Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Thoughts on Piracy and DRM

First, DRM Stinks
I try to make it known that AI War doesn't contain any DRM -- there's a license key to transform the demo version into the full version, and that's it. No phoning home, no usage tracking, no limited numbers of installs, no crazy drivers that take over your system. DRM sucks, in so many ways, and I've always hated it. When I buy music, I use Amazon MP3 because it's DRM-free. When I have music, I want to be able to use it on any device I have, or any computer -- I use a laptop as well as a desktop, and switch back and forth between both.

With games, it's much the same thing. I want to own the game, whether I got it through an online distribution service or from a brick and mortar store. I want to be able to play that game ten years from now. I still pull out my original cartridge of Mario 2 every few years, or Quake II, or Half-Life, or Silent Hill, or The Ocarina of Time, or Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom, or a dozen others. With some sort of crazy DRM with those titles, I'd probably have to resort to piracy just to play them at all at this late stage. Thankfully, none of those titles have more than a CD check and license key (and obviously the console titles don't have even that).

For all of the above reasons, plus many others -- such as the fact that most DRM gets immediately cracked anyway -- I don't support DRM.

But, Piracy Also Stinks
Today Google Alerts notified me of a page on NowTorrents, which informed me that over 40,000 people have been tracked downloading illegal copies of AI War. Is that number accurate? Who the heck knows, but it sure outpaces the number of sales we've had so far. I've read all sorts of articles by other developers who fall on various sides of this debate, and from what I can tell a piracy rate of 90% or more is very common. Depending on how many sites people are pirating AI War through, and how accurate tracker numbers are, we're probably at that number or even well above it. It's hard to say, because there's no one central reliable source that tallies pirate downloads.

So, I should spring right into action, right? Start adding DRM to my games, or... or... or something, right? Despite the fact that this will alienate my existing and potential good customers, if I can convert even a few of the pirates to paying customers, that might pay off pretty well, right? I seem to recall some other articles talking about the conversion rate of pirates to paying customers being something like 1 in 1,000 pirates can be converted. That's just 40 sales from all those NowTorrents pirates. That's pretty sobering, isn't it?

Even if it was 400 sales, I don't think the negative consequences from adding DRM would be worth it. Goodwill is worth more. So, for all intents and purposes, this is a non-event for me. People are pirating my game, like I knew they would if it ever became popular. I didn't try very hard to stop them, because I knew I couldn't. No one ever has, and I'm against DRM anyway. But it's still kind of a kick to the nuts to see this sort of thing.

So, How To Stop Piracy?
I have never seen a stronger argument for console development than this sort of thing. Pirating of console games is very hard because of all the specialized hardware -- sure you get a lot of knock-off discs in China and so forth, but not so much over here. I have nothing against consoles, but I'm frankly a PC developer at heart. I love the platform, and I don't really want to switch. I imagine I'll port some titles to consoles in the future at some point, but I can't imagine a time when they are my primary focus.

Well, okay, so what can we do to shore up the PC? The reason that piracy is harder on consoles is because of all the specialized, non-cross-compatible, vendor-locked, or otherwise proprietary hardware. So that's what we need with the PC, right? Some sort of crazy anti-piracy stuff built right into our hardware, or maybe we should have specialized hardware dongles like high-end software packages sometimes do. Wait a minute, though -- isn't the awesome thing about PCs how configurable and open they are? I really don't want to change that -- my biggest gripe with Apple is how closed all their hardware is, after all. I'd probably use OSX if it could run on my PC hardware, but I refuse to buy proprietary hardware from a single vendor for a computer. Any sort of changes in that direction are not a positive step forward for the PC, and I think that myself and most other PC enthusiasts do not want to live in a future where that is the norm.

Okay, so that leaves some sort of central server authentication -- well, but wait, that can be hacked out, it's basically just DRM. Well, if people have to be logged in at all times, like with an MMO, then that's pretty hard to hack. Actually, that seems like a pretty darn good way to stop piracy to me, but usually that is paired with a subscription fee, which seems unfair to customers except in the MMO context (and I don't even play those, because I don't want to be saddled with a subscription where I feel like I have to play a game a certain amount each month to feel like I'm retaining the value of my money). And anyway, there are a lot of people who have a lot of issues with the MMO model, and I'd be alienating all of them if I switched to any sort of online-only model. Look at all of the (largely well deserved) flak that Starcraft II is getting for the removal of LAN play.

Uh... okay, so what does this leave? Basically I think that rules out everything. I can't stop piracy without doing something quasi-nefarious myself, and that wouldn't really even fully stop the piracy, anyway. So I guess that puts us in sociological territory, where I need to make people not want to pirate the game. If price is the barrier, then maybe setting a lower price would convert some people -- but wait, AI War is already 1/3 the price of its competitors. Even less expensive games, like World of Goo, have been pirated more than mine. So price doesn't seem to affect this.

