Now That’s Why I Love A Best 2008 Ever! March

Last time for this logo.

Christmas hurtles toward us like some sort of mad train. And before our lives come to their inevitable end as we’re smooshed into the tracks, our experiences flash before our eyes. Today we’re seeing March 2008.

Piracy, it seems, is not the primary issue.

John: Try telling that to our comment threads. If CliffyB’s remarks in February were the trigger for a year of needlessly defending the PC as a gaming platform, then it was Stardock’s report on the effects, or lack of, of piracy that kicked off That Subject. The P Word began its year-long rampage of madness, which has seen an awful lot of arguing amongst the internet, and not a single damned piece of serious research from any major publisher. Hey, who wants to discuss this for 500 comments? The tragedy of it all was the common sense pouring forth from Stardock, and their reaction to their findings, getting lost in the mire.

Kieron: That I’m still thinking about what Stardock’s stance actually means for PC gaming ten months later says a lot about how fascinating Wardell’s take is. Or, alternatively, how half-bright I am. While it’s easy to take on face-level, as the hardest part of the anti-DRM brigade has, the specifics are what interests me. The key one is “this only works for the sort of games we make”. Stardock don’t make games which are pirated a lot – as in, genres and approaches to games which attract a more affluent, less likely to make the effort to pirate the thing. If you actually expand their logic, we radically change the shape of PC gaming to something that’s much more like how One Life Left likes to paint it (I paraphrase: “Games about terrain”). The key line in the interview I did with Wardell described their desktop-widget-thingies (technical term) business. They regularly get people complaining about their slightly cold-edged design, expressing a preference for something a little more friendly. Wardell asks whether they changed the design, whether they’ll buy them. “Well… no,” is the normal answer. In practice, the people who pay for them are people who prefer the business-like edges… so that’s who gets catered for. Money talks. That’s probably the thing pure-pirates probably need to understand: in the capitalism’s almost quasi-democratic way, they’re not voting. The flip of John’s argument that Piracy is irrelevant to a game’s success is that the Pirates are irrelevant. The most successful games of recent times have been MMOs? Then, clearly, more MMOs will get made. It’s Stardock’s logic writ large. At least in the serious commercial gaming end, PC’s future is that we’ll get the games we pay for.

Alec: Yeah, again the thing is that Stardock are (as Wardell himself states) in a fairly unique situation, and that gives them the safety to take a stance other publishers are afraid of – whether or not that fear is justified. It’s not like they’re making ultra-niche titles, but they’re certainly not making games that appeal to the mainstream, and as all those people leeching Call of Duty 4 and Need For Speed reveal, the mainstream is where piracy most seems to focus. Over at the Pirate Bay right now, 177 people are seeding Sins of a Solar Empire, and 965 Call of Duty 4. The smaller, specialist audience of Sins, and the nature of that audience, means less people seeding it , and therefore a game that’s possibly offputting to pirate because the download will take that much longer. I suspect a lot of piracy is about effort as much as it is expense – and when there’s more effort and waiting involved to bittorrent a game than to fire some digi-money Stardock’s way and get an instant high-speed download link, the scales rebalance. In the event that Sins turns up on any big sites’ Games of the Year lists, it’ll be interesting to see where those torrents are at then.

Would Wardell be making the same claims if Stardock made high-budget FPSes? Perhaps not, and it plum doesn’t matter. Stardock have bottled lightning by determinedly making very high-quality games for a precisely-targeted audience rather than for a generalist money pot (or indeed for too small a niche). It’s something to celebrate – and as Kieron says, hopefully a precedent.

Running jokes are NOTHING compared to Starcraft 2!

Kieron: The actual point of this one kind of got muddied up – it was an exchange which anyone can choose whose side they’re on, or just sit back and enjoy the carnage. It also links to what I was talking about on Wednesday – about developers being too polite. If the developer was willing to actually argue back properly and defend his position by attacking PJ’s, it’s have been more fun and less cringeworthy. (For me, obviously. I was sitting there).

As a happy ending, we’re actually quite matey with Polish Journalist now. He is definitely favourably comparable to Starcraft 2.

Jim: Jokes are funny.

Alec: This came across very differently in print than it did in awkward reality (for I was there too, cringing) – and PJ’s attacks do now seem a whole lot less unwarranted as a result of Soulstorm turning out to be quite the let down.

The Byron Report was published.

John: This was odd. A dozen newspapers must have pored over this, desperate for the evidence they needed to condemn gaming. And it wasn’t there. Of course, this didn’t stop some newspapers from just pretending that it was. Common sense makes for boring copy. Has there been any movement on Byron’s recommendations for new age ratings? Has the report had any impact on anything at all? Poor woman – it took her ages.

