THQ Exec Rails on PC Pirates, Hardware Makers, You

By Aaron Linde, Mar 03, 2008 3:37pm PST Prompted by the closure of Titan Quest developer Iron Lore last week, THQ creative director Michael Fitch ranted on the state of PC gaming and rampant piracy in a post on the Quarter to Three forums

"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," Fitch wrote. "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."

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare developer Infinity Ward recently expressed similar dismay at the high levels of piracy for the PC version of its popular first-person shooter.

Fitch explained that piracy doesn't just harm sales—Titan Quest took a big hit in word of mouth when pirated copies of the game crashed after various failed security checks, prompting a negative response by those who had illegally acquired the game. "A lot of people are talking about how it crashes right when you come out of the first cave," Fitch wrote. "Yeah, that's right. There was a security check there."

But piracy wasn't the only thorn in Fitch's side; the developer claims that hardware vendors make PC game developers' jobs a great deal harder, too. Everything from hardware and software conflicts to simple issues like fragmented drives or spyware, Fitch said, are inevitably blamed on the software developers by consumers.

"Put together consumers who want the cheapest equipment possible with the best performance, manufacturers who don't give a shit what happens to their equipment once they ship it... But, it's always the game's fault when something doesn't work."

There are few better examples of the 'it can't possibly be my fault' culture in the west than gaming forums," he added.

Though some development studios have claimed that making a leap to multiplatform development is the only way to offset loss brought on by piracy, not all developers have had such sour luck. Stardock and Ironclad Games recently announced that their PC strategy title Sins of a Solar Empire—which features no copy protection whatsoever—sold over 100,000 copies in less than a month after release.

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53 Threads* | 521 Comments*

  • I've been a fellow viewer for a long time and just want to chime in on this Piracy issue.

    Developers are complaining about the piracy being so bad on the PC. I can relate that it's very easy to download a torrent and play the game, but their numbers seem a little odd. They state 80% are pirating their game and that they lost sales to the console version. Have they thought that maybe these people have already bought the console version and are pirating the PC version because they don't play on the PC 100% of the time? I personally think that these numbers of piracy would be a lot different if they took into account the people who already bought the console version vs. the PC version. I really don't know anyone who buys 2 copies of the same game.

    On another note, do they have any evidence that the people who "pirate the game" would actually buy the product otherwise? I know a lot of people pirate games because they just want to play it for 20 minutes or what not. They really have no interest in the game at all. Just a thought.

    Plus is it me or do you never hear, "Rentals are killing our sales?" With Netflix, Gamefly, etc... hurting their sales at all then? Because I know this if Piracy dissappeared from the PC, I still wouldn't buy some of these games and I would resort to renting instead.

  • Give me a break.

    If PC gaming died tomorrow, and no games were EVER made for PC again, we would see a rise in piracy for the consoles. Homebrew, softmods, modchips, all of that would skyrocket, and then we would hear about how console game sales are falling because of piracy. It still wont change the fact that WELL over 50% of the games made these days are absolute shit.

    Sure they may have great graphics, or 1080p capability, but the fact is that playing on a PC introduces a freedom that consoles will never match. We can create mods, maps, and conversions and all for FREE instead of charging for them (yes, im looking at you MS)....we can play with others, and use either a controller or a mouse/keyboard if we so choose, but it is OUR choice. Sure it means that there can be issues with cheating, or piracy, but trying to stop it completely is like playing whack-a-mole.

    As for hardware, when a game is created, it needs to be tested on many machines. I work for a software company, and when we test our builds, we have a lab with around 200 machines ranging from a P4 1.4GHz with RDRAM through a Quad Core, and we test the product on each and every system. We have everything from Windows 98 - Vista. Some are specifically setup with issues, to "see what we can break". Some are setup to perform worse, and some just do, and by testing on all sorts of machines, we can make a product our users can rely on, and something that will run on a wide array of machines. We know its not our job to mandate a certain setup, or require a top of the line system to run well, because not everyone can afford that.

