Crytek President Cevat Yerli recently cited piracy on the PC a central reason why his company has chosen to shift development to a multiplatform focus. NPD data infamously showed Crysis' first week sales in the U.S. to be fewer than 87,000 copies, an unremarkable figure any way you slice it. NPD data does not factor in e-tail or international figures, but despite EA claiming that the game ultimately sold over a million copies, Yerli seems convinced that the game did not sell to its full potential primarily because of piracy.

I have a different take on it, though. Crysis almost certainly did fall short of its sales potential, even if it sold over 1 million, and piracy may indeed have taken a significant toll—although it's impossible to know just how much. But it's not because the game is too system-intensive (nVidia sold a lot of 8800GTs based on the idea that it was an inexpensive card that could play Crysis), nor is it because the game isn't any good (it averages 91% on Metacritic); rather, it's because Crytek overlooked one of the key channels for modern PC gaming: digital distribution.

Crysis is, in fact, available digitally, through the EA Online Store. That's where I bought my copy. However, most gamers I've talked to do not even know that the EA Online Store exists, much less that you can purchase digital copies of games there. Right now, there are two major platforms for digital distribution—Valve's Steam service, and IGN's Direct2Drive. Steam alone has over 15 million users. Steam is highly popular with gamers and developers alike because its embedded DRM is both more effective than traditional key-based DRM, but it's also more transparent to the end user. You simply buy your game, go about your business while it installs, then click to play. The game even updates automatically. IGN hasn't released any figures for Direct2Drive, but it's promoted heavily on the numerous sites comprising the IGN network.

Just how big is digital distribution? Last year, Valve reported a remarkable 158% growth year-over-year in its Steam service. The only real disappointment I have with Steam is that more developers haven't opened their eyes to it, although it seems to be catching on. Perhaps the answer to combating piracy is, like Apple has done with iTunes, simply offering a convenient, easy-to-use legal alternative. One thing's for sure: retail space for PC gaming is shrinking, and shrinking fast. One need only to stroll into their local boutique to see the paltry space devoted to PC games. With digital distribution clearly becoming a central platform to PC, EA needs to get with the times and either do a better job promoting their store, or join the chorus of publishers flocking to Steam.  

Perhaps the only real obstacle to the widespread use of digital distribution is bandwidth limitations in some countries. Surely this will change over time. But it's clear from the numbers that digital is indeed the way of the future, and it's just a matter of time before our silly attachment to boxed copies seems as superfluous as our attachment to CDs in plastic cases. 

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Thefremen
Thefremen
12 years ago

[quote=Thefremen]So I just bought WH40K: Dawn of War Platinum edition today from D2D. The authentication step seemed to have gone off without a hitch but the game simply will not start, and after visiting tech support of all parties involved it is the opinion of all that it is due to securom. Securom requires one to run an analyzer and then send in the results to them. I have done so and so far waited 8 hours for any kind of reply. Just wanted to know if you’d like the replies should they end up being in any way interesting.[/quote]… Read more »

Thefremen
Thefremen
12 years ago

So I just bought WH40K: Dawn of War Platinum edition today from D2D. The authentication step seemed to have gone off without a hitch but the game simply will not start, and after visiting tech support of all parties involved it is the opinion of all that it is due to securom. Securom requires one to run an analyzer and then send in the results to them. I have done so and so far waited 8 hours for any kind of reply.

Just wanted to know if you’d like the replies should they end up being in any way interesting.

Fr002
12 years ago

Great article, great comments to… I like Steam to, i and have like 20 games that i bought on this platform. I like the easy-to-use way in Steam (just click, and your game download and install automaticaly). And the community that was introduce last year is a great feature, permitive, not the Big-Brother bullshit that sur-protect peoples from “sexual predator”. You can add who you want to your frends, and tall to who you want and join the group you want…A little bit like IRC. But on the bad side. You will never be abble to re-sell the game you… Read more »

Mike Doolittle
Mike Doolittle
12 years ago

[quote=malkav11]I doubt Crytek had much choice in the matter. EA published Crysis, and EA will only digitally distribute games they publish through their (shitty) proprietary service. Look forward to this for Mass Effect PC and Spore, too.[/quote]

Actually Mass Effect is already available for pre-order at Direct2Drive.

malkav11
malkav11
12 years ago

I doubt Crytek had much choice in the matter. EA published Crysis, and EA will only digitally distribute games they publish through their (shitty) proprietary service. Look forward to this for Mass Effect PC and Spore, too.

Mike Doolittle
Mike Doolittle
12 years ago

I agree, EA’s store is total crap. I have no plans to purchase from it again. I think the $5-for-two-years is absurd, since Steam and D2D allow you to download any purchased game as many times as you want.

Hopefully, the free market will be the best lesson to EA; if their online store sucks, others will crush them in digital sales and they’ll lose a potentially large market; their only recourse will be to rethink their business model.

Brian
Brian
12 years ago

EA digital download policies are only hurting themselves. 1. No backup of downloaded content. It has been mentioned elsewhere that you can backup the installs that the downloader downloads. Tried it, doesn’t work. 2. Downloads only available for 6 months unless you spend an additional 4.95 to guarantee it for 2 years. This policy is a pure money grab. I posted the following question to EA support: If my hard drive crashes or I replace my computer 8 months after I purchase a digital download will I still be able to access the digital download to re-install the game? EA… Read more »

jj
jj
12 years ago

I would like to add a “European perspective” about digital downloads. For a European customer it can be quite difficult to purchase a digital download game. Only a portion of the games available on Steam in the U.S. is available to European customers. It is also pretty inconsistent which game I can buy where: For Europeans, GamesPlanet is an additional “larger” digital download store, however I can’t buy any of the Unreal game series there, which I can buy at Direct2Drive and Steam though. I can buy The Witcher or Neverwinter Nights 2 at GamesPlanet but not at Direct2Drive, even… Read more »

Thefremen
Thefremen
12 years ago

Agree’d. Steam>direct2drive>ea store.

I haven’t been too happy with my purchases through EA store but it’s a hell of a lot better than taking the chance that gamestop might have what I want in stock and whatever version of securom might work with my cd drive.

Freyar
12 years ago

EA’s Online store needs to be just as good as it thinks it’s games are. People will not buy from a store that has no customer service, and limitations that people aren’t accustomed to.

EA’s Store is not only intrusive, slow, buggy, and confusing, but their policies regarding downloads and installs (at least from my last attempt at using them) were terrible. It’s just as bad as installation limits.

While digitial distribution is starting to become more mainstream, bottom line is, the retailers need to step up the customer service and give reasons why to put up with the negatives.

El Capitano
El Capitano
12 years ago

Hard to navigate, low download speeds, still requires you to install the product after you’ve downloaded it. Oh, and the clincher, it won’t let you re-download later on. It’s so terrible that it’s no wonder nobody’s heard of it.