What else makes people want to pirate? The inclusion of nasty DRM is an often-cited example -- but I already avoided that. Once again, I'm out of ideas.

Sticking it to the Man
Price, DRM... those are the two biggest-cited reasons for excusing piracy. Stick it to the man, and all that (but if a tiny indie developer has become "the man" then I don't know what to say to that). In the end, people pirate because they want to. They either don't have any money, or don't have enough to spend on all the entertainment they want. So they buy some entertainment, and then steal whatever overflow they can't afford. Or maybe it's just that they are in the habit of piracy, and hardly even think about it because it is, essentially, a victimless crime against rich fat cats and celebrities who don't really need the money, anyway. Or maybe it's just because piracy is so easy.

Who the heck knows -- I certainly don't. I don't think there's any one reason. People have been violating copyright and pirating and plagiarizing since long before the modern era. There's just something, deep down, that makes people believe that these sorts of ethereal products, or knowledge, can't or shouldn't be protected. In a lot of senses, when it comes to things like patents, I agree that the current laws are ridiculous. We definitely give too much protection to patent holders (or grant too many frivolous patents, one way or the other). But when it comes to products, items that most people would never dream of stealing off the shelves of a retail store, I take issue with the attitude that it's okay to steal it if it's digital.

The Only Solution Is Not Really A Solution At All
The value of a product, be it a CD, a book, a movie, or a game, is not in the plastic and cardboard of the item sitting on store shelves. It's in the product itself. As we move ever more towards a digital-only or digital-primarily age of distribution for these sorts of products, that's something that people need to remember. That's the only solution to piracy that I can see. In real life, we depend on people doing the right thing even when there are no authority figures or policemen present. Our society would collapse if people committed crimes every time big brother wasn't watching. Without being too melodramatic, I think it's reasonable to say that there are similar ethical issues at stake with online/digital societies. If we can't trust each other, at least to some degree, then there isn't much of a society there.

I'm not big brother, I'm not "the man," I'm not a rich fat cat that won't notice a few missed sales. Any indie developer, and frankly most developers period except maybe those at the very top of the sales charts, need all the sales they can get. I'm not an authority figure, I'm not watching you, and I'm not pointing a bunch of nasty DRM weapons at you or your computer. Please don't steal from me if you like the products I create. And if you don't like the products I create, why are you downloading it from a torrent? Either way, pirates or no, life goes on. There's nothing content providers can really do about it except appeal to people's better nature, but so far that hasn't really seemed to make much of a difference. That's rather sad.

If you took the time to read an article on this subject, chances are that you're not part of the problem, anyway.


Lloyd said...

Just wanted to share a few thought which crossed my mind when reading your article.

First I think it helps to be able to try a product withouth buying. Most shareware have a trial period. I think a reasonably long trial period might increase the sale.
Because when you use the product until the point you definitely like it, you are more willing to commit the money and less willing to harm the developer of a product you love.

It also depends on the market. If the game is for kids, they are likely to have no money, hence they will pirate anyway.

But if it's so easy to download legit software from the company itself, that also reduce the attractiveness of pirated product.

Let say I'm a target, someone with the money and potential interest. Whey would I download a pirated version when the real deal is so easily available from the vendor itself?

And one last though, to be the devil's advocate. I love sci-fi book. I buy plenty of those and try to lend it to friend to share the love. It's all legit and ok. But if I buy a game and give my CD to someone else, is it the same?
It should be!

I guess the real problem is more I can just share my key and suddenly plenty of people got the full version. Problem that might be partially addressed I believe with long trial. I don't need to spread my key when the product has lengthy free trial!

And then there is the price. If it's "too expensive" I want to save my friends the pain (and why not, it's so easy), if it's affordable or "right" well I would say to my friend they could make the effort!

Lloyd said...

Also, regular update requiring the licence key, might also be a deterent / motivator to buy the real product.

Christopher M. Park said...

Some very good points, Lloyd. As far as the trial of the game goes, in the case of AI War you can play as long as you want with the tutorials (the longest of which takes people over 3 hours and is a mini-campaign in itself), and then they can start as many campaigns during the main game as they want, but can only play for an hour during that time.

There's a lot of discussion amongst indie game devs about how much to give away during the trial (because if you give away too much, then there's no incentive for people to buy the full product to get more, as we saw in the Shareware heyday back in the early 90s). I think AI War is already trending more towards giving a lot away. So is World of Goo, incidentally, since it gives you the first full 1 of 5 worlds in it.

I guess I didn't really talk a lot about all of the various things I did with AI War to help make the trial easier and more functional, but suffice it to say most actual customers have not complained about the experience. I have no idea what the pirates thought, or even if they tried the trial at all. I think that people get used to thinking that trial products are going to be too limited to really evaluate a product, and so they don't even bother looking at it.

Oh, and by the way -- I do have weekly free DLC that replaces the executable, so if pirates want to use that then they either have to create a new crack, download an entirely new cracked version, buy a real license key, or just do without those releases. Hopefully some pirates opt for the purchase in that, but who knows.

