Grins of a Solar Empire

By Alec Meer on March 19th, 2008 at 12:11 am.

This’ll make you feel all fuzzy-warm inside. Sins Of A Solar Empire, Stardock’s mighty, but somewhat under-the-radar, space RTS, was the second-best selling PC game in February, according to omni-analysts NPD.

Yeah, we already knew it was doing well. Nonetheless, it looks really strange in there, coolly trumping all yer chart-mainstay Warcrafts and Simses and Orange Boxes – it’s like seeing Art Brut on Top of the Pops.

Stardock reckon that’s only half the story, as NPD doesn’t include digital downloads – which constitute “most sales of Sins of a Solar Empire thus far”, apparently – nor does it include copies bought in Walmart. “Unofficial tallies we’ve received internally put Sins at #1,” they say. Good work, those men.

As well as big-money-happy-fun-time, it’s a huge, phlegmy spit in the eye of the piracy-is-killing-PC-gaming camp, as this is a game that famously ships with absolutely zero copy protection. Of course, Stardock CEO Brad Wardell pre-emptively suggested why he thinks Sins has proved so successful despite/because of this (and also despite minimal media coverage) in a lengthy, fascinating blog post last week (you’ve probably also already read our Kieron’s follow-up thoughts on it.)

It’s fascinating to see Wardell’s business theories (in short, ‘know your audience’) apparently play out exactly as he planned. The question is, will other parts of the games industry now sit up and take notice? Or does their tried-and-tested tactic of Cool-Looking Men With Guns remain too safe a money-spinner, no matter that the audience interested in such titles seems more piracy-prone than the carefully-targeted customer base for a complicated strategy game? Indeed, taking a quick gander at A Leading Torrent site, about 500 people are currently leeching Sins, while around 2000 are grabbing Call of Duty 4, NPD’s official February number 1 (but unofficial number 2, if Stardock’s estimates are correct). Interesting times.

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59 Comments »

  1. Butler` says:

    I’m currently cut between buying this and Civilization IV (I missed out the first time round) for my latest strategy fix.

  2. Tak says:

    Grats, StarDock and IronClad! They deserve it. This really is a great game.

    And Bulter, that’s a tough call. I’d imagine if you want more tech-tree goodness Civ is probably the way to go, but if you want a more combat oriented (though not really combat heavy, if you tech well) experience SoaSE is the winner. Tough, tough choice.

  3. Cian says:

    I was mulling the same decision Butler, and decided upon Sins. Haven’t regretted it thus far, indeed have been greatly enjoying getting to grips with the tech tree and intricacies of developing different planets. However, whilst Sins happily sucks me in for a few hours, it doesn’t have the week swallowing abilities of the Civilisation games.

    This is a definite advantage for multiplayer however, which is rather enjoyable. Though my friends and I have had our games consistently interrupted by unexplained crashing.

    Rather odd that digital distribution figures aren’t considered, given thats the only way I could lay my hands on the game.

  4. Alex says:

    That is good news. It’s a great game.

  5. The_B says:

    Now I just hope a UK distributer/publisher is taking note and getting ready to strike a deal to release this in EU and UK retail as well…

  6. nabeel says:

    Really glad that it’s doing so well. Part of the wisdom of Stardock’s practices is that the games they make also tend to be pirated to a lesser extent, due to their catering to more niche markets.
    nabeel

  7. RichPowers says:

    Congrats StarDock and IronClad. I’m still amazed by how fun it is to just watch battles in Sins.

    The lack of copy protection is a huge plus, no doubt, but the game’s so successful because it appeals to PC gamers! We’re not talking about some half-baked console port or rehashed shooter here. If you understand your audience, you’ll sell games.

    PS: Do NPD stats always exclude Wal-Mart? If so, they lose even more credibility as a meaningful sales metric.

  8. Dick Tricklet says:

    I think this says more about the total size of the PC market that an upstart title like this could rise to the top.

  9. BKG says:

    I think it says more about the power of word-of-mouth blogging within the PC Gaming community about the little game that could, and on pretty much any spec at that.

  10. Muzman says:

    Or that no one really noticed how much everyone wanted another Homeworld sort of thing, except these guys.

