A Spore-related interview with Jeff Green went up recently on 1UP.com. Here’s a quote about my history in the games industry:
1UP: You started in the game industry around 2000?
SJ:Yeah, I went from Stanford to EA, where I did a couple of internships, and then Firaxis was my first real job in 2000.
1UP: So does it feel like a lot has changed since then in the game-development community?
SJ: Yes. When I came on, it was like right after very, very high times for PCs. StarCraft was a few years old at that point, but you had stuff like Age of Empires selling boatloads of copies. It still was the age of the PC shooter — it hadn’t made the transition to console yet. Halo was still on the horizon.
1UP: Half-Life was ’98.
SJ: It was definitely high times for PC developers. By the time of Civ 4 [in 2005], it was very frustrating. Civ 3  worked out, but we really learned a lot from it and felt we really knew what we were doing and were going to make a great product with Civ 4. But the Civ franchise was owned by Atari, and Atari needed cash, so they sold it to Take 2. But they talked about selling it to a number of publishers, and a lot of them just were not interested — and that kinda blew my mind.
1UP: Didn’t Civ 4 end up selling pretty well?
SJ: Yeah, I’m pretty sure it sold at least a couple million copies. [According to Take 2, Civ 4 sold 3 million copies as of March 2008 — Ed.]. A lot of triple-A games have a $20 million development budget, but that was definitely not the budget for Civ 4. We were always strapped for resources. We had two artists until a year before we shipped, but we were able to pull that off. So it blew my mind that we have this game that’s not going to cost a lot of money, which is a really big upside. It’s very low risk. But it’s like with every version of Civ — we had to prove it to the publishers all over again. It’s weird, because it’s not like you have to twist publishers’ arms to make sequels to million dollar-selling franchises….
1UP: So let’s say you were just getting into the business now, but you had the same education and interests. Do you still see yourself pursuing this path on the PC?
SJ: Yeah, because I’m still very much a strategy guy. If computers weren’t around, I probably would have tried to design board games. That still, for me, feels like the place to be. If I was 21 now [and] in school, I’m sure I would have some sort of wonky strategy game site doing some sort of hex-based war game or something.
Here’s the interesting thing about this interview – reading the Editor’s Note was the first time I found out that Civ4 sold 3 million copies. Which is great, of course. Our target was 2.5 million as each version of the franchise sold about half a million more than the previous version. Nonetheless, it is an odd feeling not to know – or have any official recourse to find out – how many copies of the game I worked on so long actually sold. Certainly, in other industries, the idea that a director or musician not have access to this information would be very strange.
Yeah, I read that, that was news for me too. It’s very strange that it’s so hard to find this kind info for games, even for relative outsiders like me but especially for you as the head honcho. In most other media (film, tv, music, print) this kind of data is almost always public, and even if not surely the creators will know them.
Though of course, exactly because such info is so hard to come by and what little is released often isn’t measured consistently, it’s hard to say what that figure really means: does that include the expansions? What about things like Chronicles? Is it US-only or world-wide, retail-only or including Steam/D2D/etc? Depending on the answers I could be responsible for anywhere from 0 to 3 of those 3 million (not counting complementary copies from T2/Firaxis)…
And then there’s the issue of piracy: while not relevant for the bottom line, as someone who worked on the game you kinda wanna know how many people *played* it, regardless of how they acquired it. Civ1 sold some 900,000 copies, so it’s probably safe to say no more than 2-3 million people total played it (as it pre-dates the Internet era that’s probably a pretty optimistic estimate). For Civ4 though, if CryTek is to be believed it could be as many as 60 million(!), though I’d say their numbers don’t necessary apply to every game and 30-40 million is probably more realistic — but that’s still more people than watch any given NFL game bar the Superbowl 🙂
Great job then! Anything over 100,000 copies is a success in most media. One of my mates at another company told me recently that they’d break even if they shifted 80,000.
3 million is pretty damn impressive!
Sigh. Yeah, we need open data on sales figures or we’re always going to be a damned backwater industry.
I’ve been wanting open data on game sales for years, and you would think that publicly traded publishers would have to have this sort of information available for shareholders.
3 million copies is great.
It’s as if game journalists want PCs out of gaming.
Troy: some publicly traded publishers do make available that information. At least in the MMO space, I know Bruce gets some of his subscription numbers straight from shareholder meetings (particularly from NCSoft and Vivendi).
Three million copies of Civ IV? That’s great! If nothing else, it means there’s a good chance that we’ll continue to see strategy games, which makes me very happy.
About MMOGCHART, Bruce ends up doing a lot of the legwork himself. He’ll also tell you that most of the numbers start out as best guesses, and then he refines those estimates as better numbers trickle in. Unfortunately, it’s kind of hit or miss when trying to get official numbers out of people. NPD charges for their numbers, and they don’t take into account certain distribution channels, like Steam. The end result is an industry where sales figures are squirreled away in little pockets of information. That’s all fine and good for individual companies, but it makes it difficult to get a good sense of how the industry is doing overall.
Soren congrats on your baby hitting 3 Mill. 🙂
I know you’re very proud of your work on Civ4 and you should be. You deserve all the credit!
Congratulations on the big 3M indeed! While there are indeed questions about what exactly it includes, it’s pretty damn impressive. You should really be very proud Soren, some amazing design work went into the game.
The number includes expansions and bundles. And it’s still going up. 😉
“Certainly, in other industries, the idea that a director or musician not have access to this information would be very strange.”
Perhaps more disturbing is that in other industries you would see a product and know who the director, actor or musician is. For the most part, the consuming public doesn’t even know who the studio is much less the name of marquee designer. Once you get past rock stars such as Sid and John Carmack, the individuals tend to lapse into obscurity.
We have to pull teeth to get sales data and we made the game! The easiest way to get regular updates is to convince the publisher to give you a royalty per unit… =)
(… and then hope they don’t lie to you.)