Giving them a taste of their own medicine

It is a fact of life that things will be bootlegged. (commonly called pirated, but this is one area where I strongly agree with rms. Piracy is a horrible thing where people get kidnapped on the ocean and die. I have in-law relatives who have died from pirates. So I don’t find it cute to compare that with people who acquire things without paying for them) We usually think of digital items, but go to Chinatown in New York and you’ll see the same thing going on with physical objects. So what’s a company to do? My least favorite route is digital restrictions management (DRM) because it just makes things a real pain in the butt for legitimate users. (It also makes criminals of people who just want to rip their DVDs and BluRays to their laptops or media centers) My favorite tactic (which works best with games, but I’ve seen it with music and movies), is to mess with the person who didn’t pay for it. I’ve seen games that are extremely mean about it (mean being in the eye of the beholder since these people didn’t pay for the game) where they make it so that the final bad guy is unbeatable (after all those hours!). Others glitch out halfway through.  Game Dev Tycoon developer Greenheart Games was able to use the subject of their game (in which you’re a game developer – META!) to come up with a unique solution. On the same day the game came out, they started a torrent with a slightly modified version of the game. It works just like the paid version for a while.  Then you get this message from your developers:

Greenheart Games - Game Dev Tycoon - Message in Illicit Copies of the Game
Greenheart Games – Game Dev Tycoon – Message in Illicit Copies of the Game


That says:”Boss, it seems that while many players play our new game, they steal it by downloading a cracked version rather than buying it legally. If players don’t buy the games they like, we will sooner or later go bankrupt.”  Of course, whenever developers make glitched up illicit versions of their games, the developers have a good time laughing at the complaints in the forums that only they know tip them off that the posters are running illicit software.  But, this was even better because you can always count on the Internet to fail when it comes to irony. Here are quotes from their forums:

Guys I reached some point where if I make a decent game with score 9-10 it gets pirated and I can’t make any profit. It barely sells 100k units…I am during the Xbox 1 and the PS2 gen. Back in the 80s and 90s I could easily make a 1m sales with a 9-10 game but now its not possible due to the piracy. It says bla bla our game got pirated stuff like that. Is there some way to avoid that? I mean can I research a DRM or something…

So far I am going no where. My profit is little to none. If I make an average game 5-7 I get some cash which is understandable but then if I make an 9-10 game I earn the same cash because I get the message for the piracy…

For the past 6-7 games I ended up with the same amount of money or a few grand less.

So what I have to do now? There’s no point in inventing a new engine because the revolutionary game made out of it will get pirated and I will not be able to cover my expenses.

What are there so many people that pirate? It ruins me! I had like 5m and then people suddenly started pirating everything I made, even if I got really good ratings (that I usually get) Not fair.

Remember, these complaints are coming from people who didn’t pay for the game themselves.The developers have a great blog post about this process and how they believe if things don’t change we’re just going to get more and more crappy online games.  It’s a good read. I don’t know what’s going to happen to Greenheart Studios, but I do applaud them for taking this method of dealing with illicit users. I enjoy not having to worry about DRM or how many computers I can install the game on.

Ars, whose gaming articles I usually enjoy, ran a weird followup article entitled Piracy or baiting? In it they considered whether Greenheart Games could go after the illicit users or if the fact they put it onto Bittorrent themselves meant it was meant to be obtained that way. I doubt that could be true, because the entire music industry standard around 2005 was seeding the P2P networks with messed up MP3s. I don’t think anyone could have argued it was, therefore, ok to be trying to obtain those files. Either way, it gets beside the point (which Ars itself pointed out early in the article) that these guys are trying to play games without compensating the two-man team that worked on it. It’s not any less illegal to do it from big companies, but they’ve already built that into the price. You’re disproportionately hurting small developers when you play their games without paying.

I’d prefer for more and more developers to take to this tactic rather than DRM so I always get excited when I hear these kinds of stories.