Sins of A Solar Empire by small independent game company Stardock (and their developers Ironclad) is the biggest selling pc game of 2008 so far, despite a tiny budget and much less coverage by the gaming press. Stardock owner Brad Wardell posted an excellent analysis of why their games are having success. (last year’s Galactic Civilisations II was another underground hit.)
He talks a lot about the bad policies taken by much of the PC game industry. For example, why bother targeting the Chinese market when piracy is so rife many people won’t purchase your game? His main point, and it’s a very good one, is that very few people upgrade their computer often so targeting the graphics of your game to only work for the ‘hardcore’ pc gamers is limiting your market. Rather than trying to break the latest processor if you just make a game that’s fun and works on most computers people will play it.
Sins is a fun game that combines the 4X ideas of ‘eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate’ of games like Civilisation with Real Time Strategy elements of space games like Homeworld. I’ve enjoyed myself whenever I’ve played it but what’s even more impressive is the attitude of the people behind it – updates are frequent, there’s no DRM, the developers comment frequently on the game’s forum and they listen to requests from players about bugs and new features. In an industry full of high budget Hollywood games, it’s comforting to see that small companies can be a big success if they just concentrate on pleasing their audience.