Non-Subscription Games on PC Don’t Make Money, Says id’s Willits
A fiscal reality of game development on PC for id Software is that consoles bring in more money, and that means the developer has to put more effort into the console side of development than PC.
That’s the sentiment expressed by id Co-Founder John Carmack a year ago and reiterated during his keynote at QuakeCon 2012. It’s also a reality discussed by id Creative Director Tim Willits, who said that multiplatform development is necessary for id to survive and make games, partially because the PC market is small by comparison.
“…To be honest, without a subscription-based game, and if you only make it for the PC, you’re not going to make any money,” Willits said. “Piracy is way too high, the market is way too small, and you’re just not going to make enough to survive, unless you make it subscription-based.”
Slightly earlier in the conversation, he elaborated on points made by Carmack during the keynote:
“I will echo what John said last night: Yes, for business reasons, you need to do multi-platform,” said Willits. “Consoles are pretty slick. Like John said, you come in to QuakeCon, you push a little button, yo’uve got 3-D and it just works. Then you’ve got the PC, which you can do side-by-side 3-D, and NVIDIA has its own 3-D and ATI has its own 3-D, and then you have different drivers, and you’re just gonna pull your hair out. John Carmack had to come down because we had an HDMI cable instead of a DVI cable hooked to a monitor, and it’s just like, ‘Who knew?’ And we’re actually pretty smart. So that’s a pain in the ass.
“The power of the PC is great, but all the different configurations and drivers –- we’ve been doing this for 20 years, and it hasn’t gotten any better, to be honest. Now with social media the way it is, when you screw one thing up, everyone hears about it. There were a lot of people who couldn’t play Doom when it came out, but nobody else knew! (laughs) So there are advantages to developing on the console, there really is.”
Piracy is another big issue that Willits said id, and all developers, have to deal with. Though he said id doesn’t have any plans for “draconian” DRM measures such as always-on Internet connections, piracy is another issue that holds back id from focusing just on PC.
“To be dismissive of piracy is silly,” he said.
But the piracy issue and many of the other problems holding back PC development might be solved in the next five years, if you believe Carmack. During his keynote addressed, he mentioned some thoughts on game streaming technology. Despite some resistance to the “games as a service” model among players and in the industry, Carmack said he thought streaming was a “technological inevitability.” It allows developers to avoid pitfalls of dealing with different configurations, and to maximize their games for the best technology, because games are running on data center computers rather than on the individual machines of each player.
Streaming was something that id seems very positive on, if Willits’ comments are any indication. He also said that he thought the future of the games industry is in streaming — if the technology gets better. It’ll also require a change in gamer culture and perception.
“If we can get stuff to the cloud, it solves the (piracy) problem,” Willits said. “The great thing about id Tech 5 and RAGE, it streams stuff really, really well. So if you can move a game or a part of the game to the cloud, but offer something you can’t get from physical media — ‘Hey, it’s on the cloud, and we have terabytes and terabytes of size that we’re not going to be able to fit.’ Great, you log in, you play that, people will accept it — ‘Oh, I get this added content, but I have to be online all the time.’ Because that’s where the added content is. I mean, nobody complains about (World of Warcraft) (for being always online) because that’s how you play the game.
“And we have no solution for this, I’m talking about what we need to focus on in the future. If we can develop games that offer the player something they cannot get on a physical medium but put it on the cloud and make it stream fast enough, then it’s a win-win situation. And then people will accept always being on. It’s like iTunes — everyone accepts iTunes now. But When it first came out, people were like, ‘I’m just gonna keep stealing stuff.’ But now, people are like, ‘If I steal stuff, I’m an asshole, so I’ll just buy it.’ So if we can get that mentality into gamers, then that’s a solution.”
As it stands, however, both Carmack and Willits said that streaming isn’t quite ready to do the heavy lifting on most games. But as technology improves, speeds increase and Internet connections become more stable, it seems at least two of the top minds at id see your games coming over the Internet, with a constant Internet connection.