Larian: Retail Important To Indie PC Studios

By Jim Rossignol on January 25th, 2012 at 1:05 pm.


In an interview to be published tomorrow on RPS, Larian boss Swen Vincke argues that digital delivery should not necessarily be seen as the dominant channel for PC games distribution, and argues that retail could be valuable for self-publishing studios such as his: “Nowadays people are all talking about the indie revolution and the power of digital distribution, but retail has always been the powerbase of publishers and remains very important as a sales channel. It is still the dominant sales channel, in fact.”

When asked whether retail was still an option for self-publishing on PC he replied: “Of course it is! We did a deal in Germany with a local distributor for the last Divinity game and we sold more than 100,000 units in Germany alone. Convert that into revenue. That’s quite a lot of revenue.” Larian are intending to self-fund and publish Dragon Commander, after having moved toward self-publishing their previous games and taking more revenue than they would have done with a straight up publisher deal. More tomorrow!

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60 Comments »

  1. Emohawk says:

    PC games are getting less and less shelf space with some retailers giving up on the PC market altogether (HMV in Lincoln as an example). Even the dedicated ‘game’ shops only tend to have a couple of shelves for PC games compared to the 20 or 30 for consoles.
    It’s a real shame as it strengthens the case that PC gaming is dying when it quiet clearly isn’t..

    • Khemm says:

      That’s because the PC games can’t be rented, isn’t it? They prefer to provide more exposure for console releases for that reason.

    • InternetBatman says:

      In the US it’s more because PC games can’t be resold. For years they couldn’t be resold because gamestop says they couldn’t, but now DRM would prevent it in most games anyways.

    • Urthman says:

      In the USA, the PC game shelves at Wal-Mart are as big or bigger than they’ve ever been.

      I bought World of Goo at Wal-Mart and I could have bought Torchlight or Braid or Defense Grid there. And they’ve got all the AAA releases — Deus Ex HR, Batman AC, Skyrim, Battlefield 3 — including some 2nd and 3rd tier ones like X3, Darksiders, Red Faction, Serious Sam, the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games, etc. And then of course they’ve got a whole bunch of PopCap stuff and Sims and hidden object games.

    • polyester says:

      I’m not sure if I am alone in this, but i have this ocd where lately I don’t want any more STUFF cluttering my space. It’s why I like steam, gog, and (unrelated) amazon. I can get my stuff in non intrusive, full versions of my desired comment at competitive prices since, though prices are much the same at launch, I can wait patiently when they are pocket change during the sales.

  2. SupberUber says:

    “That’s quite a lot of revenue”
    Also quite the potential loss.

    • Tuco says:

      Bingo.
      Shipping a game all around the world when you have no guarantee to actually reach your customers and to receive shelf space for exposure can be a risky bet.
      Especially for games without a broad mainstream appeal.

  3. Premium User Badge

    bear912 says:

    I think the importance of retail depends on your geography, as well. Most of the gamers I know here in the United States rarely buy boxed PC games anymore.

  4. Jurie says:

    I believe he is called Swen Vincke, with an ‘n’, not Vicke.

    (Yes, I registered just to write that, why do you ask?)

  5. El_Emmental says:

    but… but… the retail distribution is old, it can’t work ! =o

    This is going to be interesting, hearing about retail/digit from independent devs. I wonder how the digital distribution affected the “big publishers” domination of the retail distribution networks, it’s now more open ?

    ps: Khemm going to make a comment about Steam always-on-drm-but-no-really-in-fact in 3… 2… 1…

    edit : damn, lost my bet. you win this time :P

  6. Premium User Badge

    AmateurScience says:

    I was about to say that something about how retail for PC is dead in the UK. Then I remembered that buying something from Amazon or Play etc counts as retail.

    I only mention it because I find it interesting that, in my mind, there is no difference between mail ordering a disk and downloading from Steam or GoG, compared to Going-to-a-Shop-and-Buying-a-Game; which I haven’t done (for a PC game) since…I can’t remember when. Which is more to do with my local Game/Gamestation letting their PC sections atrophy to the point where there’s a few shabby copies of WoW and The SIms and one or two clunkers that no-one wants rather than any inbuilt desire not to go.

    EDIT: just took a look at my games shelf. Last PC game purchased from a shop with real human interaction was ~Summer 2008 for Mass Effect. Sad times.

