Hardcore Gaming's Salvation?

Quarter to Three talks to three developers about the profits and perils of bypassing the traditional retail market

by Mark Asher

Virtua Tennis is a great game. Who doesn't love the new sports games like Madden 2001 for the PS2? Up for some Tony Hawk skateboarding? The console market is booming, and many PC developers like Peter Molyneux and Lionhead have declared that it will be the mainstay of their development future. On the PC side we're seeing more and more grabs at the mainstream audience with real-time strategy clones and other genres all shifting to a real-time, 3D style presentation. Since developing games is a business that is getting to be more and more expensive, it's understandable that developers and publishers want to increase their potential audience. That just makes business sense.

But if you're a long-time PC gamer, you may be a bit apprehensive about your hobby. Who's going to deliver the next Master of Magic? Will we ever see another game as great as X-COM? Although some games aimed at the hardcore PC game market are in development — Dreamlands, Master of Orion 3 — it's hard to not be a bit fearful that these may be the last games like this we'll see, and in a few years we'll be limited to ports of console games, first-person shooters, and real-time strategy lookalikes on the PC.

There may be help on the way. Some smaller developers have turned to direct sales as a way to increase profits and minimize cost. If these developers can find a way to turn a profit with smaller sales volume, it may mean that they can serve the niche gaming markets better. We talked to three developers who have turned to the direct sales market to get their thoughts on the subject.

Charles Moylan is behind Combat Mission, a WWII turn-based 3D game that will be on the short list for game of the year. He and his company, Big Time Software, turned to Battlefront.com, a small publisher who specializes in selling direct.

Brad Wardell, who writes a column for Quarter to Three, is part of Stardock. They made Galactic Civilizations and Entrepreneur, both well received games, and just published The Corporate Machine, which they are selling direct.

Finally David Dunham is part of A Sharp, the people who put out one of the most original games of the year, King of Dragon Pass, which was also well received by the hardcore gaming crowd.

Read our interview.