[Design] "Why Pirate Games" Article

3 messages in this thread from mud-dev2 in 2008-08

  1.   Nick Koranda <nkk@em...cc> 08-14 15:45
  2.   missing
  3.   Sean Howard <squidi@sq...net> 08-15 19:01
  4.   Caliban Darklock <cdarklock@gm...com> 08-15 20:54

Nick Koranda <nkk@em...cc>

2008-08-14 15:45:39
I happen to come across this article in which a game developer solicited 
"pirates" on why they steal software.  Interesting read especially the 
paragraph on Game Quality:


Full Text:

Talking To 'Pirates'

A few days ago I posted a simple question on my blog 
<http://positech.co.uk/cliffsblog/>. "Why do people pirate my games?". 
It was an honest attempt to get real answers to an important question. I 
submitted the bog entry to slashdot 
<http://yro.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/08/10/1553224> and the penny 
arcade forums <http://forums.penny-arcade.com/showthread.php?t=66163>, 
and from there it made it to arstechnica 
then digg 
then bnet 
and probably a few other places. The response was massive. This is what 
I found:


Firstly it's worth pointing out that there were LOTs of responses (and 
they are still coming in now), hundreds of comments on the sites listed, 
a ton of comments on the blog (despite it crumbling under the strain) 
and hundreds of emails made it through to me. I read every one of them. 
They were also generally very long. Few people wrote under 100 words. 
Some people put tolstoy to shame. It seems a lot of people have waited a 
long time to tell a game developer the answer to this question. Some 
people thought my name was chris, or that I developed Braid. But that 
doesn't matter :D It's worth pointing out that the original question was 
specific to MY games <http://www.positech.co.uk>, because I already do 
the majority of what people complain about (free demos, easy demo 
hosting, digital distribution, original games, good tech support etc), 
but the majority of the replies were aimed at games devs in general, not 
me. Here is what they said:

The semi-political ones

I got a few people churning out long arguments about whether or not 
intellectual property is valid, and claiming that it was censorship, or 
fascism and other variations on this theme. I'm used to reading all 
this, and find it completely unconvincing, and to be honest, silly. The 
really interesting news was that this was a trivial proportion of the 
total replies.


This *did* surprise me. A LOT of people cited the cost of games as a 
major reason for pirating. Many were kids with no cash and lots of time 
to play games, but many were not. I got a lot of peoples life stories, 
and a ton of them were my age. Even those who didn't cite cost as their 
main reason almost always mentioned it at some stage. A lot of anger was 
directed at the retail $60 games, and console games. People in Australia 
were especially annoyed about higher prices there. My games were $19-23, 
but for a lot of people, it was claimed this was far too high. People 
talked a lot about impulse buying games if they were much cheaper.

Game Quality

This was a big complaint too. And this also surprised me. I have a very 
low opinion of most new games, especially triple A ones, but it seems 
I'm not alone. Although there were many and varied complaints about tech 
support, game stability, bugs and system requirements, it was 
interesting to hear so many complaints about actual game design and 
gameplay. Not a single person said they had felt ripped off by a game 
due to substandard visuals or lack of content. The consensus was that 
games got boring too quickly, were too derivative, and had gameplay 
issues. Demos were widely considered to be too short and 
unrepresentative of the final product. People suspected that the full 
game was no better than the demo. Almost everyone had a tale of a game 
that was bought based on hype which turned out to be disappointing.


This was expected, but whereas many pirates who debate the issue online 
are often abusive and aggressive on the topic, most of the DRM 
complaints were reasonable and well put. People don't like DRM, we knew 
that, but the extent to which DRM is turning away people who have no 
other complaints is possibly misunderstood. If you wanted to change ONE 
thing to get more pirates to buy games, scrapping DRM is it. These 
gamers are the low hanging fruit of this whole debate.

Digital Distribution

Lots of people claimed to pirate because it was easier than going to 
shops. Many of them said they pirate everything that's not on Steam. 
Steam got a pretty universal thumbs up from everyone. I still don't get 
how buying from steam is any different to buying from me, other than you 
may already have an account on steam. For the record, I'd love to get my 
games on steam. I wish it was that easy.


I got a few people, maybe 5% of the total, who basically said "I do it 
because I like free stuff and won't get caught. I'd do the same with 
anything if I knew I'd get away with it." This is depressing, but 
thankfully a small minority. I also got the occasional bit of abuse and 
sarcasm from hardcore pirates who have decided I am their enemy. Who 
would have thought that would happen? They give the other 99% of pirates 
a bad name, and are the reason people don't listen to pirates.

What I'm going to do about it

There was a point to all this, and it was partly to sell more (I have 
bills to pay!) as well as hopefully get more people to legitimately play 
my games. I'd be very happy if some reduction of overall piracy happened 
too, as I love PC gaming and the current situation is only helping to 
kill it off. I've thought hard about everything people have said and I 
have decided to change a few things about my games.

1) No more DRM

I only used DRM for one game (Democracy 2) and it's trivial. It's a 
one-time only internet code lookup for the full version. I've read 
enough otherwise honest people complain about DRM to see that its 
probably hurting more than it help's. I had planned on using the same 
system for Kudos 2, but I've changed my mind on that. I have also 
removed it from Democracy 2 today. I now use no DRM at all.

