Still, I think I have enough info now to start moving. My problem is that I tend to freeze up and get all over-analytical when faced with too many risks and variables. It is a trait that served me well back when I was a green software test engineer, but it is not a good trait for a green business manager. I have to face that taking a sub-optimal course of action is usually better than taking no course of action.
The other thing I have read lately which is somewhat disheartening (apart from former indie developer turned personal development blogger Steve Pavlina's bizarre resolution for 2009), is the articles about rates of piracy. There have been a few around lately. Recently right here there was the comment in the Daily GameDev.Net about the rate of piracy of Championship Manager - 90 percent. Then there was the piracy rate article about World of Goo over at 2D Boy's blog - also about 80 to 90 percent. Saying that rate is high is an understatement. It is insane.
There was also this great article on piracy over at TweakGuides.com by Koroush Ghazi. It is quite long at ten pages, but it is an excellent read.
The World of Goo article in particular was a big eye opener. World of Goo was a great game, and more tellingly when compared to the usual laundry list of reasons to pirate it did everything right. World of Goo was made by just a couple of guys rather than "a big evil soulless corporation". It was an innovative quirky games with oodles of polish. It had no DRM whatsoever. When you bought it for pC, you got the Windows and the Mac version, and a guarantee of the Linux version when it is complete. It had a sizeable demo that showcased the reason to buy the game. It was relatively cheap. It won its way into heaps of Top 10 Games of 2008 lists. And apparently, it was pirated without abandon regardless.
Despite this, I have read further justifications by pirates as to why they copied World of Goo. These are illuminating. From memory, some of the main arguments I have read:
- World of Goo was not simultaneously released on Steam in Europe, so Europeans pirated it instead. Of course, the fact that it was also released world wide from 2D Boy's own website, which is the top hit when Google searching for "World of Goo", was apparently irrelevant here...
- Pirates were not sure whether the game was worth buying from the demo alone - they needed a "bigger demo" by pirating the full game. This category is split into those who claim to have bought the game after finishing their "bigger demo", and those who found after a couple of dozen hours of play that it started to lose appeal and so "wasn't worth it".
- To paraphrase: "lolz - u release it with no DRM - what do u expect?". Damned if you do, damned if you don't.
- The best one: someone thought the two guys who made the game "looked like a couple of creeps", and so he was fully justified in pirating the game.
My concern as someone who wants to sell games to make a living is that there is a culture of piracy out there which cannot be broken by anyone as small as a game developer. Take the European example at face value and assume that these were potentially were customers on Steam: once that was blocked, apparently their next reaction was to immediately head to The Pirate Bay. Or the case of people downloading a pirated copy as a "full demo". Was this really what they thought, or was heading to a torrent site just innate habit from doing this for every piece of software they have considered?
The DRM comments were also insightful. Many times I have read pirate justifications for other games in that they would have bought the game if they were not treated like a criminal by draconian DRM. But in the reverse case, for games with no DRM, there are people thinking that means the developers just do not care about piracy, so why not pirate it open slather? If this is true, it might be worth slapping any form of DRM to games just to cement the message home.
But it is the last one that I think underlines the truth - that mostly, pirates will use any old reason to justify getting stuff without paying. I do not think this comes as a surprise. However the sheer numbers are astounding. I am worried that at this level of saturation, it will start to bleed away the honest customers. If nearly everyone is getting a free ride, a paying customer may start to feel like a mug and join in.
Still, World of Goo managed to do quite well, at least according to 2D Boy. However, that was World of friggin' Goo, not just any ordinary game. I would be foolish to say the least if my plan was to mindlessly hope for that kind of critical reaction to my games.
It is a bit of a downer. I am hoping that, if I take the motto "be nice to (potential) customers, and they'll be nice to you", then there will be enough nice customers out there to support the business. But it is possible that I am underestimating the sheer weight of piracy out there. I hope not, but just relying on hope may not be enough. I may have to consider other revenue streams such as mobile phone development or indie console channels sooner than expected.