  • Does anyone consider that pc gamers are tired of playing the same old shit. We've been playing these types of games mentioned throughout these threads for many many years. They just have prettier graphics and are not as fun anymore. Console gamers are just getting a taste of what we've been enjoying for years so no wonder they sell better than the pc counter part. PC gamers are also to busy playing games that last for years (mmos, online games) and have no need to continously buy games like they did in the 90s. Devs, stop blaming the pirates and make some unigue fun pc exclusive games. Two recent games have proven your pirating excuse wrong. Sins of the Solar Empire and S.t.a.l.k.e.r. I think the Witcher may be doing well also. Hmmm all pc exclusives and not crossplatform hacks....I see a trend

    I remember not owning a pc and consoled only. I was walking past a guy playing Warcraft 1 or 2 and I was like WTF is that. That looks awesome. I had to get a $1600 computer so I could play it and I was severly strapped for cash in those days. But I scrounged up the money. This is what pc gaming needs. Fresh games. Not some crossplatform title like COD4 that just rehashes whats been before. Load game, run around shooting each other, die, respawn, run around shooting each other, die, respawn. That was fun when it was called Day of Defeat.

  • I think it might actually be about time for PC developers to start cutting their losses and moving to other avenues of revenue.

    Because think about this: Bioshock sold on the consoles 5:1 compared to PCs. Say roughly 80% of the PC versions were pirated. That means that people are playing PC and console versions ONE TO ONE, even if 4 out of 5 of those PC versions are pirated. And that's only going off US sales; if you include Asia and Europe into those equations you've actually got more people playing the PC version.

    This means the PC isn't dead, not by a long shot. It's just that people are obviously becoming less willing to pay for games (Probably due to a combination of prices, ease-of-use with torrents, people scarred by incompatibility issues and to a small part DRM).

    But what this means is exposure. People are playing the game, seeing stuff in it, and obviously enjoying playing it. It doesn't take a marketing genius to realise that exposure, if used correctly, means big money.

    So there are a number of ways to make good financial use off the fact that there are tonnes of people who want to play your game:

    - Don't count on the game to get you money: Bands have operated like this for a long time. CD sales make the artists somewhere between shit and all, they make a majority of their money off merchandise and tours. We have the ability to serve merchandise (And current 'normal people' fashion trends seem to be more and more accepting of gamer and internet culture, almost to the level of band shirts I'd say), but we need to find an analogue for tours. Pay-per-entry press tours would be an awesome start, letting normal people get sneak-peeks at your up-and-coming games. I mean look at E3 in it's later years; people were paying to learn more about your games! It's like advertising in reverse, and surprisingly it actually seems to work incredibly well. So in a sense the whole food-chain gets reversed; games are your advertising, and your advertising is your profit.

    - Halve PC prices. Whoever does this first will probably be doing it on an experimental basis, as there are a few possible outcomes. First off, a game at half price is worth four times as much in the consumers viewpoint, so sales should (But are not guaranteed to) perform more than double what they were, meaning you're earning 100+% of what you would have otherwise. However, should this be successful, it may also take a chunk out of console sales, which may negate any benefit. However the market is wildly unpredictable, so I'd say that this has a 50/50 chance of succeeding.

    - Install ads: Either cut prices dramatically or release your game for free, but make them ad-enabled. Several developers have done this already (With Far Cry, CounterStrike and Battlefield), although I haven't seen any stats on how effective they've been. Primary problem of this method is that it creates a negative attitude towards the game, as people are becoming less and less tolerant of blatant advertising. Product placement, done tastefully rather than blatantly, would be a much better solution, but may not get the same level of revenue, so it's a toss up between better public perception or more guaranteed revenue. However, it's still possible for people to hack the ads out, so it's not much of a better alternative to piracy (Except games with high replay value will continue to pay out with honest consumers).

    - Micropayments: Offer people a cheaper or free cut-down version of the game that they can customise to their liking through small payments. However, more vocal people on the 'net have shown their ire for this method, and a lot of consumers probably wouldn't download anything and write the game off as crap and unfinished, and also still has a high potential for piracy. This method would probably help developer profits slightly, but at the cost of a poorer public reception.

