How Having A Good Sense Of Humor Helps Cope With Piracy And Succeed Despite It

from the survive-the-nuclear-winter dept

Piracy is one of those things that is pervasive throughout video gaming. It has become a force of nature, a fact of life. While many companies attempt to fight piracy of their works through DRM or complaining loudly, others are taking a very different approach. Last year we posted a story about a company called tinyBuild that decided to embrace piracy rather than fight it. It released a special pirate themed version of its game on the Pirate Bay and saw a positive response from it. When discussing the move, tinyBuild stated, “I mean, some people are going to torrent it either way, we might as well make something funny out of it.” By having a positive sense of humor in the face of piracy, one indie game developer was able to cope with it and succeed despite it.

This sense of humor is catching on too. Gamasutra highlights another indie dev, Paul Greasley, that, when faced with the realities of piracy, decided to approach it with a bit of tongue in cheek. The developers of the game Under the Ocean released the game under three different options. The first was early, cheap access to the game for $7. The second was a more feature rich and personalized version for $25. The third was a hat tip to piracy.

The Cockroach edition was actually not an attempt to cut down on piracy. It was just one of the liberties of being an indie developer, with nobody to answer to. The elephant in the room is that 90 percent+ of people are going to pirate your game on the PC (and ours is no exception, based on the traffic logs). We just thought it would be fun, and frankly honest, to point that out!

To further seal the deal, Paul had originally included a link to the Pirate Bay. Unfortunately, some wet blankets in the indie scene overreacted to the inclusion of the link. Those developers had claimed that the inclusion of the link was Paul condoning piracy, something he denies. So, to put out the fires and save his cred with those developers, he removed the link while leaving the rest of the option on the site.

It is quite interesting that he even included the link to begin with. Most developers, especially those from large studios, try to do their best to pretend that such sites don't exist in the off chance they accidentally convert a potential customer into a pirate. Including the link was a massive show of openness with fans. By showing that he knows what the competition is, he was showing fans that he understands what it takes to build up a loyal following.

We're going to be releasing a whole bunch of frequent updates, with lots of feature additions. If you want to stay up to date, buying it is much easier than pirating it. The users win, because it's DRM free and they get a bunch of cool new updates for Under the Ocean, and we win, because the updates get us new ways to promote the game outside our game forums.

Make a product people want and will talk about, make that product as good as you possibly can, and treat your customer base with respect.

By recognizing the reality of piracy, Paul was able to identify features and services that will build loyal fans, things like avoiding DRM and providing frequent updates, not just for the game but from himself. What this means for Paul and his game is that players get a great experience from someone who is open, human and honest and in return they will spend more money on his game.

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Companies: tinybuild

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Comments on “How Having A Good Sense Of Humor Helps Cope With Piracy And Succeed Despite It”

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Wally says:

It is nice and very refreshing to see somebody in the software community outside of Valve Software that gets the idea that yes, piracy is a problem, but if you make the game just right, it appeals to users who will in deed buy it.

A lot of you younger types might not remember, but I think we “old farts” had it worse with DRM. DRM used to come in the form of a special pair or green glasses that were made of paper (Lemmings) or having to buy a travel guide book known as Foder’s (The original 800k floppy version of Wher in the USA is Carmen Sandiego). At least there is a way around most forms of DRM now.

The fact that this dev used “piracy” in a tiered system of updates is ingenious.

John Fenderson (profile) says:


I think we “old farts” had it worse with DRM

Indeed, and remember dongles?

In fact, outside of the mainstream games industry, the software industry largely learned form their mistakes dealing with piracy. Specifically, that DRM will cost you more in tech support, goodwill, and lost sales than piracy will.

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Do you remember dongles?

I dont recall having them, I didnt use a PC until the school my dad was teaching at switched to PC use in 1998. Now that i have an idea what they were used for in copy protection, this makes me apreciate the ever so “slow” Mac Plus and Apple Quadra 605 Macs I grew up with.

As far back as “modern” DRM is concerned, I still have Cosmic Osmo and The Worlds Beyond The Makerel CD-ROM (it’s availible on Steam now). The bonus sound track can be ripped but the data on the disc can’t be coppied.

