Friday, May 23, 2014

Retail Patch and More

You have probably noticed by now that the 1.10 update for Euro Truck Simulator 2 has been made available also for the non-Steam version of the game a few days ago already. Usually we don't shout loud about it immediately when it happens to avoid an immediate bandwidth spike on download servers. If you haven't noticed yet, go grab it:

There seems to be a heated discussion in the comments section of the blog anytime the Steam vs. non-Steam topic pops up. There are many valid arguments both ways, but the crucial element for us is not selling stuff or even distributing stuff, it's not even about preventing piracy. It's all about long-term maintenance and giving the players a good service.

Valve with all their resources took some 10 years of Steam improvements to come up with a robust system for games that operate an ecosystem of DLCs. Doing something similar on our own is of course not impossible, but it's hard. And the way we see it, it's not the smartest investment of time and money if we can just use what is a widely accepted solution.

Very often when we change some internals in the engine, data formats of our game assets change. Mod community could confirm that things tend to break for them from time to time, even though we spend considerable time trying to provide a migration strategy or fall-back. We always try to implement work-arounds so that players with a modded game are not screwed and don't lose their profile anytime they update their game to the latest version. With each change in the core of the game, the game add-ons usually need to be updated, too. Euro Truck Simulator 2 is still very much in development, and will be for years, and this evolution is an enemy of format stability. Anytime there is a major change in the core game, the DLCs need updating, too.

Coming up with a patch system that will handle all the changes for any random combination of DLCs a customer may have installed is not so simple. As complexity grows (especially from the point of view of the customer), it is highly desirable to have automated update system that will automagically update everything you have installed to keep it in sync, ideally from a fast cloud. Some big developers and publisher pulled this off on their own - Blizzard with BattleNet, World of Tanks, or League of Legends, they all do that. If you have millions of customers, there is a business case to develop and handle such things on your own to fully "own" the customer experience (and the customer). Truck sims however are still a niche genre. We have lots of customers (thank you!), but it's only a small fraction of the customer base of big games. We do not roll in massive profits to spend on non-core development. Investing into an complex automated delivery of updates and complex e-commerce would take focus, money, and programming capacity from what we prefer to do - improving our games and producing new ones from time to time. Fortunately, there is a very solid system out there handling all that and more, accepted by some 80 million PC players world wide. It's called Steam.

There is another very strong argument for us - customer support. Our support e-mails are every day flooded by people who have lost their Product Key and want us to look it up for them somehow, or try to persuade us that a key from pirate sources is really good and we should un-ban it, using social engineering skills to persuade us to give them keys. We now have two sets of non-Steam keys out in the wild for ETS2 and for Going East!, and the man-power needed to handle customer support related to Product Keys is far from negligible. Now imagine if there was a Product Key you would need to back up and type-in for each individual DLC, be it more map expansions, future cargo trailer packs, more paint job packs, specialized vehicles, whatever we come up with. We simply could not cope with it, in fact for you the players it would be a hell of an experience too. Anytime you need to re-install a computer, or re-install just the game, you would have to find 10 e-mails with Product Keys purchased over the past couple of years, maybe even from various sources. It gets really messy quickly. Instead, on Steam, once you buy a game or register a key, no matter from which source you got it, it's with your Steam account forever. No computer migration issues ever, no need to worry about patches, no need to ever get in touch with our support regarding keys, except for actual technical issues.

Still, we are not rushing anywhere. There is a stream of updates coming for ETS2 through 2014 that will be provided for any edition of the game. If things go well, there is a major map expansion add-on coming later this year that will not require Steam, but just like Going East! will just work with the retail version. But this will introduce a third set of non-Steam Product Keys, and we fear that this will be the limit of what the customers and our customer support can still deal with.

Why not end this blog post with something cool to think about for the weekend instead. Here is a couple of screenshots from a major as-of-yet unannounced ETS2 map expansion DLC!