SilentMobius said...

As a random stranger who came here from HN, I just have one thing to say: The people who copy your game and _not_ your customers, maybe they were interested and torrents were their first port of call but ultimately weren't interested enough, maybe they just saw a new game appear and wanted it, maybe they just don't care or even think about paying you. The point is they decided to not pay you for reasons of their own, hence, they aren't your customers. It's galling to look at those numbers and say "but they could be..." or "maybe they would be if" but they aren't. Those number are not lost sales, they were never even potential sales to begin with.

Oh and if you think consoles are the solution do a search for popular console game iso's on your tracker of choice.

Jules Morrison said...

MMO format would work for AI War: do subscription in blocks of one day, summed up at the end up the month, with days you don't play not being counted.

Paul Keeble said...

Agree whole heartedly with SilentMobius, they were never your customers, nor are they potential customers. I suspect most of it is just they don't have the money to pay you, or value the game below what you would minimally charge for it.

Just ignore the downloaded figures and instead focus on improving the sales figures with better games. You get the sales you deserve, some of which you don't loose for DRM. But courting 90% of downloaders isn't possible.

Jules Morrison said...

Shareware with a license key gets cracked and pirated. Beg-ware with no key might as well be free. If you aren't the one whose computers run the program, you simply don't have control.

Unknown said...

Hey Chris,

I just wanted to let you know that I just purchased a license for AI War after having read your blog post. I'm sure that wasn't the direct intention of your post, but I think it's important to support indie developers, as I feel that lately some of the more fun, innovative games are coming from the "smaller guys". This is also a field that I'm interested in getting into myself (I'm currently studying up on my C++/OpenGL, I've been developing full-time for 5 years now with other languages/technologies).

Anyway, I haven't even downloaded the game yet (I'm at work :P) but I look forward to trying it out, and wish you luck.

Marcos Toledo said...

I'm sorry, but I've got to disagree with people saying that the pirates were not your customers in the first place. I guess the author makes much better points during the article than the commenters.

Point being, you are of course way less likely to buy anything as long as you can get it for free. I for one wouldn't have bought most of the things I have bought if I could have them for free. But I have bought them anyway of course. I wanted them. But I dont really want my stuff as much to pay for them if they were free in the first place.

In short, in a world where everything is free and you only get to buy things you really wanted to, you wouldn't own only things you bought. You'd probably only own things you didn't buy actually. If buying boils down to just a moral decision, its likely that it goes the same route as eating meat or polluting the planet: people know they are not doing exactly what they think is right, but they do it anyway.

Thats basically what happens to people's pirated collection of games. I'm pretty sure that if there was no piracy at all in a ficticious world, people that pirate games would have bought games, just like we buy everything else that is not available for free.

Anonymous said...

"In real life, we depend on people doing the right thing even when there are no authority figures or policemen present. Our society would collapse if people committed crimes every time big brother wasn't watching."

The problem is that the law and the right thing don't always match up. Alcohol prohibition failed because people didn't act like it was wrong, didn't really believe it was wrong. Marijuana prohibition is failing for the same reason.

If 40,000 people act like piracy isn't wrong, maybe it's an indication that what society considers right and wrong about copying and sharing is changing. The business of building and selling games may just not survive, or may mutate into open source or adopt the street performer protocol. I can't guess.

Woody Schneider said...

I think Lloyd's comment about long trial periods is totally on point. I would add to it that the length of the trial period should be in some way tied to progress in the game. That way you allow people to play the game until they start to develop some skill, and become engrossed, then ask them for some moneys to proceed further.

Makes me think, if David Bowie had let me listen to "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust" 4 times through, I would have then been willing to happily pay him $12.50 out of pure awe for the genius.

I AI War is no different.

Unknown said...

Frequent content updates are a good way to get people to support you, as well as a good time to revalidate licenses.

Anonymous said...

i also believe they people who play pirate games have so many games that they have no way to afford them anyway. they cannot be customers.

they have 2000 games and maybe can afford 40. and when it's "free" you can have a look and never touch it again. probably few of them would become customer is piracy was impossible.

For me the issue is more, what is the impact on a game if a lot of people who cannot or would nor be a customer would give a try for free.

the other question is: is there a way to take advantage of it ?

if you want to be nasty you can do something facebook-like and ask the user id and password of his email account and send free advertising ;)

Christopher M. Park said...

Hey all,

Thanks for leaving so many thoughtful comments. I had no idea someone would post this on HN, and I was traveling when all the comments started coming in. At any rate, here are my thoughts:

1. Regarding the demo being too short, etc, I should say that you get 5+ hours of play in my demo. I've been accused of giving away perhaps a bit too much rather than too little by players who bought the game, but I think it's a good compromise. How To Create An Ineffective Game Demo is an article by another game designer who falls in more the common attitude (and I think he has good points, though I don't completely agree. I suspect that most people who pirated the game never tried the demo at all.

