Stardock are an unusual company in a whole load of ways. One of them is that despite being a privately hold company, they do a report to the public. No financials, but there's a mass of transparency here. The full document is worth at least a skim read, but there's plenty of information worth picking over for industry watchers. The details on Impulse's success are fascinating, but the fact which most immediately screamed out was that only 23% of the people who actually bought Demigod even tried to play online multiplayer. I stress tried. If you attempted to log onto the server, you're part of the 23%, not matter whether you succeeded in actually playing a game or not. I've quoted the section below in full...
For Stardock, the more significant shock of Demigod has been the discovery of the low number of PC gamers who play strategy games online. Demigod’s single player experience, while decent, did not get anywhere near the care that the Internet multiplayer experience did. Despite this, only 23% of people who have purchased Demigod have ever even attempted to logon to play Internet multiplayer.
Demigod continues to sell thousands of copies weekly – enough to remain at retail during the Christmas season despite it coming out last Spring – but the number of people available to play online is typically less than 2,000 at a given time. This is in stark contrast to MMORPGs and FPS’s which tend to have very large online communities.
Our conclusion is that strategy games that we make and publish in the future will support multiplayer but will not sacrifice the single player experience to do so.
Developer Gas Powered Games has continued to update and provide support to Demigod despite its work on Supreme Commander 2. At the time of writing, two new demigods are nearly completed along with a couple of significant updates.
Let's repeat the key point again: 23%.
Now, the debate over the importance of the multiplayer community to games in general and strategy games in particular has always gone back and forth. It's certainly true that the most actual outspoken strategy gamers - both critics and general fans - are devotees of the multiplayer experience, up to the point of totally dismissing any form of single player campaign. They'll perhaps forgive Skirmish mode, but the vast majority of those who are serious about strategy game looks down on Campaign players.
The debate normally turns up the fact that the majority of players actually only play the single-player stuff at all, but it's rare there's actually any hard numbers to back it up. This is about as hard a number as you can get. In a game whose single-player was absolutely vestigial, over three-quarters of players didn't even log into the server, let alone play a game, let alone partake in what's apparently the only thing worth talking about in online discourse.
It's an interesting one. The counter argument is easy - that the biggest RTS games have enormous communities, and it's those communities that have kept the game successful. But let's say... well, maybe they're freaks. South Korea, bless it, isn't normal. You can't plan a game making business on assuming you're going to be one of two games. You have to assume you're one of the majority. And, of course, it's worth noting: for the period they were released in, both Starcraft and Warcraft III had splendid campaign modes. And... well, I wonder if Blizzard would ever give out the lifetime stats on Blizznet. As in, what percentage of those sales (outside of Korea) actually have a Blizznet account that's ever played a game. There's a number I'd like to hear. But for now, the DemiGod 23% is a statistic which I'll keep in mind when thinking about RTS games.
Any other interesting numbers? Well, last year 42% of Stardock's consumers bought digitally. This year, 61%. That's a hefty rise.