Video Game Developer Talks To Pirates: Realizes He Can Compete With Free

from the shocking dept

Slashdot points us to an interesting story of a video game developer in the UK, Positech Games, who put up a blog post recently, asking people who “pirated” the company’s software to explain why they did it. They did… in droves. Now there’s a new post up discussing both the results and how the company is responding. While the guy sounds surprised about the results, they don’t really seem all that shocking: people hate, hate, hate DRM of any kind (which should serve as a counter to the guy who showed up here last week insisting that DRM is here to stay). That was the thing they were most vehement about. After that, they were upset about the high price of games and the short demos that were offered that weren’t representative of the game.

The good news is that the company is responding. It’s swearing off DRM completely, reducing prices on some games and promising better demos. It’s also exploring ways to make it more convenient to buy to avoid any “hassles” that users have in buying. It’s nice to see someone realize that, rather than freaking out and trying to sue everyone, the proper response to “piracy” is to figure out how to better compete with it by decreasing inconveniences and giving people a reason to buy rather than pirate. So far, it appears that Positech is focusing mostly on that first issue (decreasing the annoyances). Hopefully it takes the second step also, giving people additional reasons to buy rather than pirate.

Filed Under: , , ,
Companies: positech

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Video Game Developer Talks To Pirates: Realizes He Can Compete With Free”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

MAYBE . . .

As many have already said, this little experiment is not likely to change the world, but if Positech (along with others) can make a go of it treating PC gamers as customers instead of criminals maybe more developers will be convinced to follow suit. The problem of DRM actually increasing bootlegging is not really a developer issue though, it’s mainly an abuse of publishers. At this point though, I think there is simply too much money in the DRM business itself. It has become its own self full filling financial cycle. It’s one of the only businesses I can think of that convinces an industry of the ever increasing need for it, because of its own inability to actually meet that need. It constantly increases its necessity by not working.

Hulser says:

Re: +5 Insightful

Reading about Steam and DRM in the same post got me thinking…

I use Steam, but I don’t remember if there’s a way to easilly tell whether or not a game uses DRM or if so, what kind. If DRM really is as big a concern as the response to Positech indicates, then maybe Steam customers would find some kind of uniform DRM labeling system worthwhile. For example, if there was an obvious “DRM!” icon next to the price of a game, people might think twice about buying that game. And consequently maybe publishers would think twice about requiring DRM be added to their games.

I don’t expect it to change any time soon, but it’s interesting to think about whether Steam has enough clout now to shame publishers into not using DRM.

ChurchHatesTucker (profile) says:

Re: Re: +5 Insightful

“For example, if there was an obvious “DRM!” icon next to the price of a game, people might think twice about buying that game. And consequently maybe publishers would think twice about requiring DRM be added to their games.”

That’s a really great idea, but they’ll never do it, because the game developers would object. I’ve said it before, but service providers bow down to content providers far more than they do to customers. It’s weird corporate psychology/these are the guys I golf with.

hegemon13 says:

Re: Re: and then

Agreed…and more than most people think. I have no problem paying for a movie or CD or game. I hate when the studio tries to double-, triple-, or quadruple-dip their customers by withholding content for a later release or obsoleting perfectly good media and claiming that I have to repurchase something to use it in another media form.

I also hate the fact that the industry always wants the best of both worlds. They want to say that what you are buying is simply the physical good and no rights or licenses under copyright. On the other hand, they scream copyright when someone tries to assert their rights on the physical good.

Last, it angers me that the entertainment industry has no obligation to back its own product. If they release a music single, a movie trailer, or a game demo that completely misrepresents the product, there are no repercussions. I buy the product, hate it, and have no options. Anything else I can take to the return counter, but thanks to the improper assertion that I “must have copied it,” I can’t return entertainment products.

Despite all this, I am an honest buyer. I have a large collection of CDs and DVDs, many of which I downloaded first. Some of those DVDs I haven’t even watched again since I purchased them, but I bought them to support the creators because it brought me enjoyment when I downloaded it. Of the people I know, there is a pretty consistent relationship between “piracy” volume and the size of their legal, retail collection. That is, my friends who pirate the most also have the largest DVD and CD collections.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: and then

I still haven’t gotten a straight answer to a serious question:

What if you download a movie you own on VHS or DVD?

