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.”