Q&A: Brad Wardell, Stardock

Brad Wardell is the CEO of Stardock, which developed Galactic Civilizations I and II and published the space strategy hit Sins of a Solar Empire. Stardockâ??s next published game is Demigod, developed by Gas Powered Games. Brad is also the author of the controversial Gamerâ??s Bill of Rights.
Publish date:

One of your more controversial statements – with which I happen to agree – is that pirates don’t count. Why don’t they count, and why shouldn’t developers be concerned about them?

You should only be concerned about pirates who might otherwise purchase your game. But business people should not make business decisions for emotional reasons. There’s no business justification to sweat someone playing your game if they were never going to buy it in the first place. It may piss me off that they’re playing my game for free, but if they were never going to buy it anyway, what is the justification for me to spend money in trying to prevent them from playing it?

It’s always struck me that there is an inherently false assumption in thinking that every single person who is willing to play a game for free is also willing to pay 50 bucks for it. That ignores pretty much everything we know about price elasticity and economics.

Exactly. In the shareware world, we’ve been dealing with piracy for years. Yeah, it really does make you angry. But that anger has caused the PC game industry to start punishing the people who do pay for stuff and that results in us being less competitive. What happens is that people just go for the console games instead of the PC ones because they’re not going to get jerked around as much on the consoles. It’s a much more consistent environment.

Is there a connection between your observation between gamers moving to the consoles and your proposed Gamer’s Bill of Rights?

Absolutely. You have people buying the console version even when they have a PC that will run the game just fine because when they get the console, it’s going to work. Most of the tenets in the Gamer’s Bill of Rights are concentrated on getting the PC game industry to treat its customers better, because otherwise gamers will go to the consoles. For years, PC game developers could get away with stuff that they never would have been able to get away with if the console industry had been more competitive with them. But now it is. For years, people with PCs weren’t willing to play the low-res games on consoles because the experience wasn’t as good as they could get with the PC.

Now, things have changed and the only significant difference is the controller. But with the PC, I don’t know if the game is going to work on my computer, I don’t know what kind of copy protection it has, I don’t know if it’s going to be dialing home constantly, or if I’m going to be allowed to install it more than once. That last one is the thing that really irritates me because I’m reinstalling games on my computer all the time. That’s very annoying.

You pretty much kiss off everyone who mucks about with Linux.

Look, I buy my stuff, I don’t pirate, but I do expect that when I buy a piece of software, I’ll have it on my work machine and my home machine. That’s two installations right there. If I reformat a machine a few months later and have to reinstall something, I don’t expect to get hassled about it. I already paid for it! I know I could crack it, so, why am I being treated like a chump for being a legitimate buyer?

Sins of a Solar Empire has been remarkably successful for a game with a relatively small budget. To what do you attribute its success?

We made it to work on the widest possible number of machines. I love when I hear about how some great game for the PC didn’t sell as well as they’d hope and they just blame piracy. Those of us who are really hard core, we might be willing to spend three or four hundred dollars on a video card, but normal people aren’t. If you don’t make a game to run on their computers, you won’t get those customers. That’s the biggest thing that helped Sins of a Solar Empire. It looks great on normal hardware, and Demigod is taking the same route. You’ve seen screenshots of Demigod, it looks breathtaking. And yet it has lower hardware requirements than Supreme Commander.

I found it interesting that Demigod has some elements that seem to come more from basic FPS and MMO/PVP concepts, which is pretty unusual in an RTS.

What a gamer wants to do is sit down and be able to pick up the game and play it. Strategy games have gotten more and more complicated over the years. We’ve lost a lot of our market because we’re a long ways off from the original Command & Conquer and Warcraft games. Anyone could sit down and play those games. They were really simple games.
Nowadays, these games have gotten more and more complicated. We didn’t want to dumb down the genre, though, so that’s where Demigod comes in. Take elements from an action game, elements from RPG, from strategy, and you end up with a pretty deep game that’s still easy to play.



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