And I’m not saying you own the original Star Wars and download the special edition. This is like ‘versions’.

To be honest, I do this because I haven’t found a dependable free movie ripper. I have an extensive DVD collection because they are cheap and play on my computer and on my TV and don’t take up that much space and I like collecting things.

But I don’t want to put a DVD into my computer except when installing something. And even then…

More and more ‘cyberpunk’ back stories/themes/technologies are becoming true. It disturbs me when life imitates art sometimes. Hopefully one of the ones that will come true is a free (as in liberty) ‘Net and fast digital distributions.

There will always be a need for physical media. Backups and so on. Discreet transfers. But this is why I like Steam. Developers I can trust distributing games I want to play and I can download them onto any computer I want. i just can’t ‘share’ with friends officially, but I can unofficially.

/me goes off to ramble somewhere else

agreed says:

Re: Re: Re: and then

My situation is similar. I do, however, have things that I have downloaded that just aren’t available here in the states without paying a considerable premium. I downloaded a lot of my electronica music, simply because I don’t want to buy 30 compilations for 1 song each. For artists and music that are easily found, I buy their albums, go to their concerts, etc.

Maybe the cost point would shift if we didn’t have to pay the overhead involved in DRM research and development. Especially considering that we have folks who put just as much time and effort into circumventing said DRM for free.

Matt says:

Re: if prices aren't exorbitant

Look, there’s always going to be people who steal sometimes. There will always be some people who want to try the full game before deciding to buy sometimes. There will always be people who want the full game but will not buy. However, the better you treat those 3 categories, the more likely they are to buy your game.

That is just common sense market influence.

Meanwhile, I suspect this guy will get a lot of support for agreeing to drop DRM among other things, and also for having an ear to the public.

Kevin (profile) says:

Re: Remember Wolfenstien?

Do any of you remember Wolfenstien? The guy who wrote that gave away a free version. The free version was fully functional and it came with 10 dungeons. If you sent him ten bucks he would send you an additional 20 levels. He set a low price point, created an incentive to buy, and used ‘free’ to promote his product. He made a bundle even though plenty of people never sent in a dime.

Free works if you use leverage it correctly.

What Piracy? says:

Re: Re: Remember Wolfenstien?

He mad a bundle and was satisfied. Tell that to the big bad wolves who making 100 million is reported a loss because they could have made 150 Millions if there were no angry little people that work hard to make that $50 they pay for a game they cannot return or sell.

To me buying a game is like buying a shirt, if I don’t like it, I should be able to return it or sell my used clothes to someone else.

What happen the next game that company releases a game, the price is jacked up due to losses “Piracy”.

It is a fair game, and the damn government should stay out it. companies jack up prices, find more way to buy politician to pass laws to protect them, and the honest average joe who end up paying for “LOSSES” in profits for the gas companies, high gas prices, Microsoft, software, companies, taxes, etc…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: and then

“and then when they put out a new game that answers all of these concerns, there will still be reasons to pirate it.

As long as piracy is the same product for free, people will always find a reason to justify their piracy.

Why would you pay for something if you can get the same thing for free with little fear of repercussion?”

The problem is not that people can get the same thing for free, its that they can often get an improved product for free. The question is currently; “Why would you pay for something if you can get a better version for free”. This is the current state of DRM in gaming.

Damien says:

Re: and then

If there’s little to no hassle with purchasing a game from a developer because they’ve gone out of their way to make sure it’s easy to do so, the question isn’t why someone would pirate. That’s easy: they’re cheapskates. No getting around that.

The issue here isn’t the morons who will never, under any circumstances, pay for a game. It’s a question of “how do we address the issues and concerns of otherwise honest customers?”. If someone is pirating because it gets around cumbersome and abusive DRM that’s one thing, just being a money-grubbing thief is another entirely.

Wrathernaut says:

Re: and then

I would pay because I have a job, and shelling out $40 for something that will keep me entertained for months, (years in the case of non-WOW Blizzard fare) in order to ensure that those developers have incentive to produce equal quality is well worth it.

After first being appalled at the Orange Box, having to re-purchase games I already owned, I pirated Portal and after playing the first few rounds, immediately uninstalled the “free” copy and and purchased the Orange Box.

