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Default Titan Quest - Frustrations of a PC Developer

March 3rd, 2008, 14:02
Michael Fitch - one of THQ's producers on Titan Quest - has let rip with frustrations on PC game development in a post at QT3. Clearly, the closure of Iron Lore is driving the anger but it's still an interesting read:
Greetings:
So, ILE shut down. This is tangentially related to that, not why they shut down, but part of why it was such a difficult freaking slog trying not to. It's a rough, rough world out there for independent studios who want to make big games, even worse if you're single-team and don't have a successful franchise to ride or a wealthy benefactor. Trying to make it on PC product is even tougher, and here's why.

Piracy. Yeah, that's right, I said it. No, I don't want to re-hash the endless "piracy spreads awareness", "I only pirate because there's no demo", "people who pirate wouldn't buy the game anyway" round-robin. Been there, done that. I do want to point to a couple of things, though.

One, there are other costs to piracy than just lost sales. For example, with TQ, the game was pirated and released on the nets before it hit stores. It was a fairly quick-and-dirty crack job, and in fact, it missed a lot of the copy-protection that was in the game. One of the copy-protection routines was keyed off the quest system, for example. You could start the game just fine, but when the quest triggered, it would do a security check, and dump you out if you had a pirated copy. There was another one in the streaming routine. So, it's a couple of days before release, and I start seeing people on the forums complaining about how buggy the game is, how it crashes all the time. A lot of people are talking about how it crashes right when you come out of the first cave. Yeah, that's right. There was a security check there.

So, before the game even comes out, we've got people bad-mouthing it because their pirated copies crash, even though a legitimate copy won't. We took a lot of shit on this, completely undeserved mind you. How many people decided to pick up the pirated version because it had this reputation and they didn't want to risk buying something that didn't work? Talk about your self-fulfilling prophecy.

One guy went so far as to say he'd bought the retail game and it was having the exact same crashes, so it must be the game itself. This was one of the most vocal detractors, and we got into it a little bit. He swore up and down that he'd done everything above-board, installed it on a clean machine, updated everything, still getting the same crashes. It was our fault, we were stupid, our programmers didn't know how to make games - some other guy asked "do they code with their feet?". About a week later, he realized that he'd forgotten to re-install his BIOS update after he wiped the machine. He fixed that, all his crashes went away. At least he was man enough to admit it.

So, for a game that doesn't have a Madden-sized advertising budget, word of mouth is your biggest hope, and here we are, before the game even releases, getting bashed to hell and gone by people who can't even be bothered to actually pay for the game. What was the ultimate impact of that? Hard to measure, but it did get mentioned in several reviews. Think about that the next time you read "we didn't have any problems running the game, but there are reports on the internet that people are having crashes."

Two, the numbers on piracy are really astonishing. The research I've seen pegs the piracy rate at between 70-85% on PC in the US, 90%+ in Europe, off the charts in Asia. I didn't believe it at first. It seemed way too high. Then I saw that Bioshock was selling 5 to 1 on console vs. PC. And Call of Duty 4 was selling 10 to 1. These are hardcore games, shooters, classic PC audience stuff. Given the difference in install base, I can't believe that there's that big of a difference in who played these games, but I guess there can be in who actually payed for them.

Let's dig a little deeper there. So, if 90% of your audience is stealing your game, even if you got a little bit more, say 10% of that audience to change their ways and pony up, what's the difference in income? Just about double. That's right, double. That's easily the difference between commercial failure and success. That's definitely the difference between doing okay and founding a lasting franchise. Even if you cut that down to 1% - 1 out of every hundred people who are pirating the game - who would actually buy the game, that's still a 10% increase in revenue. Again, that's big enough to make the difference between breaking even and making a profit.

Titan Quest did okay. We didn't lose money on it. But if even a tiny fraction of the (…)
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Last edited by Arhu; March 3rd, 2008 at 14:13.
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March 3rd, 2008, 14:02
Checking for correct operation of comments….

