Indie publisher: Piracy isn’t to blame for bad PC game sales

Nowadays, hearing big PC game development houses blame piracy for both poor game sales and their increased focus on consoles is a common occurrence. We’ve heard high-profile staffers from id Software, Epic Games, and Infinity Ward do it, and countless others have chimed in. Meanwhile, console games continue to significantly outsell most PC games.

But is piracy really the underlying cause? Brad Wardell, CEO of software maker and indie game publisher Stardock, doesn’t think so. In a recent blog entry, Wardell has spelled out his view of why makers of AAA titles are failing to get as much traction as they’d like in the PC market. The problem isn’t so much piracy, he says, as the fact that “game developers want to be like rock stars more than businessmen.”

According to Wardell, PC game developers are banking too much on the “cool” factor and failing to actually design games for people likely to buy them. High-profile titles like Crysis may get glowing reviews and appear on game magazine covers, but the hardcore PC gamer market at which they’re aimed is both swarming with pirates and too small in size. “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,” Wardell says. “I think people would be shocked to find out how few hard core gamers there really are out there. . . . The number of high end graphics cards sold each year isn’t a trade secret.”

As evidence that more accessible titles do better, Wardell points to not only the success of games like The Sims, but also of Sins of a Solar Empire—a low-budget, real-time strategy game published by Stardock that’s reportedly sold 200,000 copies in its first month already. To put things in perspective, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare sold 383,000 units within its first couple of months of release. Unlike COD4, Sins of a Solar Empire didn’t benefit from huge media coverage, and it doesn’t even have copy protection—something Wardell says Stardock chose not to include because “the people who actually buy games don’t like to mess with it.” He adds, “Our customers make the rules, not the pirates.”

Comments closed
    • JZig
    • 12 years ago

    I’m a working game developer and I totally agree with Brad (CEO of Stardock) about how to deal with piracy. I sort of cheat by dealing with MMO’s, but the basic principle is the same: Who gives a shit how many users you have? Our job as game developers is to make money (and also feel fulfilled artistically, they’re not incompatible), so we need to focus on paying customers. Pirates are just a force of nature, and we need to manage them correctly (that thing that Titan Quest did where it crashed for pirates is just plain idiotic) instead of fighting a self-destructive war against them.

    Further ramblings are available for the bored at my blog: §[< http://doublebuffered.com/2008/03/20/piracy-customers-and-making-money/<]§

    • d1od1o
    • 12 years ago

    I’ve completely switched over to Firefox and OpenOffice and I own two copies of WinXP so I have absolutely no incentive to migrate to Vista. That alone caps my game purchases to DX9. Consoles now support HD resolutions and clearly the bulk of game development has switched over to them from PCs so the handwriting is on the wall. PC games will very shortly be composed of Console ports and tech demos. The dagger to the PC games heart will be when the PS3 starts fully supporting keyboard and mouse game play.

    • odizzido
    • 12 years ago

    I like stardock

    • Teddy Bar
    • 12 years ago

    While various DRM measures had stopped me from buying any games, prior to that I had bought very few because they lacked immersion.

    Because of the lack of immersion I had stopped upgrading my hardware, when I stopped upgrading my hardware I stopped being able to even look at some of the new games because I lacked the grunt needed, a real catch 22.

    I see multiplayer, game reviews, immersion lack of continued support to be the real killers for me.

    Multiplayer, we had initially developers putting it in regardless of how appropriate it was, such as in the Silent Hunter series i.e. u-boats. Now a game gets panned by reviewers if it does not have multiplayer regardless if the game needs it or not.

    Game reviewers have a lot to answer for. I cannot say it better than this guy…
    §[<
    http://www.destructoid.com/why-video-game-reviews-suck-part-one-30369.phtml< ]§ §[<http://www.destructoid.com/why-video-game-reviews-suck-part-two-30412.phtml<]§ Red Baron II and Forgotten Battles I think showcases where we have come from where developers immersed the player in the experience to where you have you died hit replay and try again. Publishers dropping support of their products while they still have glaring issues and then not addressing these issues in the next iteration of the series, again I think the Silent Hunter series is a classic example. In SH3 they had a ridiculous 8000 metre horizon and as a result the maximum visual range for the AI was 3000 metres! This was moded out by the community so that the horizon was around 15,000 metres and the AI's maximum visual range was 11,000 metres. So when Silent Hunter 4 came out 2 odd years after the community had rectified the horizon deficiency the ridiculous 8000 metre horizon was back and as a result the maximum visual range for the AI was again 3000 metres! This is from a game that is sold as a simulation. In the end, I don't pirate games but I rarely by one. It is not that I do not want to, it is simply I will not by rubbish or hollow meaningless games. Cheers, Teddy Bär

    • Xenolith
    • 12 years ago

    Accessible. Hate to bring in some corporate speak, but thats what these games are missing. Accessiblility to main stream market. COD4 was more simulation, than a game. UT3 was the same as UT2004, except they made it even more complicated, and the darker graphics made it seem even more intimidating.