If the computer-savvy pirates pirate all the quality games, only the Wal-Mart sheople picking up The Sims 3: Nose-Pickin! and Deer Huntin’ 14: Bambithon, will be paying for their games, making them the the more lucrative option for developers and publishers.

Wolferz (profile) says:

Re: and then

Because when the free version is not worth the effort the pay version becomes a better deal… even though it costs more.

There will always be pirates… just as there has always been pirates. However, there are more now than there used to be… which brings up the question: why?

Why is simple… in addition to it becoming easier to pirate games developers have become increasingly anti-consumer. Now in reality developers can’t control whether or not it has become easier to pirate. They can try to make it hard again but thus far have met consistently with failure. So instead of trying to change the world around them this developer has chosen to change themselves.

In theory this should reduce, though not eliminate, piracy.

Greyson says:

Re: and then

You pay for something when you can get it for free because the paid version contains something of value that the free version doesn’t. Take games for instance. The paid versions have nicely designed covers and real cases, instruction books and sometimes even freebies like posters and stuff you can only get by purchasing the paid version.

Sheesh! Don’t you people read anything on this blog!

NSMike says:

Tech Savvy

I would say that most consumers of DVDs in the US have no idea what CSS is and aren’t inconvenienced by it.

But asking the gaming crowd, especially the PC gaming crowd, is an entirely different animal. Unfortunately, I don’t think this sample is representative of public perception, or even general awareness of DRM.

The guy in that other comments section may be right in one respect: DRM is going to stay, at least for a while, until it begins to truly inconvenience the average consumer. I think it’s partially hit critical mass in music, and that’s why we’re seeing DRM-free offerings now. Too many iPod owners were discovering that their music wouldn’t play anywhere else, or was not transferable to a different device (one they may have purchased out of dissatisfaction with Apple’s imposed obsolescence, or just the iPod’s tendency towards hardware failure).

But there has yet to be an “Aha!” moment with films. It may not come for a while, until digital distribution and internet bandwidth grows to the point where it’s practical, and enough people get burned by similar circumstances.

Stephan says:

Orange Box

I think the perfect example of the changes this guy is talking about is Valve’s Orange Box. While the demos for the orange box where non existent, all the games except Portal where sequels to existing games, so people had an idea what they were getting. Then you have to look at the convenience. Convenience is why I use Steam for most of my games. I periodically reformat my computer and instead of having to sit through a dozen installs for my favorite games, you can download the small steam installer and let it sit overnight. When you wake up you have all your games installed.

Last you have price. Price is always a big issue for me, but if you look at the Orange Box it was a great value. I bought 5 games for $40. Sure I already had one of the games (Half Life 2), but I get an extra copy of that that I can give to somebody and I have several more games to play.

At this point you would think more companies would start to realize the sucess valve has had in actually selling games where other companies are struggling.

Rose M. Welch says:

Pirating? I prefer not...

I will *always* buy if it’s conveninent and cost-appropriate. For instance, I purchased almost every song that Perfect Circle made, but none of the ones that they made as Tool.

Why? Because the Perfect Circle songs are available as DRM-free digital downloads and Tool songs are not. I looked to purchase the CDs but they cost over $20.00 new. Too much, sorry.

So I’m just going to wait and borrow my friend’s Tool collection and rip thier CDs for free. The point is that I would *rather* pay for what I get. I don’t want it free. I just want it convenient and reasonable.

Dumbasses. They wanted their $20 so bad that they missed my $10.

TheDock22 says:


I personally like playing demos of games where they unlock all the features of the game, but give me a time limit on playing. The latest one gave me 2 hours before it quit working, which made me immediately pay the $49.95 for the game (through a little pop-up window, I didn’t even have to leave the game to go through some website), unlock the game, and keep playing from where I left off. It was so easy and intuitive that I really didn’t think much about it until I read this article.

When I was a kid though I would spend days pirating games and software because I didn’t have any money to buy them. Now that I do have the money, I want immediate satisfaction and not to wait around for something to download or waste time trying bogus keygen software. Maybe its just me, but I’d rather pay money and get the software right then than waste time pirating or wait for something to arrive by mail. I’ve actually gone with competing software companies for some utilities because they allowed me to download and pay for the software right there then make me wait for it to come by mail.

word. says:

Re: Demos

Personally I like chicken nuggets. I like when I can sit down and eat some nuggets for 10 minutes, and if I like them, I can buy a box for later. When I was young I spent my time re-entering the store with wigs and glasses and stuff, for more free samples, but then I realized “hey, I could have used that disguise money on nuggets!!!”