  11. Peronthious says:

    Sins truly is glorious, but I need to find time to play it. Only played out a couple games since buying it a bit after release =P

  12. TychoCelchuuu says:

    I’m pretty sure 70% of those sales are due to the awesome name. If it was called “Nexus: The Jupiter Incident” or something else silly I think people would have given it a pass.

  13. James Wallis says:

    I’m not much on RTSes, much less space-based ones, but ART BRUT TOP OF THE POPS ART BRUT TOP OF THE POPS.

    Thank you.

  14. sigma83 says:

    oh god sins. I love it but I can’t play it. :( Takes tooo much tiiiimeeeee

    That and I’ve been practicing my headshot skills in TF2. :P

  15. Caiman says:

    It’s great that Sins is selling so well.

    But when will people stop taking NPD stats seriously, though? I mean it’s demonstrably highly inaccurate when it comes to reflecting PC sales these days and as such is completely useless and highly misleading. It’s astounding that it’s still given so much credibility! Saying “it’s the best we’ve got” is like saying that astrologers are the best we’ve got for predicting the future.

  16. DigitalSignalX says:

    @Muzman: “Or that no one really noticed how much everyone wanted another Homeworld sort of thing, except these guys.”

    SoaSE is a superb game, and yet, it really *isn’t* the new Homeworld I suspect most of us *STILL* want.

  17. sigma83 says:

    Yeah, we literally want another homeworld.

    Failing that I could accept FreeSpace 3. WHY WON’T THEY JUST MAKE FREESPACE 3 ALREADY AAAHHHHH

  18. Leeks! says:

    Awesome. It’s like the first Rocky, but with a game that allows me to live out megalomaniacal fantasies. So maybe not like Rocky, then.

    Also, isn’t that song called “Good Weekend?” I’m sure that’s what it says on the album I have, but I may have the ‘commonwealth swine’ edition.

  19. Alex says:

    I’m pretty sure 70% of those sales are due to the awesome name. If it was called “Nexus: The Jupiter Incident” or something else silly I think people would have given it a pass.

    I think it’s a pretty shitty title. It sounds like a sci-fi Barbara Cartland novel.

    Wait.. that is pretty fantastic, actually.

  20. sigma83 says:

    I wanna know the naming process for that one. (has flashbacks to Eddie Izzard’s Englebert Humperdinck routine)

  21. kenok says:

    Good work, IronClad devs.

    Now, if you guys would just distribute the game in EUR or Asia retail outlets… you’ll have wider grins, your faces can’t hold it.

    :P

    Missed out on GalCiv 2 and now this… *sigh* (and no, i don’t like digital downloads at this time.)

  22. Tikey says:

    Yeah, we literally want another homeworld.

    Failing that I could accept FreeSpace 3. WHY WON’T THEY JUST MAKE FREESPACE 3 ALREADY AAAHHHHH

    Now I’m wondering. If stardock’s model of appealing to the -to call it somehow- “marginalized mainstream” market, having proved a good level of success could mean that there is a chance of Space Sims could resurface again.
    Perhaps what that genre needs is some intelligent marketing.

    I’d love to see this guys get some recognition. Sadly they can’t profit from their admirable work.

  23. MindBrain says:

    Went to look for a demo after RPS posted this but they don’t have one. Not really sure it looks all that interesting to play after seeing a video though.

  24. sigma83 says:

    Mindbrain: Depends on what you like. Any gameplay video will probably look slow because of the sheer scale of the thing. What RTSs catch your fancy?

    Tikey: Beyond The Red Line just blows me away. RPS needs to do an article on it and make people play it.

    …you guys have played it right.

  25. nickski says:

    it’s no homeworld, i miss the third dimention, leaves me a little flat (!) having said that, it’s the first game i’ve played in a year of living with my girlfriend that has prompted the ‘have you not finished it yet, you’re ALWAYS in your room’ comment, and twatting ther pirate base with my freshly built Norath cannon was a glorious moment.mmmmm caaaanon i love you

  26. Okami says:

    Indeed, taking a quick gander at A Leading Torrent site, about 500 people are currently leeching Sins

    And I’d wager a good few of those are europeans who’d buy the game if someone would be willing to publish it over here. I’d be tempted to torrent it myself, but between Odin Sphere, Guitar Hero, No More Heroes and The Orange Box I’ve got enough stuff to keep myself occupied during the next few weeks.

