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Why do publishers delay the PC version of their games?

Delayed

I’m interviewing a man about a game, and he’s trying to avoid answering a big question.

“Can you tell me why your game isn’t coming out on PC on the same day it’s coming out on console?”

He’s a good guy. You can see he wants to talk, to explain the problem, but he’s glancing left and right, knowing that he has to give a no comment or canned PR line.

“If you turn the dictaphone off, if we go completely off the record, we can talk about it.”

It’s another one of those sad-face moments. It’s an important topic, and the answer deserves to see the light of day.

Once the dictaphone is off and he’s comfortable he’s not going to get named he opens up. The problem is simple. The publishers and the managers at the company he works for are terrified of piracy. They delay the PC version of their game because there is a section of the gaming audience that would prefer to download the game for free rather than buy it. If the PC version is available, it will be cracked and shared. If there is no PC version, there will be some piracy, but not at anywhere near the scale of what they regularly see on PC.

It’s an honest answer to an important question.

So why the fear of openly saying it?

“If we say this publicly, the internet hates us.”

I’ve listened to similar stories from multiple developers and multiple publishers. But no-one dares say such a thing aloud, on the record to a journalist. The fear of a backlash is just too fierce. There are heated comment threads, angry follow-on articles, a vicious flame war and endless twitter rage. It’s damaging and it’s exhausting.

But it’s probably one of the most important topics in PC gaming right now.

Many major studios believe that they can increase their sales and their profits by delaying the PC version. They may well be right - we just don’t have access to their data.

If they are though, PC gaming faces a real problem. If this strategy is successful, it will encourage more publishers to pull exactly the same trick. In two years time, will we look at the gaming release schedules and see that most publisher backed games are available on the consoles between two weeks to six months before they’re available on PC.

That would be extremely damaging to our platform.

I don’t know if there’s a way to fix this problem. I’m sure, at some stage, there will be a petition. Someone might organise a boycott. But it all feels so hopeless.

A real sad-face moment.

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TenClub's picture

I really do wish they provided the proof to this. It would be interesting to see the actual data of PC piracy vs console second hand sales. Is there really that big of a gap between the two?

From my point of view all I see are publishers trying to blame something, anything for their games failing. Instead of looking at their own overbloated budgets, ridiculously expensive marketing, etc. they try to blame it on something else.

I mean look at RE6. They sold 5 million in a month and Capcom said it flopped? Are you kidding me? They have no one to blame but themselves if they can't make a profit on a game that sold 5 million units in a month. Same goes for Square Enix and Tomb Raider failing at what was it 3.8 million in a month?

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Bunny's picture

Publishers lie and/or are ignoring what they dont want to hear. There is data that disproves everything said here... The problem is they dont like the said data. almost all the data outside of the crap that publishers put out (which is paid for by said publishers) point to some major things.

Almost 60% of console players do not buy the games they play. They either borrow from a friend or pirate. In almost 7/10 cases, the console release (xbox is the most common of the 2) is the first to release eaely followed by the others. GTA 5 (which currently has no PC release date or even announcement) has been pirated over 7 million times, and thats public trackers only. Gears of war 3 was released 5 months early and it was the gold copy. The funny part is, Data shows that if a console player pirates a game (and enjoys it), 1/15 go out and buy the game. The SAME data shows that if a PC player pirates a game and enjoys it, 1/4 buy it. In the same report, if the said game on PC is well optimized and doesnt suffer from the increasingly standard rush port job (ie, bugs, crashs, weeks worth of patches to get it into the playable form it should have shipped with, ect) that the person is more than likely to buy the next game from said dev/publisher without resorting to piracy.

If you want to go into the PC related Piracy data, the ones provided by the publishers, it paints a picture that 1 in 9 PC users pays for a game. If you go by ubisoft, who in 2011 said that all PC games are so heavily pirated, its sales numbers are only 7% of people who paid for the game. So that means that if 1 million units sold, it should have been over 90 million.

Most publisher do not want to admit that they are the problem and that consoles are actually worse than PC. They dont want to face up to their sickeningly increasing budgets (for example, serious sam 3's entire budget, staff, game creation, new engine, ect, cost less than cliffy b's paycheck for GoW2 ($1m for those who didnt know)), Thier quick, piss poor rush jobs of PC ports. their post launch support of the system (dead space 3 was the first dead space game we got DLC for. War for cybertron never got a single patch. ever.), their alarming increase of day 0 DLC... Their PC prices (why should PC games cost 60$? the only reason its that price on consoles is because there is a % per unit sold that goes to the console creators (sony, microsoft, ect). Since PC/mac/linux doesnt have that problem, they get more profit per unit off of us, not including the much bigger cut they get from steam).