Brian (user link) says:

I find this article encouraging

Here is a company that is looking ahead and using customers to shape their business. Bravo. Although true theft will not stop, I am one of those people who like to try something and if I like it, I buy it. If I don’t like it, I don’t buy it, nor do I use it (since I don’t like it). Most demos are way too limited and DRM is always a headache even if you buy the title.

When you go to a car lot, you don’t get to test drive part of the car, you drive the entire thing. I’ve always appreciated car dealers who let me take the car home for the evening as well.

The point I want to put out there is most people in this day and age want to try a program, like it, then if the price is right, buy it in the most convenient way possible.

Joel Coehoorn says:

Do what I say, not what I do

I’d be wary of taking this kind of input at face value. There are all kinds of stories out there about how companies did some focus group or survey to get people to tell them what they wanted, but after the product is released what they actually do and what they actually are a far cry away from what they say.

I think this is especially true for ‘piracy’. A lot of people who pirate digital goods know they’re doing something not quite legal (maybe not wrong, per se, but not legal either). They need to create a justification for it in their own minds, and if someone asks they’ll be all too happy to give their justification. But in the end, most of the pirates will never pay for the product no matter what you do.

Most of these people will never be customers, and you can either be bitter about it and spend all kinds of energy trying to lock them out or embrace this fact and instead try to take advantage of this audience. You can do this through advertising in a free version, by using them to generate word of mouth promotions, by up-selling to goods that are harder to copy, or any other number of business models.

On the other end of the spectrum you have people who will never pirate anything, no matter how easy it is and no matter what they’re personal feelings are whether or not it should be legal. A lot of musicians and software developers fall in this category, since their livelihoods currently depend on others doing the same.

The tricky part is the crowd in the middle. If you spend more energy on copy protection, a few of the people who used to pirate it may now find it too difficult. There’s a good reason to have a strong distrust of the content you find at warez sites. Some of these people might become paying customers. You’ve bullied them into buying the product they wanted. But others will just give up entirely.

You also need to consider that some people who would have bought the product before now won’t touch it with a ten foot pole. Other who do buy it may have a negative experience with the protection and end up getting their money back. Content publishers obviously believe the first group of people to be much larger than the last.

Looking at it from the other side, you could spend less energy on copy protection. Now a certain percentage of the group in the middle that wouldn’t pirate it before now can, and you could miss out on that revenue. On the other hand, some people who pirated it for non-financial reasons may decide to buy it. Again, content publishers feel that those who will be moved to buy it simply because there’s less DRM versus those who start pirating to be an unfavorable ratio.

You can spout out all you want about free goods expanding the market and ultimately creating more value for your product but the publishers have at least one thing right: the simple truth is that as long as a few million people are willing to pay $60 each for a copy of the latest hit video game, that’s gonna make a lot more money than giving it away for free no matter what you do. Forces may eventually pull that down. They’ve already started, in the form of shorter but cheaper episodic games or subscriptions services that provide bulk access to out of print games. But that will take time and in the meantime there’s a market to serve. It’s not that they couldn’t make money giving away the product for free: it’s that, for the moment at least, they can make much more by selling it at a premium.

However, there are three things that publishers are forgetting right now that may eventually impact their businesses:
1) The rate of shift of the group in the middle isn’t constant. As DRM gets more restrictive the group of people offended by it gets larger. So there’s a point of diminishing returns where DRM no longer makes sense for anybody. The recent backlash of late seems to indicate we are well past this point already
2) Their stance completely ignores any possibility of return from the pirate audience. Like it or not, there is a significant audience of people who are using the product without paying for it. As with any audience, the potential for significant revenue exists, and treating them as an enemy or stain on your business is a poor choice.
3) There are independent studios out there that are willing give away their products. For many smaller studios, giving the product away for free is a valid way to increase the audience. By increasing the audience, a small studio will eventually get bigger. And once you have several good size studio putting out competing products for free with no DRM restrictions, you’ll find yourself priced out of the market.

Joe (profile) says:

What has Positech even made?

