No Balls In The PC Games Business


If I read one more article about how the PC games business is dead or dying as a result of piracy I’m going to lose it. The latest news is from a head guy at THQ who thought it was a good idea to be quoted cursing about it in an article.

Enough already. This industry started in the late 70’s and piracy has been an issue from the start. What’s more is that the hardware and software have become more standardized over that time than it was back when the PC was first maturing. Then you had to worry about a half-dozen operating systems, different memory managers, different mouse drivers (dozens of them), completely non-standard hardware, writing your own drivers for video, sound and more. Some even wrote their own operating systems to run their games.

What’s changed is that the developers have decided they need to create these ridiculously budgeted products and then poorly manage their costs. THAT is what has changed in all this time.

Please explain how, with piracy every bit as rampant today as it has been all along, that this industry has survived for more than 30 years? Perhaps the kids today buy the excuses from these executives but I’m not. I wasn’t born yesterday. I watched this industry grow and watched as products actually prospered by removing copy protection over solutions that tried to wring every single penny out of the product. The industry has been complaining about piracy from the moment the first product was pirated 30 years ago. Sierra Online complained about piracy killing their product lines and went on to become the most successful publisher of the day. It wasn’t piracy that ultimately ruined them. It was a loss of creativity.

What needs to change is the perspective of those creating the games who feel that piracy is directly taking money out of their pocket. The bottom line is that to expect piracy to not be a factor is ludicrous and suggests that those putting this view forth need to have their heads examined. Piracy is always a factor and yet these same companies managed to become huge corporations working under those same conditions. As usual, now that they’ve gone public and feel the pressure to squeeze every red cent out for the stockholders, suddenly they want the world to change. Sorry, but your choice to cash in was yours and now you have to live with it.

PC games aren’t going anywhere. Games are made for devices with a tiny fraction of the audience of the PC market. You’ll find games on just about any device that can run them. I can even get games for my iPod when an iPod isn’t even designed for them. Heck, there are games in GPS receivers and other totally foreign platforms.

You have Stardock out there seeing the problem and responding with creative solutions that work for them. You have NCSoft making millions with Guild Wars, Blizzard making billions with World of Warcraft, Microsoft making millions with Flight Simulator. Maxis still continues to crank out successful top-selling products more than 20 years after it started out. Then there are the online services of Steam and other competing services. In the case of Guild Wars, many people suggested that what they did was impossible and yet they’ve sold millions of copies of that franchise. The customers are there with wallet in hand for the right products.

It is not the fault of the consumer that people like Michael Fitch from THQ simply can’t comprehend new business models that work for them. The consumer has always been here and willing and that is not going to change. The pirates are also going to be here and unwilling and that’s not going to change. What’s going to change is the players who choose to play in this market. THQ can go pound sand. They publish Company of Heroes and have made a mint producing and selling it. How do they explain that? Why is it that they can make real money on this product but can’t on others? I’m tired of piracy being blamed for everything that’s wrong with these companies.

As I’ve said time and again, it’s the smart companies that find a way. Why was it that Access Software was able to compete, head-on with Microsoft and beat them in sales with their Links golf sim when it had no copy protection what-so-ever? Shouldn’t piracy have destroyed that product? Instead it did this so reliably that Microsoft turned around and bought Access and later destroyed all that was good about it. Funny how that seems to happen time and again. The PC golf sim market hasn’t been the same since.

To people like Michael Fitch I have a simple response. The PC platform dwarfs every single gaming platform on the planet. If you can’t figure out how to make a buck on a platform of that size then perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate your job title. Others are doing just fine swimming in those waters so get the hell out of the deep end and go swim in the kiddy section where the complexity isn’t so challenging.

Start with creativity. How many more first-person-shooters where we shoot-up a bunch of aliens do you think the market really needs? Why is it that this is the only genre that seems to get a green light these days? Has it dawned on you that perhaps these kinds of “me too” products cause some of the very piracy you condemn? Who wants to pay for the 20th clone of the 20th clone of a worn-out concept?

Again, stop giving interviews telling us that you don’t know how to succeed in our world. Just get out of it and stop whining. Leave the development to those who get it.

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