Your game and Piracy: How to Do It Wrong

If you follow these sorts of things, you’ll certainly have noticed a company called Greenheart Games who recently released Game Dev Tycoon. Assuming it was going to be pirated, they released a broken version on a torrent site. This game, as the devs will gleefully tell you, starts off normal but eventually starts draining all your game company’s profits because of piracy.

Greenheart Games think they’re pretty funny. When a player with a pirated copy asks about their in-game game losing money, Greenheart exclaims “As a gamer I laughed out loud: the IRONY!!!

Greenheart also think they’re the first to do this, but they’re not. The first time I saw a crippled game for pirates was on the Atari ST in the late 80s. Epyx released a port of Rogue, which would get insanely hard very quickly and when the player died, the tombstone read “Here lies: Software Pirate, Scum of the Earth”. And other developers have successfully released their game for free on torrent sites.

What annoys me most about Greenheart’s effort is that they forgot to work out a way to make this benefit them. When other devs release a game on the torrent sites, they include a “Hey guys, here’s a legit DRM-free version of our game. If you like it, please buy it!” They realize piracy is inevitable, they give it away, and start a conversation with the pirates. We’re cool, we worked hard, please give us your money. This has been proven to work, as any regular reader of Techdirt will tell you, but Greenheart’s best effort was to release the game crippled, without any indication they’re the ones who released it, and then bury a page on their site to lead the pirates to legitimately purchase the game:

I know that some people just don’t even think about buying games. They will immediately search for a cracked version. For this reason, when we released the game, we also published a page which targets people who search for a cracked/illegal version. Unfortunately, due to my lack in search-engine-optimization skills, that page has had no impact yet, but I hope it will convince some to buy the game in the future.

So by their own admission they failed to get pirates to notice this. All they’ve really succeeded in doing is poisoning the well: countless pirates will download the game, fail at it because it’s rigged against them, and think the game is broken and/or sucks. They claim to be trolling, but I dunno, if I made a game I’d want people to like it, and me by extension. This is just a practical joke, and one day I’ll tell you how little I think of practical jokers.

On the other hand, it’s impressed a lot of the gaming press who aren’t really aware of history or other developers doing it better.

As for Game Dev Tycoon? It sure looks to me like a copy of Kairosoft’s mobile game Game Dev Story, don’t you think? Funny that they’re so against piracy when they’re copying other games more or less wholesale.

So yeah. I’m annoyed that everyone thinks Greenheart stuck it to the pirates but unless your worldview still includes the notion that all pirates are bad, all they’ve really done is show us how to do it poorly.

[ May 1 2013 ]


Patrick Klug

May 1 2013

I already discussed this on twitter with you but if anyone reads this I just want to say that we NEVER said that all pirates are bad. I even said that I understand that some need to pirate the game because they can’t buy it.

What’s bad is no the people but the *culture* around piracy and the ignorance of pirates who think that no one needs or deserves their financial support.


May 1 2013

Sorry, I didn’t mean to suggest that was something you had said. I was speaking of the people discussing what you’d done with the attitude that you really showed those pirates. Software piracy is a fact of life, it’s clear to me that you get that, but so much of the surrounding discussion seems to be gleefully uncritical about what you did.

I should point out too that, re: our Twitter discussion, you were in a unique position to put the player firmly in your shoes as a developer. My biggest complaint is that you hid the fact that you were doing this from the pirates, you made it difficult for them to figure it out, find you, meet you, and give you money.

If the in-game experience included a message that “Hey, doesn’t this suck? Click here and we’ll help your game succeed” or something similar, I’d think that you had more likely resonated with your target audience.

Ya did good, ya just didn’t connect the final dots.

Got something to add?

Your Comment