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Carmack: PC Not The Leading Platform For Games
Carmack: PC Not The Leading Platform For Games
October 10, 2011 | By Mike Rose

id Software co-founder and lead programmer John Carmack has admitted that the company sees console gaming as a higher priority than PC gaming, since console versions "have larger audiences" than PC versions.

As part of an interview with games blog Kotaku regarding the recent launch of first-person shooter Rage, the industry legend explained, "We do not see the PC as the leading platform for games."

"That statement will enrage some people, but it is hard to characterize it otherwise; both console versions [of Rage] will have larger audiences than the PC version."

He continued, "A high end PC is nearly 10 times as powerful as a console, and we could unquestionably provide a better experience if we chose that as our design point and we were able to expend the same amount of resources on it."

"Nowadays most of the quality of a game comes from the development effort put into it, not the technology it runs on. A game built with a tenth the resources on a platform 10 times as powerful would be an inferior product in almost all cases."

He went on to note, "You can choose to design a game around the specs of a high-end PC and make console versions that fail to hit the design point, or design around the specs of the consoles and have a high-end PC provide incremental quality improvements. We chose the latter."

Carmack also commented on the graphical issues that some players have been experiencing with the PC version of Rage, explaining that the company "were not happy" with the problems some graphics cards were causing.

"We knew that all older AMD drivers, and some Nvidia drivers would have problems with the game, but we were running well in-house on all of our test systems," he noted. "When launch day came around and the wrong driver got released, half of our PC customers got a product that basically didn't work."

"The fact that the working driver has incompatibilities with other titles doesn't help either. Issues with older / lower end /exotic setups are to be expected on a PC release, but we were not happy with the experience on what should be prime platforms."

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Bjoern Loesing
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I am moderately certain that Blizzard, CD Project and Valve are now laughing with the rest of us.

He does have a point regarding that technology does not make a good game. That's no excuse to release a game in a state like this, especially after stating that the game was designed with a lower tech-level in mind.

K Gadd
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I wonder if these driver problems are because most PC games either ship using Direct3D or using Apple's Mac OpenGL drivers these days? I'd expect the Windows OpenGL drivers for AMD and NVidia cards just don't get tested by anything other than id games.

The driver with proper support for Rage causing problems with other games suggests that AMD and NVidia might not even be testing their OpenGL drivers very much anymore. I hope that's not true.

Maurício Gomes
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Usually Carmack words are considered something kinda like words from a god.

But today, Carmack seemly got his head swapped for the head of Zenimax CEO...

In fact, it happened like I unfortunately predicted: Bethesda (as Zenimax) buying id would not fix their hell buggy RPG games, it would instead make id games hell buggy too... mostly as result of crap managment... :(

Maurício Gomes
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By the way, I think it is no accident the user scores on metacritic are on 3.5

Maurício Gomes
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Genius :)

Indeed, I remember my early PC days, I would just... install and run, I did not even CARED to check requeriments until the surge of 3D cards (my first 3D card was GeForce 5200, and I used some good amount of savings to get it... my current 3D card is a GeForce 8600, and this make my computer the most expensive in my neighborhood)

And I still make games that use DirectDraw or something like that, and spend lots of time explaining that 3D cards on my country (Brazil) is actually a rarity, even the "integrated" ones often run OpenGL or Direct3D stuff so slowly, that they do not count as existing.

Casey Dockendorf
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After personally working for 2 PC games studios (One that made MMO's and one that made RTS games), I have experienced the sad truth that PC gaming really isn't all it's cracked up to be. The largest majority of issues you face with your customer base is graphical/technological issues. Not to mention the fact that you can work on a heavily hyped and marketed game and people will somehow have never heard of it. Not everyone has super computers and not everyone wants them either. There's a running joke (I don't remember who said it) that Blizzards WoW franchise could run on a calculator (and I am pretty sure someone did it already). They set the game up that way to increase their customer base, and not have to worry about people buying super-computers just to run the base version of the game. The reality is when you make PC games you are catering to a hardcore PC market and if anyone has learned anything from the industry lately it's that the largest majority of gamers are casual players. The consoles are working hard right now to make your living room the ultimate tech experience and with the rise in mobile technology as well, I would be surprised if Personal computers really stuck around within the next ten years. I used to be a huge PC Gamer (RTS, MMO's, FPS) and I used to praise the PC gaming industry until I got into the games industry and realized, if you want to maximize your profits as a company, you make games for consoles. Blizzard announced a few weeks ago that they wanted to branch out into consoles (a la Diablo 3), and Valve is trying to get Steam on Xbox live, heck, even CD Projekt ported The Witcher over to Xbox 360, so Id isn't the only PC gaming company jumping on the console bandwagon.

Maurício Gomes
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CD Projekt more likely made for Xbox 360 and ported to PC (I know that is not the order that they developed, but LOOK AT THAT INTERFACE!!!)