2. When it comes to making the game as easy as possible to buy, I don't think there's anything more that I can do. When you play the demo, there is a big "Buy License Key" button that you can click in order to go straight to the license page. Then you fill out one page worth of info, no registration required, paypal or credit card accepted, and you are done. An email with the license key arrives in your inbox seconds later, but if I recall it also gives it to you right on that page. It's as close to Amazon's "one click" type solution as I think you see with any other vendor on the Internet. My guess is that most people who pirated the game never tried clicking the buy now button because it was most likely hacked out, etc.

3. I agree that the people who pirate the game, by and large, are not potential customers. See the article, at best 1 in 1,000 probably are. My point was that if they don't like the game, why pirate it, and if they do like the game, why not support the designer if the game is as inexpensive as AI War?

4. Which of course brings us back to the point that most people have some limit on their entertainment budget. A lot of people just stop getting new entertainment when they hit that limit, but others pirate instead. I guess if your ceiling is too low, then the incentive for piracy is all the greater.

Christopher M. Park said...

5. While an MMO format would work for AI War, in some senses, I really don't want to go that direction -- it requires servers that I don't have and can't afford, and it will piss off a goodly number of players regardless of how I price it. Frankly, if I was my own customer, I'd be one of the pissed off ones with that model.

6. Dave, thanks very much for your support! That was definitely not the intent of this article, but of course I really appreciate it. I hope you enjoy the game, and if you have any suggestions those are always welcome! The Arcen Games forums are the best place (so that other players can read and comment, as well), but feel free to email me directly if you prefer.

7. Mostly I do ignore the downloaded figures -- as I pretty much concluded above, this is a non-event to how I need to act, though it is frustrating. This is simply the point where a lot of developers, indie or otherwise, start groping for the DRM, so I figured it was a good time to write a little blurb about my thought processes and why I didn't do the same. I think it's a misguided impulse, definitely a distraction, like you say.

8. At the same time, I agree with Marcos that "people are much less likely to buy something if they can get it for free." When piracy seems like a harmless crime, or not like a crime at all, then it's simply a choice of spending that money (which REALLY could go to pizza, or beer, or whatever), or getting the game. If the free option isn't available, then do you want the game more than pizza/beer, or not? I'm cool with that sort of decision, but when the game is free then those who might pirate basically have to decide if they want to "donate" to the cause or buy beer/pizza.

9. Yes, I know that morality and laws don't always line up. See my notes in the article about patents. However, I fail to see how stealing a digital product is ever okay. Just because each copy didn't take me any time to make doesn't meant that it didn't take a crazy amount of time and a fair bit of money to create it in the first place. I don't think the business of building and selling games is going anywhere -- some developers still make buckets of money on PC development, but the piracy rates scare many others to consoles, which, despite comments to the contrary, have a lower piracy rate. I never said console game piracy was nonexistent.

10. As to frequent content updates, I meant to mention that in the main article. I do frequent free DLC, around once per week (though not this past week, since I was out of town). Each of those updates replaces the executable, so if people were playing with a cracked version and want to update, they'll then find themselves on a non-cracked version. Hopefully that helps to convert some people.

Thanks for all the suggestions and thoughtful comments!

Comrade said...

Chris, I think the obvious answer to your third point is that they don't like it enough to pay your price -- but that doesn't mean that they don't like it at all. But this is nothing new! Some users would be happy to pay $100, but if you set the price at that the three people who buy it will produce less total revenue than at your current sale price, even though you've "lost" potential revenue from those three people by choosing the price point you have. Many of those pirates would probably be willing to purchase the game, just not at a rate which would make you more money.

Christopher M. Park said...


That is a good way to put it. I meant to address that sort of supply/demand argument, but did not. With AI War, or any other little-known game, that argument is particularly easy to make and perhaps that's right. Some of my early adopters definitely have mentioned that they thought I should charge more (funny thing for a customer to say, I thought), but by the same token I priced it where I did because I didn't feel like it would sell as well if it was, say, $30 instead of $20.

So clearly I believe that there is a line somewhere where the supply/demand curve hits its optimal point, and I tried to price the game as close to that point as possible. Did I hit it? Who the heck knows, but so far we're outselling most of our competitors in the same genre in the few markets we are in -- the game is one of the more popular titles on Impulse over the last few months.

It's hard to address that point since price-setting for an indie developer with something like this isn't very scientific. We set a price that seems fair, and then see what happens. If sales were really terrible, then I'd be inclined to lower the price, but being near the top of a small market makes me think the game just needs better exposure on the other distribution services, etc, to really find the audience that it needs to sustain the company. We'll see.

But to me, a discussion of paying customers versus pirates are almost two different things. A lot of people have made similar comments -- the pirates are not my customers, plain and simple. I don't think many of my customers would have turned to piracy if the game was $10 more expensive, even though fewer of them probably would have bought it.

Who knows, though?