    The direction that Valve took the Team Fortress franchise is the way to go. Simplify. Not make more complicated. Results in more accessibility.

      • ludi
      • 12 years ago

      I hear that. After TFC I got hooked on Enemy Territory for several years, because it had just enough variety to be fun without being complex. TF2 quickly replaced it for exactly those reasons, plus the exagerated atmosphere helps keep things lighter and friendlier (as compared to, say, CounterStrike, where the gameplay is fun but the mood is frequently downright bitter).

    • Tommyxx516
    • 12 years ago

    I’m having more fun with my PS3/ Xbox360 on my HDTV than I would buying s tuff to upgrade my computer. Seriously, I can check my e-mails and surf the web anywhere.

      • Kurotetsu
      • 12 years ago

      Did you read the article or any of the comments made so far before making this post?

    • marvelous
    • 12 years ago

    1. Gaming industry needs 2 different markets with console and PC. It isn’t the case. We have bunch of games that are released for both PC and console that would be easier played on a console for the mainstream people who don’t have to worry about patches and bugs.

    2. Lot of these games have no replay value for $40 -$50 a pop and is rather short. Once single player campaign is finished I wouldn’t even look back. Either have single player that has more replay value or add a compelling multiplayer game that adds replay value.

    3. Game needs to be FUN! If it isn’t fun it’s not a game. It’s a chore. Graphics makes a game more immersive but it doesn’t make the games more fun.

      • BenBasson
      • 12 years ago

      I think the PC market also needs to move more towards online distribution. Steam is a great way to bring more people into PC gaming because it’s so easy – no physical media, central launching point for all games, one-step install/uninstall. While probably not perfect, this surely makes piracy less attractive as well.

      It would also help if games were better at auto-detecting hardware, something that appears to be happening. If users have to manually change their resolution from 640×480 to something higher and tweak other game settings, the developers of that game have failed. Please game developers, please launch at least the game menus at the OS resolution and then decide what the game can run at and adjust accordingly.

    • Saber Cherry
    • 12 years ago

    I really hate the usual forms of copy protection and DRM, and I have never found a situation where (strictly local implementations, meaning not involving the internet) either one has ever prevented me from doing anything I wanted to do.

    That said, I think Brad Wardell is totally wrong here (about piracy and the health of the industry – he makes good points about other things). Piracy is cannibalizing the PC game industry. Pirating games is just too easy and too safe.

    Correlating copy protection and piracy with sales is rather silly, since copy protection does not really affect piracy. And correlating “hardcore gamers” with high-end graphics cards is as dumb as correlating “people who like to drive fast” with “people who own Lamborghinis”. They are not even necessarily overlapping sets – in each case, the second set is defined more by wealth or personal insecurity (“conspicuous consumption”) than by actual need or usage of the product.

    • albundy
    • 12 years ago

    i guess it was easy to find a scapegoat, but finding a game that is really fun is like winning the lottery these days.

    Actiontrip.com has a nice little tidbit about id software claiming more pc gamers are switching to consoles. And I dont blame them. I am having more fun on my ps3 than I would on wasted $$$ on a new video card.

    • floodo1
    • 12 years ago

    wow I cant believe TR just gets around to posting this. This came out just abou the time douchbebag from epic complained about piracy as an excuse for the horrible sales of UT3, which i think everyone knows ITSELF was the reason why it didnt sell 🙁

    oh well at least its new to all you guys!

    • eitje
    • 12 years ago

    When I was a kid, I spent hours a day on video games. When I was in college, my god… I played games more than I went to class.

    But I’ve grown up now, and I don’t have a lot of time for games. I’m just too busy doing other things. I play the games from my childhood on my DS, usually, with emulators and similar homebrew.

    I imagine kids now are in a similar boat – with the steady proliferation of the internet, there’s just too much other, SOCIAL stuff going on for a single player game to be as much fun as scrabble on facebook.

      • Master Kenobi
      • 12 years ago

      I find myself playing the Pokemon RPG’s for the game boys using an emulator these days. Man, back when games took days or weeks to complete. Ah, so much has changed.

