is available. The number of high end graphics cards sold each year isn't a trade secret (in some cases you may have to get an NDA but if you're a partner you can find out). So why are companies making games that require them to sell to 15% of a given market to be profitable? In what other market do companies do that? In other software markets, getting 1% of the target market is considered good.  If you need to sell 500,000 of your game to break even and your game requires Pixel Shader 3 to not look like crap or play like crap, do you you really think that there are 50 MILLION PC users with Pixel Shader 3 capable machines who a) play games and will actually buy your game if a pirated version is available?

In our case, we make games that target the widest possible audience as long as as we can still deliver the gaming experience we set out to.  Anyone who's looked at the graphics in Sins of a Solar Empire would, I think, agree that the graphics are pretty phenomenal (particularly space battles).  But could they be even fancier? Sure. But only if we degraded the gaming experience for the largest chunk of people who buy games.

 

The problem with blaming piracy

I don't want anyone to walk away from this article thinking I am poo-pooing the effect of piracy.  I'm not.  I definitely feel for game developers who want to make kick ass PC games who see their efforts diminished by a bunch of greedy pirates.  I just don't count pirates in the first place.  If you're a pirate, you don't get a vote on what gets made -- or you shouldn't if the company in question is trying to make a profit. 

The reason why we don't put CD copy protection on our games isn't because we're nice guys. We do it because the people who actually buy games don't like to mess with it. Our customers make the rules, not the pirates. Pirates don't count. We know our customers could pirate our games if they want but choose to support our efforts. So we return the favor - we make the games they want and deliver them how they want it. This is also known as operating like every other industry outside the PC game industry.

One of the jokes I've seen in the desktop enhancement market is how "ugly" WindowBlinds skins are (though there are plenty of awesome ones too). But the thing is, the people who buy WindowBlinds tend to like a different style of skin than the people who would never buy it in the first place.  Natural selection, so to speak, over many years has created a number of styles that seem to be unique to people who actually buy WindowBlinds.  That's the problem with piracy.  What gets made targets people who buy it, not the people who would never buy it in the first place. When someone complains about "fat borders" on some popular WindowBlinds skin my question is always "Would you buy WindowBlinds even if there was a perfect skin for you?" and the answer is inevitably "Probably not". That's how it works in every market -- the people who buy stuff call the shots.  Only in the PC game market are the people who pirate stuff still getting the overwhelming percentage of development resources and editorial support.

When you blame piracy for disappointing sales, you tend to tar the entire market with a broad brush.  Piracy isn't evenly distributed in the PC gaming market. And there are far more effective ways of getting people who might buy your product to buy it without inconveniencing them.

Blaming piracy is easy. But it hides other underlying causes.  When Sins popped up as the #1 best selling game at retail a couple weeks ago, a game that has no copy protect whatsoever, that should tell you that piracy is not the primary issue.

In the end, the pirates hurt themselves. PC game developers will either slowly migrate to making games that cater to the people who buy PC games or they'll move to platforms where people are more inclined to buy games.

In the meantime, if you want to make profitable PC games, I'd recommend focusing more effort on satisfying the people willing to spend money on your product and less effort on making what others perceive as hot.  But then again, I don't romanticize PC game development. I just want to play cool games and make a profit on games that I work on.


Comments (Page 9)
on Mar 12, 2008
Yeah but CoH: OF shuns those who buy games off Steam and even legitimate customers. A steam d/l of COH which is patched means they can not get into the game because they have no DVD. They can't get online and register because they don't have a DVD. They just wasted money on COH and OF.As a legitimate customer who bought it at a store, I remember these problems of it always asking for a DVD, only the DVD didn't work properly. So I had to switch from my OF DVD to my original COH in order to register. Every 2 days it would ask me for the correct DVD again. So I would have to switch from the COH to the OF. Then it was stop working mysteriously again in 2 days asking me for the correct dvd. Guess what, I bought the game, it is the original dvds, but it wont play unless I 'trick' it by switching the expansion for the original and vice versa.I won't buy another Relic product, that is for sure. And Bioshock, I wont even go near it because of Securum, and I didn't buy Heroes of Might and Magic V because of Starforge or whatever its name was.If companies dabble heavily in anti-piracy, I simply wont buy their game.


Way to not share your drama on the appropriate forum, I'm sure a lot of people on the GameReplays board would have a simple solution for you.