    • InternetBatman says:

      For me it was Dragon Age 2, which I got last week. Retail now occupies a weird space for me. Now the only games I buy retail are games that I don’t care enough to track prices for, but care enough to pick up in the store when I see it for under $20. Dragon Age 2 fit the bill perfectly, but honestly a lot of EA games might be that way since they’re not coming to Steam any more.

  7. Jim Rossignol says:

    The full interview is fascinating btw.

    • Premium User Badge

      Rinox says:

      There’s no link because the interview will appear on RPS tomorrow (as stated in the post).

  8. wccrawford says:

    Yeah, retail space was so important for Minecraft, you know? Wait… No, pretty sure it was the opposite.

    In fact, I haven’t purchased an indie game in a store in the last 15 years. I haven’t purchased any game in a store in the past 2-3 years. I’m including any physical game purchase in those stats. If it wasn’t available digitally, I didn’t buy it.

    (The above goes for PC games. Consoles are a bit different, but then, you can’t get indie games on consoles on physical media, so it really doesn’t matter.)

    • Blackcompany says:

      Same here.
      ..
      The day Skyrim came out was a holiday here in the States. Two coworkers and I all bought the game. I was awake (from anticipation) at 4am that day. Put on coffee, made breakfast (with nervous, trembling fingers itching for the PC the while) and then I sat down to play. To. Play.
      ..
      Not to download my game. That was done and it was preloaded. Not to unwrap or install. Again, done. No, I sat down to play.
      ..
      My coworkers are console gamers. When I returned to work the following week, one managed to get it on Friday 11/11 and begin playing it by around 11am or 12 noon. Went to the store, bought it, unwrapped it, and booted up the console. I’d been playing 5 – 6 hours by then. The other coworker, didn’t even have a chance to get to the store before Saturday, 11/12. By the Nine, an ENTIRE DAY passed before he could get the game.
      .
      So yeah…pardon me if I don’t much care about retail distribution at this point in my life.

  9. InternetBatman says:

    The problem I have with PC games at retail is that their prices are so uncompetitive. I prefer retail copies. I would even pay more for them, but not at the wildly different prices they ask. They frequently have games that are still $60 when they’re $20 on DD before sales. By the time they knock a game down to $20, I’ve had it for a year or more on steam at a much lower price. A year ago Gamestop had Will Rock for $25. The worst part is that bargains are getting harder to find. I absolutely love the physical act of searching through bargain bins and thrift stores, but recently it’s become a grim situation.

    I get that physical games cost more to make and storefronts cost more to operate, but they need a new business model to succeed. Maybe they can start doing percentage deals, where the retailer takes a percent cut of the sale rather than buying the game outright and returning them later.

    • Kaira- says:

      Funny, I usually have a quite different experience, getting games from retail is way cheaper than from DD, sometimes even if it’s on sale on DD. This is, however, dependent on where you get your games, for example Amazon in most cases easily bestes Steam and the sorts. Sometimes even my local GameStop does that, but not that often.

    • InternetBatman says:

      Where are you in the world? I would be the same way in your situation. It’s not like I wanted to stop shopping retail, but the economics don’t make sense any more.

      Edit: Yeah. Out of those games our gamestop stocks Civ V for $30. I wasn’t even talking about Gamestop any more because they have a set price for all the games they sell and it is always uncompetitive. I haven’t gotten a game from them since Wrath of the Lich King.

    • Kaira- says:

      Northern Finland, so we have, um, two “specialist” stores for games and your usual wildly overpriced supermarkets. I usually just get my games from Amazon since they have them at a nice price and with an actual box, though sometime I might pick something a tad more expensive up as an impulse purchase from local shops.

      But honestly, I’ve been quite surprised of the prices at the local GameStop, they usually have this “3 for the price of 2″ offer with quite good games (S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Civ V, Dawn of War 2 and expansions, Mirror’s Edge, etc) with price range of 4.99€-9.99€ per game.

    • Khemm says:

      My experience is exactly the same as Kaira’s. I can get boxed games much cheaper than on, say, Steam, which is ridiculously overpriced. What costs 50 euro on Steam I can buy for 30 and have it delivered to me.
      There’s a reason so many people want every game to be Steamworks, because while they’re so obsessed with adding games to theirSteam lists (just like those xbox achievements addicts), they know they can get them cheaper via retail than buying on Steam.