Casey Dockendorf
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@ Johnny Fox

I think any game that has come through Steam has seen significantly more success than most PC games have seen in years. Sure there's independent studios like Riot that have seen a great deal of success with their Niche genre and Micro-Transactions, but it also falls into the category of low system requirement games that seem to always outpace the big name titles. Sure Magicka was a success by selling a million copies (which is a rare feat for PC games these days) but is that solely because it was on PC or would their sales have been maximized by putting it on a console as well, much like Runic did with Torchlight and Blizzard is contemplating doing with Diablo 3?

I think with the rise of cloud gaming we could see a big push in PC gaming since it will no longer require "super-rigs" to play a game like Rage or a future Doom even. Then maybe developers might start making good PC games again, but as of right now developers will most likely be steering clear of it until it gets a much needed face-lift.

And by the way, no need to get so worked up man. We're talking about Video games not Politics.

Casey Dockendorf
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@ Johnny Fox

I totally remember Blizzard making platform games back in the day, I own Lost Vikings, Rock N Roll Racing and even Blackthorne which is one of my favorite 2d platformers ever! And I played the first Diablo on PS1. The thought of Blizzard moving back into the console space is something I have looked forward to for years! I was really disappointed when Ghost got cancelled (Finally).

I can totally agree with you on the "devs are releasing games that aren't very fun" It's funny how many clones we see in the industry because so many big developers are afraid of taking risks. It's also funny working in the industry and hearing people's idea of what they THINK fun is. I have heard some downright dreadful ideas that sound like they would be fun for about 5 minutes yet somehow it gets green-lit enough for someone to write a complete game document for it. On the other side however I have heard GREAT ideas that devs just aren't willing to get behind. I think too few people are willing to really sell their idea for fear of their own shortcomings. I believe this is why we are seeing so many indie devs making smaller games these days.

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There are some gamers out there who do not want to think about computer GPU's, CPU's, and Software Drivers when they want to play a game.

Keeping up with that stuff may be good for Developers, Hackers, and Enthusiast, but can they not see that its grueling work for the consumer. What is the point of owning PC games if every time one comes out you have to think about building a new $500 to $2000 PC rig to play it?

On Another Note: I experienced texture pop in with the PS3 version of Rage and I must say it was very jarring given that the game installs 8gigs on the PS3 HDD just to run at 60fps.

Maurício Gomes
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It is Sony faulty driver, you know...

David Serrano
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@ A W


Licentae Libertas
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If the concept of "game auto-optimizes settings to your hardware" had worked, he would have been hailed as a genius... but, unfortunately the concept fell flat on its face in practice.

The idea is a noble goal, and if they had added it as an optional setting rather than a mandatory feature, it probably would have gone over more smoothly with PC gamers... unfortunately iD has never been good at phased introductions.

Matt Cratty
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Edit: my post doesn't really fit in this discussion. Plus, I shouldn't post when grumpy.

Bart Stewart
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It's sort of morbidly fascinating to compare John Carmack's comments after PC gamers bought Rage to what id's Tim Willits told Eurogamer (
ill-best-for-fps-control) a year before Rage shipped: "In my opinion the PC will always be the core of the gaming industry -- it is the timeless stable platform that as developers we will always be able to rely on."

Which brings me to a question. A fairly common response among PC gamers to comments like Carmack's regarding their gaming platform of choice is something like, "We understand that you want access to the larger market of console gamers. But why does that have to come at the expense of the PC gamers whose support made you successful?"

I'm curious: what do working game developers think of this perspective?

Is it just an "entitlement" mentality held by a minority that can be dismissed because today's marketing numbers are all that should matter to a company that wants to stay in business? Or is there something to this criticism -- if your initial success comes from making a popular PC game, do you have any responsibility to the PC gamers whose money you took to keep the PC as primary design platform?

Or is there some reasonable ground between these positions? (And is id occupying that position?)

Matt Ployhar
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The Active Install Base: For PC's with a DX10+ GPU globally = ~250 million or >

The Active Install Base: For an Xbox 360 = ~45-48 million users (subtracting for channel/failures/etc)

The Active Install Base: For the PS3 = ~42-45 million users (also subtracting for channel/failures/etc)

The Active Install Base: For the Wii = ~75-88 million users (ditto)

When a Console counterpart game does outsell the PC version it's typically due to:

1) A very high spend on Marketing/PR to build hype & awareness (Lowers margins)

2) Cost Incentives to the ISV: In the form of free $, & or lower per unit royalties (Lowers margins)

3) Exclusives: These back-end deals are designed to suck out ~80% of the $ in the 1st 30-60 days. (Also lowers margins) By the time that port reaches the PC market it's akin to running on fumes.

4) Bad Information: All too often I see the 360+PS3+Wii Sales characterized as 1 bucket's worth of sales called out as the Consoles in plural fashion. As if they're all part of some un-holy alliance ganged up on the PC market and sharing the same revenue stream? (What a joke) These all need to be split and called out separately. (Lazy reporting?)

