In one of the most brutal and honest interviews I've seen in a long time, Stardock CEO Brad Wardell lays out the state of PC gaming on the table. You can tell the man has a chip on his shoulder, and he's not afraid to tell the world about digital distribution, Microsoft's shortcomings, and the fact that company's flat out lie about their sales.
With digital distribution becoming more popular, it seems that most have been clamoring that "retail is dead" - but that's simply not the case. There's a reason we haven't seen numbers from Steam, Direct2Drive, Impulse and other digital platforms - they simply aren't as impressive.
Brad Wardell: It's a lot. A lot of people keep predicting digital distribution is going to kill off retail, and that's not going to happen any time soon. Retail sales are still gigantic. Demigod has sold more copies at Walmart than anywhere else. Even though it's on Impulse--right now we have a sale this week, you can get Demigod for $20. But I guarantee you that Walmart sold more copies this week than we did, even though we sold thousands and thousands of copies this week.
But what about retail sales, they seem to be dropping off a bit, no? Certainly digital distribution is picking up in its place. Perhaps, or perhaps the numbers we've been hearing all along weren't 100% truthful.
Brad Wardell: That's because everybody lies about their numbers. It's really painful. I mean, on Galactic Civlizations II, we made an OEM deal where ATI or Nivida--I don't remember now--where it was like 10 cents per copy. Well on paper, we sold six billion copies of GalCiv. We don't use that, but you can bet your behind that if you opened up PC Gamer, you'd read "such and such a game sold nine million copies." No. No it didn't. Users want to know how many copies, either digitally or at retail, at full-price, at $40 or $50. You can never get those numbers.
So while every few years people seem to predict the "death" of PC gaming, it never seems to go away. That's not to say there isn't room for improvement. Like consoles, PC gaming needs a dominate force to steer it properly. Or does it? When Microsoft had the oppurtunity to do something great with PC gaming, they all but blew it with Games for Windows Live.
Brad Wardell: I don't know. I started out as a big Games for Windows Live advocate. I intended for Elemental to be on Games for Windows Live, but then as we got closer, the Xbox group took it over more and more. And they have things where, oh, if you want to use Games for Windows Live to update your game, you have to go through [their] certification. And if you do it more than X number of times, you have to pay money. It's like, "My friends, you can't do that on the PC."
Now for a bit of editorializing on my own part. There are those that say Valve are the ones that can save PC gaming, that they already have with Steam. The fact remains that right now one third of the entire Steam population playing ALL games is matched by one game on the Xbox, Halo 3.
Perhaps it's time that all the digital platforms, Steam, Impulse, Direct2Drive, GoG, and others get together and create a unified PC gaming community. Only then will they compete with consoles, and only then, will we possibly see digital distribution get the respect it deserves.