Anonymous said...

Well, as both a die-hard pirate and a game developer, let me offer my two cents:

1. Pirates are not your customers, and must not be confused with your customers. A significant amount of those downloads are people who saw the download in a list somewhere, and grabbed it - and if you see a game up for download, you don't go download the demo when that's more work.
They might go buy the game if they enjoy it; that is rather unlikely, though.

2. Pirates have a pretty well-fixed mindset. Hell, when I saw the post (I've never played AI War, incidentally), my first thought was "Oh, it's out on the torrents. Maybe I should go grab it.". No thought to actually buying it, trying the demo, etc.
(... And no, I didn't grab it - I inevitably enjoy making games more than playing them.)

3. The only time in recent memory I've considered spending money for a "freely" accessible product was after downloading a CD. It was uploaded by the author, and had a short and to the point .txt file included in the torrent, along the lines of "Hi. We're humans too, you know. Some money would be great if you enjoyed this; if not, sure fine with us." Yes, said CD is for commercial sale, and is also awesome. I ended up not paying as the money would be going to some artist collective, not the original artist.

Anyway, that's my two cents; at the end of the day, piracy isn't going to disappear. You can only try to cope with it, and in some ways try to stay ahead of it - perhaps upload a slightly modified full version of your game on the torrent sites, that pops up a screen along the lines of "Enjoyed this? Please donate, and you'll get a legal copy.". This kind of thing is frowned upon in the community, so you'd have to make it entirely unobtrusive, or there will be a clean version out in less time than you expect.

Of course now the chance is gone, seeing as the game is out on the torrents already (Incidentally, I just looked and didn't find a copy anywhere. Also, searching for "AI War" tends to result in a lot of bogus hits.)


Quick footnote: I've got a patched Xbox 360 - you just pop it open and plug parts of it into your PC, and voila, cracked. The Wii is also broken, while the PS3 is still intact.

Steven Davis said...

Christopher, you may find my blog,, of interest as I discuss game piracy at length... and, if you are so inclined, my book on game security, including almost 100 pages on piracy, called "Protecting Games" was recently published.

I'd also be pleased to discuss this with you off-line.

Best wishes for your game.

Saerden said...

Very good article. I agree with almost everything.

I think at this point, piracy is a fact of life and only things ten times worse then piracy will make it go away (facist dictatorship, collaps of civilisation etc).

A constructive approach seems so much better.

How can i use piracy for *my* benefit?

People play your game, so they care about it (many just download it, then dont play it at all - ignore those completely). Maybe they wont buy it under any circumstances, even after winning the lottery. But maybe there is a way to "encourage" them to make others buy it, or at least improve the experience for those who do.

Consider how "free to play" online games handle it. Most pay nothing, some pay alot, effectively sponsoring the freeriders. They may seem like leeches, but the thruth is - they produce the social critical mass needed for online games. Without them, most of the paying customers would leave because it feels empty and deserted.

Thats one way to use freeriders your own benefit, finding ways that fit non-MMO games will be the key. I obviously dont have it. Might be worth looking for it though.

Anonymous said...

Chris, if it makes you feel any better, I was suspicious of NowTorrent's 40,000 download number -- turns out that NowTorrent just feeds you a list of "high speed free downloads!" for any search you run on it. If you click any of those links, you are "invited" to purchase stuff. Seriously, make up a name and search. Magic, it's there!

"Tom Cruise's Scientology and Floating Jellyfish Simulator" has 78,000 downloads! Not bad for something that ain't there, eh?

That said, I do agree with your thoughts on piracy in general -- and on DRM. DRM is an aggravation for customers, not pirates.

I think your DLC is a great way to combat piracy, sort of like the Stardock method. Crackers might be interested in cracking/uploading the initial release of a game, but smaller games aren't going to get a lot of attention when new patches and content come out. That's good for you, since someone who really likes the game will have additional incentive to not pirate it.

Good luck!

Kalkyrie said...

From a UK viewpoint, AI Wars price is actually moderately high. Due to the bad exchange rate it's coming in at £15, where full price 'mainstream' games come in at £35 and drop quickly (A five month old game, Battleforge, is currently £10 for example).

Thus you are competing with games made on a much larger budget. (FYI, I was going to buy it during the Stardock price drop, but didn't have internet for the weekend it was up. Thus probably going onto other games).

kalkyrie said...

... and the GBR:USD exchange rate seems to have changed noticably over the past week or so.

I would say that typing out that last post was a waste, but it told you something, and it got me to check exchange rates again ^^

Christopher M. Park said...

Looks like in the UK you have a faster overall drop in prices after initial release. The initial prices are much the same equivalent to over here, but then the differential gets higher as time goes on.

Oh well -- I seem to be having a pretty good number of sales from the UK at any rate, so it seems it's not a barrier for everyone. But I'm very much against charging prices that are intentionally different in different countries, as I feel like this just unfair predatory in an environment like the Internet.