  • As a paying customer who bought and played both Titan Quest and its expansion, I can tell you that the game was a very good game despite the fact that it was a terrible resource hog and it did contain some very annoying crash bugs, especially right after release. Digging through the minidumps created after the game crashed, there were a lot of references in there to Securom, so my conclusion was that Securom was causing crashes in the game I payed good money for. I later figured out that Securom had some conflict with the Sony DVD drive I was using, because after I installed a second DVD drive of a different make, and used the game in that instead, the crashes happened a lot less. The ironic thing is that Securom is owned by Sony, and those incompetent idiots couldn't even make their copy protection comptible with a DVD drive made by their own parent company.

    The even more ironic thing is that I read on the support forums that people who downloaded the "no cd/dvd" crack reported that their game stopped crashing so much.

    So Securom is clearly a crap piece of software that hurts paying customers and the reputations of game developers and publishers who use it.

  • The people that pirate games cause they say they suck will also be the first to complain when future games don't meet their standards cause developers have cut cost so they don't lose so much. Thats right these losers will complain about stolen games cause they where not better.

    Piracy is probably teh main reason you have EA bring out battlefield heroes and ID bringing out quake live. Both free games they get payed from advertising. Though both games are not cutting edge in anyway this may be what game makers have to do to make money.

    I agree with several post that say every game should have a demo one with a decent chunk of content so you know what the game will be like. I would not mind people pirating it to test it out as long as they bought if they liked it or where going to play it all the way through. Don't play a game all the way through then say you did not buy it cause it was not better.

  • There's been other topics like this mentioned here on Shack and wasn't it also system requirements that have people on the PC not buying games

    I don't think it can all come down to piracy on why games don't sell well for the PC...most people I know don't even play games but just MSN chat and youtube videos all the time

    PLUS there are so many free games on the PC even ones like Runescape which people love to make fun of is still free and takes up lots of PC users time if they do play it...there's only so much a person can do...all the free games on PC take up peoples times and if there old computer which run MSN can't run Call of Duty 4 or Unreal Tournament 3 or Crysis they aren't going to bother buying it anyway

  • Piracy wouldn't be so easy if it wasn't for those hackers who spend countless hours developing cracks and apps to rip games. I mean who are these people? I know they just do it because its fun to stick to the man and the whole free information crap, but seriously they can't be stopped. Not one single protection hasn't been broken, even steam games can be ripped. Except for the online proof of purchase model, I don't think there is anything to fight these people . If it wasn't for them piracy wouldn't be so accessible, I know your average gamer has no clue how to crack a game. But any 12 year old can grab a torrent and download ANYTHING with a single click. Its ridiculous.

  • All this discussion of piracy has reminded me of a very annoying circumstance where copy protection caused more problems than using the pirated version.

    TL;DR - Copy protection made playing legit software difficult. Did little to stop piracy.

    When Rainbow Six: Vegas (PC) was released several friends of mine downloaded a pirated version of the game. I was not initially interested in the game at all, but after hearing how much fun was being had, I decided I needed to join in.

    I had the money to buy it and I did not want to hassle with pirated software, so I went to Fry's and picked up a copy. I ended up spending several days just trying to get the game to load successfully. My friends that pirated the game thought is was absolutely hilarious that they were playing the pirated version with no problems, while I was struggling to even load the game after having paid for it. The problem I was having was a direct result of the copy protection that the game used.

  • People pirate more on the PC because its easier, even on that Battlefield Heroes trailer they showPirate Bay torrent site...

    But maybe battlefield heroes is being smart and trying a different route to make money whereas THQ was doing things oldhat style???

    What about Indie games like Mount & Blade ? That was made by a husband and wife wasn't it? I think they are doing pretty well and word of mouth has been good from seeing their forums with tons of mods...i Played the demo and its pretty sweet

    Maybe THQ was just bad with dealing with money? could they not have gone smaller and still made a quality product, i've never played their game tho so I don't know how great it was....