About the Profitability of AAA Ports


Apparently an ex-developer from VP,** Jaycee1980**, has taken to the Steam forums to explain what was the publishing environment for AAA ports like for Mac and Linux. This comes after the release of ARMA: Cold War Assault, sold as a separate SKU for Linux than the Windows version - which is somewhat unusual on Steam: usually a single key lets you access all versions of the same game. Here is why it happened this way for that particular game:

Jaycee1980: The “Single SKU” or “Steamplay” sales model works just fine when the original publisher/developer does the work for all platforms, but it doesnt work at all when an outside contractor does the conversion. Most porting deals are based on sales royalties for sales on that platform. This means that if the Mac/Linux port is released later, and the target audience has already bought the Windows version, the porting contractor is effectively expected to give away their work for free. It simply does not work.

“So, the original publisher/developer should pay you a fixed sum then!”

Right. Except very rarely will they do that, as if the sales are low then it leaves them out of pocket. They want the least risk to them, which is a royalty percentage deal. This is often the only agreeable terms for porting - the alternative is no port. This applies the same to Macs and Linux.

I can tell you that during my time at VP, only 3 publishers have ever agreed to a fixed sum. No, I can’t and won’t tell you which ones.

“But they pay for console ports! They do those in house!”

Yes - because those are huge markets. As the latest figures show, Macs are about 3-5% of the desktop market, and Linux is ~1%. Those numbers are simply not profitable to chase for AAA devs/publishers. There is no money in it, when balanced against the costs they would incur from time spent doing it instead of developing their next hit.

This echoes very much what Edwin from Feral Interactive said earlier in the podcast we did with him, where he explained that ports of older AAA titles do not do as well as recent ones, since Linux gamers are much more likely to already have the Windows version anyway, resulting in few incremental sales for the Linux port.

The interesting addition from Jaycee1980 is that the expectations from Mac gamers are somewhat different and may lead to a different outcome because of that.

Note that VP is still working on the port of ARMA3 (pictured at the top) for Linux, and now one may wonder if it will be released under the same model since the Windows version has been around for a long time already.