Conducted By Adam Ames
TPG was honored to get a chance to speak with the President of the PC Gaming Alliance, Matt Ployhar. You will get his take on various topics throughout the PC gaming industry.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the PC Gaming Alliance.
Matt Ployhar – President of the PC Gaming Alliance for almost a year. My role at Intel is to provide strategic planning insights for graphics and gaming. This role dovetails in nicely with what I do for the PC Gaming Alliance. I’ve been with Intel now for a little over 3.5 years; prior to this I was with Microsoft for 12.5 years. Almost all of that time has been spent in the graphics or gaming industry to one degree or another.
Where did the idea for PC Gaming Alliance come from?
The idea evolved from the desire of several founding members to provide thought leadership for PC Gaming and to deliver 2 things: 1) Bring about a stable games platform spec to the PC. 2) Another founding charter item was to turn around the negative propaganda that was plaguing the PC gaming ecosystem at the time. There was a lot of misinformation being spread about the ‘death of PC Gaming’ while nothing could have been further from the truth.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in forming the PC Gaming Alliance?
I have a newfound appreciation for running a 501 c non-profit! It has what might be a unique set of challenges and rewards I’ve never been exposed too before. The biggest difficulties, like for any non-profit, tend to be getting time out of people who are already quite busy with their normal day-to-day jobs. What I’ve found to be the most effective is to find things they’re extremely passionate about or have a direct impact on their business, and driving towards nothing larger than a quarterly deliverable with weekly milestones and deliverables. I’m not sure there are what I’d call outright ‘failures’; maybe small disappointments. The key is to not over-promise and then under-deliver.
To date I’d say our largest success stories can be traced back to our Horizon’s Research reports that we’ve been publishing and making available to members. The press and pickups we’ve seen from that research alone has had a ton of positive cause and effect repercussions with several analyst firms that have since taken steps to course correct their positions on PC Gaming. The Horizon’s reports quite frankly started bringing more accountability to the PC Gaming reporting structure that didn’t exist before. After the research we’ve also had a ton of success with our Anti-Piracy, now called Security Best Practices, Whitepaper and Webinar. We hope to continue that momentum with fulfilling our original goal of delivering a proposal for a stable games platform spec for PCs and beyond by end of this year.
In its current form, how close is PC Gaming Alliance to your initial vision?
It’s pretty close. Even prior to the formation of the PC Gaming Alliance I’ve felt that there’s long been a void of any organization taking on PC Gaming challenges, and simply hosting the discussions for a broad inclusive forum. That said though we still have our work cut out for us. It can take a few years to start hitting one’s stride but I believe we’re laying the right foundation pieces in place to have a very strong and healthy organization longer term. Growing pains are, and should be, expected along the way.
Give us your opinion on the various digital distribution channels and their role in the future PC gaming as well as streaming services such as Onlive.
I’m a huge fan of digital distribution. Anything that gives me the option of having a digital copy of my game that I can access is a huge value add. Especially for me when I’m on a laptop. I love the fact that I don’t have a disk spinning in the optical drive eating battery life. Having that extra flexibility is fantastic. There are tons of great digital distribution services out there. (e.g. Steam, BattleNet, Impulse, EA Origins, and so on). To pick on Steam for a moment, I really love the fact that they offer the game bits, as a buy once and plays on a PC or a Mac, does patching, supports ~22 languages and so on. What they have there is extremely robust and also provides not just a great customer experience, but also provides a ton of value back to the Developers. I just really like that vision for where it’s going and am hoping that some day we can all trade in our Console games for a buy once plays on the screen of my choice scheme.
In terms of game streaming channels, like OnLive, Gaikai, OTOY, etc. These provide another great option that I’m not sure we’ve fully begun to understand. I like the possibilities that streaming provides. However; I think the jury might still be out on how it manifests over time. I’m optimistic for them though. If for any reason, it goes back to a conversation I had with a VP of a large games ISV that was lamenting the fact that several games, IP/Franchises died with the 2 Consoles that went defunct in the last decade. He went on to say that he wishes that games were more like TV content in that they could be consumed theoretically forever. Streaming might start pointing some more ships in the direction of what he was saying.
Do you believe there is still a place for retail PC sales?
I hope so. I’m personally still a huge fan of physical goods. I’m fond of the collectors editions of games. I’m seeing a trend of buy the retail game, once activated it becomes registered up on a site like BattleNet, and then even if the disk becomes lost or stolen, or I’m working remotely & need to install the game on another PC I can. Again I really love that flexibility.
For the most part, big budget studios no longer release PC demos while almost every indie developer does. Why do you think this trend is occurring?
I can only guess on this one so will take a pass on answering. It’s probably largely tied to time/costs.
What is your take on professional PC gaming journalism as measuring stick to aid in the purchase decision of the consumer?
I’m a bit mixed. Sometimes the reviews are spot on, while there have been others that I really wish I hadn’t listened too. I’ve played some games that received rave reviews and consequently walked away extremely disappointed, other times the reverse can be true. I have to wonder if there isn’t a better user rated system like what we see for instance up on IMDB.
How do you feel about the various indie bundle promotions and the “Pay What You Want” pricing methodology?