    • El_Emmental says:

      (haa finally, you couldn’t resist :D)

      regarding retail / digit, getting my copy from Amazon (or similar website) is almost always cheaper for recently released games, I guess that’s why retail is still getting big numbers, despite not being sold in brick-and-mortar stores

      the only time digital distribution platforms are really cheaper is during special sales (christmas, eastern, spring/summer/autunm/winter and game/devs/publisher-specific deals), you can get 50% or even -75% price

      one shouldn’t forget pricing strategies are decided by the publishers, not by the distribution provider (retail or digital)

    • dreadguacamole says:

      Speaking from my own experience (I’m in the UK) buying physical copies of games online usually is a lot cheaper than retail or the downloadable services. I’ve never really understood why Steam pricing is usually higher (usually by £5 or so) than ordering the boxed copy online for new-ish games – though I imagine publishers are at least partly to blame for that. Also, unless you happen to catch a sale, retail and online prices usually go down a lot quicker.
      Case in point – Anno 2070 is ten pounds cheaper to order online (and I imagine on retail as well, if you’re lucky to find a copy) than to get through steam. That’s just silly.

    • Khemm says:

      @dreadguacamole

      Yep. Check Anno 2070 on Steam – 35 pounds
      http://store.steampowered.com/app/48240/?snr=1_4_4__100
      Here you can get the physical copy (and one less DRM layer, that layer being Steam) for 20 pounds.
      http://www.zavvi.com/games/platforms/pc/anno-2070/10503598.html

  10. Uglycat says:

    Dragons! With Jetpacks!

    • dreadguacamole says:

      They also use aerosol cans and lighters as weapons!
      Or at least, they should.

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    The Sombrero Kid says:

    Retail is the dominant channel for bad games like Divinity because it’s where mums and other backwards generics buy games for kids (that they don’t want & will not like).

    • Subatomic says:

      Germany has not only a pretty high percentage of PC gamers, but also absolutely retarded prices on Steam (and other digital distribution platforms for that matter), so it’s almost always cheaper to buy retail. Most of the time, amazon.de is the cheapest way to go, though often enough importing from amazon UK is even cheaper.

    • mrwout says:

      Divinity bad ? I presume you’re talking about Divinity 2. Because that one had a pretty crappy release version. But the rerelease as the Dragon Knight Saga was a major improvement.

  12. Rao Dao Zao says:

    I will mostly go out of my way to scour the high street to get a physical copy, before resorting to the mail-ordering the physical copy (unless it’s a must-have pre-order, and how many games are that these days?). I like going to a shop and then picking something up and then carrying it home and then playing it.

    Though it’s always disappointing when you buy a nice box and it turns out to have some nasty DRM-storefront attached to it (at least, when this is not mentioned on the box and it catches you unawares).

    So yay for people still wanting to produce boxes!

  13. Zeewolf says:

    I always buy boxed copies if I can. Sometimes if I’ve bought a game on Steam or something and it’s released in a box later on, I’ll buy the box too. If I liked the game, that is.

  14. johnpeat says:

    erm – does PC game retail even still exist in the UK???

    There’s GAME, who offer what is, at best, lip-service to PC games and are, again at best, on the brink of bankruptcy…

    There’s HMV who are like GAME in every way except their lips are even less serviceable (most HMVs have no PC games whatsoever??)

    Most supermarkets only carry ‘budget’ PC titles (e.g. Hidden Object Games and Bejeweled clones) – the larger ones carry major releases like WoW, CoD etc.

    Grainger Games (yes them) carry major releases (sometimes) and that’s about it.

    Unless I’ve missed something, PC games don’t HAVE any retail – at least not in the UK…

    • Khemm says:

      They have lots of PC games you can order from their sites (like, GAME.co.uk), so it exists in that sense, I suppose.

    • NathanH says:

      GAME is usually rubbish for PC games but the one at Gateshead Metrocentre was really good last time I was there, it had titles I didn’t even know existed, and not random crap ones too.

  15. deadly.by.design says:

    I can’t find the link, but I seem to recall games like The Witcher 2 selling much better in retail Europe than retail elsewhere. This may be something with Euro games getting Euro retail sales, because I tend to think retail is dead or dying for the U.S. PC market.