When it asks you for your DVD, it means you either cannot connect to Relic Online(open ports), or Relic Online was seeing a shaky server downtime period. If you do not have a DVD, it also opens up a dialog box where you can click "I bought it from Steam, Direct2Drive, etc" so I don't know what this nonsense is about where the Steam version didn't work. A friend of mine owns the steam version and I haven't heard of a single problem.
on Mar 12, 2008
@I only mentioned because of the comments of the "hardcore gamer" definition that people tend to use now. Back in the day it had a different meaning. So I was illustrating I fit both meanings but consider the original the correct one.


A guy wants to be a street racer, because he watched The Fast and the Furious. He doesn't know anything about cars, or even how to drive at high speeds. He subscribes to Mustang Monthly (or whatever), and then starts hanging around people who are really into tuning their cars for performance (and racing them).

It's really weird when he hangs around these people, because he doesn't know anything about what they talk about, and he says a few really dumb, ignorant things that profess his lack of knowledge, and then they kinda laugh and walk away from him.

So the guy goes out and buys a Lotus Elise, some sort of over-expensive pointless exotic sports car, and then goes back and tells everyone he's a hardcore street racer. Then to prove how hardcore he is, he goes out, wrecks his car, and kills himself.

Call yourself a hardcore gamer is you want, but a hardcore PC gamer, you ain't.
on Mar 12, 2008
This attitude Stardock has towards their customer base and copy protection is the EXACT reason I bought Gal Civ II in the first place. I'm currently eagerly awaiting the next expansion which I pre-ordered way back last year.

I used to be fairly heavily into piracy. Now it's just not worth the effort. Most games are generic cookie cutter crap and I just can't be bothered with them. I mean Bioshock may be a great game. But I already have several FPS I've not finished (Half-Life 2. Yes, I lost my save. Plus I picked up the Orange Box and have HL2 Ep1 and 2 to play as well. Did complete Portal though.)

My current gaming addiction is Team Fortress 2. I find myself buying far more games than I used too, but electronically. I buy stuff off Steam regularly. I support a lot of indie developers etc...

I have no use for the mainstream games industry anymore. The majority of innovation is on the indie scene, or with smaller developers like Stardock. They treat their customers decently and not all like thieves.

I've honestly lost count of the number of games I have refused to buy due to the copy protection. (Most notably Starforce protected titles.) I used to write to the developers and publishers and explain that they had lost a sale. They never care though. Why care about what some technically informed jackass like myself thinks when there's 10 gullible idiots out there who will buy and install the game, then clog up the net with "why has my computer stopped working?" comments when the copy protection screws their computer up.

Long live Stardock and indie developers.

on Mar 12, 2008
@ubrokeme - No worries brother. I was concerned you would take my post in the wrong way since I did not put smilies in it. I tried but I could not edit the damn thing.

As far as being allowed, I feel your pain. My wife and I got into a big huge fight over the system. I finally told her the door is open -nuff said. She makes a funny sounds now every time she goes into my office. I always tell her it is the best girlfriend I could have as far as she is concerned so she should be happy. Hell I gave up my Hog for her when we got married. I told her I need something to play with that is not a part of my body.

Regarding the DDR3 oddly enough I think I learned my lesson with the current rig. It is as you said, the parts are about 60% of the cost I paid for them now, not that I really care but the fact I have not really had any gaming fun on the system at all is what is irking me. I think I'll wait until the next generation chips or until a true "octa" system is possible.

@Uranium - 235 - just how do you make that determination? I focused on game theory in grad school. I have been gaming for over 35 years. I often chose game time over sleep time when logic and responsibility tell me otherwise. I have even continued to play a game when told a family member committed suicide and I was needed to take care of some stuff. Christ I have logged more time with games then I have with everything else in life including school and efforts to get several degrees, friends or family. I'm real curious as to how you think I'm not hardcore. I think you are confusing HPC, engineering & HPG based on your straw man argument.
on Mar 12, 2008
Im not really an exert on the subject but from my point of view adding anti-piracy protection is quite pointless for both the consumer and the company producing the game. Mainly because no matter how much "protection" they add pirates will eventually do what they do best and put the games out for free. So if they know the pirates are going to win why go through the trouble of putting in protection? It doesn't make good business sense at all. There spending money and losing money from the consumer for something that doesn't work at all.
on Mar 12, 2008

