An insider’s look at PC game publishing

By on July 21, 2010 5:40:58 PM from JoeUser Forums JoeUser Forums

Frogboy

Join Date 03/2001
+1078

Greetings!

image 

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.

Cheers!

58 Replies
Search this post
Subscription Options


Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 21, 2010 5:49:29 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

So at this point the major features and functionality is all frozen to prevent it from differing too much from the box version?

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 21, 2010 5:52:23 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

48% of games sold in the US during 2009 were digital:

 

http://www.gametab.com/news/3395869/

 

 

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 21, 2010 5:52:55 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

As digital distribution grows, do you foresee retail being phased out completely? Or is it too an integral part of the game industry?

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 21, 2010 5:53:46 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Sarudak,
So at this point the major features and functionality is all frozen to prevent it from differing too much from the box version?

I don't think so. Brad has reiterated many times how much games have changed in-between RTM and actual release (like Sins).

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 21, 2010 5:57:13 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I just want the Mexican box,. just for show on my Chinese computer desk, and I'm from Windsor Canada, right across the border from you guys so where do you get the CD's from?

Id rather buy online, can't remember when the last time I walked into a computer shop was, and I hate console games since the ps2 generation I haven't purchased any so. its all Digital for me.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 21, 2010 6:12:23 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Sarudak,
So at this point the major features and functionality is all frozen to prevent it from differing too much from the box version?

No. As anyone who has played a past game of ours, we don't even promise that v1.1 of the game will play exactly like v1.0.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 21, 2010 6:13:42 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting ioticus,
48% of games sold in the US during 2009 were digital:

 

http://www.gametab.com/news/3395869/

 

 

You can believe whatever you'd like.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 21, 2010 6:14:50 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Now my question is which version will the game reviewers get?  The RTM 1.0 version or the day 0 update (1.01) version?

If there's significant differences then wouldn't you be worried about review scores being lower?

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 21, 2010 6:34:43 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

How interesting, never would have thought that the game I'm getting (preordered from Impulse) will be different than the one folks are buying from Gamestop and the like.

Quite enlightening.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 21, 2010 6:36:03 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Frogboy,


Quoting ioticus,
reply 2
48% of games sold in the US during 2009 were digital:
http://www.gametab.com/news/3395869/


You can believe whatever you'd like.


Then I choose to believe that 67% of all games sold in 2010 were sold by a horde of rampaging monkeys:D

I can't imagine the heacaches caused when you start having intermitent bugs appear in 1 version but not the other in a feature that both versions will have

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 21, 2010 6:37:14 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Frogboy,



Quoting ioticus,
reply 2
48% of games sold in the US during 2009 were digital:

 

http://www.gametab.com/news/3395869/

 

 


You can believe whatever you'd like.

 

I often wonder what the motivation is behind people who try to "correct" developers here. Imma gonna let you finish in a minute, but really? I vote for the Stardock devs who are IN the process - not some random internetz quote.

Can't wait until release day! Thanks for the insight, Frogboy!

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 21, 2010 6:39:28 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Does this mean the digital download version is going to be more up to date than the box version on the other side of the actual release version. Reason I ask is I ordered both and I was not sure if I should wipe my files and install from the disk or just hold that in reserve in case of catastrophic hardware failure. I really want to have the most feature rich version of the game I can get. 

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 21, 2010 6:56:18 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I really like the way Cities work in Beta 3C (in that it encourages fewer cities)

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 21, 2010 6:59:55 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Frogboy,

Quoting ioticus, reply 248% of games sold in the US during 2009 were digital:

 

http://www.gametab.com/news/3395869/

 

 
You can believe whatever you'd like.

 

I remember the OP from a while ago, was it last year?  DD has grown significantly since then.   On that other article, I really wonder how they are counting their numbers.  DD accounting is pretty vague and inexact right now I believe.

 

BTW- the retail version-unique bugs will be removed in the patch.  Once you patch, the retail and Impulse versions will match.  So there's no need to worry about two versions.  Without patching, the retail version is "as is" pretty much.

 

That said, whenever possible- you should use DD from the developer for a game all other things being equal.  Doing that puts the profits entirely with the developer (in Elemental's case, Stardock)

 

 

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 21, 2010 7:04:26 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting jeffalford,
Does this mean the digital download version is going to be more up to date than the box version on the other side of the actual release version. Reason I ask is I ordered both and I was not sure if I should wipe my files and install from the disk or just hold that in reserve in case of catastrophic hardware failure. I really want to have the most feature rich version of the game I can get. 

Always use the digital version if you can.

Medically speaking, the box version of Galactic Civilizations will give you leprosy. 

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 21, 2010 7:18:55 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Thanks Frogboy, will do, Just wanted to say I have been looking for a game like this for long time with out even really knowing what I wanted. Just seems like the industry got real stale for about 10 years. Still been playing but nothing kept my interest for more than about a month. I just got over some Poison Ivy, I think leprosy is a bit harder to get rid of so thanks for the heads up !!