Kieron: I still like pretending it was written by Simon Byron of One Life Left.

Jim: The slow affirmation by official sources of Things Gamers Knew Already is fascinating. This was one such report that was badly mauled by our stupid, prejudicial press, which was a shame because it should have opened up debate about the medium itself – the technology, the business, and the burgeoning culture. But oh! Of course, the British press are only interested in things that might influence social policy at Whitehall, and things that change how much money we all have. Actual wider culture, science, or major industries that aren’t directly indulged-in by the press themselves are studiously ignored. Nice one.

Alec: It’s just one step on the long road towards the wider social acceptance of games. We are getting there, I’m sure of it. For one, the industry generates so much money that it’s probably more powerful than most governments. For another, that Saw V is currently all over British cinemas, given that 15 years ago the Jamie Bulger killing caused pretty much every MP and newspaper in the land to spend most of the early 90s calling for a ban on ‘video nasties’, somewhat suggests the knee-jerk jerks will cease their barking about games eventually.

And in less best news, Gary Gygax dies.

Kieron: This was one of the big ones this year. Put aside D&D’s direct influence in terms of mechanics and game-themes and whatever. That’s actually small fry. The grand leap of D&D was a theoretical one, about using the DM to create a world which the players explored. The non-competitive relationship which creates the frisson of competition while really being about player-enjoyment was the thing – and that’s the relationship which, with computers and designers as surrogate DMs, lies at the heart of the vast majority of videogames (The exceptions being purely competitive games against humans). The idea that gaming was about the process of gaming rather than the destination (“Defeating opposition”) is absolutely revolutionary. D&D is the road that leads to everything from Planescape Torment to GTA, from Zelda to Grim Fandango. In short: 95% of decent single-player games.

Jim: Gygax was one of the most important people in gaming. My observation that most of the really essential gaming minds are still alive and active in this generation became significantly less true when he passed on. In terms of making games into things that really matter, Gygax was probably on a par with Miyamoto, or the dudes who programmed Space War. While his work was in pen and paper, the influence of D&D and RPGs generally on our gaming culture is practically immeasurable, and I felt myself mourning a true founding father when I heard about his death.

Alec: With despairing inevitability, it didn’t take long for people to start claiming that Gygax was a footnote to roleplaying and gaming, because x author did it better, or D&D has x limitation… What unbelievable ignorance. Just because you don’t like D&D doesn’t mean it wasn’t incredibly important.

Games of note for March:

Trials 2

John: Read our words about it here and here.

Kieron: I almost brought Eurogamer crashing down by introducing this to them. Their entire site ground to a halt as they fell en masse to the lure of the bunny-hop. Hyper-hard, hyper-infuriating, hyper-lovely.

Jim: I was rubbish at this. Really rubbish. Fortunately the comedy physics-death of the rider meant that even being rubbish was really entertaining.

Alec: A great work for sure, but I generally found it much more fun to watch someone else play than to try (and fail) myself.

Dawn of War: Soulstorm

Kieron: Oof. this was slammed when it came out. Hell – have they ever actually finished the bugs in MP? But despite the universal RPS thumbs-down, I played this to death. Yes, the two new races weren’t exactly inspiring – but the old ones were all there. Yes, the fortress-missions weren’t great… but neither were any of the normal ones. Yes, the decision to have to rebuild a base from scratch for every skirmish may appear annoying – but it’s better than Dark Crusade’s alternative, where you waste time on your first playthrough reinforcing the area. That slows the game to a crawl. At least with playing Skirmishes, you’re playing the game constantly. And if you don’t want to play the game, why play it anyway? If I want to play SP Dawn of War, Soulstorm is where I turn. In fact, if you can get them for the same price, I think I’d suggest going for it over Dark Crusade. Though that is a big if.

Jim: Actually my least favourite expansion, but I truly loved Dawn Of War as a game, and a series. More of this sort of thing, please.

Alec: Yeah, I also gave this an ungodly amount of time. One of those few games I kept on playing way after I’ve handed in my review. Most of that was simply the maximalist feel once you had all those races in. The new’uns may have been underwhelming, but the sheer amount of visual variety makes the complete Dawn of War pretty much unparalleled amongst RTSes.

Turning Point – Fall of Liberty

John: Good grief, this one was a bit disappointing. Really quite shockingly poor, after much hype and hope. For all future developers of first-person shooters: don’t have the game go into third person when you jump. It’s, er, weird.

Kieron: Insanely bad. John and I had great fun mocking this to each other. The most memorable section involves a fight on Tower Bridge where you can’t shoot between most of the gaping holes between girders at the people who are firing at you, I think.