One thing I want to add is that although piracy is bad in a lot of ways, I think its good on another part. Sins of a Solar Empire I got it in the form of a ripped copy, my buddy played it for an hour but wasn't having any fun with it but wanted to play a LAN game. After about 2 days of gaming, I went to the city and bought not only the game but the collectors edition and my buddies are now all hooked on it and will be traveling out themselves in the next couple of days to get their own copies. Yes, in a sense I stole this game but what really pisses me off these days is games that have a bunch of hype but after you spend $50-60 your bored with it after a week or so. Demo's tease, other demos which are the full version but time limited aren't enough. If you would of shown me S.O.A.S.E. before I wouldn't of gave two shits about it but after being able to experance the full game experance with my buddies on a LAN and by myself I came to the conclusion that this is a game that I WANT TO BUY and I did because it was worth it. I look forward to many more Stardock games and after trying them as well I'll either buy them or not. Piracy bad? Not in this case and I'm sure there's more like this too.

on Mar 12, 2008
Mainly because no matter how much "protection" they add pirates will eventually do what they do best and put the games out for free. So if they know the pirates are going to win why go through the trouble of putting in protection? It doesn't make good business sense at all. There spending money and losing money from the consumer for something that doesn't work at all.



Yeah I never understood that either. 95% of games get cracked and released same day as official one (or even earlier). The rest of 5% gets cracked later (1- 2 week or so) and I didn't encounter a game which wasn't cracked. And those 5% are those which give problem to legit customers with overly intrusive copy prot so even legit customers have BIG problems. Cracked game is better product - it doesn't require swapping CDs it is sometimes even performing better than original (some copy prots actually slow down when they do their checks)

on Mar 12, 2008
Way to not share your drama on the appropriate forum, I'm sure a lot of people on the GameReplays board would have a simple solution for you.When it asks you for your DVD, it means you either cannot connect to Relic Online(open ports), or Relic Online was seeing a shaky server downtime period. If you do not have a DVD, it also opens up a dialog box where you can click "I bought it from Steam, Direct2Drive, etc" so I don't know what this nonsense is about where the Steam version didn't work. A friend of mine owns the steam version and I haven't heard of a single problem.


http://forums.relicnews.com/forumdisplay.php?f=146]

Check out Relic forums, from servers down, to getting kicked off after automatch, to "Relic Online err... what" posts. All these make the game unplayable. Also, if you notice I said I actually bought the game and have 2 DVDs. One is Opposing Fronts, and one is Company of Heroes. I have to switch between them whenever I get the message "insert the proper cd" However, the proper DVD is in the drive, but I get that message every two days. So I switch back and forth, this is a big hassle. And that was just to play the campaign.

Add on that if server is down you can't play, and if you have Steam you cant play because you have no DVD. So yeah all in all, one of the worst Anti-piracy I've seen on a game that affects consumers in a hugely negative way.

So I'll be skipping their next products, and I know many others will too. They will say, screw that, I'll have tons of problems like I did with their other game.

Also, this isn't drama, it is a consumer problem where I am being negatively affected, while Pirates like yourself, are having absolutely no problems what so ever, and have a better gaming experience then the consumer who actually bought the game.
on Mar 12, 2008
One thing I want to add is that although piracy is bad in a lot of ways, I think its good on another part. Sins of a Solar Empire I got it in the form of a ripped copy, my buddy played it for an hour but wasn't having any fun with it but wanted to play a LAN game. After about 2 days of gaming, I went to the city and bought not only the game but the collectors edition and my buddies are now all hooked on it and will be traveling out themselves in the next couple of days to get their own copies. Yes, in a sense I stole this game but what really pisses me off these days is games that have a bunch of hype but after you spend $50-60 your bored with it after a week or so. Demo's tease, other demos which are the full version but time limited aren't enough. If you would of shown me S.O.A.S.E. before I wouldn't of gave two shits about it but after being able to experance the full game experance with my buddies on a LAN and by myself I came to the conclusion that this is a game that I WANT TO BUY and I did because it was worth it. I look forward to many more Stardock games and after trying them as well I'll either buy them or not. Piracy bad? Not in this case and I'm sure there's more like this too.


Almost exactly what happened with me and Galactic Civilizations II. some one gave me a ripped copy. i played it. i said wow this is great and i ordered the gold edition! then i started modding it and of course once i had DA, i had to get TA and now i mod that. so like you said... piracy isn't always bad.
on Mar 12, 2008
First off I commend Stardock on their view on copy protection. If it's not a full proof system or MMORPG setup it's not going to work anyway. Personally I'd like to be able to copy the games I bought so that I have a backup in case the original gets scratched up due to use or simply use the copy and protect the original. Many copy protection methods won't allow this.

People want to be able to demo a game before they buy and that's one reason people pirate software.

