One of the hottest debates pulsing across the internet right now is the state of PC gaming. More and more publishers and developers are blaming piracy for the lack of support for the platform. More and more publishers are suffering criticism for the digital rights management they put in place on their new PC titles. One man standing up for the PC gaming hardcore is Randy Stude, president of the PC Gaming Alliance. Here, in an outspoken interview with VideoGamer.com, Stude tells us why publishers only have themselves to blame when their games are pirated, and why PC games are better than console games.
VideoGamer.com: Tell me a bit about yourself.
Randy Stude: My background, 14 years with Intel. I'm an avid gamer, father of four with four PC gamer kits in the house. I guess everyone in the house has an absolute passion for gaming. We've got every console there is. But for the most part they sit and gather dust while everyone plays World of Warcraft, Webkinz, Spore and all the other immersive PC gaming titles.
VideoGamer.com: How did the PC Gaming Alliance come to be?
RS: A few years ago several of the founding companies sat down and decided that the PC needed a voice when it came to gaming. The consoles have their voice, the PC was getting beat up a little bit in the press. We on the inside of PC gaming knew the story was much different than what was being represented by those who wanted to take shots at the PC gaming industry. So we decided to stand up and make a little noise. The rest is history.
VideoGamer.com: From your website's members area I can see some fairly high profile companies that are on board. How did you get them on board?
RS: A few of us sat down around the table and said, 'who would be critical to be a part of this organisation?'. We approached them and the rest is history. I don't want to get into a situation where I say, 'hey it was me and this guy', it isn't about that. It was everyone sitting down at a table with a clean sheet of paper, yeah there's a few issues that maybe the industry can deal with rather than anyone of us by ourselves and we all decided to do it.
VideoGamer.com: We ran an interview with Peter Molyneux recently, who said he thought the PC gaming industry was "in tatters", which prompted a statement from yourself in response to that. There seems to be a quite a few developers who say this kind of thing to the press when they're answering questions about why they're not doing PC versions of console games. They always cite a lack of sales or piracy. Do you simply think they're wrong? Are they misguided? Do they not understand the full picture? Why are they saying this if the reality is, as you say, quite different?
RS: There's a $10.7bn industry here and the easy answer I can give you is there are a lot of people making a lot of money on PC gaming and perhaps Peter, with his recent PC titles, The Movies and Black & White 2, is under the belief that the PC for him isn't the right place to invest his time. And when you look at Fable which has become a console title pretty much now, if you're releasing that product, or any product today, on multiple platforms, and there's no differentiated experience for the PC, and the game is technically designed really to be played on console, because there's a lot of business to be garnered by releasing your game on the consoles, especially if you're not focussed on a long term immersive revenue and ongoing affair with the gamers who would choose your title, then perhaps consoles are the right place for you. What I'm basically saying there is there are hundreds of millions of PC gamers out there in the world playing games, and if they're not playing Fable, or if they don't want to play Fable II then Peter shouldn't publish it.
VideoGamer.com: Playing devils advocate, I think he's referring very much to the core PC gamer market rather than the PC gaming market overall, that the more high end titles struggle to sell on PC. But that's something you would reject?
RS: Is Fable II a high end game and Warhammer and Age of Conan aren't? Is Spore a high end game? Those titles are selling really well. I think he made a judgement call for his title, that he should probably focus on why he made that call, and if he didn't see an opportunity to differentiate on PC he should just leave it at that and not submit an opinion on the health of hundreds of millions of gamers who are generating almost $11bn in revenue.
VideoGamer.com: Is it more to do with piracy at the end of the day and that publishers don't want to release a game on the PC because they feel that it's just going to be pirated, especially if it's targeted at core gamers who, let's be honest, know about torrent sites and how they work?
RS: Piracy is an issue for some publishers, but if you sat down and you talk to Blizzard or Funcom or the guys at EA about Warhammer, about all the noise that was made about Spore and the reaction to the DRM, but they're still selling games and they're selling them well. The guys at Valve have a framework in place, that a lot of PC gamers, they claim over 15 million of them, are quite pleased with, and they're selling games through Steam to people all over the world and would say that they've got a problem solved with their approach to how to deal with piracy.
VideoGamer.com: So where do we go from here regarding the piracy issue? The developer of EndWar said recently it was holding the PC version back until after the console version was out because they feared people would pirate the PC version rather than buy the console version. How is this attitude from the publishing and development community going to change?
RS: If you're taking a release date mentality, OK I'm putting anti-piracy protections that are pretty strong on console, pretty strong but not fool proof, and I'm waiting till the day I ship this thing off to the post-production house to put anti-piracy on say like a Fallout 3 or last year Hellgate London had an infamous piracy issue, if your product is not protected all of the way through production, you're going to be faced with the scenario where some guy sitting at the duplicator house, this is where all the piracy starts, the guy sitting at the duplicator house, back doors the code to a buddy or flat out sells it to make money off a torrent rip of the game, that's where the problem is.
It's not a unique situation to PC gaming. Movies are suffering the same thing right now. Until you spin anti-piracy all the way through your production, which can be challenging but can be done, then you've got a scenario where your game can be stolen from you. There will always be people who will pirate but there are great solutions out there that can be utilised. I think the PC Gaming Alliance believes it needs to jump in and submit some industry voice behind this and some opinion about what approaches should or shouldn't be taken, but I think for anyone waiting for an answer, the best answer I can give them is, be smart about the way you deal with your IP, don't leave anything to chance and keep it protected all the way through the production pipeline.
VideoGamer.com: Would you suggest that for some publishers piracy is their own fault?
RS: Yeah. Any publisher today who's making any game that's going out on any platform and isn't thinking about the potential of piracy with the widespread availability of broadband and the patience that people have to kick-off a download that may take a day or more, if they're not thinking that's a real problem for them or a potential problem for them, then they're going to have challenges and they're going to act like it's a big surprise. It's like anything else in business. If you're not aware of the guy who's trying to steal your product then it's going to get stolen. You don't see the guards of banks walk around with money sacks on the street without proper precaution right? Those days have been gone since the 1700s. If people are getting attacked in the streets and getting their money stolen from them you should probably not take your $20m-$50m investment in any game and leave it to chance.
VideoGamer.com: It doesn't sound like rocket science to me. I don't understand why publishers don't shore up the production line.
RS: Yeah. And that doesn't even mean that at the end of the day someone's not going to hack the game and put it up on a torrent network. There have to be better encryption technologies for the PC. We in the PCGA believe than an industry group such as ours and others out there should be the ones that tackle it from a standards perspective, provide guidance to say, 'probably the best way to do it is something like this...'. We don't have the answer yet today but we would invite anyone who believes piracy is a problem to join our organisation, step up and we'll help you solve the problem from the hardware side and the software side.