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 16)
on Jul 06, 2008
This post is going to get me flamed, possibly get my account locked, get people trying to email me to tell me how much of a "********ing ****** mother******" they think I am.

Here goes:

Right now, I'm downloading Sins of a Solar Empire via *************. I stumbled upon this topic while googling for a review, or preview of the game's content. The truth is, no matter how pretty, or fancy, or fun, or epic a game's content may be, you never really know whether or not you will like the game. I don't have alot of time to play games. I don't have alot of money to buy them. What I find is that there's about 20 of over 200 PC/console game titles I that I bought and purchased legally (at a time when I could afford that shit) that I don't regret buying. That puts me at about (180x20 $3600 of software that sits in the original box on a shelf, and will sit there until I decide to have a yard sale or wholesale it out on E-bay.

Many of these titles were half-assed, high-budget, rushed development titles that bore the name of another title I love to death. (take, for example, Resident Evil: Dead Aim... What a piece of crap...) Of all the games that get sold, there are still only a few that can be considered "best of all time". Of course, after having bought Final Fantasy X, I realized it's probably a good thing I didn't buy it until 4 years after its release. Originally, I pirated Morrowind and Oblivion, NOW, these are legitimately owned titles that sit on my desk instead of the shelf. Diablo II, now played out. I own 3 copies (I had alot of not-so-financially fortunate friends.)

So, here we sit, looking at gaming magazines I see all this hype about Mass Effect. It sounds like a game I'd buy, if only I could afford a $2000 custom gaming rig. (I know, "you got to know where to buy it..." ...shutup...

If only I could have reversed all those regrettable gaming purchases, maybe I'd have a nice PC. But I can't.

Ahh. Here's a solution. I can download it, try it, get more than a few levels out of it, not have to worry about "Only in full version" nagging screens. I can see the full product without having it sit on my bookshelf for the next ten years because I discovered that it sucks ass.

I AM PART OF THIS CUSTOMER TARGET.

If I find I like this game, I'll get my own copy. Every time I burn a pirated copy of a game, every time I spend ten extra minutes installing a game to copy *game*.exe to the Program Files directory. Every time I have to waste a half an hour looking for a cd key... It sucks. I don't like looking for a blank DVD with 'DOOM 3' handwritten on top (By the way, Doom 1,2, and 3 sit on my desk in their legitmately bought cases). I like to open up a box, and bend the disc like crazy trying to pull it out of a brand new box, look at the instruction manual, and be able to say, "I own it".

I'm not a pirate because I'm a cheap ****ing prick bastard trying to get something for nothing. I'm trying not to waste my money on cheap ****ing bullshit game titles because I saw a commercial showing a bunch of crap cinematic footage that, in no way whatsoever represents the actual game content. If I find that this game is a must own title, I'll buy it. If I don't like it, it'll get tossed with the yearly 'coasters'.

I've learned already, after 15 years of gaming, if I'm not sure if I'll like it or not, I won't buy it. I didn't buy Halo 3, and I probably won't (I didn't bother downloading it either). Meanwhile, I've got a high-speed, high-ping connection to the internet. I can't use it much for online gaming, but I'm not gonna let the bandwidth go to waste.

Another thing: WoW sounds like fun. I'm boycotting 'monthly fee' MMORPGS.
What the **** happened with Battle.net?
Diablo III's probably gonna be the same way...
I own a legitimate copy of Guild Wars, (I think you pretty much have to...)

Oh, shit. File part #6 isn't available to download anymore... Looks like I gotta try again somewhere else. Maybe I should just buy it before I try it... Nah, **** that.


Ok, so by your logic, which is totally saying stealing is ok, I can go to a car dealership, steal a car for a few days to see if I like it, and if I don't I can just leave it in a ditch? Or how about, I want to try out some shoes, I'll steal them from the store and try them out for a while.

