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Innate to Pirate?

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A lot of planning has been underway in the last week. Most of it has been sifting through a couple of years of brainstorm notes for when I got to this point, trying to remember some of the strategies I had jotted out for this point of time. I do not have a very clear road map of what I need to do; there are far too many unknowns. However at least this helps me figure out what those unknowns actually are.

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.
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Original post by Trapper Zoid
I may have to consider other revenue streams such as mobile phone development

I'd not be sure about that, I developed a mobile phone game and it got pirated (!!!). I found it on three websites.. it was only one version (the same) out of 6/7 but TBH it was enough to make me feel.. uhm.. proud! :)

To think a "famous" mobile crew brought the game, extracted it and upoloaded it somewhere.. was indeed cool!

I was not so happy when I discovered approx 2500 people downloaded the game from a single (!!!) website. I installed emule and searched for my game.. guess what? I found it! Of course the number of people downloading it via emule was impossible to detect. It was also impossible to know if the game was included into an huge zipfile with other mobile games.

If you think a single website generated 2500 downloads I guess as time passes you can easily reach 5000 downloads, including emule, pirated games packs, three websites and probably something else I wasn't able to find (torrent?). I got approx 0.40€ per download, so it's not much but additional 2000€ would have been fine. As a result, I'm not going to develop another mobile game if I get paid with royalties. I get the money, you get the game and the royalties. The original game was sold at 3-4€, AFAIK a rebranded version was sold at 5€. Users are paying more for the same.

Another thing that drives me crazy is the linux syndrome aka the idiot user.

I can't see how somebody can waste time:
- looking for a game in warez websites
- registering to a website which will fill his mailbox with spam
- downloading the game
- installing the cracked game after unlocking/hacking the mobile
- get crazy beause the version is for nokia but he has a motorola
- play the game without sound because the version doesn't match
- complaining about that

All that to save 3€!!!! 3€?!?!?!? Do you think my game suck and isn't worth 3€? I'm fine with that, since I get paid 0.40€ I can directly sell you the game for 0.80€.

Of course "Joe the user" only downloads games if they are in the front page of the game section of their operator portal. Because he can't waste time. He can't waste time to buy a game at 0.80€, but he can register to a pirate site, hack the phone, install drivers, upload the game to his mobile, and play the wrong version. WOW.

If you guess why it's the linux syndrome, it's because I've seen people spending one week to let an old printer/scanner work with linux. Then they come to me and say: you stupid windows user, I get an OS for free while you have to pay Micro$oft (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!).

I don't understand. I plug my printer, the printer is fine, I spend one week working and I get paid. Hopefully I'll get more money than it's needed to buy a Microsoft OS. :D

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Undead: My thoughts exactly. ;)

Mr. Zoid: Ok I wouldn't worry too much about piracy rates. The same happens with music and movies, and still they make a truckload of money. Don't tell me that the devs of World of Goo didn't make a lot of money - they did. I think that piracy should be accepted because human nature is just not going to change, so, don't even consider that money you lost, because you were never going to get it in the first place. Those people wouldn't buy it if you pointed a gun to their forehead.

What's encouraging is that still many people do buy games and even go as far as donating in large quantities to indie devs (like Toady who lives off donations for Dwarf Fortress). I wouldn't let that stop me from making a game. NOR DECISION PARALYSIS. Geeze. Kids these days!

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Quote:
Original post by undead
Quote:
Original post by Trapper Zoid
I may have to consider other revenue streams such as mobile phone development

I'd not be sure about that, I developed a mobile phone game and it got pirated (!!!). I found it on three websites.. it was only one version (the same) out of 6/7 but TBH it was enough to make me feel.. uhm.. proud! :)

To think a "famous" mobile crew brought the game, extracted it and upoloaded it somewhere.. was indeed cool!
Yup, same here - but for Nintendo DS. Ferrari Challenge and TrackMania DS, both on torrent sites. Ferrari Challenge was torrentable before it was even sent for manufacture...

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Well, that's convenient, Jotaf's point was the one I thought you missed in your list:

"I wouldn't have bought the game anyway, so there wasn't any damage to the developer"

IMHO, that's just as bogus as the other examples. I wouldn't buy a Ferrari, but if someone handed me one for free, I certainly wouldn't say "no". Could I also say: "Because I wouldn't have bought a Ferrari, I am justified in stealing one."?

Here, the determined pirate would usually say that the examples are not equivalent. When you build a Ferrari, you spend money to make each one, so stealing a Ferrari has a large impact on the producer. They have not only lost a item to sell, but also the costs involved with producing that individual item. The pirate would argue that stealing software does not have the same impact, since copying it does not cost the developer anything. This is definitely wrong. The time spent (often many man-years) in labour to produce the software are what you are paying for when you buy it. The cost of producing the media on which it was distributed, or the pretty box which the media came in, or whatever printed manuals or paraphernalia might have come with, constitute a tiny percentage of the total cost of producing the product itself. When one pirates software, they steal the more valuable portion of the product.

