Sales of The Witcher 2 and Alan Wake prove PC gaming is very much alive

Do not believe the lie. PC gaming has been out of hospital for years.

“PC gaming is dead.”

I’ve heard this tiresome lie more times than I’ve had pot noodles, and I practically lived off the damn things in my student days.  Not to mention the equally numerous and tiresome justifications behind it. Many people, industry types and gamers alike, would have you believe all PC gamers are filthy pirating thieves, one illegal torrent away from violently robbing their own grandmothers for a handful of shekels. A shameful and inaccurate slur that implies no crime whatsoever happens in the fortified compound of pure, wholesome console gamers, whilst tarring millions of PC gamers with the same toilet brush. If pirating 360 and PS3 games was as easy as downloading a PC one you’d see just as much if not more piracy on those platforms. Others will tell you it just isn’t profitable to develop for the PC, a tissue thin excuse that usually really means “we can’t be arsed to do a proper port.” Two pieces of news this week show up all these falsehoods for the steaming load of crusty old bollocks they are.

First up is the announcement from Polish developers CD Projekt Red that their gorgeous PC RPG The Witcher 2 sold 1.1 million copies in 2011, despite being pirated an estimated 4.5 million times. Now before you throw that bigger number back in my face as “proof” all PC gamers are kleptomaniac vermin, it was an estimate by the developer so rough you could sand a table with it. Also consider that it was a PC-only title with no DRM whatsoever and high system requirements, with a far smaller developer team than your average triple-A title and the kind of steep learning curve we’ve all come to expect from East European games. By industry logic it should have been a commercial failure. In the real world CD Projekt Red covered their development costs and other expenses when the game shifted 400,000 units in the first fortnight of its release: 1.1 million is around the absolute bare minimum for a triple-A title to be considered commercially successful. In short, it’s fantastic news for CD Projekt Red and PC gamers.

Meanwhile the PC version of Alan Wake, from Finland-based developer Remedy Entertainment, recouped all of its development and marketing costs in only 48 hours after its release on Steam. Its initial release on the 360 in 2010 was met with critical acclaim that far outstripped its commercial success, thanks to a competitive launch window that pit it against heavy hitters like Red Dead Redemption. As of February this year it has managed a respectable 1.11 million sales worldwide, total. Steam refuse to release official sales figures so we can only speculate how much Alan Wake on the PC has sold, but like The Witcher 2 it also had hefty odds stacked against it. Without factoring in that Alan Wake is a two year old game anyway, the PC version also has some demanding system requirements, no DRM besides Steam, a reduced selling price (a penny shy of £23 on Steam) and barely any advertising to support it. Against all that Alan Wake PC has recouped its costs and is now making nothing but sweet, sweet, well-deserved profit for Remedy, all whilst enjoying a new lease of life.

Not bad for a platform supposedly rife with thieves and other criminal scum. So why is it working?

Part of it has to do with the way Remedy and CD Projekt Red have taken to heart the lesson that if you offer legitimate customers an easier, more rewarding experience than piracy, you will reap the rewards. An idea big stingy publishers can’t wrap their profit margin-addled brains around, preferring instead to flee into the comforting darkness of DRM and other consumer-unfriendly nastiness. Both The Witcher 2 and Alan Wake PC reward consumers for purchasing them legitimately in the form of bonuses like DLC, wallpapers, soundtracks, concept art books and other goodies they couldn’t acquire as conveniently through piracy.

Yes, if you spent enough time scouring torrent sites you could get The Witcher 2, it’s soundtrack, pictures of all the naked ladies in the game and even .PDFs of the original Witcher novels by Andrzej Sapkowski. For the same investment of time however you could have bought it off Steam or GOG.com and played it for several hours before kicking back, enjoying the soundtrack with a nice cup of tea and poring over the exclusive game guide. Maybe assembling one of the free papercraft models you got with your purchase too. Everybody likes free stuff and it doesn’t have to be a gaudy dragon statuette or a bust of Marcus Fenix. Little things like art books and soundtracks are still appreciated, and inexpensive for a developer in terms of time and money. In the words of Good Old Games MD Guillaume Rambourg, “it doesn’t take a lot of your time and it makes consumers happy.”

This focus on consumer happiness is why PC games are thriving, or “thriving again” if you have to be cynical about it. Human nature being what it is, there’ll still be a hard core of dirty, thieving conniving scum who’ll use any excuse to justify their crimes. They are still a minority however, and their numbers will shrink as other developers and publishers make it more convenient and rewarding to buy games rather than pirate them.

Matt

About Matt

Matt is the irresponsible degenerate behind bitscreed.com and the sarcastic writer, editor, director, presenter and tea boy of Pixel Burn.