You cannot expect to live a lifestyle that you cannot afford. Don't try to say that piracy is ok if you're using it to see what the game is like. Sins has a totally open demo that gives you 90 mins of real gameplay. You cannot get a better feel for what a game is about than that. I can almost garantee that most people that have the same thoughts you do about piracy to test play the game till they're bored and never buy it. That my friend is theft. You state that you're not a pirate because you're cheap, but you also say that you don't have money. Ironic maybe, but it sounsd like you are just that. CHEAP.

There are artists and programmers who don't make much money who make the games you love. When games get poor sales due to piracy, they are the first ones to get fired to cut back on expenses. You're not hurting the publishers, you're hurting the people who are just like you trying to make an honest living.
on Jul 06, 2008
Not being able to afford games gives you no right to just take them anyway, or to "temporarily steal" them to determine if you really, really want to buy them. If you can't afford to make bad purchasing decisions, then try the demo. If it doesn't give you enough of a taste or you don't like it, then just don't get the game, period.

If you're having financial issues, then honestly you should probably be doing something other than gaming (legit or otherwise) with your time anyway.

on Jul 07, 2008
Not being able to afford games gives you no right to just take them anyway, or to "temporarily steal" them to determine if you really, really want to buy them. If you can't afford to make bad purchasing decisions, then try the demo. If it doesn't give you enough of a taste or you don't like it, then just don't get the game, period.If you're having financial issues, then honestly you should probably be doing something other than gaming (legit or otherwise) with your time anyway.


Kryo, you're so wise:)
on Aug 08, 2008
Let me tell you something. I just spent two weeks trying to get Mass Effect to run on my PC. I have a well maintained, optimized system. I know how to take care of my computer. I tried every workaround, tweak, trick, and troubleshooting experiment in the book to get that game to run. I easily exceed the recommended system requirements. I was told by EA's Tech Support that I would likely have to await a patch because my video card driver was somehow not liked by the application. You know, my video card driver for a video that exceeds the system requirements and which is not on the list of unsupported hardware for the game. I am rapidly beginning to discover that, much as I denied it after their acquisition, this is not the Bioware of old anymore. Meanwhile, numerous other folks have problems of a different sort, often related to SecuROM or the DRM activation limitation.

Then on the other side of the equation, there are people playing pirated, cracked versions of the game with zero issues. It's utterly beyond me how anyone could think that punishing paying customers is going to prevent people who are now playing the game without a care in the world from pirating it. The worst part is, I defend Bioware because I deplore piracy and have supported them for years. Yet EA uses SecuROM in its games, and EA has acquired my beloved Bioware.

So my question is this. You say that you don't forego antipiracy protections to be a "nice guy," but rather because your customers call the shots since that's how you make a profit. Well, what if EA (or another company) came along and made you an offer that ensured you would make more profit from sponsors, salary, and other sources than you could ever make from game sales? Would Stardock be for sale if you could make enough money to offset any losses that might result from the use of SecuROM and the like?

If so, then doesn't that simply mean that the only difference between a company like Stardock and a company like the newly acquired Bioware (in terms of the use of obtrusive antipiracy measures) is their current status and situation, which could change in the future?

I'm sorry if that sounds harsh. I'm just so jaded and disillusioned right now. Bioware was one of the final handful of developers that I trusted. They had never, ever let me down… until now. Now I count Stardock among that final handful of trusted developers, but how far that trust goes has been diminished for all developers in my eyes lately.

Games are important to me. Sure, they're “just entertainment,” but they're also an indelible part of my friendships, lifestyle, and frankly, psychology. I love them. I'm passionate about them. That developers seem increasingly less passionate about we, their customers, than we are about their products, is saddening and a bitter pill to swallow.

All I can say is, Stardock: please never sell your company, and please never change your business practices. Stay with this business model as long as you possibly can.
on Aug 08, 2008
Not being able to afford games gives you no right to just take them anyway, or to "temporarily steal" them to determine if you really, really want to buy them. If you can't afford to make bad purchasing decisions, then try the demo. If it doesn't give you enough of a taste or you don't like it, then just don't get the game, period.If you're having financial issues, then honestly you should probably be doing something other than gaming (legit or otherwise) with your time anyway.