This is still very much in my personal opinion another flavor of Free to Play. I’ll give you a great example of a story that happened to me just a few months ago. I was walking my dog in the neighborhood and some little kids, no older than 12 or so, were yelling at me – “Free Lemonade!” As I got closer I said “well how are you supposed to cover your costs and make any money?” Their blunt answer was “Tips!”. The point is I think that Free to Play, or Pay what you want, definitely has a strong place. I’m not sure it’s going to work for everyone however. What I do know though is that it goes a very long way in virtually eliminating Piracy, and changes the entire business model structure. It’s become extremely successful in those Geo’s that have traditionally suffered from high rates of piracy. The Piracy that does continue to occur in those Geo’s is doing so on those games that continue to follow the traditional fire and forget model and those largely come out of the Western Hemisphere’s Games Markets. In general I’m a big fan of free to play.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
Honestly; I’m not sure anyone truly has a holistic picture of what the ‘real story’ is here. However; every once in a while I’ll really stick my neck out and go out on a limb to air my opinions on the trends or impacts of Piracy, DRM, Secondary Sales, Account & or Identity theft issues in the gaming space. Admittedly it’s much easier to shy away from a discussion like this due to the ‘charged’ nature of the subject matter. Almost nothing becomes more hotly debated or contested that I can think of.
Let’s start this out by pointing out a very recent article piece done by Eurogamer (Robert Purchese) that a few of us contributed towards:
So let’s dissect all this a little further. Why am I grouping Piracy, Secondary Sales, Account and Identity Theft all into one bucket discussion? Simple – I believe they’re all interrelated. Personally; I’m not a fan of just talking about Piracy or things like DRM separately as it tends to oversimplify the issues and overlook the cause and effects going on inside the Gaming Ecosystem. DRM was a response to Piracy. Just like Free to Play was a response to Piracy and so on. Additionally; what tends to happen about 9 times out of 10 or more when I see an article on Piracy and DRM is that it’s quick to point out the flaws in PC Gaming and the merits of taking one’s games to one or several of the proprietary Consoles. Secondary Sales are too often either overlooked, or not mentioned, and I really have to wonder why since it creates a massive revenue vacuum for the Games ISVs that opt to publish their games on those platforms. This isn’t to say that articles shouldn’t be focused on one or two things like Piracy and DRM, and they need to be, it’s just that I think all of this is more complex and a bigger mix of hot issues that warrants a broader view and context.
Let’s cover some of the leading causes, and reasons I’ve heard over the years for why people ‘pirate’ or make a copy of a game. (By no means all-inclusive or stack ranked)
- 1. They don’t want to pay for the game outright or feel it’s too expensive
- 2. Not available in my region
- 3. Wanted a digital copy of the game they legitimately purchased
- 4. DRM was invasive and or degraded game playback & performance
- 5. Bought the game, lost or scratched disk, didn’t want to repurchase
- 6. No Demo and or weren’t sure if they’d like the game
- 7. To be malicious – don’t like the publisher
- 8. Mafia, Grey, and Black Markets etc. I’ve ‘heard through the grapevine that this is lucrative’
- 9. Cracked the game because it was a challenge – wanted the bragging rights
- 10. I’ll stop here.. I’ve heard some other pretty amazing & even comical excuses for pirating games
You can read more on this topic by reading my blog post here.
Bill S.978 was introduced to the Untied States Senate earlier this year which could make it illegal to post unauthorized copyrighted content on YouTube and other video sharing sites. How do you feel about individuals being prosecuted for uploading gameplay videos?
While I understand why a bill like this would be introduced, I’m dubious on positive outcomes due to cause and effect. Historically speaking it seems like these types of legislative moves spawn even worse responses out of the consumers. My worry is that if something like this goes through will something else simply take its place that’s even worse for the content owners? Is there any precedent we have where it’s been effective?
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
In general the Pros seem to be outweighing the Cons. Downloadable content has been a huge boon to the PC Gaming industry. This is very much tied to the Free to Play business model option and again has already proved itself to be extremely lucrative. One doesn’t have to go any further than say Farmville, Maple Story, or Lord of the Rings Online for examples. The only Con feeling I have, speaking from gaming experience, is that it becomes un-fun if people just buy something instead of earning it in-game. So I do believe that game balance has to be top of mind for the game developers when they choose to go that route. Aside from that, by and large, I love the prospects and most of the implementations I’ve seen.
Recently, there has been a lot of talk about modding of PC games and the relationship developers have with modders. How do you feel about the online modding community in general?
Honestly? I don’t think there’s enough of it. I tend to black or white on this issue in the following way. 1) I believe a gameplay should be fantastic out of the box, and easy to use. However; games that seem to have the longest longevity are those that 2) Allow for heavy customization, add-ons, level mods, and so on. Some of the best game developers got their starts by doing mods and the fact that we don’t see more of that is seriously a crime.
What advice would you give up-and-coming PC developers who are trying to break into the industry?
I recommend budding game Devs to do their homework. There are tons of great articles up on places like Gamasutra on practically every game dev topic you can imagine. I personally like to follow the lawsuits, and post-mortem stories. Protect your IP/Franchises/Ideas very closely; since those are the keys to the kingdom. Understand that in business people will behave in all sorts of, shall I say, erratic ways? Definitely Network as much as you can, in any way you can, internships, tradeshows, you name it. When all done and said it’s a very dynamic and fun industry to be in. I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be.
What does the future hold for the PC Gaming Alliance?
This year is about delivering on the promises I made for 2011. The two biggest things there will be a proposal to define a stable games platform spec for PC gaming and beyond. We’re also re-launching and overhauling our website in a pretty substantial way; namely we’re adding a game developers Wiki to it. Longer term I won’t go into specifics other than to say we’re looking at ways of expanding PC Gaming into other adjacencies and locations. Looking very seriously at the UI, and Cloud Computing. I’m a huge fan of the buy once plays on any screen concept. We’re still a few years from that becoming a reality though. -End
TPG would like to thank Matt for taking the time to talk to us. You can check out the official PGA website here.
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