    So hopefully by the time I’m finished with all of these titles, Sins will be avaible over here.

  27. Jim Rossignol says:

    I have to say I’m enjoying Sins immensely. It’ s got exactly the right kind of difficulty curve for a game that size, and the length of the games means I can drop in for an hour and then come back later in the week to continue my spacewar.

    No chance I’ll play it multiplayer, mind.

  28. SwiftRanger says:

    Under the radar? Just like GalCiv II Sins had more ‘coverage’ (on gamessites and blogs) than any other game in its genre could wish for, even a goofy title doesn’t change that. Besides, it’s the start of the year, there is barely any decent competition out there, not even from regular RTS-games (both UaW and Soulstorm have their annoying issues).

    The only thing that’s under the radar here is the genre itself (4X/RTS combo). If games like Imperium Galactica or Haegemonia would have been made by an American developer with the support of a loud voice/guerilla marketeer like Brad Wardell then they would have had more success as well. Props to Stardock and Ironclad for making a good game but that’s only half the story, they’ve also frequently tried to put their product in the spotlights (not only by putting ads up on the big sites in the week of release).

  29. Butler` says:

    Think I’ll hit me up some Civ IV goodness — Play.com have the original and both expansion packs for a ridiculously low £17.99.

    I’ll probably pick up Sins at a later date.

  30. Simes says:

    It’s available for download purchase – it not being available in a box isn’t really a valid excuse for getting a torrent instead of buying it.

  31. Okami says:

    There’s never a valid excuse for piracy, Simes. I’ve myself flamed enough people on these boards when they tried to justify piracy. I was just speculating that the lack of an european retail version might be a reason for some of the piracy.

    Me, I’d never pirate such a game. I just said, that I might be tempted, if I hadn’t have so many other games to play right now. I might even bite the bullet and get some friend of mine with a credit card to buy the game online for me (I hate credit cards and really don’t want to ever get one. Don’t ask me why, I just don’t like them), should it really never see a european retail release. Though I’d vastly prefer just buying it in a shop.

  32. Mr.Brand says:

    For those who torrent: Might as well buy it from Stardock and download it there.

    For those who hate credit cards: Get a frickin’ debit card so you can buy the game you know you want.

  33. fluffy bunny says:

    “Under the radar? Just like GalCiv II Sins had more ‘coverage’ (on gamessites and blogs) than any other game in its genre could wish for”

    Too true. A search for Sword of the Stars on RPS turned up two articles, and none them seems to have anything to do with the game. Seems Sins is hogging all the 4X-love.

  34. Alec Meer says:

    Round up a 1000 random people and ask how many have heard of COD4, then how many have heard of Sins. You fine folks’ radar is not the world’s radar.

    While I haven’t played it myself (I was too busy with a desk job in 2006), Sword of the Stars pre-dated RPS’ existence by over a year, and the expansion pack by a few months. We largely write about what we’re playing now-ish here. I’d also say Sword didn’t pick up the buzz that Sins did, but – again, not having played it – that could well be a matter of marketing.

  35. Jim Rossignol says:

    @SwiftRanger: Don’t lose perspective on this one, the majority of gaming people read IGN or Kotaku, and they’ve definitely not heard of Sins.

  36. Ohle says:

    Yes, it’s all thanks to the wonderful PR and marketing efforts. Woot!

  37. Terr says:

    Jim Rossignol: I wouldn’t consider the size of the Kotaku crowd a game maker or breaker, but you’re right about IGN.

    I hope Ironclad and StarDock see a return on their investment soon. They deserve that for making a game with a solid interface, interesting gameplay and just a cool atmosphere.

    For the Unity!

  38. Jim Rossignol says:

    Kotaku are boasting 4.89 million monthy uniques. They don’t do much to try and make or break games, but that’s a gigantic audience nonetheless. If they were to put themselves behind something, it’d do ok.

  39. fluffy bunny says:

    Alec: There is a collector’s edition on its way, though. It was announced a while ago, and will be released in April.

    But you’re right – it didn’t pick up the kind of buzz that Sins did, which is kind of the point.