    • Premium User Badge

      Rinox says:

      It also has to do with Steam being not so cheap as in the UK or US for many Europeans. And while retail is certainly dying in Western Europe, it’s still quite important in Central and Eastern Europe (partially because of the Steam prices).

    • Subatomic says:

      Buying AAA titles from Steam is just dumb if you live in Germany, as a boxed copy usually is 5 to 10 euros cheaper on amazon. I imagine it’s not that much different in other euro-countries.

    • Saiko Kila says:

      I bought Divinity 2 from Steam, and my purchase is registered as US based (it was gifted), but I live in Poland. The US price was simply much lower than price in Euros. I was slightly surprised then when I saw Divinity 2 DKS in local store, but I probably shouldn’t be. The local price was even lower than US price. Generally, all retail releases are cheaper than Steam (even on day zero), and the prices are usually lowered after 6 months. PC games here take lion’s share of shelf space. I don’t know how the game sold here, but ignoring that channel wouldn’t be smart, I think.

  16. Velvetmeds says:

    I like these guys. I also like retail, and trains

    I’m also playing DKS. Once in a while.

    @Subatomic : in my EU country, importing from Amazon is usually 15-20€ cheaper than buying on Steam

  17. MSJ says:

    Retail PC games didn’t seem to be in much trouble in Australia. The EB Games I went to in Adelaide have as much shelf space for PC games as for each of the consoles and handhelds. And they are usually directly opposite from the entrance. Of course, the price there is the real problem anyway for all platforms.

  18. BobsLawnService says:

    I have a 10 gig cap so digital distribution is not really an option. I also like having a huge shelf of games. I’m a collector. You should see the chest freezer in my basement too.

  19. Tams80 says:

    If I can, I will buy retail, even if it will cost a few pounds more. I like having a box, artwork and a manual (even if I never read it – O Age of Empires II manual, how I miss you).

    The only difference now is that I use e-retailers (Amazon etc), partly because it is easier, but mainly because they are cheaper and even more importantly actually have PC games. I’m looking at you UK computer game shops.

    Browsing in real life is still far better though.

  20. Premium User Badge

    Maltose says:

    If you were an indie studio, what’s the chances of you getting space at a big retailer like Walmart or Best Buy? I imagine the chances would be pretty low. Wouldn’t going retail just cannibalize higher margin digital sales? The only time going to retail would help is if you got shelf space, and I simply can’t see a big box retailer giving shelf space to an indie PC game over a better known console game.

    • UnravThreads says:

      It’s not about the studio, it’s about the publisher. To use the UK as an example, a lot of European publishers get their games sold via distributors. Focus release budget re-releases of titles (such as Ubisoft games), but also do Big Fish, 1C and so on. Lace Mamba Global also do a lot of indie/lower-budget titles like Sanctum and Super Meat Boy, but also bring over some of dtp Entertainment’s catalogue, such as Gray Matter.

      These distributors and publishers are huge. They put out a lot of titles from a variety of publishers. It’s not a case of who the studio is, it’s all about who distributes your game.

  21. Ultra-Humanite says:

    I live in the United States and I have to drive more than 30 minutes to find a store that will sell PC games. I get the wisdom of not ignoring retail, but to claim retail is the dominant sales channel for PC is ignoring reality.

    • Ultra-Humanite says:

      I don’t know, it seems pretty idiotic to sit on my ass and order something that has to be mailed to me when I can sit on my ass and order something that is available to me immediately.

  22. Drake Sigar says:

    Would buy the crap out of a retail Dragon Commander. I appreciate everything digital distribution has done to make publishers irrelevant whilst giving the independents a leg up, but I don’t want physical retail copies to disappear entirely.

  23. Cryptoshrimp says:

    Just hurry up and give me a jetpack dragon to play with…

  24. SwiftRanger says:

    Pretty baffled at the anti-retail comments here. Then again, not surprised it’s coming from the US/UK crowd either though. Just another mindset apparently.

    Steam will never go below a retail shop price at release day and a lot of people on the European mainland simply don’t buy their stuff online. I hear stories about missing shelf space for PC games in specialist game shops in the US/UK but here in Belgium I don’t see it happening at all. I really welcome smaller indies getting shelf space for their great titles. They are reaching even more people that way. Digital distribution isn’t the end all, be all, especially not if you want a game on release day at a reasonable price.