  1. hydra9 says:

    Turning Point was the laziest, sloppiest console port I’ve ever played. The highest resolution you could select was 1024×768 (in 2008!), there were X360 controller buttons constantly displayed onscreen as tutorial hints (meaning I was unable to get off a beam I was hanging from because I couldn’t work out what the hell was the equivalent of the ‘X’ button), it would pause for 5 seconds at random times to load in bits of the level… Oh, and I had to go and edit a config file to disable my controller so I could actually play the game…

    Of course, it wasn’t just a terrible port – It was a terrible port of a terrible game.

    And Spark Unlimited’s latest ‘offering’ – Legendary – is just as bad, if not worse. Avoid both like the plague!

  2. cyrenic says:

    I believe the Stardock model for single player games (no out of box DRM, online account for free post release content) could work for more mainstream single player games as well.

  3. Pags says:

    Maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention, but I don’t really remember there being much hype for Turning Point? All I remember was John’s review in PC Gamer and thinking “poor John always gets saddled with the rubbish games”.

    Enormous sadface for Gary Gygax though; I don’t really play D&D in it’s P&P form, but being that it’s rules are pretty much silently working behind every game ever, it was hard not to feel a little bit sad.

  4. Nezz says:

    Over at the Pirate Bay right now, 177 people are seeding Sins of a Solar Empire, and 965 Call of Duty 4. The smaller, specialist audience of Sins, and the nature of that audience, means less people seeding it , and therefore a game that’s possibly offputting to pirate because the download will take that much longer.

    I don’t think that comparison works when you consider that SoaSE is about 8 times smaller than CoD4. If there is really less interest in SoaSE and thereby less leechers, it might even turn out to be the faster download.

  5. Kieron Gillen says:

    Interesting thing about Sins was, last time I was looking, it had a mass of seeders but far, far less downloaders.

    Which says something. I’m not sure what.


  6. Simon says:

    Another thing from D&D was that it’s all about user created content (the biggest secret of the pen & paper RPG industry is that people don’t actually need to buy the books) and changed a whole generation of professional nerds who were before all about designing hardware into designing software (D&D is a game that’s pretty much pure software running on the player’s brains, it doesn’t need a board or figures or anything).

  7. Dan Lawrence says:

    I thought that more leechers equalled faster downloads with bittorrent. Isn’t that why its so popular in the first place?

  8. phil says:

    @Nezz, at 965 seeders you’ve probably also got a good number of investigative posers and corporate IPs distrubuting bad data. Which is why piracy is wrong, clearly.

  9. malkav11 says:

    BitTorrent doesn’t really work like that – if the 100+ Sins seeders have fast pipes and the 900+ CoD4 seeders don’t, you’ll get Sins faster. Especially as it’s smaller. Secondly, the number of people seeding says much less about the interest in the game than the number of people leeching. (Although as a rule large numbers of leechers tend to draw large numbers of seeders.) Thirdly, public trackers are only one facet of BitTorrent piracy and they’re not where people who want fast speeds would go, because public tracker torrents are typically anything but fast.

    And yes, D&D has been hugely influential. I don’t think it’s fair to credit it all to Gary Gygax, though. Dave Arneson was also important in its early development and so often escapes notice.

  10. phil says:

    Ironically this generally means something is small enough to keep in a shared file forever, and good enough that people actually want to share it. So producers of FMV heavy 4 gig crap buckets should be relatively safe from Pirate Bay.

  11. Elyscape says:

    I thought that more leechers equalled faster downloads with bittorrent. Isn’t that why its so popular in the first place?

    It’s a mite complicated, but that’s not entirely true. More leechers makes for a faster download so long as the ratio of seeders to leechers is within a range such that the seeders can keep the leechers supplied with data. Additionally, once you pass some large number of overall peers, performance can actually begin to degrade.

  12. Arnulf says:

    Re: Byron report

    “poured” or “pored”? (sorry, English is not my first language)

  13. Lu-Tze says:

    Yes and no. Seeders are devoting themselves to sending the file to you, Leechers are grabbing it for themselves but as a result can’t help but be drawn into sharing what they already have.

    If their ratio is less than 1 when they stop downloading (ie. downloaded more bytes than uploaded), then they have simply made it slower for everyone else to download.

    The ratio of Leechers to Seeders is really how fast a download will go (once there are plenty of Seeds anyway, at lower numbers this as a metric is far more ropey).

    In summary, More Leechers != Faster Downloads on Bittorrent. It merely means that those people who are willing to devote themselves to hosting a download have their bandwidth used far more efficiently and it stretches further, but for high speeds you still really need a good quantity of people who are willing to make that devotion, and not an obscenely larger number of people taking advantage of it.