Like the Zoid said, these arguments are just excuses to try and justify theft. If someone wouldn't have bought the product, they can play the demo and be satisfied with that. As sung by Jane's Addiction:

Quote:
Well, it's just a simple fact
When I want something man, I don't want to pay for it

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Actually, there were some other points here that piqued my interest:

Quote:
Original post by Jotaf
Mr. Zoid: Ok I wouldn't worry too much about piracy rates. The same happens with music and movies, and still they make a truckload of money. Don't tell me that the devs of World of Goo didn't make a lot of money - they did.

It's wrong to point to the success of the few (or the large corporations) and say that this means that piracy has little effect. It is common knowledge in the game development industry that very few projects break even, let alone make the big $$$. I'm not trying to say that piracy is solely responsible for this, because it isn't. However, to point to the few examples where titles succeed (despite piracy) as proof that piracy has little effect is a weak argument. We can't all be ID or EA.

Quote:
Original post by Jotaf
I think that piracy should be accepted because human nature is just not going to change, so, don't even consider that money you lost, because you were never going to get it in the first place. Those people wouldn't buy it if you pointed a gun to their forehead.

I'm not sure what you mean by "piracy should be accepted because human nature is just not going to change". Do you mean that piracy should be legal? Or that we should expect piracy? I really hope it's not the former, because that leads us down a steep path to some ugly things.

Assuming you're talking about developers expecting their games to be pirated, I agree with you there. As Mr. Zoid points out, it seems that people will pirate whether you put DRM in or not. However, at least in the case where the DRM is there, it is slightly more difficult (and I do mean slightly) to pirate and thus you'd see a better demo-to-purchase conversion rate.

I really don't see where people get off criticising developers for putting DRM in their products. It would be like going to a store and being offended that they put the really expensive merchandise behind glass or inside locked cabinets.

Quote:
Original post by Jotaf
What's encouraging is that still many people do buy games and even go as far as donating in large quantities to indie devs (like Toady who lives off donations for Dwarf Fortress). I wouldn't let that stop me from making a game. NOR DECISION PARALYSIS. Geeze. Kids these days!

This is very encouraging, yes. I guess we can all dream about being able to earn a living doing what we enjoy, but for most people, it can only be a dream. Also of note is that if you read Toady's interviews, its not exactly a good living he makes out of those donations. Most of us have to come to terms with the fact that we won't be getting rich from this work. You're probably better off making games for the fun of it alone.

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Quote:
Original post by LachlanL
Assuming you're talking about developers expecting their games to be pirated, I agree with you there. As Mr. Zoid points out, it seems that people will pirate whether you put DRM in or not. However, at least in the case where the DRM is there, it is slightly more difficult (and I do mean slightly) to pirate and thus you'd see a better demo-to-purchase conversion rate.


This is pure speculation. Spore was rated down a lot on major websites because of its DRM. DRM means bad rep. It's possible there's a sweet spot between having intrusive DRM or not having any that maximizes sales, striking a balance between the bad rep you get for having DRM, and making pirating so easy it hurts your sales; but it's not a linear curve like better DRM = better sales.

Quote:
I really don't see where people get off criticising developers for putting DRM in their products. It would be like going to a store and being offended that they put the really expensive merchandise behind glass or inside locked cabinets.


Except the cabinets don't f*ck up your computer. And when you buy expensive hardware it doesn't self-destruct because you moved it from place to place 3 times. The implementations we've seen of DRM are extremely poor.

Quote:
This is very encouraging, yes. I guess we can all dream about being able to earn a living doing what we enjoy, but for most people, it can only be a dream. Also of note is that if you read Toady's interviews, its not exactly a good living he makes out of those donations. Most of us have to come to terms with the fact that we won't be getting rich from this work. You're probably better off making games for the fun of it alone.


That's true, and it's something I forgot to mention. If you've come to terms with the fact that this isn't the way to get stinking-rich then you're a true artist. If you're still complaining about the downsides of that life then this is not for you. I make games as a hobby, like many before me. I never claimed it was a secure way of earning money. I do it because I like doing it. I also like watching TV, but no one would pay me to watch it for 8 hours straight every day. I'm not complaining.

Quote:
Original post by LachlanL
Well, that's convenient, Jotaf's point was the one I thought you missed in your list:

"I wouldn't have bought the game anyway, so there wasn't any damage to the developer"


From a purely economics standpoint, it is true. Take one person that pirates your game. If the same person is the type that if he couldn't pirate it then he wouldn't even consider buying it, you lose nothing. This is apparent from your example.

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Good points for discussion from everyone. I might have to collate them all and add my thoughts later into another journal post, as this threaded response makes it a bit confusing.

