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GS: Speaking of single player, how do you feel about copy protection?
BW: I've always been pro copy protection in the general sense, but I don't like the way game companies approach it. It's like the game industry has lived in this cocoon that the rest of the software industry has already broken out of. I don't like having to keep a CD in my drive or having something installing spyware on my computer to tell me what I should be doing. When I want to run Photoshop or Word I don't have to put a CD in the drive. Microsoft and Adobe aren't installing drivers on my machine to monitor what I'm doing. "Oh look, you have a CD burner on your machine, I won't work." That's the sort of thing I really object to. I think so many game publishers are behind the time. The software industry went through this as well. Remember dongles?
GS: Oh yeah. I used a lot of 3D Studio back in the day.
BW: There were all kind of goofy things on all kinds of software, but they grew out of that. They realized that the goal of copy protection isn't to stop people from pirating but to increase sales. That's an important distinction. I don't like people pirating my game.
BW: I find it annoying on principle. The question is "would they have bought the game anyway?" If they wouldn't have bought the game, then why should I be concentrating on them? I should be concentrating on maximizing my overall sales. Don't inconvenience legitimate users but inconvenience illegitimate users. Some percentage of them will buy the game.
GS: You don't waste that time and money stopping someone who won't buy your product anyway.
BW: Right. Did you hear that twenty eight percent of gamers won't even buy a game? This was a study put out by one of the copy protection companies as proof of why copy protection isn't negative. This study says that ONLY twenty eight percent of gamers won't buy a game with copy protection. I was thinking "HOLY COW, that's a disaster!"
GS: That's a huge number of people.
BW: I never thought it was that high. I would have thought five or two percent. That makes it a no brainer.
GS: Especially since you had your run-in with Starforce, which was completely ridiculous.
BW: I was really surprised. I just think it's a cultural difference. We Americans can come across reckless to Europeans, but compared to some Russian businesses, we can seem fairly placid.
GS: I guess there's some fear of not being there the next day. Still, twenty eight percent is a very high number.
BW: It is. If piracy is really killing sales that much, as we're constantly told, then why did Galactic Civilizations 2 just pass the two hundred thousand sales mark worldwide? I think that's pretty good for a game made by a half dozen guys.
GS: Yeah, that's pretty good. I'm sure it also helps that you're now doing your digital distribution.
BW: Yeah, I think that's a big part of it. Like one of the things that we do, that some people object to, we require that you register the game to get updates. The game comes with a serial number that you don't have to do anything with. If you want the upgrade, you have to type in that serial number so that we know you bought the game.
GS: I remember that with the original Galactic Civilizations. You required the serial to get the patches or they came out to the public after a couple of months.
BW: Now we basically hooked it right into the update process. You have to register the game. If you're downloading it, you probably have Internet access at some point. Even if you don't have Internet access on the game, there are instructions so that you can email this quasi-automated thing that will spit back the code you have to type in.
GS: That works. If you can't stop people from pirating the game, you can at least make it to where they don't get updates.
BW: Right. The key on that sort of thing is that we have to be extra careful that the original release has nothing on it at all. When you buy the game at the store, there's nothing, it's just a CD, you put it in your drive, you install it and you can throw it away if you want. It makes it very important that the game not be buggy or seems incomplete in any way. You can see how this can be abused by someone cynical who says, "We'll put out a game that isn't done and force them to get updates." We don't want to do that. That's why it was so important that the game come out solid and be well received initially.
GS: That in mind, you also add in the digital distribution, which has to be much more profitable for you.
BW: Oh yeah. The expansion pack won't be available retail. It's only going to be available on Total Gaming.
GS: You're publishing other people's work now, too.
BW: We distribute other people's games digitally, but we don't publish them. The games we publish, like Sins of the Solar Empire, will be available worldwide at retail, as well as digitally on Total Gaming.
GS: You have any other current publishing deals?
BW: We have a couple, but I can't really talk about them yet.