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.

Ross Lincoln contributed to this report. Follow Phil, Ross and Game Front on Twitter: @philhornshaw, @rossalincoln and @gamefrontcom.

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8 Comments on Non-Subscription Games on PC Don’t Make Money, Says id’s Willits


On August 9, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Its always nice how they never mention how prevalent Piracy is on the Consoles. The fact of the matter is that they can spend far less money on a console game, with less features, and less discerning customers, then charge $59.99, and add lots of paid DLC.

PC Gamers generally expect more, they expect the graphics to be up to date, if there is multiplayer we expect dedicated servers, and for certain titles we expect Mod Support so we don’t -have- to spend money on DLC. Also a lot of games on the PC are still $49.99, and while it may only be a $10 difference, if you are looking between a 50 and 60 dollar game that are equal in terms of gameplay, you’re going to go for the 50. That pretty much doesn’t exist on the consoles, they’re pretty much always 60 bucks unless they are used or old.


On August 9, 2012 at 3:09 pm


You’re pretty much right about all that, piracy is just a red herring.The fact of the matter is PC players want better longer lasting games, games we can play for years and years thanks to good company & community support. While console players will always buy the flavor of the month (year in this case), buy the newest version of the game year after year with little to no changes which means little to no work on updating it, no need to make it mod friendly, low res graphics, and DLC.

This nonsense about making all games stream online is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard, no PC gamer wants that, who wants to not have any access to their game when they aren’t around a connection or not being able to mod at all?

Id is just disappointing right now, sure rage was fun but a hassle to play on PC with console minded menus designed and many many issues, then you got the up coming DOOM BFG edition. I’m sure it’ll be fun but with the brighter levels and no real improvement in graphics (I get a better graphics boost on my regular copy with SIKK mod), this is looking to be a very console friendly game and very lack luster re-release PC title.


On August 9, 2012 at 3:51 pm

He must have been joking. Either that, or the man has very little technical knowledge outside of game development. What he’s talking about is, from our current technology standpoint, right up there with cold fusion and invisibility for any sort of wide-spread implementation. Short of magical pixie dust from the bandwidth fairy, it just isn’t going to happen.
The difference between streaming Angry Birds and streaming a AAA title at 1920X1080 /60fps for the majority of customers isn’t a gap, Tim, it’s a friggin’ technological CHASM.


On August 9, 2012 at 5:46 pm

I think the guys that remade borderlands but more brown really shouldn’t be talking about how to make money in this industry.

Id was famous for creating Doom and bringing “mature” games to the forefront but they are given way WAY to much credit and respect for something that happened two decades ago.


On August 9, 2012 at 11:16 pm

Yes, it’s harder to prepare for the various hardware on PC, but this is also coming from a company that admitted that Rage had issues because they didn’t even bother to test a single ATI graphics card, so the drivers were messed up.


On August 10, 2012 at 12:50 am

Does he not realize that most subscription-based games these days typically fail within 6 months to a year and eventually end up going free to play? This guy sounds like he is stuck in a time bubble 5-10 years in the past. PC is a rising star in the gaming world, subscription-based gaming routinely fails and is on the decline, and many developers are starting to admit that piracy has been used as something of a catchall scapegoat for poor sales. This guy just kind of comes off as an angry old man shaking his fist to me.

Want to beat pirates? Offer a better product. Rage was decent but not worth full price in my opinion. The fact that they totally shafted pc users right out of the gate compounds my sentiment and is the very reason people turn to piracy in the first place.


On August 10, 2012 at 1:43 am

ID reminds me of that star highschool football player that suffered a career ending injury during the big game in front of the talent scouts. 20 years past their prime and theyre still going on about their glory days and of better days gone past. Everytime they get a chance to recapture their former glory it crumbles before them because something they overlooked. They are the product of their own undoing because the world has moved on and they refuse to follow. Their name doesnt carry the weight it used to and theyre still trying to get buy on the name they made for themselves 20+ years ago. ID is the Al Bundy of game development companies.


On August 10, 2012 at 5:53 am

You can’t make any money on PC without a subscription game? I would’ve been fine with everything else he said except this blatant lie. It would’ve been more accurate to say you make a lot less money making games exclusively for PC, but claiming that your business can’t survive developing only for the one platform is complete nonsense that not only ignores their own past as PC exclusive developers, but also the fact that games sell more now than they did back then.

Maybe id software can’t survive making PC exclusives alone anymore because it takes them 6+ years to make mediocre games.