Does it come down to trust?

March 18th, 2008

Brad Wardell, founder of Stardock, had some interesting things to say about piracy in a post he made on his blog last week:

So even though Galactic Civilizations II sold 300,000 copies making 8 digits in revenue on a budget of less than $1 million, it’s still largely off the radar. I practically have to agree to mow editors lawns to get coverage. And you should see Jeff Green’s (Games for Windows) yard. I still can’t find my hedge trimmers.

Another game that has been off the radar until recently was Sins of a Solar Empire. With a small budget, it has already sold about 200,000 copies in the first month of release. It’s the highest rated PC game of 2008 and probably the best selling 2008 PC title. Neither of these titles have CD copy protection.

While I don’t see Sins as the best-selling PC title of 2008 (leave that to the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, Spore, or The Sims 3 if it’s out in time), that’s not the interesting part. Brad goes on to say that the key to a successful PC title is to find a demographic that buys games, and then to build them a game.

When you make a game for a target market, you have to look at how many people will actually buy your game combined with how much it will cost to make a game for that target market. What good is a large number of users if they’re not going to buy your game? And what good is a market where the minimal commitment to make a game for it is $10 million if the target audience isn’t likely to pay for the game?

If the target demographic for your game is full of pirates who won’t buy your game, then why support them? That’s one of the things I have a hard time understanding. It’s irrelevant how many people will play your game (if you’re in the business of selling games that is). It’s only relevant how many people are likely to buy your game.

He also says that the key to a high selling PC title is to develop a game that will play on the widest variety of hardware configurations out there, ie to support players beyond the traditional hard core frequent video card buying market. While I agree that catering to a lower spec machine is one way of increasing sales, it’s not a requirement. Relatively demanding games such as Crysis breaking into the top 10 are not an anomaly. There’s something more. Let me say at this point that I don’t have the answer, so here’s your way out if you wanted one, but I am going to ask questions and throw out a few bits that I feel correlate with the above.

Using Kieron Gillen’s methodology of tracking relative piracy numbers, let’s compare the current number of people downloading torrents of Sins of a Solar Empire and Universe at War. Sins is selling like hotcakes, the PC version of Universe at War, already out for several months, not so much.

Universe at War – 829 leechers
Sins of a Solar Empire – 24 leechers (interesting sidenote, there are over 100 seeds for the patches)

A few other related titles, just for kicks.

Civilization 4 – 160 leechers
World in Conflict – 2785 leechers
Supreme Commander – 1914 leechers


You know, there may just be some merit when Brad says “if you don’t want your game to be pirated, don’t make games for pirates!” Do 4X players pirate games less than RTS players, who in turn pirate games less than FPS players?

Contrary to what many would believe to be obvious, does the lack of DRM have anything to do with the limited number of folks pirating Sins of a Solar Empire? Let’s compare two other titles…

Company of Heroes – 348 leechers
Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts – 1679 leechers

What makes these two titles particularly interesting? Company of Heroes originally shipped with no DRM whatsoever, and was a posterchild for many in the anti-DRM camp. Opposing Fronts, the standalone sequel, did a complete 180, requiring the user upon installation to uninstall the original CoH, register both online, and then proceed. Once installed, either the original DVD or an internet connection to the registration servers is required to play the game. While, granted, the original game is a year older than its sequel, could it be that the DRM in Company of Heros: Opposing Fronts is having the opposite effect of what Relic and company intended?

Does copy protection provide an easy way out for the player, a slight nudge towards piracy or a challenge to one who may not otherwise be inclined?

Likewise, does a lack of DRM make us honest, more willing to give money to and trust a company who in turn trusts us?

Or is DRM simply a small piece of a larger issue between developers and players? Could it be that trust is the key to Stardock’s success?

One Response to “Does it come down to trust?”

  1. Chris on May 14, 2008 12:22 pm

    This is an local version of the article posted on, see their forums for the continued discussion.


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