A lot of these points were covered in the TweakGuides article I linked to. It's a good read.

Quote:
Original post by LachlanL
"I wouldn't have bought the game anyway, so there wasn't any damage to the developer"


That's a common argument against piracy, but it's bogus for two reasons.

Firstly, the pirate obviously put some value on the game, otherwise he would not have spent his time and bandwidth downloading the thing.

Secondly, the pirate is right there on the forum posting about how the game sucks. That negative publicity is indeed damaging to the developer.

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I agree with Lachlanl and Jotaf. If it's true people pirate games regardless of DRM, it's also true to include pervasive DRM isn't a viable solution. To add limitations only affects those who are honest. As I said some people can do crazy things just to say "hey I got it for free!".

IMHO there are many things in the industry which are just plain wrong. The relationship between the producer and the user is morbid.

The trend is to sell a franchise, not a product. Many successful products get updated every year. I believe this is crazy. Hollywood doesn't produce "drama 2009" "sport movie 2010" "action movie xmas 2011", neither the music industry releases "latin pop 09" or "true evil black metal winter 2k10 edition". An educated/mature industry shouldn't do something like that. That should be the exception, not the rule.

I suppose we are all tech guys here. I like to I implement a new effect or see a new technique. Actually when I was a teenager I was part of the demoscene, so to me it makes perfect sense to think about the tech side. The industry should be mature enough to understand a game has a lot more to offer than amazing graphic. Think about Wii or Nintendo DS, they're surely not as much powerful as a ps3 or a psp, but they're selling much better.

The current business model, "bigger is better", is insane. If you need to include 100 characters and 50 levels in your game, you are going to spend a lot of money. But the game mechanics are likely to be the same for 50 levels. What's the point in doing the same thing 1000 times and pay 70€? Does the user need to repeat the same actions for 25 hours? This leads to another problem, the preview/screenshots are fake, since it's all about graphics. It this isn't fraud, I don't know how to call it.

I love what Tim Sweeney does since the first unreal, but google for Gears of War screenshots.





Needless to say what's the actual game and what's the fake.

IIRC recently EA had problems because sold a Wii game using shots from different versions, as they look better.

This isn't a good reason to pirate a game, but the industry should stop concentrating only on franchises and graphics. This is a dead end. We all know a few games actually are profitable. Of course if you invest 10 million $ the break even is high. Since the break even is high, only a few games are profitable. Since the investment is huge, how many companies can survive a commercial failure? Would you invest 10 millions in something "new and fresh"?

This isn't exactly about piracy, but such a business model is surely much more affected by piracy than another one. Underground music scene is usually less prone to piracy than the last pop-hit.

You buy a game today, you know next year there's an "update". Nobody is going to play Fifa08 if there's Fifa09 around, but you paid 70 bucks for it. Don't you feel like your money "is gone"? You try a demo, it looks amazing, then you buy the game and discover the game mechanics are the same of the demo and you'll have to repeat the same operations for the next 30 hours. Or you see amazing screenshots, you buy the game then you see the graphic looks awful compared to what they shown you.

Both the industry and the gamers know about that. The relationship is morbid because the industry thinks its fine to keep releasing updated versions and base their business model on a few blockbusters which cover the failure of many other products. Users know they're somehow cheated and they buy a couple of games but pirate the others.

ps I recently got an acer aspire one for 169€ and I installed (my ORIGINAL copy of) the first Unreal Tournament. I'm having so much fun, because the gameplay is still great 10 years later.

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Quote:
Original post by Jotaf
Quote:
Original post by LachlanL
Assuming you're talking about developers expecting their games to be pirated, I agree with you there. As Mr. Zoid points out, it seems that people will pirate whether you put DRM in or not. However, at least in the case where the DRM is there, it is slightly more difficult (and I do mean slightly) to pirate and thus you'd see a better demo-to-purchase conversion rate.


This is pure speculation. Spore was rated down a lot on major websites because of its DRM. DRM means bad rep. It's possible there's a sweet spot between having intrusive DRM or not having any that maximizes sales, striking a balance between the bad rep you get for having DRM, and making pirating so easy it hurts your sales; but it's not a linear curve like better DRM = better sales.


I'll be honest here, I don't know exactly what bad effects DRM products might have had on people's machines. I haven't really looked into that and I haven't bought a game that has a modern DRM product in it yet. If it really has some adverse effects on people's machines then that is really bad and not helping an anti-pirate stance.

However, in terms of DRM that doesn't adversely affect the person's machine in any way, I don't really see why there's a problem with it. How can someone logically complain about a company not wanting to have it's products stolen? They (the company) put in the work to produce it, shouldn't they have the right to prevent someone from stealing it?

Also, Spore might have been rated down for DRM reasons, but didn't it still sell really well? I mean, you might get some people who complain about being made to feel like a criminal, but most will still get the game if they want to play it.

