Venting my frustrations with PC game-dev

Unfortunatly there is a big difference between being allowed to use them and having the game designed around that interface. Case in point: every console to PC port ever made.

They did? I bought my copy of GalCiv2 at retail.

These articles are kind of interesting:

They’re doing a casual game, so it’s clearly not apples-to-apples, but they give lots of numbers and did some actual split testing type things. Their results show that piracy (for their game) is more akin to download conversion rates than it is to direct lost sales. In other words, when they added DRM (in multiple stages), only 1 in a 1000 converted to a sale (far lower than download conversion rates), which bolsters the “those people wouldn’t have bought it anyway” argument. I have heard this anecdotally from other people in more AAA positions that I can’t name (sorry, that’s lame, I know), which led them to conclude that there are many more effective ways to spend energy to increase sales than fighting hardcore piracy…they decided to fight casual piracy with some quick things, and then spend time adding value for their customers.

It would be super awesome if there was actually more published data on this. It would be great to cut through the religious arguments and just get some numbers. It’s especially frustrating since, unlike a lot of questions, this is something that could be completely quanitified, with firm answers to questions of whether more people bought the game if it was hard to pirate, what the tradeoffs of inconveniencing paying customers versus pirates are, etc.


Those conversion rates are from a world where if you can’t pirate X you can pirate Y. What happens when you can’t pirate any of it?

That’s a depressing OP, and frankly I think the Stardock approach won’t work for… well, almost anyone except Stardock. THQ tried it, then slapped DRM into their expansion for Company of Heroes. Do you think they did that because they just enjoy being dicks?

Fact is pirates pirate stuff because they’re fucking cheap, and because they can. You can’t have a machine which can run Call of Duty 4 and not be able to afford Call of Duty 4, and if you can’t afford it… tough shit! I work with people who I know are pirating, hell they’re swapping game discs right in front of me and the only time they’ll buy something is if it isn’t cracked at the time they want it, or if the patches are protected and aren’t hitting the warez scene fast enough.

That piracy is rampant on the PC does not surprise me in the least because I see it all the time.

I suspect online verification will continue to be the way forward, perhaps even more of the mandatory patching ala Company of Heroes Opposing Fronts. At the very least CD-checks are going to die and things like Steam represent the future. So long as it cuts down on piracy I’ll be happy because they make my blood boil.

The PC as a gaming platform needs to improve. Until recently graphics driver updating was a magic voodoo process which could so easily go wrong, and OEMs still ship driver versions months out of date, sometimes you’ll see cards with X amount of memory shipped by an OEM using a driver which doesn’t even support that amount! Driver updating needs to be silent and in the background, in the same way patches are applied. Drivers all need to be WHQL signed, they need to be uploaded promptly (to Windows Update), and they need to be installed by default not as an optional extra, and then WHQL or some signing process, needs to be sold so that if it doesn’t have X on the box, you don’t touch it with a barge pole.

Alas, we also have to deal with the terrible PC advice of the last decade. The AV or spyware scanners using more resources than the viruses themselves; the registry cleaners which fuck you up; the RAM freers which slow the machine…

Are you really that unable to look at it from an end-user’s perspective? The closed development nature of consoles sucks for developers, but the DRM in consoles is basically invisible to the end-user (which is almost never the case when it comes to PC DRM). I don’t hate on PC gaming DRM because of any of the open source “information wants to be free” bullshit, I hate on it because it makes my life as a user a pain in the ass. Console DRM doesn’t.

Actually, Trusted Computing is a secure I/O, memory curtaining, encrypted storage solution that requires affected components to have a bit of hardware called a “trusted platform module.” It’s really an entirely different animal than copy protection.

It’s also not really meant to tell people what they can or can’t run. It’s more for stuff like locking down hard drives and securing code. I’m sure “people” don’t like the idea, but the Department of Defense and the US Army does, because they require every computer they buy now to have a TPM in it.

Microsoft engineering and offering a superior game-centric copy protection solution with simple code calls and returns, developed with game developers and publishers’ input, utilizing their low-level access to the OS as a means of making it both more secure and transparent to the end user, wouldn’t give Microsoft any power to “force” stuff into people’s computer (any more than they “force” you to use NTFS or FAT32 as a file system, or “force” you to have basic Windows Explorer processes running if you run Windows). And it wouldn’t “force” developers to use it, or customers to buy games that use it. Software makers would be free to continue to use Safedisc or SecureROM or nothing at all, consumers would be free to not use it.

I mean, Vista includes the DRM required to comply with Blu-ray and HD-DVD. It doesn’t stop me from viewing ripped movies, or listening to DRM-free music. It doesn’t force any developer or publisher of any video or audio to use it, nor me to buy it. The fact that support for something optional exists within the OS doesn’t mandate it’s use or consumption.

Sigh. I knew this was going to go there.

We tried that. It didn’t work any better; in fact, a lot of people believe it was much worse. Thanks for noticing, Quitch.

What are you talking about? TQ wasn’t a failure. It’s one of the games I’m proudest of having worked on.

The point was these things make it hard to work in the PC space, not that it’s something we can’t do. Of course we can do it; we’ve done it.

Thanks for the sympathy, but for the record, I work for THQ. I’m not out of a job. I’m just really frustrated.