    As whether to go for a boxed version or a pure digital version: all I can say is that I liked the Super Meat Boy Ultra edition, the Trine 2 Collector’s Edition and The Ball boxed version a lot. They all offered extras and were all very reasonably priced (below €20).

    • Tams80 says:

      I’ve only been in UK game shops, so I can’t compare, but GAME and Gamestation (owned by GAME) have tended to have only had one shelf about 2m x 5m compared to about five for the Xbox 360 and PS3 each and about two or three for the PSP and DS/3DS. Half of the PC games on that one shelf also tend to be four or five years old. It’s seems to have been like this for at least five years (when I bought AOE III it was slightly better). There are some exceptions, but I’ve rarely come across them.

      As for continental Europe, if Saturn is anything to go by compared to PC World and Comet here, then I’m surprised the PC games in your games shops are greater.

    • InternetBatman says:

      I also don’t buy games day one. Ever. I think Fallout 3, Bioshock, and Dragon Age were the last three I bought. You can get sales on the games digitally way more quickly.

      This is unrelated, but I think humble bundle boxed sets would be really cool.

  25. UnravThreads says:

    My retail experience with the PC is varied. I think there’s definitely some truth to UK stores cutting back on PC, but it depends where. I’ve been to Leeds HMV and Game (the one by PC World) and found fairly adequate, if a little out of date, selections of games. Gamestation is almost always piss-poor for the PC, though, and if they have something it’s often expensive (I was stupid and paid £35 for Bulletstorm Ltd Edition).

    But I’m still fine with ordering retail copies from Amazon et al. I like having the proper thing on my shelf. If I’m paying £20-30 for a game, I want something physical, and not just because games take forever to download. It makes me feel like I’ve actually bought something.

    I’d like stores to really bolster the PC again, though. I really do. It’d be good for them, and good for the PC.

  26. Premium User Badge

    Carra says:

    Divinity is hardly an Indie game though.

    • mrwout says:

      It is independently developed, which is exactly what indie means. At least that’s what I always thought it stands for

  27. mrwout says:

    Larian also announced a new RPG title about a week ago in a blog post, which wasn’t covered here on RPS. But this might be in the upcomming interview ?

  28. Swen Vincke says:

    I’m not saying that retail is the future, but for the moment, if you’re not in retail, you’re missing quite a lot of sales.

    There still are a lot of countries where broadband isn’t as ubiquitous as everybody seems to think and Steam hasn’t convinced all players yet, definitely in the RPG genre. Yet those countries are important markets.

    To give you another example, in Russia Divinity 2 sold over 100K units too, which is in enormous contrast with the digital numbers over there. Change is definitely coming, but it doesn’t happen overnight.

    Like most I assume that the future is digital, and what happened in the UK/US is eventually going to happen elsewhere too, but as long as you can generate significant income to fund your future games from retail, I think it’s not a particular clever move to ignore that channel, just because it’s hard to get into. Or I should put that another way, it’s not all that hard to get into, the thing that’s hard is getting paid a decent share. But it’s possible, at least we’re trying ;)

    I also think that it makes sense that if you made a game, and you want to earn your living with it so you can make another, you ensure that it’s available on every single channel you can think of, rather than isolating it to one platform.

    And as a side note, it’s important for the games industry as a whole to ensure that no single distribution platform becomes too dominant. That will inevitably lead to pretty bad situations.

    Personally, I’m old school so I still prefer a box. I also prefer vinyl ;)

  29. KaMy says:

    Stop making boxes they are useless § Retail is only considered good by most because we can have games on zavvi the hut etc for not that much.

    But if you take those (who are more often than not based on Jersey and that other english island i don’t remember nor want to check for) out retailers often have crappy prices.

    Plus why does people are being hasty and buy games right off the bat when you’ve got massive sales at least 3 times a year with up to 80% off. As for the game you really care about it’s usually not that much a year if they are in the AAA category and you can buy them at full price. I know i did for TW2 and i bought it on GOG so those guys can keep as much money as they can. It’s another power of digital distribution, it’s the best way for devs to have the most cash out of their product.

    We can put indies aside as most of them are clever and sold their games around 15 eurodollars.