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 21, 2010 9:11:31 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Frogboy,


Medically speaking, the box version of Galactic Civilizations will give you leprosy. 

 

   and here I sit with that very thing in my hand. Went all the way down to the basement, dusted it off and brought it up to my computer. Then I read that .  It's a little outdated, as I now have more ram on my video card than the Minimum and Recommended system RAM combined.

 

Anyway, I'd pre-order and be playing testing the Beta but I've a very heavy workload and, well, I can't resist temptation. Gorstagg and his videos have me -><- that close to giving in. I've 1 light week starting August 9th, so I'll order the digital version then. Until then, I'm very impressed by the strides you've made through the Betas and look forward to my purchase.

Mike

 

Edit: Batas? Betas more likely! ... and fat fingers cause spelling mistakes.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 21, 2010 9:52:08 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Frogboy,

Medically speaking, the box version of Galactic Civilizations will give you leprosy. 

 

Yikes.

I'll make sure to wear gloves when the Elemental box arrives. I can't fondle my pewter dragon if my fingers fall off from leprosy.

 

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 21, 2010 10:08:45 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I remember the OP from a while ago, was it last year? DD has grown significantly since then. On that other article, I really wonder how they are counting their numbers. DD accounting is pretty vague and inexact right now I believe.

They took web surveys. No, really, they did.

Two separate surveys served as the foundation for the report--a quarterly survey of 8,000 members of its "online consumer panel" and a weekly survey of 180,000 members.

Source: http://www.shacknews.com/onearticle.x/64822

It's basically as inaccurate as it can get. Because people who take web surveys most surely don't skew the responses towards digital downloads, plus the sample size is pitifully small for the size of the industry.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 21, 2010 10:29:36 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

It's basically as inaccurate as it can get. Because people who take web surveys most surely don't skew the responses towards digital downloads, plus the sample size is pitifully small for the size of the industry.

Not just sample size, but sample diversity and penetration are terrible too.  I would regard those results as questionable at best, and more leaning toward simply unsound.

As tempting as it may be, we of the 'preorder beta' forums are not exactly a great sample either :}.  We might just be a very narrow interest band :}

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 21, 2010 10:32:06 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Frogboy,

Quoting Sarudak, reply 1So at this point the major features and functionality is all frozen to prevent it from differing too much from the box version?
No. As anyone who has played a past game of ours, we don't even promise that v1.1 of the game will play exactly like v1.0.

Oh yeah, SotS played very different after pretty much ever major patch!  Now some of us love that, digging through and relearning the game, discovering new layers, like a delicious succulent.

Others... well it makes them crazy.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 21, 2010 11:05:08 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Annatar11,

I remember the OP from a while ago, was it last year? DD has grown significantly since then. On that other article, I really wonder how they are counting their numbers. DD accounting is pretty vague and inexact right now I believe.
They took web surveys. No, really, they did.


Two separate surveys served as the foundation for the report--a quarterly survey of 8,000 members of its "online consumer panel" and a weekly survey of 180,000 members.
Source: http://www.shacknews.com/onearticle.x/64822

It's basically as inaccurate as it can get. Because people who take web surveys most surely don't skew the responses towards digital downloads, plus the sample size is pitifully small for the size of the industry.

It's kind of sad that this company is taken seriously in the industry. An actual reputable polling firm would look at that methadology and laugh NPD out of the room.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 22, 2010 2:38:38 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums
//

I think the geeks among us needs to remember that not everyone knows about digital distribution, and not everyone trusts it. Hence a lot of stuff still happens retail. Also even people who do may opt for physical copies. I like owning discs and in the event I'm buying a gift, it'll probalby be physical.

Retail is still important and he's rigth about the date thing. You can't tell stores "We'll ship on this date," and then back out. They get real mad. Even the big boys have to deal with that.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 22, 2010 3:57:06 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

This might be a stupid question/request, but, is there any chance that we can get the RTM Version on the same date you send it off to be manufactured? I'm talking about only for the Beta Testers/Pre-Orders of course. I understand the contractual obligations you have with retailers and them having to stick to your release date, but, seeing as how it's your (Stardock's) game and you have your own Digital Distribution system you should be able to give it to your Beta Testers and Pre-Orderers any time you want without worrying about breaking any agreements, right? I say that because the population of Pre-Orderers should be relatively small compared to actual expected sales and we're also Beta Testers so we've had access to most of the game already anyway so "Legally" it shouldn't be an issue I would think. Then again I'm no lawyer so I don't know for sure, but I thought I would ask anyway.

 

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 22, 2010 4:17:44 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

On the 25% vs. 48% tangent, I'd like to add that even if it could be trusted, that survey appears to be reporting undifferentiated unit sales. How many games are available on Steam in the $1 to $5 range? In terms of dollar sales, I wager physical retail will remain #1 for a while yet.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
Stardock Forums v1.0.0.0    #108433  walnut3   Server Load Time: 00:00:00.0000609   Page Render Time: