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
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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!

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July 22, 2010 6:51:25 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Actually Frogboy, Downloads account for a far far greater number of sales then you might think.

 

http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2010/07/21/whee-downloads-now-48-of-pc-game-sales/

 

But it seems thats simply because this collection company fails at actually taking downloads into account correctly until now >.<

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July 22, 2010 7:23:12 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Again (and that link has been posted three times now)- Stardock is counting revenue (the question is, does Stardock's application side count in Stardock's revenue projections- I'd argue it shouldn't for ranking purposes if it is), where this is probably counting units sold.

There does need to be a more consistent way of getting numbers.

 

One of the reasons Elemental is coming out early, is that apparently for retail sake, Stardock's options were August or Feburary.

I'm guessing a November option is out there, but competition is brutal then, and Civ V would be freshly out at that point (and I do think beating Civ V out is a factor in getting the game out not, at least logically.)

 

One reason I do feel some hurrying is going on, is that I never remember Stardock doing crunch time like this before.  Not with GCII at least (I could be wrong).  Given that Stardock tends to not overwork people (I've seen Brad mention that a couple of times in the past- which is one reason why I think Stardock delivers quality stuff), I'm sure it's really necessary.  Does crunch time end when the RTM version goes out, or does it continue until release date? 

 

I know some of this sounds like I'm being a little critical of Stardock.  It's not my intention, while Stardock isn't perfect, they're pretty damn good.  That said, from my perspective from the outside, and friends I talk to (all of whom also pre-ordered) do believe that you guys are rushing out the door, and think that Civ V Steamworks decision did play a role in it.  That said, all of us believe the game won't suffer for it in the end- due to your excellent support, though it may take a patch or two to get things right.  I know for all of us, we have a pretty high faith in Stardock, a faith that few other companies get from us- that trust has been earned, and for damn good reason.

 

I guess what I'm saying is that while I think for game reasons this might be coming a little before it's ready, I can understand the business reasons, and given Stardock's track record, I have faith that it will all turn out right in the end- and this game will end up being better then GCII, and potentially an all-time classic.

 

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July 22, 2010 7:34:18 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

While I bow to the first hand knowledge Stardock would have via their Impulse sales and retail sales figure, it seems to me that digital purchasing of games is on the increase. I'm a member of TOG (The Older Gamers) and even a year ago most of the members seemed to be pre-purchasing their games as hard copy. But in the last twelve months the TOG membership through steam games in particular has really spiked.

Keep in mind though that TOG members are more inclined to play FPS, MMO, RTS, Action and Driving games than turn-based strategy games so the numbers may also be different across market sectors.

It seems there are a handful of us in TOG watching Elemental keenly and I know that some of the other members have had issues accessing the beta. If you feel like twisting some arms I'm pretty sure the Elemental discussion is in one of the public forums and can be accessed at http://www.theoldergamers.com/forum/strategy-rpg-others/207638-elemental-war-magic-4.html (my handle is Sp!at in the thread). As a bit of background TOG is for gamers over 25 years old and I think has close to 40,000 members now world-wide.

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July 22, 2010 8:57:19 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Frogboy,

Quoting jeffalford, reply 12Does 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. 

 

So does this mean that if I buy the box version and patch it regularly, it won't be the same game as the digital download version patched?

 

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July 22, 2010 9:05:43 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Storm,

So does this mean that if I buy the box version and patch it regularly, it won't be the same game as the digital download version patched?
 

Not at all.  Once you patch, you get the latest version, regardless of where it was purchased in the first place.

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July 22, 2010 9:06:07 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

So does this mean that if I buy the box version and patch it regularly, it won't be the same game as the digital download version patched?

It will be the same. What Brad means is that you should always update because the games change quite a bit, and what's on the disk is going to be very outdated when unpatched.

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July 22, 2010 9:48:04 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

It's unfortunate that you must release so early. I hesitate to judge the game too harshly, because I've not really been able to play past turn 20 or so due to crashes, and thus there's alot about it that I do not know. However, I get the feeling that you guys have only ever had only the most general idea of what 'kind' of game you wanted to make. So far it feels like an 'outline' for a game. As far as making an actual game, this process has been so full of gamestopper bugs that it's been almost impossible to even discuss the merits of the game design.

There have been many hypothetical debates and ideas thrown around, but we never even got to test a fraction of those ideas due to technical issues and also the exponentially accelerating beta schedule. There has never been a window of stabilty where we could say if this or that game mechanic is working or fun. As a beta tester, I was ready to debate exhaustively over every detail, but there was nothing to discuss.

I have never played a game to conclusion, so maybe I'm no authority on this, but I wonder if this thing could harm Stardock's reputation. The game's premise is attractive, so it will probably sell ok, but it's kindof an empty promise.

If it is at all possible to sell off that shelf space, or back out of this deal somehow, I think it would be preferable to releasing a cursory design document of a game.

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July 22, 2010 10:33:13 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

What do other people think?

Best regards,
Steven. 

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July 22, 2010 11:10:01 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

The latest beta has the stability much improved.  I'm confident they can get the bugs worked out on what we have now for release- it's the game balance itself that worries me, but that's patch-solvable.

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July 22, 2010 11:29:37 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Excellent post on the publishing process.

I am curious about the costs of setting up and maintaining a digital distribution platform vs. getting a game to physical press then into consumer's hands via brick-and-mortar.

I'm certain the overall costs (factoring in carbon footprint and other energy expenses) must be higher for physical media, but how much higher?  Double?  Treble?

Keep the good vibes flowin'.

-

Jack Nilssen

Independent Game Producer

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July 22, 2010 11:48:52 AM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

"The report, "PC Games Digital Downloads: Analyst Report" tells us that 21.3 million 'full game' released were purchased and downloaded in the year. While that's impressive, it's still over 2 million copies less than retail sales, which came to around 23.5 million copies."

Sorry to inform you that dear Frogboy was wrong. It happens to best of us.

 

digital distribution will surely push out retail. Same as regular post was pushed out by emails. Reason is more people get speeds greater then asdl 2 at their homes. Other thing is - it is becoming easier and a lot safer to buy online. You dont even need to have credit card anymore, u can use direct debit cards and vouchers.

i really dont think that being seen on shelf in shop will greatly improve sales.

Good trailer do

Dawn of war 2 trailer is almost movie like expierience.

Ps. I remember when GTA 4 was coming out. Sydney as well as Poland were covered in posters. There were even tv comercials. Many of my friends who didnt know about gta got it because of those.

 

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July 22, 2010 12:45:26 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Trade association data, not available to the general public, is far more precise than information released on websites.  I am quite confident that Frogboy knows exactly what he is talking about when he discusses data on retail versus digital sales.

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July 22, 2010 1:33:35 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Statistics 101, the numbers can be skewed to sound how you want them to sound. It is quite possible that Frogboy and PC Games are both correct. Depends on how they get and report the numbers.

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July 22, 2010 1:37:01 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Sorry to inform you that dear Frogboy was wrong. It happens to best of us.

You might want to read a bit more carefully. That report didn't actually have any sales data to back it up. They just surveyed people and made a blanket statement.

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July 22, 2010 1:47:27 PM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

"The NPD Group, which tracks retail point-of-sale data for the U.S. games industry, has been trying to broaden its scope by covering more digital downloads. Today the firm issued a new report on the PC gaming sector called PC Games Digital Downloads: Analyst Report. It shows that in the PC world, digital game downloads have nearly reached parity with in-store purchases. In 2009, 21.3 million PC Game full-game digital downloads were purchased online in the U.S. compared to 23.5 million physical units purchased at retail."

 

Frogboy and PC Games are both correct

Frogboy says 3/4 are retail, everyone else says they almost equal. How the f.. can u say they both are correct???

 

"Trade association data, not available to the general public, is far more precise than information released on websites.  I am quite confident that Frogboy knows exactly what he is talking about when he discusses data on retail versus digital sales."

Now you saying that all major PC newspaper and webistes are lying to us? Umm.... yea sure they do. bet you steam pay them to do that rotfl

 

"You might want to read a bit more carefully. That report didn't actually have any sales data to back it up. They just surveyed people and made a blanket statement."

No. Frogboy statement didnt have any sales data or refrence to back it up. The NPD Group, which tracks retail point-of-sale data for the U.S. games industry


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July 22, 2010 1:53:56 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

And they don't track digital sales at all.

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.

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

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July 22, 2010 2:03:06 PM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

even if they dont track digital sales, they tracked retail ones and surveyed 180,000. For me thats enough to put it over forgboys asumption which is backed up by nothing so far....

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July 22, 2010 2:05:49 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

To be honest with you guys, I'd put NPD's margin of error at about -+ 5%. Take what you will from that. 180,000 is a massive sample size considering a lot of political surveys are done with a fraction of that. Gallup's surveys are usually 1000-2000 adults strong, and they attempt to estimate the opinions of some 130,000,000 registered voters, and their margins of error are typically smaller.

NPD Group is commonly placed in the top 25 market research companies in the world (Nielson and Taylor Nelson typically being #1). Like Brad said, believe what you will, but I think NPD's numbers aren't far off.

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July 22, 2010 2:17:57 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

NPD Group is commonly placed in the top 25 market research companies in the world (Nielson and Taylor Nelson typically being #1). Like Brad said, believe what you will, but I think NPD's numbers aren't far off.