Works now.

Sorry for the being unable to comment on this specific newsbit.

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March 3rd, 2008, 17:50
Thanks for the fix, Myrthos.

I'm trying to remember my initial comment (that I couldn't post at the time)—something about getting to hear the publisher's side. Interesting that the big blame issue is piracy. His numbers are scary if true.

Where there's smoke, there's mirrors.
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March 3rd, 2008, 20:01
It's too bad that Mr. Fitch had to abandon the PC market after the great initial release of Titan Quest (TQ) & Immortal Throne (IT) on the market. I picked up "TQ" for a measly $5.00 at Target and proceeded to play it for almost 80 hours (spending about 30 hours retracing old steps to level up my character). I still haven't defeated Typhon to complete "TQ", but I've been hooked since I fired it up. I spent $20.00 for "IT", but I HAD to have it after my addiction compelled me to do so. I've had exactly ZERO crashes on version 1.30 and minimal slowdowns on a mid-level system. In short, thanks Mike, I appreciate all of the visible and evident work that went into a fantastic game. My only regret is that Iron Lore will not be following up with more great titles for me to enjoy.
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March 3rd, 2008, 20:28
Fitch's comments may be the single best forum post I've ever read. He made sense to me, anyway.

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March 3rd, 2008, 21:34
"…For example, with TQ, the game was pirated and released on the nets before it hit stores…"

Is there something I'm missing here ? since I don't understand this. I mean would this imply that someone at Iron Lore Studios or at the factory where they pressed the DVDs (or cds) or someone among the workers, or maybe even an executive
*stole* the Gold master and made it available to the public?

And if developers want to protect their IPs they need to make sure that this does not happen. Or is it me that just has misunderstood the whole -ehm- thing.

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March 3rd, 2008, 21:51
I rather believed the data on an PC or sever lying there BEFORE the transfer to the disc was cracked - that's how I understand the article, althoufgh I must admit that it doesn't definitively state at which point it exactly happened.

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March 3rd, 2008, 22:18
Originally Posted by aries100 View Post
…this imply that someone …at the factory where they pressed the DVDs (or cds)…
This is (sadly) very common.
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March 3rd, 2008, 22:25
Yes, this is very common. It might be an employee at the duplication factory, it might be the courier/freight service shipping the DVDs to retail and if it survives past that - little can be done to stop it from being taken at the retail end when the title arrives a few days early for an announced street date before it hits the floor.

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March 3rd, 2008, 22:45
It happens in all forms of entertainment - films, music they have the same problems. A recent article at eurogamer: Beat The Pirates At Your Own Game has ,what I think, the mentality of a lot of people that buy games.
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March 3rd, 2008, 23:57
Originally Posted by Dhruin View Post
Yes, this is very common. It might be an employee at the duplication factory, it might be the courier/freight service shipping the DVDs to retail and if it survives past that - little can be done to stop it from being taken at the retail end when the title arrives a few days early for an announced street date before it hits the floor.
Assasins creed has had a similar fate. It has allready leaked to the p2p even though its still one month to release.
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March 4th, 2008, 02:40
It is extremely refreshing hearing someone inside the industry really speak his mind unfiltered by the need to market one game or another, although the occasion is a sad one. I played both Titan Quest and Immortal Throne and loved it; infact I still listen to the musical score occasionally. However, since I did not buy the game until several months after release, not being too fond of the hack&slash genre at the time, I did not notice any of the original troubles.

One thing that strikes me as odd is the copy protection issue mentioned. I wonder whether it was intentional to crash the game at the copyright checkpoints instead of terminating the program graciously with an error message for the user? I guess this would make hacking the game easier, but is a functional hack not better than a hack that only appears to be functional and makes the game look unstable?