There's a sale on AI War this weekend at GamersGate for 30% off, if you're still looking to catch the game on discount. Thanks for posting!

Anonymous said...

regarding piracy DL numbers there is also the pack rat factor. people DL tons of stuff and then may never use it or only use it very little. take for example some people's mp3 collections. they could have a 30 gig media player filled with 128k music. no one has that much time to listen to that much music.

also the length of protection for copyright is ridiculous. people shouldn't make money for work they did over 20 years ago.

Christopher M. Park said...

Yeah, that makes sense -- humans by nature are collectors.

I disagree that the copyright protections are too short, I think they make sense to last as long as they do. The fact that Orson Scott Card still makes money off of his novel Ender's Game, which came out over 25 years ago, doesn't seem incongruous to me. It's an incredible book, and if people still want to read it, I don't see why he shouldn't get the benefit. On the flip side, you see other authors with works that didn't quite stand the test of time, and their sales might be fairly nonexistent after that amount of time, rendering copyright moot unless they want to create a new work based on ideas/scenarios from the original.

Melody Grace said...

This post was a while ago, so I'm not sure if it'll be read. But here is my comment.

I'm a disabled person (Narcolepsy, if you're wondering), and so I have no personal source of income. I have to rely on my boyfriend for anything I want to buy and or get. That's fine, except I am very impatient, and there are times where I want something now. But for whatever reason, can't afford it.

So, this brings me to the quick item I just experienced. I came across AI War, from the forums of another game (Dwarf Fortress), and I thought I should try it. After looking at the price tag, of 20$, my first thought was to pirate it.

Not because it's the right or wrong thing to do, but because I wanted to enjoy something that I cannot reasonably get at the moment. So I go to Mininova, one torrent there, but the single comment suggests a virus. Skip. I go to Demonoid, but it's been down for nearly a month. Skip. I go to Piratebay, but it's been wonky, and is down now. Skip.

Then I google 'AI War torrent', and came across this post.

Now, had I found a good torrent, I would've easily snapped that up, played the game illegally.

Then what?

Most likely, I would've gotten bored of the game at some point, deleted it, and continued on my quest to pass the time.

Want to know something?

The one game I have never pirated, and have never passed up. The game I've been playing for years and years now.

Is free.

And the developer gets more of my money than any commercial developer ever will.


Because, Dwarf Fortress, I can download and play at any time, without costing me a penny. I don't have to wait till my boyfriend has some spare cash to play it. I don't have to go get a job to have the money to play it.

I just play it.

And then, when I do have the money, I donate it to Toady, the developer.

A free game, gets more of my money, than a game that costs. Funny how that works. *laughs*

I'm not sure what the point of this comment was. Just an example of one of those so-called evil pirates. I've stolen games, and music, and movies, for the sole purpose that for the most part, I cannot get them at the moment. But usually, when I do, and if there is an option to, if I enjoy the game, or movie, or music, I will donate, or even buy the product itself.

Just out of sheer respect for the product.

- Melody

Unknown said...

One reason people pirate things are that they want to try before they buy, or in some cases they live in countries that get the game/program/movie/tv show much much much later than everyone else (at least in the consumers eyes)

Demo's very often don't give a true impression of what a game is like, they pick out the very best of the full game to try and sucker people into buying it, then the rest of the game is just plain meh, or worse.
So people download the full version, try it, then either buy or move on because it wasn't good enough for them.

A solution that I can see, is to give the full game out as a timed game, after so so long you can't use it anymore, that would convert a lot of people, or so I believe anyhow.

Anonymous said...

I used to download everything I could get my hands on - tv, movies, games, music, you name it. During those days I told myself I would buy games if they were good enough, but that was mostly lying to myself: for years I used pirated copies of my favorite games.

I think I pirated in large part because of two reasons: I had no income to speak of (I was in college) and I had a lot of time. Combined, it meant that if I bought everything I wanted legally, I would run out of money FAST. Once I started downloading some things, it just became so easy to download everything. This quickly turned into me being a pirate.

Once I graduated and started working, both of these factors changed. I had less time for entertainment and therefore had to be more selective in what I tried, and I had more money to spend on entertainment. At some point, without really thinking about it, I ended up stopping pirating things altogether. I no longer even have bittorrent installed - if I want to play or watch something, I just go buy it.

In summary, I don't think all pirates are necessarily bad people, but while they are pirating they are most likely not a potential customer.

Wes Sonnenreich said...

They key to solving piracy is understanding where the REAL value lies in your "product". Why does Apple make a ton of money on ITunes when all the songs they sell are freely available on the net (and they've even removed DRM from the versions you buy as well!)

The answer is that people aren't paying $.99 for the song. They're paying for convenience: ease of finding music they like through the store, ease of getting it onto devices they want to play it on, knowledge that they won't "lose" their music if their HD crashes or CD gets scratched, etc. The song itself is worthless because you can get it for free a hundred different ways. But Apple makes money off of the song by focusing on the value surrounding it.