  14. Nimic says:

    I just read that article you posted in relation to the video game violence hysteria. Would you believe she (I think it was a she) actually said that Resident Evil 4 shouldn’t be sold? To anyone. Including adults.


  15. Dante says:

    I think the Byron Report really has changed things in the media while the tabloids did what tabloids do, it really did feel like there’d been a subtle shift in the attitude of the broadsheets. The people screaming for bans subtly and carefully became the ‘others’, the weirdos, the fringe groups, instead of us. And I think that’s important.

  16. Ben Abraham says:

    I’m really enjoying these “that’s why I love a best 2008 ever!” pieces. Looking forward to the rest! =D

  17. Tei says:

    @hydra9: I think “Turning Point” and “Legendary” are a novelty in the industry, the equivalent of airport “best seller -pocket books”. Something withouth substance, easy to consume because is emptynees, and In urge need of it, because you are mortally bored. IMHO, is good that this exist, and maybe is exactly what some people need. But sould be advertised diferently than a normal game, so even subsconsciently, people know are not real book^H^H games.

    Here in spain we have special type of music, that is only on sale on bus stops, airports, etc.. I think TP/L are that type of stuff.

  18. Down Rodeo says:

    Somehow I could tell that the “papers pretending it was link” was to the Daily Fail. I dunno, must be some kind of sixth sense :p

    I still need to buy SoaSE. I have GalCiv II though.

  19. Down Rodeo says:

    Oh, misplaced quotation mark. You know what I mean.

  20. Larington says:

    Funnily enough, I did pick up Turning Point went it got to budget prices, its alright for a £15 quid game, bit short but ok.
    If I’d payed full price for it I would’ve been rather annoyed.

  21. Tom Lawrence says:

    With regard to Gygax: A hugely influential figure, of course (my gaming club held 1d4 minutes of silence in his honour), but it does irritate me somewhat that Dave Arneson never seems to get any credit.

  22. RichPowers says:

    Brad Wardell should get an award for “Coolest PC Gaming Chap of 2008.” Equally important to Stardock’s success, I think, is its ability to produce excellent games for less than $1 million. Keep costs low and you have to sell fewer copies to make bank. For example, the Natural Selection 2 dev said they only need to sell 50,000 copies to be “in good shape.” They’ll easily sell several times that, I’m sure.

    More PC gaming studios/publishers like Stardock, please. Not necessarily making epic space games, but treating their customers fairly and releasing quality products with lots of replay value.

  23. Man Raised By Puffins says:

    Re Soulstorm: I seem to recall seeing an enormo-patch in the Steam updates a while back which looked like it was plugging up most of the exploits. Anyone know how sucessful it was?

  24. hydra9 says:

    @Tei: I am a big fan of low-budget, kinda dodgy FPS games, the junk-food of the industry. I’ve played more than a healthy number of these titles, and I appreciate their charm. But I was surprised by how genuinely crap TP and Legendary were. There are plenty of unknown Russian shooters that put them to shame.

  25. Jochen Scheisse says:

    On a side note, the much anticipated patch for Soulstorm recently came out, together with a hotfix half a week later to fix some patch related problems. Soulstorm is now actually playable in multiplayer. The “campaign” is still a skirmish metamap which is done in a somewhat loveless fashion though, but if you just want to buy the game to access Dark Eldar and Sororitas leetness, you have my go for that.

  26. DigitalSignalX says:

    “1d4 minutes of silence in his honour” rofl.

    re: private trackers, indeed the best speeds will be with them, but I believe the majority of the people who use torrents still use public; the usage stats for Mininova, TPB, and BTI would top every private tracker site combined.

    Counting seeds and leechers would be a very rough, but reasonably accurate way to judge a title’s demand among ppl pirating games in the face of no other firm statistical data.

  27. Erlam says:

    “Dr Tanya Byron, the television psychologist whose study was commissioned by Gordon Brown, said allowing children to play on computers unsupervised is as dangerous as letting them play outside on their own.”

    Wow, I can’t believe that was printed, and then read, and people believed it and AGREED with it. What the fuck? Letting people who are less than 12 outside to play? INSANITY!

  28. Caiman says:

    Arnulf: “pored”, but most native English speakers can’t seem to get that one right either. The idea of “pouring” over a report always amuses me though.

  29. Dreamhacker says:

    Aww… RIP Gary Gygax :(

  30. Janto says:

    Good show on these retrospectives, it’s nice to look back on the year and see things put into a wider context.

  31. malkav11 says:

    Much more accurate would be a count of total “snatches”, i.e., how many times that torrent has been fully downloaded since its posting to the site. Of course, Pirate Bay and most other public trackers aren’t going to track that kind of info for obvious reasons.

  32. Meat Circus says:


    Hur hur. You said “snatches”.

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