The Argument Carmack uses is what I've been hearing for years & to some degree he's largely right. The Spec & Design point is largely pre-determined by the various Console's specs. Nothing is going to change that. Where I differ is when he says he'll sell more units; but not factor or mention profitability per unit. One has to sell between 2-3x the # of units on a Console in order to cover all those extra marketing costs, the royalties, etc in order to hit break even. Additionally; the game is a showcase, & I'd make the argument that when creating a game like that to help sell your game engine - into a market that is roughly 1/2 or less of the Discrete GPU install base doesn't quite add up for me from an Oppty cost perspective. (I'll assume there's something I'm not aware of)

In closing: IMHO.. I sort of think a lot of the W. Hemisphere's Games ISVs have been sort of beaten down. They're told that they're going to lose their shirts to Piracy... look at the BitTorrent downloads; but are then not told about the losses incurred by the Secondary Sales markets. OR... even pitched an alternative on how to combat Piracy on the PC (e.g. F2P/Microtransactions, Subscriptions Models, Browser Gaming, et al). Then they're sold on the idea and notion of look how easy it is to develop for this proprietary platform and look at how difficult the Test/Config pass is on the PC. Blah blah blah...... All I can say is that I really yearn for the days of an awesome 1st Person Shooter like Quake 2, level modding, being able to 'learn' about the guts powering my PC etc. A lot of that has dried up over the past decade in the W. Hemisphere and the result is a very long trail of dead ISVs that put too many eggs into those Console baskets. Very sad indeed.

Jose Resines
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Matt, instead of preaching to the choir here, you could take the phone, call Carmack and correct him. And while you're at that, you could tell him he should be ashamed of Rage's launch, and that praising the PC before Rage's launch, and blaming ATI and nVidia after the launch, when everybody got their games without a single review, is, at the very minimum, hypocritical.

Of course, that would mean that you're part of some kind of organization that supposedly defends PC gaming. Not seeing it, though. Just a bunch of PR, and now comments in Gamasutra. You know, defending PC gaming to PC gamers.

Good job.

Matt Ployhar
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Jose: I actually do have intentions of doing a road trip in early Q1. So will indeed try getting on John's calendar. I know where a lot of the FUD/misinformation is 'coming from'; and need to set the record straight.

Christian: There are 70m or more GPU based PCs that sell every year now. (Desktop & Laptops); just into the Consumer space. This actually excludes Biz-Dev/Enterprise systems. I'm pretty sure most GPU's are now all mostly DX11 capable, and that total # is now north of 120 million units per year. (In all sectors) For Onboard Graphics: Speaking for Intel we've already sold thru more than 75m Sandybridge chips; and clearly have our sights set on closing the gap with Ivybridge (a DX11 part) that should get us close to the ballpark we're looking for. (We can also start adding AMD Fusion to that mix as well). Consumer sales are typically always between ~40-50% of the total sales. I used to be a large skeptic myself and what I'm seeing on Sandybridge is an early indication of things to come that frankly is starting to provide a very compelling Gaming experience for most games today.

Lastly; consider these stats: 6.9 Billion people in the world. Split that out into Developed and Developing nations. If I low-ball this and simply go with global house-holds that # is around 640m HH; and 1.4 Billion 'connected' PC users. (~300m of these HH are broadband). The estimated figure I provide of ~250m users is roughly 1 in 5 or 20% upgraded to a GPU (this is typically a conscious purchase decision due to the extra cost isn't it?). You're on the right track in that # isn't fully realized because the active Console users are in fact attached to that same user base. So it's a cannibalization effect. However; the Consoles are not a consortium... so their active Install bases shoud never be counted as 1 bucket - split them out into the 3 user bases that they are. Also count for double attach rates & so forth and you fast start seeing a more realistic install base for them.

Shawn Casey
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Carmack is correct, just look at the sales for one of the most popular games of all time: COD:MW2. According to VGChartz:

- 360: 12.62M units

- PS3: 9.32M units

- PC: 0.71M units

PC market for this AAA blockbuster was <5%.

Other comparable games:

- Bioshock: 9.2%

- Fallout 3: 12%

What developer in their right mind would target the 10% before the 90%?

Lance Burkett
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Independent Developers that care more about expressing themselves, than they do about targeting a casual audience for more money.

David Serrano
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@Shawn Casey

"What developer in their right mind would target the 10% before the 90%?"

Answer: all of them. Because the hardcore audience is responsible for only 10 to 12 percent of all AAA game sales on both platforms. Core players are responsible for the rest. Hardcore action / shooter players, a sub-segment of the hardcore audience are responsible for 1 to 5 percent of all AAA sales. So most core developers are currently targeting the preferences of 1 to 5 percent of their total audience. A few AAA games have taken it even further by targeting the preferences of players who outside of Japan, probably represent less than 1 percent of the core audience.