||March 3rd, 2008 14:02
Titan Quest - Frustrations of a PC Developer
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:
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 (…)