Great thread and excellent original post. Reminds me of the article by Phil Stein that talked about Railroad Tycoon 2 being named game of the year in Russia. That’s a nice accomplishment except that it wasn’t released in Russia at that point in time.

If Iron Lore had it to do again, would they release the game via Steam or a similar service?

Dominions 3 did it a lot smarter. Afaik they add additional checks for the cd-key with each patch, so pirates can play the unpatched version fine, but need to wait for new cracks to patch their game.
So you don´t get the overwhelming initial bad word of mouth and pirates have a pretty clear incentive to buy the game since the patches are very substantial.

I really can´t understand what the copy protection in TQ should have achieved. I mean it clearly wouldn´t generate pirate sales and the bad word of mouth was a given.
(If I recall correctly Sacred, a direct competitor to Titan Quest did the same kind of copy protection and randomly teleported zoning players to an island if they ran the cracked version. You can guess what their message boards looked like in the first days after release.)

This sounds like something that might be useful, right up until the point that it’s cracked, at which point every game that uses it could be pirated with equal ease. The current system is highly flawed, but the variety of implementations at least ensures that once one game is cracked, others (even using the same scheme) don’t fall like dominoes.

Also, and I’m not an MS hater or anything, I don’t really trust them to come up with something that would really work. Every unscrupulous hacker and cracker in the world goes after Windows. It’s only a matter of time before anything is cracked. Wish I had a solution, I don’t.

Condolences to ILE folks. PC is indeed a harsh, harsh market… it’s sad, that’s very much where my roots are.

TQ certainly wasn’t a failure critically. I probably enjoyed the game the least of anyone on this board (some people here adored it) and I still played it through twice and felt I got my money’s worth. It did have some fairly large bugs at release, and it lacked the secure online component that really guarantees longevity, but there’s no doubt in my mind that its developers deserved to continue making games. They didn’t fail because TQ sucked; it was surely some other reason.

Instead of continuing to spin wheels about the realities of distribution and piracy, why not focus on ways to solve the problem, like alternate distribution methods, alternate business models, and integrated online play? Mythos seems like the ideal example, if an unproven one.

I bought mine from them, and Brad has said many times that such sales made a big difference for them.

I’ve no clue what percentage of user bought from which option, but they didn’t cut the middleman out.

FPS games have a huge fan base, turn-based 4X games don’t have a massive fan base. But I’d guess the fans they do have are the kind that would actively support developers that makes those types of games.

Brad has stated that they may made more money from the direct downloads than they did from the retail sales on GalCiv2, even though they sold significantly more copies via retail.

So, in that sense they did cut out the middleman (retail and it’s cut).

My bad. Hopefully some of the lessons learned can be applied to the next studio, so it doesn’t end this way.

Also, regarding your frustration, I take it you didn’t have any say in getting THQ to sign them for another game? That sucks.

To quote Entourage. “Fucking suits.”

Well spoken, Michael. Thank you for being so candid.

Join the Steam ranks. As w/ Half Life 2, require retail copies to download the last bits of your app from Steam. Require Steam for multiplayer. I’d prefer not to get a game any other way from now on.

Rather than fight the hacking problem on the client, you need to move past it. The whole business model of retail box sales as the sole source of revenue for a title is dead… dead… dead… How many more stories like this do we need to hear before it sinks in?

The frustrating part about a really great game like TQ is that it could have sustained a reasonably sized community and substantially greater revenues had the basic game design been grounded in the online instead of single player. By having an online component, the game developer can ensure that the game player actually pays money. The current approach of DRM/copy protection just doesn’t work because of the rampant lack of ethics these days.

The goal needs to be to create an online component that’s sufficiently compelling that anyone who actually chooses to play the game without it will have a worse experience - and know it. TQ’s game design has all sorts of ways to support this goal, but let’s just pick the armor sets. It’s a pain to get all pieces of armor sets, but imagine that there was an online “auction house” which I could go to? It’d make completing sets much easier, more likely to happen, (and more fun IMO) but ironically I wouldn’t even every have to play “with” another player at any point if I didn’t want to. Think of it as single player writ large.

Another example would be so simply have taken out a healthy chunk (16-20 hours) from the “40 hours” of gameplay in the box and ship it later in an online way. It’s a huge tactical error to put all of your content in the hands of the enemy… Think of the initial CD release as the free demo and, if you absolutely must put a box out, don’t bank on more than $2 per box sold at best. Online is where the real revenue is, because it’s a whole lot harder to rip you off.

One just has to put at least as much creative energy into the business model as you do into the game design, because they are no longer separate.


Michael’s OP has been posted at RPG Watch. I hope he doesn’t get his wrist slapped by the straights.

But I like playing your games on PC :-(

Michal Fitch and other developer’s. You need a ranking system with “a little bit more” that requires a valid serial number. One of the great things about Galactic Civilizations is their Metaverse. I firmly believe this encourages legitimate sales as people want to see their little empire grow and see their name. In addition, Stardock builds “extras” into their budget so those that have legitimate copies know they will be getting something for free down the road. I’m only greatly simplifying what Brad’s blogged about - but if you want to be successful in the pc industry nowasays… there’s no reason you can’t be you just have to plan ahead.

Do you think it’s any mistake Spore’s on-line component is going to be so vast - or is that ONLY because EA loves us so much?