Developers Roundtable: The Future of Simulations – Part 3

After the 2005 E3Expo we ran a series of discussions (linked on our homepage) on The Future of Simulations where we asked the SimHQ Staff for their thoughts on the state of the simulations industry. We’ll now follow-up those discussions from the developers point of view. As a reference, you should also read this SimHQ 2000 two-part interview series available in .pdf here and here to see the PC simulation industry’s leaders point-of-view from five years ago.

Our Panel of Participants

Martin van Balkom
Battlefront.comAl Delaney
Founder, President
and Lead Programmer
eSim Games, LLCSteve Grammont

David Heath
Director of Operations,
Public Relations and Acquisitions
Matrix Games

Nils “Ssnake” Hinrichsen
Marketing & Sales Director
eSim Games, LLCRick “Rjetster” Ladomade
Vice President, Treasury
Xtreme Simulations International, LLCJulian “Buckshot” Leonard
Vice President, Engineering
Xtreme Simulations International, LLC

Chris “C3PO” Partridge
Publicity & Marketing
Lead Pursuit, LLC


The Discussion Continues…


SimHQ: The next set of questions concerns distribution — the ever changing methods of receiving games and selling games. Five years ago there was only one real way to receive a game. Either a person had to go to a traditional store and pick up a copy or they had to order it from an online vendor. With the ever increasing numbers of broadband connections even multiple CD size programs are now possible to download in the time it would take to go to the local Wal-Mart. How enthusiastic are you about the possibility of selling your titles as a digital download or via direct mail order?

Chris (Lead Pursuit): Ease of distribution is of course something every developer would strive for. At the moment, there can be teething problems with downloadable products. But they will get ironed out and as Internet speeds increase at a rate greater than game file sizes, then downloading becomes increasingly attractive.

David (Matrix Games): Matrix Games was one of the first game companies to convert to mainly digital download sales. It is in every way superior to commercial brick and mortar stores like Electronic Boutique and GameStop. Another nice effect is the raise of small hobby stores once again. Hobby stores can once again lead gamers to games that the main chains will not carry. There is a wealth of potential to online sales that hasn’t been realized and it will continue to grow and thrive as broadband becomes even more prominent. Needless to say we are thrilled with the possibilities of digital download and our developers are already reaping the rewards of it. But with that said we are not forgetting about the hobby stores either.

Rick (XSI): The broadband market has opened up new innovative opportunities for the gaming market period, particularly for the influential add-on market for flight sims. Hybrid sales distribution platforms are very essential for flight sim companies to endorse, they need to support this standard. It’s certainly gives the developer a cost effective alternative, so broadband becomes a very important element for us at XSI. It allows for a direct port to the market, and it definitely widens our opportunities for sales, and ultimately helps to trim down the high overhead costs.

Julian (XSI): There certainly have been a number of success stories in recent years with add-ons as well as complete simulators sold via online download or direct mail order. As you allude to, broadband connections are becoming not only more common, but faster and faster. It’s almost unheard of to not have an Internet connection these days. As this trend continues, I believe more developers are going to start to look at more cost-effective marketing and distribution strategies.

Martin (Battlefront): We have been doing mail-order for over 6 years now and very successfully, so obviously we can only recommend this approach as an alternative to classic retail distribution. However, it wasn’t a free ride either, and it took many years to establish a profitable infrastructure and an online fan community big enough to sustain a full-time team of 6 employees and several developers. Having a great lineup of games helps, too, of course.

As for digital downloads, personally I am not prepared to join in the current hype. Sure, digital delivery is a buzzword at the moment, but when you think about it, the only thing that downloads improve is the speed of delivery. And nothing else. The developer is not really saving money, except perhaps by avoiding a printed manual and some packaging, but many games sold in stores already come with a .pdf manual like you said. The customer isn’t really saving money when you figure in hidden costs like Internet fees (not everybody has a flat rate) or even the cost to print a manual yourself.

Downloads are perhaps a tool to lure in impulse buyers, and as such very useful for games appealing to the twitch crowd. Or for lower priced products such as add-ons or very simple arcade games which are not viable to sell as standalone physical product.

For high-fidelity simulations which, if any good, will remain on your hard drive for years, it doesn’t seem like adding much. And in fact it might turn out to be subtracting something: the game is downloaded and installed as quickly as it is de-installed and forgotten. That’s good for the marketing suits and retailers to increase their turnover of course since they can sell you something else quicker. But a nice dog-eared manual is the sign of a game that you, as developer, will be proud of for years — and this can be equal to making profit from it for years, instead of the sell and forget approach most publishers seem to follow today, which generate more profits for them, but often leave the dev teams as an empty shell by the roadside.

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