Maybe this is something for the developers to learn, being less paranoid about their users. Although I have little sympathy for people pirating games, I have even less for companies with underhanded programming styles. Although not directly related to PC game piracy, I suspect that companies like Sony BMG were very successful in erasing any bad conscience people downloading mp3s for free might have had, thus aggravating the issue even more.

If the crash was only caused by an incompetent cracker, however, which seems just as likely, the most important thing is probably to communicate this to the potential players efficently. The cause of the crashes should be brought to the attention of people through highly frequented websites, not an obscure message board as is usually done, since most gamers scared away by rumors of crashes are not likely to visit the official message boards looking for the few developers comments on the issue! If things get lucky, they might take a look at the official website of the game.

As mentioned above, I do not know how Iron Lore handled things at the time. Maybe they really did handle the situation as well as possible, maybe they made some mistakes. In either case, I hope Michael's post is read by as many people as possible, in particular those in a habit of obtaining games for free. It might help return some of the bad conscience scared away by the more consumer hostile companies around.
Last edited by coyote; March 4th, 2008 at 02:48.
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March 4th, 2008, 03:41
I played the demo.
LOVED it.
It didn't crash.

I didn't buy the game because I had so many I had to finish first.

I have around 30 pc games, all legitimate.
Some were bought used on Ebay but they all are original copies.

It saddens me to see what happened to this company.
And it frightens me to see that so much people illegally copy games. 90%?!
At that rate, PC games will cease to exist in a decade indeed.

One way I think that could prevent this would be to have them all downloaded via the Internet…
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March 4th, 2008, 17:27
There was a demo ? Interesting, I might try it out.

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March 4th, 2008, 17:59
Originally Posted by zakhal View Post
Assasins creed has had a similar fate. It has allready leaked to the p2p even though its still one month to release.
Except it's missing the main part of the game - Jerusalem. But there's a Russian version, so if you combine both… Heh.

If you want a leaked game, though, a better example is Hard to be a God.
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March 4th, 2008, 18:07
What I don't seem to understand is why some people would want to take the gold master? (or even the version before the gold master) and make a copy of it and then put it out on the internet.

I don't seem to be able to wrap my head around why someone would do this ??

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March 4th, 2008, 18:21
a) bragging rights
b) money -> ads on The Pirate Bay; selling DVDs; warez server
c) "because they can"
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March 4th, 2008, 20:31
d) because they have a twisted belief that developers work for free and games should be free
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March 4th, 2008, 20:57
Originally Posted by Bertil View Post
It's too bad that Mr. Fitch had to abandon the PC market after the great initial release of Titan Quest (TQ) & Immortal Throne (IT) on the market. I picked up "TQ" for a measly $5.00 at Target and proceeded to play it for almost 80 hours (spending about 30 hours retracing old steps to level up my character). I still haven't defeated Typhon to complete "TQ", but I've been hooked since I fired it up. I spent $20.00 for "IT", but I HAD to have it after my addiction compelled me to do so. I've had exactly ZERO crashes on version 1.30 and minimal slowdowns on a mid-level system. In short, thanks Mike, I appreciate all of the visible and evident work that went into a fantastic game. My only regret is that Iron Lore will not be following up with more great titles for me to enjoy.
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March 4th, 2008, 22:14
Originally Posted by aries100 View Post
I don't seem to be able to wrap my head around why someone would do this ??
Slightly simplified: For "cred" in "the scene". "The scene" consists of a large number of "release groups" (e.g. Razor1911, FairLight, Deviance in PC games) that compete with each other to be the first to release pirated materials (games, video, audio). These pirated materials are uploaded to "top sites", huge FTP servers, where the uploading release group is given download credits for for what you upload. Duplicates (dupes) are not allowed on these servers, so being the first group to upload something is "important" beyond mere "respect" of having a skilled cracker in the group. Anyway, this is all a "non-profit" operation at this level, but as the releases quickly spread to smaller sites and P2P networks those selling pirated materials naturally pick them up and burn them to discs.

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