Despite Being Pirated 4.5 Millions Times, 'Witcher 2' Developer Refuses To Annoy Paying Customers With DRM
from the there's-more-to-serving-your-customers-than-updating-a-spreadsheet dept
As we all have seen demonstrated here at Techdirt, there are several ways to react to piracy. Ubisoft, in particular, has usually found a way to make the worst of it, either through incapacitating DRM or by expressing a firm reluctance to release certain games for the PC.
On the other hand, you have companies like Valve, who recognize that not every instance of piracy is simply someone wanting something for nothing, but rather an opportunity for the pirated company to experiment with pricing and convenience options in order to meet the expectations of underserved customers.
Now you can add CD Projekt, the publisher of Witcher 2, to the growing list of software companies who see piracy as an opportunity, rather than a sinkhole of lost sales. In an interview with PC Gamer, CEO and co-founder Marcin Iwinski came up with some quick math on how many times Witcher 2 was pirated, arriving at a truly jaw-dropping number:
I was checking regularly the number of concurrent downloads on torrent aggregating sites, and for the first 6-8 weeks there was around 20-30k ppl downloading it at the same time. Let’s take 20k as the average and let’s take 6 weeks. The game is 14GB, so let’s assume that on an average not-too-fast connection it will be 6 hours of download. 6 weeks is 56 days, which equals to 1344 hours; and with 6h of average download time to get the game it would give us 224 downloads, then let’s multiply it by 20k simultaneous downloaders.
The result is roughly 4.5 million illegal downloads. This is only an estimation, and I would say that’s rather on the optimistic side of things; as of today we have sold over 1M legal copies, so having only 4.5-5 illegal copies for each legal one would be not a bad ratio. The reality is probably way worse.
Despite the fact that the free version was “outselling” the retail version 5-to-1, Iwinsky remains adamant on his company’s no-DRM policy, pointing out that CD Projeckt has always had to compete with free:
From the very beginning our main competitors on the market were pirates. The question was really not if company x or y had better marketing or better releases, but more like “How can we convince gamers to go and buy the legit version and not to go to a local street vendor and buy a pirated one?” We of course experimented with all available DRM/copy protection, but frankly nothing worked. Whatever we used was cracked within a day or two, massively copied and immediately available on the streets for a fraction of our price.
We did not give up, but came up with new strategy: we started offering high value with the product – like enhancing the game with additional collectors’ items like soundtracks, making-of DVDs, books, walkthroughs, etc. This, together with a long process of educating local gamers about why it makes sense to actually buy games legally, worked. And today, we have a reasonably healthy games market.
There’s your “reason to buy.” And now, here’s Iwinsky stating the obvious:
DRM does not work and however you would protect it, it will be cracked in no time. Plus, the DRM itself is a pain for your legal gamers – this group of honest people, who decided that your game was worth the 50 USD or Euro and went and bought it. Why would you want to make their lives more difficult?
Of course, this obvious conclusion still escapes many software companies. In their (usually) wasted efforts to deter piracy, they routinely deliver a product that is crippled by its own protection measures. The DRM is a joke to pirates and an insult to paying customers. So, why do these companies continue to punish their paying customers? Iwinsky has a theory:
[A]s with every growing business, there are a lot of people coming in who… have no clue about games and could work in any other industry. They are not asking themselves the question “What is the experience of a gamer?” Or “Is this proposition fair?” But rather, they just look to see if the column in Excel adds up well or not, and if they can have a good explanation for their bosses.
As funny as this might sound, DRM is the best explanation, the best “I will cover my ass” thing… You are asking, “So why is it taking so long for them to listen?” The answer is very simple: They do not listen, as most of them do not care. As long as the numbers in Excel will add up they will not change anything.
Even with companies like CD Projekt and Valve demonstrating that attempting to punish pirates through DRM or other restrictive measures just makes your customers miserable, others continue to view every pirated copy as a reason to ramp up protection. Iwinsky notes that the “Excel guys” aren’t paying attention. The only way to get them to listen is to truly show them what a lost sale is: “Vote with your wallet.”