Wow, I recently passed through a few “big name” game stores and other than a few major titles there were hardly any PC games displayed. There was a good collection of new Xbox 360 and PS3 stuff, a ton of used titles (probably half the store), but maybe a quarter of a rack for PC games. Sure, part of the reason has been the gold rush to the consoles, with a number of traditional PC developers walking away from the platform to chase the money. Sadly, another part is the PC gaming experience itself. You go out, buy new title X, drop it in your system and it spends 20 minutes installing. Then either some warning about DirectX or it just starts installing stuff. Then the inevitable driver hunt starts. One to two hours or so after the disk was put in the system the first signs of life out of the title. Not what I would write up as a great user experience. My worst ever experience was recently with Batman: Arkham Asylum. After a long install process, It asked me if I wanted to install Windows Live, I said no. The installer told me I couldn’t save my games unless I installed Live. I don’t like threats and I don’t like force installed software, so I was already ticked off. I don’t remember my XBox Live account password so I set up a new account. It took forever, forced two reboots of the system, installed a ton of crap and then, about an hour after I “completed” installing the game I was actually able to play. Brutal, just brutal.
The final part of the PC retail slide is piracy. Nobody has a really clear picture of how many sales are lost, but the numbers are pretty staggering. If the game is that much hassle to get legitimately, piracy actually seems the easier route. to my mind, iTunes has proven if you make it easier to buy content than pirate, the consumers will come. On the other hand, I look at digital distribution and my poster title for doing it right, “Torchlight”. The Runic fellows crafted a great experience, built a good demo and skipped the retail hassle altogether. My experience was totally different, I see the title in a download store, download a quick demo, play the demo to the end and decide to buy the game. The game installs quick and I load up from the end of the demo and keep playing. Slick, well thought out and well executed. The PC can be a great platform and kudos to the runic fellows for hitting it.
My whole reason for starting Beamdog was to re-invent the PC as a gaming platform and I’m pretty confident with a game development mindset, hard work and a strong vision to re-define the user experience we can be successful. As a long-time (15 years or so) game developer I have a massive loyalty to the fans who purchase games, as they are the air developers breathe. I also have a strong loyalty to fellow developers and ensuring they can make an honest living off of the hard work they put into the titles they lovingly craft. I want to create a situation when all parties win and I think we are on the right track. We are closing in on our open Beta and I’m looking forward to sharing our approach with the world.