To fight piracy companies should offer a good demo that's more than a few minutes of game play and offer tangibles within the product box like a good manual, figurine, T-shirt..whatever to add to the value. Even the pirated software is generating money from tangibles related to the product such as strategy guides..etc.

Stardock makes super fun games and I'm a proud owner of a legitamate copy of Galactic Civilizations. Haven't tried Sins yet and it would be great if there was a good demo of that. The reason I haven't purchased Sins is that despite the hype I want to demo it first to see if it's something I'd like. I also kind of like making my own ships and races so I chose GC2 over Sins. Not sure if you can make your own ships in Sins.

I'm also a 3d animator and graphic designer who has worked on video games. I've modded a little and designed my own levels/maps on various games. These are the types of games I wish I was working on. (shameless plug)
on Mar 13, 2008
I just made this account, just to reply to this.

I dont like pirating. Some people pirate a game first if they like it. However, 90% will never buy it.

SoaSE is one of the very, very few games i ever pirated. In this case, just cause i couldn't buy it.

I live in Europe, SoaSE isn't being sold here. I looked everywhere, asked everywhere, but no store could buy it. (Even if i showed them this website, where you can order SoaSE... Sigh)

And i cant buy it myself. I dont have a creditcard, i simply couldn't get one. And there was simply no other option. Yeah i could ask people i hardly know if they could buy it for me, yeah, right, like if anyone would actually do it.

If SoaSE would be released here, i'll buy it. I like SoaSE! And i know it's annoying for developers seeing these kind of things happen. Actually, i want (Not sure, i'd love too, but only the motivated people are being accepted by schools.) to work in the gaming industry.

But simply, if i cant buy it, i cant have it and Stardock doesn't get paid. I could download it, and i can play it, but Stardock doesn't get paid. Well, then i download it.

I'm actually a bit sorry i did it. But i do have a good reason.
on Mar 13, 2008
I Can only talk for myself, but for me piracy has been a trigger to buy alot of games. Galciv for example! If i had not downloaded Galciv "illegally" i had never bought the series.

I now own legal bought copies of the entire serie incl the addons.
That is something you can thank piracy for.

"I dont like pirating. Some people pirate a game first if they like it. However, 90% will never buy it."

Sorry to say but that is just your assumption. If you can prove it... do it.
on Mar 13, 2008


"I dont like pirating. Some people pirate a game first if they like it. However, 90% will never buy it."

Sorry to say but that is just your assumption. If you can prove it... do it.

Anecdotally I find this to be true. The number of games pirated VS number sold also indicate that most people who pirate never buy.


I live in Europe, SoaSE isn't being sold here. I looked everywhere, asked everywhere, but no store could buy it. (Even if i showed them this website, where you can order SoaSE... Sigh)

What about pay-by-cash web services and PayPal?


Im not really an exert on the subject but from my point of view adding anti-piracy protection is quite pointless for both the consumer and the company producing the game. Mainly because no matter how much "protection" they add pirates will eventually do what they do best and put the games out for free. So if they know the pirates are going to win why go through the trouble of putting in protection? It doesn't make good business sense at all. There spending money and losing money from the consumer for something that doesn't work at all.

DRM discourages "share with your friends" piracy. Any delay in expert-piracy will probably result in more sales. Referring back to the Iron Lore article, pirated versions of games also tend to have problems and bugs that retail versions dont, which can cause negative word of mouth.
on Mar 13, 2008
"Anecdotally I find this to be true. The number of games pirated VS number sold also indicate that most people who pirate never buy."

Ever figured that alot of these games may be games that people doesnt find intressting enough to buy , or buy later when prices go down to more humane levels.(what nutcase would pay 70-80$ for a SINGLE game?)
okey, perhaps a rich nutcase or someone who doesnt really care about what the game costs.

"DRM discourages "share with your friends" piracy. Any delay in expert-piracy will probably result in more sales. Referring back to the Iron Lore article, pirated versions of games also tend to have problems and bugs that retail versions dont, which can cause negative word of mouth."

If i download a pirated copy im fully aware that copy may be full of bugs and perhaps even broken.
Im also aware that a pirated copy may not beable to be patched.

But thats okay for me beacouse a downloaded copy is only for testing if the game is worth buying at its current prize or if its worth buying at all.

I would not go around saying a game is full of bugs if it was a so called "illegal" copy i had played.
on Mar 13, 2008
Well, your post sounded intelligent until I came to
We also don't make games targeting the Chinese market

I can name off-hand several companies that do spend millions developing games exclusively for the Chinese market and are rolling in dough. If you don't know the market, don't blame it.
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