If I wrote a post saying that Demigod sales were far below what we had hoped for and I said that the reason was due to piracy and that the answer was that we should have put some nasty copy protection on those DVDs to have prevented early piracy what do you think people would say?
I know what my answer to that would be. I would say that Stardock couldn’t blame poor sales on piracy but rather the fact that the game’s built-in multiplayer match-making was totally broken for the first day of release due to its underestimation of network resources that a mainstream game would take and even when that got addressed, the multiplayer match-making for two weeks and counting has been incredibly flakey which affected reviews and word of mouth. That’s what I would say.
Demigod debuts at #3 for top selling PC games at retail – bearing in mind that that was a partial week and that the majority of units sold were digital sales which weren’t counted.
But…but…what about those hundreds of thousands of pirates? Yep. Demigod is heavily pirated. And make no mistake, piracy pisses me off. If you’re playing a pirated copy right now, if you’re one of those people on Hamachi or GameRanger playing a pirated copy and have been for more than a few days, then you should either buy it or accept that you’re a thief and quit rationalizing it any other way.
The reality that most PC game publishers ignore is that there are people who buy games and people who don’t buy games. The focus of a business is to increase its sales. My job, as CEO of Stardock, is not to fight worldwide piracy no matter how much it aggravates me personally. My job is to maximize the sales of my product and service and I do that by focusing on the people who pay my salary – our customers.
As Ars Technica quoted over a year ago:
"The reason why we don't put copy protection on our games isn't because we're nice guys. We do it because the people who actually buy games don't like to mess with it. Our customers make the rules, not the pirates. Pirates don't count," Wardell argues. "When Sins popped up as the #1 best selling game at retail a couple weeks ago, a game that has no copy protect whatsoever, that should tell you that piracy is not the primary issue."
Even Demigod, a game that shipped with no copy protection on the DVD, was massively pirated, and has had, to put it mildly severe launch issues with its multiplayer match-making which has had a negative impact on its Metacritic score has still managed to debut at the top of retail sales charts (not counting our digital sales).
Why is that? At that point I can only speculate but the first reason is pretty straight forward: Demigod is an awesome game. Second, while the multiplayer matchmaking that comes with the game currently sucks, our customers know it will get fixed. Part of that is the demographic of Stardock customers. They’re more experienced, they know that some of the issues with the MP matchmaking aren’t due to rushing the game out or negligence but rather the fact that complicated systems sometimes don’t scale well and there is no substitute for time when it comes to fix them.
I think there are many lessons to be learned from Demigod. For example, if I had to do it over again, I would be inclined to require a valid user account to play LAN even if it only has to be validated one time. That way, we could also make it a lot easier for a legal user to have a LAN party with a single license. Anyone who has played Demigod on Game Ranger probably knows what and why I'm bringing that up.
When the focus of energy is put on customers rather than fighting pirates, you end up with more sales. It seems common sense to me but then again, I’m just an engineer.