      • PetMiceRnice
      • 12 years ago

      A similar thing happened to me, I gamed a lot when I was a kid and into my 20s. But by the time I got to my late 20s, I got busier and my passion for gaming faded. I wish I could get back into games like I did when I was younger, but the desire to do so is not really there anymore. These days, when I have time off work, I like to curl up and surf the Internet or watch TV. I still game here and there and enjoy it when I do, but I only do it in short spurts. I don’t think it’s worth it for me to build another gaming PC anymore.

      • indeego
      • 12 years ago

      I just don’t have a paitience for most games these days. For example, oblivion started off with a lot of fun, but about 4 hours in I relized: This is a f*(&%$ job! I should be paid to roam the freaking land. Instead, I felt like I was just going from point to point and it was taking forever.

      If a game doesn’t grab me in 10 minutes, I’m unlikely to ever try it again.

      And yeah, a lot more out there is entertaining to me than games. Trolling, for oneg{<.<}g

      • A_Pickle
      • 12 years ago

      g[

      • cygnus1
      • 12 years ago

      you realize 10 digit revenue would be a billion dollars? i’ve supported stardock for a while, but they most certainly did not make a billion dollars from a million dollar investment

    • Krogoth
    • 12 years ago

    Congrats that a developer knows and admits that the whole “Piracy is reason why PC sales suck” is bogus.

    I still the hold charge that the change of demographics, entrance cost for a gaming PC and loss of its key advantages over gaming consoles are what is really hurting PC as a gaming platform.

    BTW, you know that majority of your classic PC titles from the golden days came from indie developers.

      • A_Pickle
      • 12 years ago

      Well, I think it’s unfair to discount piracy entirely. Personally, I think that it is possible to have copy protection AND a good gaming experience for the customer, it’s just that some companies/developers aren’t… quite seeing that it’s a two way street. I think PC games need to be cheaper on retail, and have intelligent piracy countermeasures.

      Call of Duty 4 is a fun game, don’t get me wrong — but I won’t hold back that Infinity Ward’s petty whining about piracy pissed me off /[

    • kvndoom
    • 12 years ago

    Function over form.

    Pretty screenshots don’t sell huge quantities of games. Good content will (most of the time anyway). If you can have both, then all the better.

    • moshpit
    • 12 years ago

    It’s devs like Stardock that will have the loyalty of the PC gamers because of their stand against restrictive CD copy protections that only really hurt the real buyers in the end. Wardell is completely correct in his points. SoaSE is one of my favorite games out there right now. I beat Crysis after one run through it and probably won’t replay it. SoaSE has totally sucked me in and I’ve put in more hours in just ONE skirmish then I put in through the whole game of Crysis.

      • MrJP
      • 12 years ago

      It’s good to hear a developer sticking up for their legitimate customers and not wasting time and effort on futile copy protection. I’ll probably take a look at SoaSE now, just based on their enlightened attitude. Introversion are another developer who have a similar outlook, and genuinely listen to their community. Check out Darwinia, Uplink, or Defcon if you haven’t already.

    • Oldtech
    • 12 years ago

    The vast majority of “gamers” have average hardware. The reviewers have access to the top of the line hard, latest and greatest hardware. When the average or occasional gamer buys a high end game and it looks like crap on his $400.00 Dell, it doesn’t take long for the word to get out that the game sucks. “It doesn’t look like the screen shots I saw on blah blah blah web site”. “you can’t play this unless your have a $4000.00 computer”.
    When you have turn all the goodies off, set the resolution at 640×480 just for the game to run smooth, the game is not going to sell. No matter how wonderfull it is on the $4000.00 computer.
    Maybe two versions of the game should be released; one for the reviewers with their $4000.00 computers, and one for everybody else.

    Oldtech

      • eitje
      • 12 years ago

      or they blame their crappy computer. 😉

      • BenBasson
      • 12 years ago

      It’s not like the console market is really any different. TV ads still shy away from in-game graphics in order to sell console games, and most likely always will. It’s not like there’s a great deal of overlap between the mass gaming market and people who actually read gaming reviews.

      Rubbish graphics on a cheap Dell aren’t the problem. Rubbish games are the problem, and most PC games either fall into this category or are too short to justify their price. Even games that were the PC’s traditional strengths are lacking. The Orange Box is the only thing in the last few years that I feel I’ve had value for money from in terms of PC gaming. I could list complaints about various games all day, but I don’t think there’s any need for that.

    • no51
    • 12 years ago

    A huge TR SoaSE game would be awesome… or a disaster.

    • BenBasson
    • 12 years ago

    A problem with games in general these days is that they’re too short / not worth the money. If you don’t care for online multiplayer, CoD4 is rather expensive – £35ish for approximately 7 hours of single-player gameplay. Yes, 7 hours, with basically zero replay value. Contrast this to the Orange Box, which gave me upwards of 30 hours of single-player gameplay for less money.