Sorry but I've found demo's a POOR way of deciding to buy a game or not.
Alot of demo's i've played and liked, then brought the full version only to find out their only "Ok" or "Crap". One such example for me is Call of Duty 4.

The only 3 games that i can say 100% sure I brought and loved because of a trial/demo are: Star wars lego (xbox360), Starcraft (4 copies, pc) and WoW.

Most of the rest where brought because I tried a FULL version before I brought (before you think it, they where FULL LEGAL RETAIL versions).

Any stardock games' I have brought where just brought for reasons I can't remember (although it certainly wasn't because of a demo).

Also, comparing stealing a car to test drive it/shoe is one of the worst comparisons I have ever heard! Copyright infringement is/ can be quite different from stealing.

I can tell you know that quite a few of the games that've brought where because of Copyright infringement (in uk).
It is an offence to perform any of the following acts without the consent of the owner:

Copy the work.

Rent, lend or issue copies of the work to the public.

Perform, broadcast or show the work in public.

Adapt the work.
Source: WWW Link
Item number 7

So within all reason and technicality downloading a copy of game from the net to try it out is just as illegal as borrowing from a friend to test the game.
Again in UK law. I would love to see how many games are brought as a result of copyright infringement.
On another note it seems (to me) there is POSSIBLE legal loophole to allow copyright infringement.
on Aug 13, 2008
Sooo - basically consoles are crap and only aimed at children with all that it entails in dumb software, big shiny buttons and droolproof controllers - whereas pc's are all for big, mature grownups with big, meaty brains and complicated games that you need a degree to play - assuming you're smart enough to start it in the first place.

That about right?


Yup that's about right, if you look at who buys the consoles, it is mainly parents for their children.
on Aug 14, 2008
To be honest with you, I think after a couple of hours of trying to get Mass Effect to work, you should have gone back to whoever sold you the game & demanded your money back.

If you'd bought it online, then I would have sent it back to the seller and put a complaint into the credit card company (if possible) asking them to withhold payment as the game was "not fit for purpose".

If you bought it in a store, just take it back. I had the same thing a couple of years ago with a DRM-protected CD which played okay on all the household CD players but not in my car. I took it back to the local HMV store (where I bought it from) and demanded a non-DRM replacement or my money back. It took some argument and for me to demand to see the manager but as soon as I told him it was "not fit for purpose", I got a refund.



on Aug 14, 2008
I don't want to use the word "pirate" because I think it's a word that tries to glamourise an activity that, in reality, is very sad - so I will use the word "copiers" instead.

I used to copy heaps of games & music up until 6 years ago, I amassed a huge collection of stuff & spent a lot of time cataloguing it, backing it up to CD & giving it away to friends & family. In my own defence, I never sold any of it to anyone else.

But as a big games & (rock) music fan with large legal collections of both, I started to discover over a period of time that I wasn't actually playing or listening to the copied stuff - most of the time I was using the legal stuff. I came to the conclusion that the stuff I'd downloaded had no value to me whatsoever because I was getting the "buzz" finding it & downloading it, not actually listening to it or playing it.

So at that point, I threw a huge collection of CDRs away, wiped most of the stuff from my hard disks and did a clearout (to eBay) of the legal games & music I had which I didn't like any more. With the eBay proceeds, I bought a few new games & some music CDs (the copied stuff I'd kept on hard disk) and got a real buzz finding the cheapest prices on the Internet & in stores. Because I'd taken the time to research the stuff I wanted first, I read a lot of reviews & looked everywhere to get stuff as cheap as possibly, by the time it arrived in the post, I was eager to play the new CD or game I'd got. Pretty much all of the time, the games & music felt "worth" the money I paid for it. Right to this very day, I'm still doing the same thing, listening to and playing a lot more games & really enjoying those I have.