  40. Cigol says:

    More Kotaku envy :D

    You are the sins of a solar empire to their call of duty 4 ;)

  41. Kieron Gillen says:

    I do like how this thread is interjecting Art Brut discussion between Sins stuff.

    The track in question is, in fact, called Top of the Pops, whose only lyric is indeed that chant*. Good Weekend is another track (Best bit: “I’ve seen her naked! TWICE!”).

    The Art Brut and friends version of Top of the Pops is also funny.

    KG

    *And I once had a review of an early Art Brut gig printed which solely consisted of ART BRUT! TOP OF THE POPS! repeated until the end of the word-count.

  42. Dinger says:

    Okay, on the Alexa-Richter scale, IGN’s a 8.9, Kotaku’s a 7.8, Eurogamer and The Escapist are 7.3s and RPS is a 6.2.

    So IGN = widespread destruction, Kotaku = national disaster, Zero Punctuation = localized catastrophe, RPS = some infrastructure damaged.

    Hey, if the marketing succeeded through a series of lesser temblors, that only confirms KG’s corrollary of Wardell’s commentary. Visitors to big gaming sites are not necessarily big purchasers of PC games.

    Hey, a lack of Euro-release is a problem, but it’s not a good reason to pirate it, unless by “pirate” you mean “buy a physical copy of it”. Stardock’s purchase-and-download system is even more international playboy friendly than Steam’s, and probably faster than a torrent. Unfortunately, the long play times are somewhat less compatible.

  43. The_B says:

    “I do like how this thread is interjecting Art Brut discussion between Sins stuff.”

    Wait, just like your Sunday Papers piece?

    Awesome Music/90′s TV Shows Games, together in harmony. ONLY ON RPS.

    (And if you’re lucky, pilot helmets as well.)

  44. Lou says:

    It’s available for download purchase – it not being available in a box isn’t really a valid excuse for getting a torrent instead of buying it

    Especially as you can legally download it *and* Stardock send you a boxed copy for just 5US$ more.

  45. Kieron Gillen says:

    TheB: I’ve delved back into Art Brut because of this.

    KG

  46. Fumarole says:

    Am I the only one here who thinks Sins of a Solar Empire is the single best game name ever? I must say that since its release I’ve often stayed up well past any reasonable time to go to sleep, quietly Sinning in the wee hours.

  47. The_B says:

    Am I the only one here who thinks Sins of a Solar Empire is the single best game name ever?

    I dunno, I have a particular fondness for ‘I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream’ – although that was based on a book with the same title.

  48. Him says:

    *observes prior posts*
    Then it looks like it’s up to me to be the proverbial cuckoo in this nest of love. I thought Sins of a Solar Empire was okay, but I didn’t think it a game deserving of such praise. For me, Sins is the framework of a good game. It’s balanced, like a good game. It’s stable, like a good game. It is accessible through a solid digital distribution system. But just because it embodies those attributes it does not become a good game because of them.
    Call me a cynic if you must but I feel that Sins is shallow. There is a well-paced piece of initial exposition on our competing factions through the opening cinema. Then, nothing. The manual does not supply more content, little is found inside the game.
    The game itself… the single player mode is tiresome. The AI predeliction for one tactic over all others has been mitigated somewhat through the first patches but it feels like a chore to play. Its multiplay, the focus of the game, is enjoyable, but only so far as the game stays stable and your opponents remain interesting.
    If I were to point at the one saving grace of Sins, I would point my fingers and shout Pew! Pew! Lasers! Pew! Pew!. I’d also point at Stardock’s superb post-release support. I certainly wouldn’t point at the game itself.

  49. Dinger says:

    In all fairness, the opening cinema was pretty lousy. Look, you’ve got a RTS with three sides, that synchronically paces fundamentally diachronic phenomena (e.g., it takes far more time to destroy a capital ship than to build one, or to explore an entire planet). The story has to be contrived. In such a case, you either flaunt the contrivance or you cloak it in a veil of mystery. The cutscene did neither, and you’re right, the manual doesn’t really help (nor do its grammar and formatting).

    But the game itself looks pretty cool, and works pretty well.

  50. nickski says:

    you mean you WATCH opening cinematics? gave that up years ago
    between me and the game