    As good as CoD4 was, surely this trend is also contributing towards rubbish sales.

    CoD4 will run on a 5-year-old computer, so I don’t think high-end graphic card sales really apply. Ok, so it won’t look pretty, but it runs.

      • crichards
      • 12 years ago

      Totally agree. You only have to look at World of Warcraft; years old now but still flying off the shelves with over 10 million subscribers. Personally, I think it’s the most enjoyable and cheapest game (£9 per month) I’ve ever played if you don’t count free games.

      CoD4, was excellent, but as you said, is short, has ZERO replayability and is expensive. Oblivion was also superb and lasted me ages.

      I think developers focus too much on graphics and not enough on concept.

      • Bluekkis
      • 12 years ago

      I’m with you on this one. I enjoy playing games that take long time to beat. And I’m not even talking about tens of hours… Baldur’s Gate saga (1 & 2 with all expansions) is something I’m talking about, takes weeks to play it through and every time you can play it differently. I still consider that as best game purchase I’ve ever done. Civ IV with epic speed is another I do time to time. Very few game these days can keep up interest for that long.

      • TREE
      • 12 years ago

      … if poor replayability is the reason for PC games low sales numbers then explain how the exact same game (that not only costs more) on a console sells like hotcakes?

        • BenBasson
        • 12 years ago

        I said a problem with games in general. Certainly it doesn’t help PC game sales when a game is ridiculously short, PC games have traditionally been more in-depth and complex than console games. This is what I mean as to how the length is contributing to the lack of PC sales.

        Call of Duty 4 is almost certainly selling well on consoles due to different platform expectations – shorter games with multiplayer seems to be the way of console gaming these days; Halo 3 is another example. I know a lot of people are moving away from the PC for multiplayer, but that’s mainly because it Just Works on consoles and for whatever reason, PC game developers are inept at basic tasks, like matchmaking and coordinating 4-way connections.

        Short games never seem to go down that well on the PC, unless the multiplayer was always the main aspect, or unless the game is so compelling that it can get away with it (see Portal). How well did Half Life 2 / The Orange Box sell on the 360? I bet PC sales are higher.

        A couple more reasons why PC sales might look bad:
        1) Online distribution is almost never counted in the figures.
        2) Console games have a short burst of sales, followed by a slow but steady decline. PC game sales tend to be steadier over time.

          • no51
          • 12 years ago

          A long game does not make a good game. I’d rather have a short game that leaves me wanting more instead of a long game that makes me feel like I wasted my time.

            • BenBasson
            • 12 years ago

            I totally agree, but I’m getting tired of playing games that I could conceivably finish in one sitting and paying

        • Kurotetsu
        • 12 years ago

        This is a personal theory, take it for what you will, but I believe its because alot of the ‘hotter’ games for console (Halo, CoD4, Bioshock) are from genres that are relatively new to the console, but are pretty dated for the PC.

        I think, and I could be wrong here, first person shooters never really took off on the console until Halo came out back in November 2001, then it really started soaring with Halo 2 back in November 2004. So based on that, the FPS genre is still relatively new to the console. Whereas FPSes have been a staple for PC gaming for over 2 decades, starting with Wolfenstein in ’81 I think. I think the problem is that PC gamers may be ‘burnt out’ on FPSes, which are becoming increasingly cookie-cutter, whereas console gamers are just starting to get a taste of it. Things like Sins of a Solar Empire, an RTS, are still fresh enough that PC gamers, both average and hardcore, are going to be more attracted to it then something like Crysis or Call of Duty 4.

        Half-Life 2 and Portal did great on the PC, because they bring something new. CoD4 and UT3 flopped probably because PC gamers have seen what the have to offer already, yet they did much better on the console because gamers there are just starting to see the same things. Crossovers like Bioshock do well in both because it brings things that are appealing to both sides (I THINK Bioshock did well on the PC anyway), innovation for PC, and graphics and fast gameplay for console.

          • no51
          • 12 years ago

          WHAT BUSINESS DO YOU HAVE BRINGING AN ARGUMENT THAT MAKES SENSE ON THE INTERNETS????!?!11ONE

          I’m waiting for flight sims to come back. Too bad my old gear won’t work with my current computer.

    • liquidsquid
    • 12 years ago

    Well, duh Captain Obvious. This little bit seems dead-on to me. I have no desire to buy a console, and am not a hard-core gamer. I just want a past-time on my only PC. Nothing really compelling out there of late, and Sins sounds too absorptive.

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