I'm not going to "preach" the rights & wrongs of copying because I treat most games & music companies as huge faceless organisations who are doing their best to screw me out of as much money that I can. But I'm also a cynical old (40s) man, I pretty much ignore what advertising is thrown at me & take the time to research what I buy at the best possible prices - consequently, the stuff I do buy is always good (for me) & I therefore think that as long as I take some care in choosing stuff, it ends up as being pretty good value for money. (Please don't try to tell me that a music CD I've listened to countless times over a 20 year period & cost me £10 isn't good value for money.)

Yes, I'm in a fortunate situation with a good job & a nice amount of disposable income but I have learnt to appreciate money & what I buy with it.

I also get very disappointed with the "I want it now" attitude of a lot of people, many of whom are the in the generation beneath me. I know there's a lot of peer pressure these days, far more than I got at that age, but when young kids & parents queue at midnight outside games stores for the latest game releases, it's doing nothing more than demonstrating to these evil corporations that there are a whole heap of people out there with far too much disposable income & not much common sense. And, of course those same corporations are eager to get that money from their hands - so they just churn out crap games & crap music backed with millions in advertising & marketing budget to *make* these people really think they *need* these things.

And that's where the copying comes in. People buy a new game or CD, realise it's nowhere near as good as the advert says it is, they feel ripped off & less inclined to buy anything else from that company. So they copy it next time. So the corporations bring in DRM that they say is to combat copying but, in reality, is there to get the honest people to *rent* music & games rather than *own* them, the people get more hacked off & copy more...

An endless cycle & rather than the corporations selling us the products we want at the prices we want, we end up being *at war* with them!

So I'm not going to tell people here not to copy games because at their age I was probably doing precisely the same thing. But I am saying that if they do it because they feel ripped off by games companies (and with 90% of today's games being absolute crap, they have every right to be) then there *is* an alternative...

Just develop a bit of self-control, don't let money slip from your fingers so quickly & keep yourselves well informed. Nothing hits a company harder than not buying their products & telling them (and everyone else) why their products are rubbish. And if you don't copy their stuff either, then DRM becomes meaningless and they're forced to either put out better products, reduce their prices or go out of business.
on Aug 14, 2008
Just one more rant from me...

I do think that £34.99 (or higher) as a UK standard price for a game is far too high for the vast majority of games - I'll make exceptions for Galactic Civilizations 2, The Orange Box & the excellent bargain I got from PC World of all 5 Heroes Of Might & Magic Games in a deluxe box for that very price!

But here's an example of exercising a little "self control"...

I am a fan of the Unreal Tournament games but I probably play UT maybe an hour or so a week only in between sessions of other free online shooters like Nexuiz & World Of Padman. So whilst I was looking forward to UT III coming out, I decided that because I won't play it that much, it isn't worth £34.99 to me (or anything near that). So I just waited and, sure enough, those high street ripoff merchants Zavvi had a rare bargain of UT3 for £15.

As a result, for £15 it's good value for a great game that I probably won't play that much but I'm happy - and already waiting for UT4.

It really is stupid rushing out to buy stuff on the day of release just because you can be the first to own it or complete it.

Save your money, wait patiently & get more value for money!
on Aug 22, 2008
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.


I honestly hope tons of pirates pirate this buggy piece of crap. Unfortunately, stardock would've gotten the last laugh as the pirates would realize that they've just wasted their bandwidth on a game that has no single player (plot or campaign) and that is too buggy to play online.

You are a clever one stardock.

on Aug 22, 2008
darkcurrent,

Don't you have something better to do than posting insults in every other thread?
on Aug 22, 2008
darkcurrent,Don't you have something better to do than posting insults in every other thread?