2) Demos

People think demos are too short. My demos *are* short, because the 
marketing man in me sees that you can't give away too much. I've wanted 
people to feel a bit annoyed when the demo cuts out, so they buy the 
game to keep playing. Too many people are put off by this and pirate 
games so they can see exactly what they are getting. I'll be making my 
demos much better, and longer, and will retrospectively change this when 
I get around to it for some of my older games. (I'm swamped with work 
right now)

3) Price

I think my games are priced right, and was considering charging more for 
Kudos 2 (which is my biggest and best ever game). I sometimes play 
casual games for $20 which seem to have maybe a tenth of the effort I 
put into mine. However, enough people out there see price as a factor to 
change my mind. I halved the price of Kudos <http://www.kudosgame.com> 1 
a few days ago, to $9.95. I'll keep an eye on how it does. I'm also 
strongly inclined to price Kudos 2 <http://www.positech.co.uk/kudos2> 
lower than I originally planned to.

4) Quality

My games aren't as good as they could be. Ironically, one of the things 
that reduces your enthusiasm to really go the extra mile in making games 
is the thought that thousands of ungrateful gits will swipe the whole 
thing on day one for nothing. It's very demoralizing. But actually 
talking to the pirates has revealed a huge group of people who really 
appreciate genuinely good games. Some of the criticisms of my games hit 
home. I get the impression that if I make Kudos 2 
<http://www.positech.co.uk/kudos2> not just lots better than the 
original, but hugely, overwhelmingly, massively better, well polished, 
designed and balanced, that a lot of would-be pirates will actually buy 
it. I've gone from being demoralized by pirates to actually inspired by 
them, and I'm working harder than ever before on making my games fun and 

A final note is trying to make it easier for people to buy my games. I'm 
really hassling my payment provider to support amazons one-click method. 
For me, I think that's even more convenient than steam. I'm always doing 
what I can to make buying them as quick and easy as possible.


So it was all very worthwhile, for me. I don't think the whole exercise 
will have much effect on the wider industry. Doubtless there will be 
more FPS games requiring mainframes to run them, more games with 
securom, games with no demos, or games with all glitz and no gameplay. I 
wish this wasn't the case, and that the devs could listen more to their 
potential customers, and that the pirates could listen more to the devs 
rather than abusing them. I don't think that's going to happen.

But I gave it a go, and I know my games will be better as a result. I'll 
never make millions from them, but I think now I know more about why 
pirates do what they do, I'll be in a better position to keep doing what 
I wanted, which is making games for the PC.
Thanks for reading.

Cliff 'cliffski' Harris

MUD-Dev2 mailing list

This message appeared in a previous month, was never archived, or was lost.

Sean Howard <squidi@sq...net>

2008-08-15 19:01:43
"Tess Snider" <this@ma...org> wrote:

> Heh, I was one of the people ranting about the Aussie game prices.
> Let me put things in perspective:  The upcoming PC title, "Spore,"
> will be retailing for $49.95 at EB in the US.  It will, in contrast,
> be retailing for $99.95 at EB in Australia.  At current exchange
> rates, that's $87.01 US dollars.  BUH?  I'm sorry, but it does not
> cost $37.06 to ship a game internationally.  I know.  I shipped quite
> a few games from the US, when I lived in Australia. ;-)
1) Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but releasing a game in other
territories has far more to it than shipping prices. For instance, music
is something that has to be explicitly licensed for foreign markets. You
need a publisher, a distribution network, retail stores, advertising,
lawyers, and all the same stuff that publishers have in America,
specifically tailored to a different territory with different laws.
Exchange rates also make a difference. Add in the fact that Australia is a
much smaller market, so there is less selling to be had. I'm not saying
this is worth $37, but I do think it is naive to expect the exact same
price when you aren't getting the exact same product.

2) If you don't want to pay for it, you don't have to play it. I know, the
world being what it is, that this is a strange concept, but the reason why
piracy is wrong is because the option to abstain IS a viable alternative
to paying high prices. Piracy sends the wrong message and actually leads
to higher prices and worse products.

Sean Howard

MUD-Dev2 mailing list

Caliban Darklock <cdarklock@gm...com>

2008-08-15 20:54:48
> it does not cost $37.06 to ship a game internationally.
You're right, it doesn't. But you're one person sending to one person. 

Now get ten thousand of that game, and ship them to some other country for
retail sale. You need to give them to an exporter (who will want some
money), and then he'll load them into a transportation mechanism (which
costs money), and then tariffs need to be paid (which costs money), and then
they'll be unloaded at their destination (which costs money), and then
they're shipped to a storage facility (which costs money), where they will
be taken by an importer (who wants some money) to a distributor who will
sell them (at a profit) to a retailer that puts them on a shelf and sells
them to you. At a profit.

Compare domestic distribution: you give them to a distributor who sells and
ships them to retailers who sell them at a profit. Note that the
international distribution has eight points where someone other than the
game's manufacturer takes a profit, while the domestic scenario has only
three. Don't you think those other five points might inflate the price a

> What constitutes an "uncomfortable level of inconvenience"?  
What constitutes comfort? 

I get to install the game and play it. 

What constitutes convenience? 

I DON'T have to do anything difficult, lengthy, or confusing. 

So WHAT IF... your game installed while you were playing?

- Install begins: player fills out a short registration form and optionally
a detailed demographic survey.
- Install of core content and first few levels completes: registration and
survey sent to server, game starts. 
- During play of first few levels, installation proceeds in the background
and registration key is sent by email.
- When installation completes and player hits a level boundary or pauses to
save, suggest he check his email.
- Let the user enter the key at any time during the game. When a hard
boundary is hit, require the key to continue. 

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3 messages in this thread from mud-dev2 in 2008-08