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.