Escapist Editorials

Escapist Editorials
Fighting for Second Place: An Interview With Brad Wardell

M.S. Smith | 9 Apr 2010 22:00
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MS: What are your concerns when it comes to one platform taking over the PC digital distribution market?

BW: What I worry about is if anyone were to dominate the PC to that level, it makes the PC less competitive versus consoles. One thing I've noticed developers talking about is pricing on the PC versus the console market. Consumers see that they can get games on digital services for very cheap. But if it stops being profitable for game developers to make games for the PC, they will move to other platforms.

Consumers see the benefit to them when there is competition, but they don't see the benefits to developers. People have very little idea just how ugly the retail space can get now that there are only a few players in it. It is one of the reasons why digital distribution is growing so fast. Developers want alternatives to retail because ... well, I don't want to get into it, because I'm afraid of retail, too. I don't want to get myself into trouble here, because you wouldn't believe how much leverage retail has. The point is, though, that I don't want to be at the mercy of the distributor.

MS: Do you get any sense that, besides Steamworks, you have trouble negotiating with publishers because of Steam's size?

BW: No, not really. Most publishers don't want to just sell through one store. Publishers have already experienced problems with that on the retail side. For example, the size of PC boxes in retail stores is decided by Wal-Mart. So regardless of where you buy your PC game, the dimensions of the box are decided by the buyer at Wal-Mart because they have so much clout. So no one is looking for one digital distributor to have such overwhelming clout.

MS: Some readers of "Steam: A Monopoly in a Making?" speculated that publishers would overthrow today's digital distributors by opening their own stores. Is this something you're worried about, or do you feel that services like Impulse and Steam offer value that the publisher's won't be able to replicate?

BW: Well, the answer to that is complicated because the answer is "yes" to both. EA already has the EA Store. Activision, now that they have acquired Blizzard, could certainly have the Battle.net store fill that role. The experience of downloading and installing StarCraft II over the internet is just wonderful, so I could see Activision doing something like that. But the typical publisher just doesn't have the resources. It takes a lot.

A lot of people think Impulse sort of came out of nowhere, but Stardock has been doing digital distribution since the '90s on our own titles. We had to slowly, over a matter of years, build up the infrastructure. It isn't just a matter of setting up a website and some links if you're going to do it well. So I think most publishers will end up using Steam, Impulse and whomever else in the long term. The big guys, mainly Activision and Electronic Arts, will probably have their own stores. But I don't know for sure.

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