If I wrote a post saying that Demigod sales were far below what we had hoped for and I said that the reason was due to piracy and that the answer was that we should have put some nasty copy protection on those DVDs to have prevented early piracy what do you think people would say?
I know what my answer to that would be. I would say that Stardock couldn’t blame poor sales on piracy but rather the fact that the game’s built-in multiplayer match-making was totally broken for the first day of release due to its underestimation of network resources that a mainstream game would take and even when that got addressed, the multiplayer match-making for two weeks and counting has been incredibly flakey which affected reviews and word of mouth. That’s what I would say.
Demigod debuts at #3 for top selling PC games at retail – bearing in mind that that was a partial week and that the majority of units sold were digital sales which weren’t counted.
But…but…what about those hundreds of thousands of pirates? Yep. Demigod is heavily pirated. And make no mistake, piracy pisses me off. If you’re playing a pirated copy right now, if you’re one of those people on Hamachi or GameRanger playing a pirated copy and have been for more than a few days, then you should either buy it or accept that you’re a thief and quit rationalizing it any other way.
The reality that most PC game publishers ignore is that there are people who buy games and people who don’t buy games. The focus of a business is to increase its sales. My job, as CEO of Stardock, is not to fight worldwide piracy no matter how much it aggravates me personally. My job is to maximize the sales of my product and service and I do that by focusing on the people who pay my salary – our customers.
As Ars Technica quoted over a year ago:
"The reason why we don't put copy protection on our games isn't because we're nice guys. We do it because the people who actually buy games don't like to mess with it. Our customers make the rules, not the pirates. Pirates don't count," Wardell argues. "When Sins popped up as the #1 best selling game at retail a couple weeks ago, a game that has no copy protect whatsoever, that should tell you that piracy is not the primary issue."
Even Demigod, a game that shipped with no copy protection on the DVD, was massively pirated, and has had, to put it mildly severe launch issues with its multiplayer match-making which has had a negative impact on its Metacritic score has still managed to debut at the top of retail sales charts (not counting our digital sales).
Why is that? At that point I can only speculate but the first reason is pretty straight forward: Demigod is an awesome game. Second, while the multiplayer matchmaking that comes with the game currently sucks, our customers know it will get fixed. Part of that is the demographic of Stardock customers. They’re more experienced, they know that some of the issues with the MP matchmaking aren’t due to rushing the game out or negligence but rather the fact that complicated systems sometimes don’t scale well and there is no substitute for time when it comes to fix them.
I think there are many lessons to be learned from Demigod. For example, if I had to do it over again, I would be inclined to require a valid user account to play LAN even if it only has to be validated one time. That way, we could also make it a lot easier for a legal user to have a LAN party with a single license. Anyone who has played Demigod on Game Ranger probably knows what and why I'm bringing that up.
When the focus of energy is put on customers rather than fighting pirates, you end up with more sales. It seems common sense to me but then again, I’m just an engineer.
I think I've posted about this somewhere around here long time ago, but time had passed and here's a "progress report".
There aren't just people who buy games and people who don't. There are people who buy games they like - some want to support "the good guys doing good job" others just don't like paying for junk. Those are the type who can be swayed to increase sales. Sure there are people who just buy games, and they will buy them anyway... and there are people who don't buy games and they will pirate them anyway... There's no point fighting for those, but there are customers who need effort.
That said, piracy did affect your sales... in an interesting way...
No, no and no I don't promote DRM, that junk only spoils fun and never stops piracy. How did piracy bite you then? Well a pirated game is the best demo for that "swayable customer group". No demo ever compares to full game - I know a few good examples, best one of those that come to mind atm is overlord. The demo was addictive and probably sold them many copies, the game itself promised the same thing demo did - that is a good fun for a couple of hours... I still wonder how they managed to sell overlord2...
Back to our topic - your game was pirated and observed on gameranger. To be honest I wasn't being picky and I actually bought it before the whole "gameranger for everyone". However i had to keep an unpatched version to play with the "crowd" which obviously kept it unpatched for a reason... I liked the game, but I'm not going to play it in pugs. Unlike me my friends were picky, and they didn't buy the game in the end, they just quit after a day or two. What they said is that the game is not worth buying. Poor map selection, poor demigod selection, poor balance is what I heard from them... That was waaay back at release. I want them to buy it and to play with me, but I have to persuade them to do it. That's why I return here from time to time to check out changes. I'd like to tell them "hey look the game is booming!" but I can't... Seriously, as much as I wan't them to buy it, I just can't scrape up enought arguments.
There were talks about 2 DGs for 9 bucks. How are you planing to sell them for 9 bucks when people find 8DGs + maps + core mechanics not worth the purchase? If I was "in your shoes" I'd focus on getting the current game up to level. It's been 3 months and I can't persuade my friends to buy it. From the PoV of such a customer either you released it WAAAY to early or you've been slacking WAAAY to much...
In the end we have people who bought the game they don't play, which is bad for them (or rather us) and people who didn't buy the game at all which is bad for buisness. The only "piracy" loss that can be fought against can be fought with quality.
People who aren't going to buy a game won't be able to rip the benefits of support and expansion, and that I balive stands behind many early releases in recent years. But still, to sell something one must level it's quality to par with it's price, and I repeat - many people don't count demigod in it's current state worth it's price. Selling DLC you'll get a few bucks from some of those who still play and a farewell from those who hate DLCs. Adding that (and some mundane mainteenance) as a free patch you'll get 40$ from some of those who haven't bought game yet, get some quiters back to playing, and in the end have a much bigger and happier customer base for a full-fledged expansion. Well it's your game and your budget...