How do we do this for games? Steam is a good solution - I buy almost all my games on steam because it makes life very easy for me. No media to deal with, easy install on every computer i own, if I want to share with a friend I give them my steam account (only one of us can play at a time, but that's fine -- it's just like lending a book).

MMOs offer a different, but equally good value model. I don't pay for the game - I can hack and slash in similar ways in games I already own. I pay for access to a populous and well-connected multiuser environment. I don't see the subscription price as fee for content or fee for the game. I see it more like membership to a fitness club. I have weights at home, but the environment of the gym is far more conducive to a good workout.

So what is the value associated with AI War? I’d argue that the core game is valueless - these mechanics exist (for the most part) in many other RTSes. The true value is in the AI and the way in which multiplayer is handled.

So here’s how I’d sell AI War:

AIs up to level 5 are free. You can play the full game with friends in an unlimited context with these AIs. Level 6+7 AIs are also included, but play as the current free trial does.

AIs from 6-10 cost $4.99 each (6 and 7 are bundled together for $4.99). There could be a couple of AIs for each level, each with a distinct playstyle/personality and these could come with new units as well.

Each purchased AI also would give the player access to a leaderboard that tracks player stats/wins against the AI. It also comes with a matchmaking service that lets players find others online for co-op play. The matchmaking service should track player stats, including whether the player drops out and doesn’t resume, or inversely, whether they’re willing to drop into games that are already started.

There’s a cash reward for beating a level 10 AI. This goes up with the number of people that purchase the AI (e.g. $1 of each purchase goes to the reward pool). The pool keeps filling up w/purchase money until the AI gets beaten, then it’s given to the winner and starts filling again.

This essentially defeats the torrents -- the whole game is "free". It's highly unlikely people will be torrenting the AIs - and even if they do, without an account on the leaderboard you'd lose the benefit of the matchmaking (which I think would be very useful).

The average player that gets hooked will almost immediately buy the level 6/7 pack. At $5, it's almost impossible to resist. This will get them REALLY hooked, because they'll soon beat level 7 and then will be looking for a challenge.

I also think a lot of players will be enticed to buy the level 10 AI... just for a crack at winning the prize pool (seed it with $100-$1000 to start).

I'd be really interested to see if a pricing model like this ended up netting you much better sales. My gut says it will.

noCD said...

I use cracked games a lot, in 3 differents situations:
1) If there is no demo, I use the cracked game as a demo. And then I buy the game if I like it.
2) If there is DRM or need for CD, I buy the game and play the cracked version.
3) Sometimes I don't buy the game but I still play the cracked version. I understand this is unfair, but overall I still spend a lot of money in games (probably close to 100$/month). I wouldn't spend more, piracy or not. Well maybe a bit more, but not much.

I dont think developers would make a lot more money without piracy. Games like battleforge didnt get cracked, did the devs got rich ?

btw I bought an AI war license key :)

calin said...

Two thing to keep in mind.

If pirating a game is possible than paying for it is no longer about getting a product. It becomes a form of showing your appreciation towards the producer and encouraging them to continue improving the game and/or to release new, similar games.

People often don't know much about a game's developers nor about how much work they put in. I wonder what would happen if there was a screen at the start of the game, informing people that one person put in hundreds or thousands of hours into developing this game.

Personally I used to pirate a lot but I also travel frequently and I'm not willing to go through the stress of passing through US customs with illegal files on my laptop. I also love Steam, despite the DRM, because it removes all worry about taking care of disks, updates and the like. Also the $19.99 price on Steam was exactly right for me. I have a little spending barrier in my mind which was set at $20/game so if it was more expensive I would have done without and waited for a discount.

Anonymous said...

Back in the old days people used to band together and boycott unethical business practices.

Nowadays I view people as mindless sheep that buy the crap products from China because Wal-Mart is down the block and because they're too lazy to read the label. On the flip-side companies swear no allegiance to customers and treat them like garbage (because we let them.) Right sheep? Baaaaa...

Most people don't even know the basics about their government or their rights any more. So sad I could puke.

It's sad that there is no honor in business any more. Even businesses got together against the crooks when the times got tough.

Mr. Park, I will be buying a copy of your game because you care about your customers and about what's right (and of course because it's a great game, I've seen the videos.) I've written your registered name down and I'll remember to check back for more games in the future. I don't give a crap about companies like EA, Valve(they're the worst), and Sony (who STEAL all their technology) who, just like Wal-Mart don't give a rats ass about you or your family.

Mr. Park, you have my business. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

A quick browse for a crack/serial for your game turned up with one result that wasn't a virus.

I think you could probably patch that serial/key out of your next version and have that sorted out pretty easily.

In comparison to many other indie games, yours is quite small on the pirate scale, yet people love it to bits. Just saw it on whirlpool and thought I'd have a look.
Unfortunately I'm going to miss out on the 30% off deal because it takes several days to put funds in my paypal account, and $20 doesn't seem like a good deal after you factor in exchange rates.