I’m happy one developer has figured it out, but i would like to see other LARGER developers take the same steps. Be nice if we could get quality games for a reasonable price. Also be nice if digital DRM encoded downloads didn’t have the hassle they have on xbox live and if prices did eventually go down on some downloadable content.

I know everythign isn’t xbox live, but that is the service i most often use that has DRM on games, the disc format titles are over priced but at least they aren’t crippled by DRM like they are on xbox live arcade…and it adds insult to injury when your xbox dies and the games you paid for don’t work on your new console without having to jump through 18 hoops throughout 5 weeks of “discussions” with xbox customer support.

Eliot says:

Not that other's haven't said it but...

I think there will be people who will always pirate stuff, but whether you put in DRm or not, they will do that. There are plenty of people who will use the free market to speak their mind — they will spend money on products that they like (and perhaps even spend MORE money on these products) because they want to encourage this type of stuff.

I know of people who will buy a video game they really like twice, once when it comes out in Japan, then again when it comes out in the US, just so that the US market doesn’t lose the sale and is more likely to bring more games like it to the US.

Michael says:

Here's an idea..

If they want a way to make money and have an incentive for people to buy their products, why not release pre-orders of games before actual retail versions? You’re not only securing your bid on a copy, but you’re also giving further incentive to buy. While we’re at it, why not limit the pre-orders to some number, much like collector specific items.

You could then easily set a slightly higher price for a pre-order and tier pre-orders to things like collector editions to the plain early release editions. Once it’s released in retail, it’s more or less like music swapping for games. If people like it, they’ll buy the retail edition for the extra artwork and tangible copies. All without DRM. If they share it with others, and they like it, and the price is reasonable, then it’s most likely going to end up in a sale for the company and a new customer.

Grokk says:

Price of games in AU

Someone should look at the price of games in Australia. The market for gaming is actually quite large in Australia, and because of that along with a few other factors, we get charged double the price for games compared to the US.

The worst offender is EA, buying a digital download is still double that of the US. Does a digital download really incur those sort of import costs?

There are several reasons why people pirate games, and I can blame publishers for one of them specifically.

I Ustacould says:

Not to mention

As the former manager for a LAN gaming center, or Internet Cafe if you will, DRM was a MAJOR headache.
I made a point to purchase each copy of a game I wanted to have available on 20 PC’s AND get the extra licensing required but there was no way I was going to hand out a CD anytime someone wanted to play a game. When you do that things have a tendancy to grow legs then I have one less copy to allow someone to play. Steam is kind of expensive for a LAN center ($10 per month per PC) but so worthwhile since there is no DRM.
There are some very clever technologies available for LAN centers that are donation based (free) as well. I valued those technologies so much I made up my own donation number, usually $10 per machine, which I kind of felt was low but it was what the store could afford at the time. More than once I got an e-mail thanking me for my large donation ($200+/-) then I would explain why I was using their product and usually got a very favorable responce of “oh yeah? Cool!”.
Two software creators actually kept in regular contact with me allowing me to try new builds of their software free as long as I provided my feedback and customer feedback, which I gladly did.
Only one developer I donated to had an issue with what I was doing and reported me to Microsoft for “suspected licensing violations”. I passed the inspection with flying colors AND sold the two inspectors 6 hours of game time each. Needless to say I did not use his product again but I almost made my money back on what I donated to him from those two M$ licensing goons.
BTW. M$ Licensing inspectors are very nice people if you are in compliance.
If more game companies go the route of Steam I would not be upset. Saving toward the day I can open my own LAN center (and not have it closed by the owner because he is bored with it after 1 year) and it would be a real boon.

Meh says:

I find it surprising people would pirate something $10-$20 range like come on would you even pay a $1?

I do agree piracy has its uses but exploiting the nature of it that’s thievery. There is no point stealing from indy developers or even small companies who’s price points are more than adequately priced.

However to sell something $20 that includes DRM? WTF??!

I can example of where piracy works, being digital artist I pirated a copy of ZBrush in order to learn it’s ins and outs. I was amazed at the dedication and thought that went into the product that I bought a legal license and paid $510 real dollars. However I am appalled at people who steal and not give back to deserving software developers. Now I can run you an instance where software developers got what was coming to them, the example of this form of piracy is the game SPORE I hope to hell that game is pirated to the point the minds behind it go bankrupt. They morally raped the franchise and got what was coming to them “a law suit”.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...