I would much rather play Sins of a solar empire with my bro, but since it's so buggy, we've both decided to stop playing. Instead, I now spend the time which I used to play SINS on these boards and complaining about this game.
on Aug 28, 2008

Great article! - The customers who have the money and want the game (or music, or dvd, etc) will pay for it if its quality and made easily available for them to purchase, receive and then do with as they please - So market and develop to those customers and if you pick up a few unexpected customers along the way - great!  It still amazes me why the SPA, RIAA, MPAA all think piracy is the thing thats killing their business - the truth is if they make GOOD quality works and target to the audience that will pay for those works then they make money!  I bet when the Dark Knight comes out on DVD, etc it will sell really well - not because it will have some antipiracy crap on it that the pirates cant figure out how to crack (yah right.. that will be the day)... NO becasue it was a quality picture that people enjoyed and they want to own that quaility work and have it in their collection (The day it comes out for most of us who cant wait when something of quaility is released). - Same goes for games and the rest of media...  How much money, resources and time is wasted on these anti-piracy schemes only to see them cracked the day after (and in somecases before) the title is released?  Its an endless battle that is just simply a waste of time - Make quality products to the people who you know will pay the money for it.  Hell - the damn companies should be putting the money they spend on these antipiracy schemes into some market research to see if the damn product (game, movie, etc) will hit the target market of the ones who are willing to buy it! Seriously why would I want to pay for something I'll play once, then have it sit on a shelf for the rest of time.. Another method to battle piracy is to make the product affordable to try, demos work, but are usually really limited and beta qualiity because time is spent developing the final product and its a pain to chop it up to make something parital.  Instead why not sell the entire product for one low fee that allows it to be played through once - if the customer wants online play they can pay another extra "one time" fee - if they want to play the game through the story line again - they can pay for a lifetime license or one more low time fee for a single play!  I know a lot of people who are more than willing to go online and buy a single song they like through itunes.  And if itunes wasn't around they would be pirates because they sure as hell wouldn't want to pay full price for the rest of the crap songs on a CD that they dont care for.  From that example I think piracy is a good thing - it forces content to be created that people are willing to pay for and us as consumers get our moneys worth.  Nothing is worse than walking out of a movie and realizing you will never get those 2hrs back and how if you would have atleast waited and rented it on dvd you would feel less used than you do at that moment

- D2G

 

on Aug 28, 2008

Nothing is worse than walking out of a movie and realizing you will never get those 2hrs back and how if you would have atleast waited and rented it on dvd you would feel less used than you do at that moment
How about realizing you'll only get a fraction of that $50+ game back? And you're still out the time you spent trying to enjoy it.

 

on Sep 11, 2008

The Spore Kerfufle will certainly open up this thread once more to debate....

The thing that I never really see discussed in all this talk about piracy is that media piracy, bootlegging, smuggling, etc. etc. are all basic responses to economic factors. Raise the price of something beyond it's market value and people find ways to acquire that product cheaper. Also remember that in economic terms "Cost" does not always mean "Money": "Time is money" as they say, and if I need to acquire a new video card, then the time of going to the computer store, the cost of the gas to get there and back, (or the time spent online to find a card and shipping) all must be factored in to that ultimate cost.

Likewise problems caused by DRM software and rootkits have 'hidden costs' for the consumer. An and user may not be actively aware of every additional cost, but they will notice it, and start making economic choices accordingly.

If we assume that there will always be a segment of people who want everything for nothing, and have the technical expertiese to get it, then they are not customers, and they have the expertiese to defeat any copy-protection schema that has been attempted. It is arguable that modern copy protections have been rendered useless with the release of cracked copies before the release of the full versions. There will be a second band of people who want the same, but wait for the first to make their copies available. These are also not paying customers, and they are only inconvienenced by the delay.

On the other extreme are the fanboys who will buy anything with enough hype and bandwagon support. Copy protection does nothing to this statistical set either. They either don't know enough, or they're too fanatical about the product to care.

It's the middle ground of people who compare quality of product to price paid that are the customers that copy protection effects. Provide a good product at a reasonable price and they buy. Increase costs, overt and hidden costs combined, and basic 'demand curves' will show that you lose customers. Decrease costs, you increase the value-per-dollar of your product, and demand will rise.

For businesspeople that are supposed to have Master's degrees in Business a lot of copanies seem to be directed without this high-school degree of economics in mind.

$0.02.