With the mod beta coming up, we prepare to split our code tree into two. One part will go one to become the RTM version (release to manufacturing version).
PC Game Publishing: Inside the Sausage Factory
For those of you who wonder how the game industry works, here’s a basic run down:
Publishers negotiate with retailers for shelf space. Each year, thousands of games are released and there’s only a small number of slots at retail available. If you’re a big publisher (i.e. Activision or EA for instance) you have considerable flexibility since retailers are very anxious to get the next major franchise sequel.
If you’re one of the last (virtually the very last) independent PC game publishers that handles their own retail, flexibility is diminished somewhat. It’s the price we pay to make “niche games”.
Despite what many would have you believe, 3 out of 4 PC game sales occur at retail with the bulk occurring at just a handful of retailers (Walmart, Best Buy, Gamestop, etc.). The remaining 25% is via digital distribution (Steam, Impulse, D2D, etc.).
Therefore, having your game available at retail is absolutely critical and getting your game on the shelf is a lot like preparing to get married. You have to reserve the date quite a bit in advance because the retail buyers have to choose what games will be on shelves during a given quarter during the previous quarter. June 30th being the end of last quarter means that this quarter’s titles are set. If you miss your spot after reserving it, it’s a big deal since there is now nothing to take that slot.
Now, in the old days, there was only one “gold” version of a game. This version was sent to manufacturing typically around 10 business days before store availability (they could turn the CD manufacturing around very fast and then assemble the boxes, manuals, etc. very quickly to get it shipped off to retailers 5 days later).
However, nowadays, we refer to the RTM version and the release version. This sort of thing started a few years ago when digital updates became more common. This has had a significant benefit to gamers but it comes with some caveats as well. The RTM version meant that the "first” gold date could be moved back which makes manufacturing vastly cheaper. Of course, it means the RTM version is now 20 days before street date rather than 15 days. The net benefit for consumers is that games have continued to get cheaper when adjusting for inflation partially because manufacturing has gotten cheaper. I think our boxes are made in Mexico, our CDs in Canada, etc. To be honest, I have no idea where all the various pieces are made but it’s all over the place now.
Now, the RTM version for Stardock has a bit more significance to us because our RTM version does not force the user to update on day 0. That’s because we don’t have any copy protection on our RTM version and don’t assume the player has an Internet connection. Of course, it also means that the RTM version has to be very solid which, during every crunch time results in some headaches.
Hence, one split of the code tree goes on to become the RTM (RTM v1.0) version and the other goes on to be Beta 4 and then eventually the v1.0 version that will be available to digital downloads and anyone who updates. Obviously, an extra 20 business days can make a big difference and that’s why you should always update your game if you buy it at retail. It’s not just about bugs, often times, there’s just ideas that come up once the team gets “in the zone”.
So there you have it. While the system isn’t perfect, it does generally deliver to the gamer a pretty good value on their purchase.