TL;DNR.

Publishers are liars who pay for the numbers they want to see to be created while ignoring the real numbers, the fans, and the world around them.

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avatar

Do these people ever even load up a torrent site? On release, consoles are nearly as active as PC, plus on console it gets leaked before the release date, while on PC if they use something like steam, it doesn't. What about the people who have both consoles and PC and pirate it on console just to play it a week before release? Plus, I'd wager that hard copy piracy is way more rampant on consoles than PC (and no way to track that). Their arguments are bogus and they only delay PC because of backroom deals with Sony and Microsoft.

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Shriven's picture

If they say it out loud, they get a DOS attack and a PR nightmare. You cant blame them. I think they need to have faith. If your product is decent, consistently, people will always pay for it. I think the reason that their is so much piracy is people are fed up of being ripped off by poor products.

Have faith. I know its hard Mr Shareholder, but do it. Be like Bruce Wayne! Become the hero the industry needs, not the one it deserves right now! /analogy

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lenn_eavy's picture

It's hard to say that his argument is invalid, but in the other hand, piracy isn't a new thing and devs could live with it.

Devs are not completely clean either. Day zero DLCs, furiously strong DRMs that prevent you from playing (like I had with GTA IV) and game prices growing and growing despite of this miraculous sales model. This isn't what PC gaming used to be and I think it's hard to expect any improvements if both sides won't cooperate.

PC platform have its' drawbacks, but in exchange offers much longer game life (just look at CS 1.6 or Morrowind), involves community in many ways and if the game is good enough it can have it all and generate a lot of income.

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nimrod123's picture

the irony here is that a delayed PC release means i wait for bargin bin instead of dayone'ing it.

i was going to get ASSCRED 4, now its a month late, so i will wait for it to hit 10 USD.

at least X rebirth is coming out soon :D

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skinlo's picture

I often do that as well. I'm willing to wait a year for all the games I want to be £10 or less.

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Kirnl's picture

games I've bought for pc this year all of them. games I've bought for console this year 0 pirated them all a week and a half before release date. yet pc pirating is so much easier right. nothing to do with being pirated on pc first cause that is a lie consoles don't have date locks on there games like pc does you cant pirate most games before release date on pc. console games different story copy and paste the raw image straight onto the hdd

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Excessum's picture

Weather or not piracy is the main reason, i can not say, but it definitely is an issue, which i am afraid is being approached the wrong way by the major publishers. And understandably so, since the alternatives severely undermine their business models. Namely: crowd funding, f2p and banking on successful appeals to conscience of gamers (as opposed to hardcore, yet crackable DRM). And these approaches fail if the product is sub-par (or too niche).

From my point of view, piracy is inevitable and the business models have to evolve. The economical situation around the world (the BIGGEST factor when it comes to piracy. What a radical idea, i know) prevents people from buying games they might want to support and fully enjoy, simply because the fraction of their income they would have to dish out is SUBSTANTIALLY larger than what gamers in 1st world countries have to pay.

The only solution that will work in the long run, in my opinion, is a major paradigm shift: games have to become a SERVICE that is provided and can be charged for, rather than products. And in order to retain (and possibly even convert) the compulsive pirate gamers, is to make the price for this service flexible enough to include players who are unable/unwilling to pay, via fair f2p and/or subsidized-subscription (EVE online) models, among other similar options.

Now, the only issue here is that this leaves out single player games. But it can also be solved by partial-always online DRM, which allows some content to be accessible only when connected to the server (Ubisoft is doing pretty good in this regard). It will not prevent the single player content from being pirated, but it will definitely incentivize a certain level of conversion.

And of course then there is the multiplayer aspect and intertwining multiplayer with single player is a neat approach to this (Deadspace 3 springs to mind).

So yeah, the industry has to evolve with the world, as gone are the times when digital data can be regarded as a physical product. That, and they have to stop trying to cash in on shitty games, that would also help immensely :)

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RadioActiveLobster's picture

That is complete bullshit and they know it.

The reason they delay it is because they know a lot of PC gamers will buy it on console and then get the PC version when they finally decide to release it.

You know what delaying the PC version till months after the console version does to me? It pisses me off and makes me WANT to pirate you game even more.

Put it on PC day one and I'll buy it, delay it for some dumbass reason, piss your fans off and they'll not want to support you.

The people who pirate the game weren't going to buy it anyways.

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Lunatitch's picture

This is rubbish. Consoles have piracy, consoles have 2nd (and 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th) hand sales, of which the developer sees nothing either, don't see them crying about those definite lost sales.

'Because of piracy' is the lamest excuse I've ever heard.