I'll probably wait till there is another deal on Steam or something.

Anonymous said...

I don't usually play games in this genre (I don't have the stamina for it) but I've decided to buy this game while it's 30% off purely because it is at the price point where I feel that I can afford to take a gamble and support a DRM-free game on principle.

For me, DRM means you are effectively getting a time-limited demo of the game at full price (limited by the lifespan of the DRM's authorisation infrastructure). The restrictions will still be there even after the copyright term ends (assuming they don't make the copyright term effectively unlimited by continually extending the "limited times"!!), so I will not buy DRM'd games except at rental prices.

Christopher M. Park said...

Many thanks, I hope you enjoy the game!

Unknown said...

I love that your opposed to DRM, and hope it will stay this way forever. A game worth playing is a game worth playing again 10 years later. It's terrible when this can't be done because servers have shut down and companies gone out of business.

Piracy may kill gaming; perhaps there isn't much we can do? But I think we'll always have indie developers who put their heart into the game and enjoy creating the game, not for profit, but for the love of the game.

If the world buys your game, we keep you in business and can enjoy the result of your labours. Otherwise the world will be left twiddling their thumbs wishing someone would make a game worth playing.

I sympathise with your predicament, I was almost hoping you would put in DRM for your own sake, but in the end stopping piracy (not that you can) isn't worth the freedom it will cost your honest customers. You made the right choice, your paying customers must come first and, as one of them, I praise you for giving me a quality product I am free to enjoy as I will. I will buy the future expansions; and ask that you stay true to your DRM free stance. I will happily pay (or donate, wanting nothing in return) to assist in further development of this game.

Anonymous said...

Hello and good morning/evening or what ever time it might be.
I am yet another hardcore pirate with several TB (1TB is 1024 GB jsut for those taht dont know) and yes it´s primary game pirating maybe 4-5 movies. Having loaded so much already yes i did pirate AI war.

i dont know how i stumbled accross it but it looked interestning so i went ahead and grabbed it. Played it liked it investigated a bit further by whom it is made etc.

And i rarely buy a game these days they often do not offer fun for a long time i pirate it play it once and even if this once playing is fun i dont want to pay 40 bucks for one time fun.

But ai war is maybe one of the most perfect games i ever played i hate to admit but i am yet to find something to complain about (maybe the problem that after i start a round the day is over before i notice im playing to long ;)).
And its an Indie game by one man primary thats a true achievment so i just had to support it and i own ai war with all addons legally by now. (even if because of a lack of time i wasnt able to fully enjoy them and some major updates yet but still i paid for them knowing i wouldnt play anytime soon)

So yes pirates can be customers. Even if it depends on the person behind it of course but im just proofing a concept here ;)

have a nice day/evening/night or what ever it might be right now

mkk said...

Now piracy is wrong its not much to argue.

On sales and piracy. If someone dosnt have the money and pirate then they arnt a customer. Same as much as someone that dosnt like the game.

How ever it depends on the individual once they have money to decide on being legal or not.

The people that pirate because they can get away with it. Be it a a 30,000 year workman or 12,000 a year Mcdonalds employee. They have a certain amount of surplus except they choose not to put it in the direction of this entertainment because it free. Thats the problem.

Thing is. How many people would record films or tv shows on VHS in the past? Who recorded song off the radio or a friend tape? Everyone did. Everyone back in the day were pirates.

Even now you can buy a TV HD recorder and record from the tv. Even pay money to rent a movie and copy it or record it. Technolgy in these fields are sold to pirate realy. Yet there isnt a fuss.

Even Just watching tv I have seen so many films and tv shows i havnt baught no were near the amount i should have to pay up that fictional tab.
I have recorded films and tv shows and later baught the dvd. Thats what realy happens with tv shows and films. Try and give you a reason to buy. The reason being to watch when and were you want to watch.

How ever even these forms of media are starting to get DRM on them

But the key thing is with a game. Games a very used to being unable to pirate. So its very alien because the numbers are easier to see. befor you couldnt see any of it so no one concerned themselfs with it.

The real solution is eaither be like EA and other big corps with a large legal team that can crack down and crack down hard at any moment. Or like EA have an online registation that is hooked to your computer. As you have said you are against such restritive DRM.
So companies like that realy are high risk to steal from or impossible.

The indies are the most vunerable.
Except you have the key thing. And thats what you are doing with AI wars free weekly DLC or some sort of speacle hook that requires often legal program. Thats a form of DRM except the true hook is "I like this game...I want more!" The payed people keep getting a wonderfull bonuse. The pirates lose out or go to alot of effort to get around it and then it would be often, and thus is dropped.

So games like Minecraft and overgrowth are currently doing beta preorders that give weekly updates for new features and such. Granted this is befor a game is complete. It does however cause problems in pirateing.

I have thrown so many point out there I could keep talking but I will stop now.