Then why is Blizzard on there essentially twice?

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July 22, 2010 2:29:14 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Annatar11,

NPD Group is commonly placed in the top 25 market research companies in the world (Nielson and Taylor Nelson typically being #1). Like Brad said, believe what you will, but I think NPD's numbers aren't far off.

Then why is Blizzard on there essentially twice?

 

They're not. This is NPD being thorough, not incompitent. They're seperating two separate online storefronts.  Clicking "Get World of Warcraft" on www.worldofwarcraft.com does inevitably link you to the Blizzard store, but it's a different entry point into the sales process.  It would be a valuable piece of market research, for example,  to know that of all the people that buy World of Warcraft digitally straight from Blizzard, say 30% do it from the Blizzard store, and 70% get linked in from Worldofwarcraft.com (which is most likely the more advertised of the two storefronts).

 

This is the equivalent of doing a market survey on computer hardware online sales, and separating out TigerDirect, Systemax, and CircuitCity.com.  They all are inevitably owned by Systemax, and end up using Systemax's sales backend at some point, but they're different storefronts into Systemax's inventory. The same is true of Newegg. Newegg also owns Chiefvalue, ABS and Rosewill, all of which sell products out of Newegg's inventory.

This is the kind of thoroughness that NPD Group's customers demand in their research.  If I was going to start a computer hardware website, and I was paying for market research from a firm like NPD, I would want/need to know about all of my competitors storefronts, not just their main one.

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July 22, 2010 2:29:33 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting irek1988,
"The report, "PC Games Digital Downloads: Analyst Report" tells us that 21.3 million 'full game' released were purchased and downloaded in the year. While that's impressive, it's still over 2 million copies less than retail sales, which came to around 23.5 million copies."

Sorry to inform you that dear Frogboy was wrong. It happens to best of us.

Maybe I don't need to say this, but ...

Stardock *IS* a publisher.  They sell games via Impluse (i.e. Digital Download) and Retail (Sell to Big dribution Company -> Retailers).  They are counting every unit that goes through the door (or internet).

Stardock, whenever they want, can viww $$$ sold as well as unit sold for any title at any time.  They are using a limited data set, their own developers and games, but it is *HARD* data.  Not some survey.

Let me say it again ... Stardock is has access to real numbers for sales...

 

If Frogboy says the sales are 3:1 retail v. Digital ... then, at the least, Stardock's sales for products are ...

3:1

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July 22, 2010 4:52:19 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting irek1988,
even if they dont track digital sales, they tracked retail ones and surveyed 180,000. For me thats enough to put it over forgboys asumption which is backed up by nothing so far....

So you're saying that a game developer and publisher, who also owns a DD service knows less about the numbers behind game sales then people who DON'T TRACK DIGITAL SALES?

Really?

NPD has no clue what Steam's sales numbers are. They don't know what Impulse's sales numbers are unless Brad handed them over. They don't know what anybody elses numbers are. They're taking one set of data based on hard numbers and comparing it to another set of data based on a survey.

Apples and oranges. The two datasets are not comparable in any statistically valid way.

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July 22, 2010 5:16:41 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting skirby359,

Quoting irek1988, reply 36"The report, "PC Games Digital Downloads: Analyst Report" tells us that 21.3 million 'full game' released were purchased and downloaded in the year. While that's impressive, it's still over 2 million copies less than retail sales, which came to around 23.5 million copies."

Sorry to inform you that dear Frogboy was wrong. It happens to best of us.

Maybe I don't need to say this, but ...

Stardock *IS* a publisher.  They sell games via Impluse (i.e. Digital Download) and Retail (Sell to Big dribution Company -> Retailers).  They are counting every unit that goes through the door (or internet).

Stardock, whenever they want, can viww $$$ sold as well as unit sold for any title at any time.  They are using a limited data set, their own developers and games, but it is *HARD* data.  Not some survey.

Let me say it again ... Stardock is has access to real numbers for sales...

 

If Frogboy says the sales are 3:1 retail v. Digital ... then, at the least, Stardock's sales for products are ...

3:1

 

It's possible Stardock's numbers are not those of the rest of the industry. 

 

a) Stardock has a better retail strategy that is more Wal-Mart friendly

the DD PC market is comparatively stronger overseas, whereas Impulse might be comparatively stronger in the US.

c) maybe gamers in the genres Impulse specialize in are more likely to buy retail?

 

 

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July 22, 2010 11:07:31 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Speaking just for myself, although I know I'm not alone, I tend to buy retail on computer games because I can use "cash" to pay for it. I do this once in a while when I want to splurge a little on myself without the wife knowing.

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July 23, 2010 1:59:37 AM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

I qoute:

"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.). "

Where does it says only stardock sales?

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