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Shriven's picture

Hi Titch!

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cronos1013's picture

OK, as a PC gamer...yea I hate this...but as someone who wants the developers to make enough money to keep making the games I want to play...yea...I understand it.

Look, piracy IS a real problem in this industry...but consoles are much harder to pirate on, so if this is the direction the industry needs to move in to get over all the stupid fucking DRM that fucks over actual paying customers more so than pirates (who always find a way around the DRM) then so be it. But if you're going to delay the PC version 3-6 months to combat piracy...don't hamstring the game with horrible DRM once you do release it.

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Bunny's picture

"Consoles are harder to pirate on"

your joking right? PC users have to suffer through more than simply cracking games anymore. We have to make custom patches, virtual servers, have no multiplayer, even sometimes go as far as making a fake steam.

What do consoles have to do? burn iso and play. Most of the time with multiplayer. Yep. Its really hard for those console players to Power ISO.

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Minttunator's picture

This is not a huge deal for me, personally, since I'm not at all interested in playing most console/multi-plat games anyway - but I have to say this explanation sort of makes sense. It's not like a major publisher would admit they simply release bad to mediocre games or that they actively drive people to piracy with horrible DRM and other anti-customer practices.

Not to mention the financial aspect, where most of a game's budget nowadays is spent on marketing and superficial stuff like voice acting - instead of things like QA and improving the actual gameplay. TenClub makes a very good point - if your game sells 5M copies and you're not making a profit, you are doing something seriously wrong and should take a loot at what's going on in your company. But it's easier to blame piracy.

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Hermago's picture

Well this sucks

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Wrath42's picture

I think there are many many innovative and logical ways to deal with piracy for PC releases its just easier to ignore investing and spending time implementing strategies than make a quick buck on the console and get to developing something else to please investors, profit above all else.

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Wrath42's picture

Bunny's comment really sums up a lot of good points very well.

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avatar

Utter bollocks. The real reason publishers delay the release of games on PC, is because console developers such as Sony and Microsoft pay the publishers to do just that. Piracy is just an easy excuse publishers use to justify their greed.

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llubtoille's picture

Can't really say I'm surprised by the (quite reasonable) logic.

There was a bit of a stir when people accessed GTA5 files via the PS3 pre-download system, but if it were out on the PC I could easily imagine far worse things happening - eg. game available via torrenting before release date.

It's a bit naive to think piracy isn't having an impact - I flat with someone who thinks buying games is a waste of money but has no probs shelling out $30 on beer.

and it's a bit selfish of PC gamers to say they should just deal with it and release on our platform (when they clearly don't have to)

in the case of GTA5, Rockstar is dealing with it, they're massively delaying their PC releases (likely in part) because of it, and it's fair for them to do so.

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syndicatey's picture

irrogant pirating people are everywhere, it's just games that suck at being good enough to live on the market without first-month multi-million fool-sales. In case of R* they just suck so bad with their Social Club that some people just will be glad to pirate the shit out of GTA V PC.

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xprez's picture

Oh dont try and go there, there is just as much torrenting happening on the consoles as on the pc.

Though the pc gamers have advantages when it comes to sales on the pc platform and the console market doesnt have that eg the steam sales, humble bundle and other bundle services, greenman gaming etc.

Why rockstar is delaying gta 5 i dont know but that game is pushing xbox 360 and ps3 to its limits with its 8 year old hardware.

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Dog Pants's picture

I have a theory on the GTA V delay. It's pure speculation, just as likely to be complete cack, but it's feasible so I'm throwing it out there in case it happens to be right.

In a month or so there will be two next-gen consoles released. Odd that they would release a blockbuster game immediately before that. So maybe they have an 'HD' version ready for the next generation consoles, which a good number of people will no doubt buy again. Cynical? Yes, but not outside the realms of possibility. So how about the PC version? There's no next generation, and if you have a version of the game ready that's better because it's designed to run on better spec hardware that would be the one for PC. But you can't release that before the console versions because that would let the cat out of the bag. So you wait for the HD console version to be released.

That's my crackpot theory anyway. New version of GTA V for the new consoles, PC release soon after.

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I think the delay was not that serious....

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unwanted's picture

Just like everyone's favorite PC exclusive game Gears of War 3. That PC exclusive game was pirated to hell.

Excessum's picture

This comment has been deleted by a moderator.

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Excessum's picture

Where did my 5-paragraph comment go? Did it get lost in the hearthstone giveaway shtstorm? OR WAS IT TOO CONTROVERSIAL?! :D

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Tim Edwards's picture

It's right there.

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Excessum's picture

yeah, sorry, it didn't shop up for quite a while after posting. Must be due to the database being overloaded or something.

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