Quote:
Quote:
I really don't see where people get off criticising developers for putting DRM in their products. It would be like going to a store and being offended that they put the really expensive merchandise behind glass or inside locked cabinets.


Except the cabinets don't f*ck up your computer. And when you buy expensive hardware it doesn't self-destruct because you moved it from place to place 3 times. The implementations we've seen of DRM are extremely poor.

I agree that a solution that fails when a person changes some part of their hardware has a pretty big flaw. That sort of thing should be avoided if possible.

Quote:
Original post by Jotaf
Quote:
Original post by LachlanL
Well, that's convenient, Jotaf's point was the one I thought you missed in your list:

"I wouldn't have bought the game anyway, so there wasn't any damage to the developer"


From a purely economics standpoint, it is true. Take one person that pirates your game. If the same person is the type that if he couldn't pirate it then he wouldn't even consider buying it, you lose nothing. This is apparent from your example.


Similar to what Trapper said, I disagree with you here. If someone has been willing to spend the bandwidth downloading the game (which can be quite considerable with some games these days, even with rips) then they clearly had some motivation to play the game. They most likely wouldn't have bought *every* game they pirated, but even if they only bought 1 in 5 or 1 in 10 (assuming they were unable to pirate the games) then this would be a massive increase in sales compared to the situation we currently have.

In a situation where only your game was pirate-proof then sure, it's likely that they'd just copy a different game and play that instead. If all games were pirate-proof then its likely that they'd have to buy some games if they like playing at all.

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Man, it does take Steve Pavlina an awful lot of words to say "I want myself some strange poon, so I'm gonna get myself some strange poon."

I'm definitely gonna forward this to Shelly. She's gonna get a big belly-laugh out of this one.

"Hey Shelly, can I explore the worlds of polyamory?"

"What's that mean?"

"It means I wanna get some strange poon."

"Ahh, I see. Fuckno."

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I think PC Gaming is just going to have to shift to advert driven - if it's "free" then perhaps that would stop some forms of piracy... though I'm sure someone would come up with a advert removing patch.

The Xna Creators Club may offer small companies and lone gunman a way of getting some money via the Xbox 360 though - a platform that actually requires hardware alteration to successfully pirate a game on but open enough to be published on once the game has gone through a peer review process.

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Quote:
Original post by LachlanL
I'll be honest here, I don't know exactly what bad effects DRM products might have had on people's machines.
...
However, in terms of DRM that doesn't adversely affect the person's machine in any way, I don't really see why there's a problem with it.


Nobody complained about plain CD checks, those have been around for years. But it's obsolete now! It's likely you're a programmer. Can you create a DRM thing that a simple JMP instruction in assembly won't circumvent? The only thing that works is to check with a remote server. And that opens up a whole lot of problems.

The "old" DRM doesn't protect games, the "new" one takes away legit buyers' rights. You can't possibly stand up for DRM, it's bad one way or the other.

Quote:
Original post by LachlanL
In a situation where only your game was pirate-proof then sure, it's likely that they'd just copy a different game and play that instead. If all games were pirate-proof then its likely that they'd have to buy some games if they like playing at all.


Talk about being realistic. [rolleyes]

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Just chiming in quickly:

I've just finished the World of Goo demo and I'm absolutely astounded. I had so much fun playing it, it's very polished, it's a great idea and it even has replay value.

I get a cheque this week, and I'll be purchasing the game without a doubt. Forget about the pirates, like someone said above you couldn't force them to pay for anything even with a gun to their heads. There ARE people out there who love and respect the efforts put into these kind of games, and I for one am very willing to throw money at these developers in the hope they continue to make games.

I'm looking forward to Friday. I wanna see how this Goo Corporation thing works out, it looks intriguing.

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It would be interesting to see the stats for Windows and Linux torrent versions of games, to see if Linux users are of the same mind as the robbers which get the game using Windows. I mean there is a cross section of users which use both, but generally Linux users have a different mindset (If I can throw a blanket over all users).

I see the comments as to why some users download illegal versions as just a smoke screen to explain there activities as lies, lies and more damn lies. From what I have seen from people I have known is that it becomes a sort of additive activity where people actually download applications that they may never use, just for the satisfaction of having it, this may not be the case with games but is still not _normal_. These people spend hours (or days as a commenter suggest) searching for applications etc to download, I have seen a person who had a ebook library that was so big it rivalled a public library!

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Quote:
Original post by CmpDev
These people spend hours (or days as a commenter suggest) searching for applications etc to download, I have seen a person who had a ebook library that was so big it rivalled a public library!

Yeah, they act like collectors but a collector should collect "real" items. I don't understand how somebody can think it's cool to collect something you can copy and copy and copy and copy ad libitum. Without a limited amount of items being produced, there's no reason to collect stuff.

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