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2

Hehe I’ve been caught ^_^ I still had it worse than those younger than I.
Still the history of it has amazes me. I’m 26 years old so Lemmings on the Macintosh and Where In The USA Carman Sandiago were my challenges.

The saddest part of the classic DRM is that it prevented history being preserved.

Oh crap, there’s my e-mail in the subject header ๐Ÿ™ It’s a dummy account but I use it in just in case.

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4

Monty Python made you laugh regardless ๐Ÿ™‚

Lemmings for the Macintosh had a special pair of uniquely green shaded glasses. It was one of those “put the magic glasses on to find the hidden symbol on this page and match it” sort of things.

Carmen Sandiago USA made you buy a copy of Foder’s USA travel guide to answer those questions so you could advance from the rank of Gumshoe.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I think allot of devs get it, but corporate doesn't agree.

I remember hex editing older 5 1/4″ floppies to bypass checks using jump commands. Happy days. IRL though I think piracy was always around and probably always will be. During the Leisure Larry kickstarter, Al Lowe stated that piracy actually was a bonus that got it started, in that he sold more hint books for the first edition then sold copies for the first game and some pirated copies had a virus which made the news, but it got the whole thing going.
Video’s on kickstarter:

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

There was never such a class action lawsuit enducing game such as Spore. I think that was the first major form of DRM in a game of modern times that people complained about as Spore. Installstiom on only 1 computer, only 3 activationstimes in your lifetime, and must be activated every month so the disc turns into a pretty useless coaster (hole in middle of the disc) in the course of 1/4 of the year.

No wonder it was pirated ๐Ÿ™‚

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

no, Minecraft has a much higher purchase rate because Notch isn’t an asshat.

This, plus the cost of Minecraft is $15, paid once. They keep updating the software based on customer requests, and they support most, if not all operating systems. But mainly because Notch isn’t an asshat.

I’d love to get the days back that I’ve spent playing that darn game. Addictive doesn’t even come close to describing it…it is almost like Notch purified cocaine and put it into software.

Although, I’d say that creepers have to be the most asshat move Notch did to us players. I don’t know how many times I had those things sneak up on me and blow me up.

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well interestingly enough, given the nature of Spore’s DRM, it would be reasonable to actually believe that “ridiculously” FUD percentage. In my opinion, that “FUD percentage rate” is not an example of the piracy “problem”, it is an example of how bad the DRM was. It drove common, non-tech savvy people to pirate a functioning version of the game that didn’t force users to buy a new copy every 3 months.

Tim Griffiths (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Actually 90% piracy rate seems reasonable but what you have to remember is that a 90% piracy rate is not the same as 90% of the people in the market.

Iphones prove this point, app devs claim 90% piracy rates but only about 20% of phones are jailbroken and able to pirate. The upshot of this is that at most 20% of the market is pirate (there are lots of reasons to jailbreak so actual number is likely lower) but that part of the market consumes VASTLY more apps than the other 80%.

People forget that pirates have effectively unlimited buying power when compeered to people who are limited by the money they have to spend. Any given game has a HUGE potential market but turning that potential in to actual sales has a very high attrition rate. People have their budget for buying media for the month and you are competing to get them to spend money on your product rather than some one else’s. So only a relatively small number of the people who might buy the game actually do for any number of reasons.

What you get when you put that number up against the number of people who pirate is a statistical mismatch of sets. The pirates are not limited in what they download so they can be a “consumer” of vastly more content than some one who pays for the game. Pirates are in effect a set that represents that initial potential market, rather than the people who have paid who represent a set of actual market share.

Most of us here are of a mind that piracy does not really effect sales that much so we naturally look at a 90% piracy rate and think “that can’t be right? can it?” but we need to stop trying to downplay these rates because we really need to start building a better understanding of what these rates actually mean.

Less than 20% of a market can drive 90% rates of use if that 20% use a lot more than the other 80%. That is actually a relatively simple concept once you wrap your head around it. What’s really important about it is that it’s an argument that supports the idea that piracy is much less damaging than the industry thinks with out having to argue with them over the numbers.

If we make them think differently about what those numbers mean and find ways to prove it to them (such as more research in to the whole iphone thing) then we defuse the most powerful data they are throwing around with facts rather than an assumption that they must me making it up.


Re: Re: Infinity just doesn't compute.

That 90% piracy rate basically represents infinity. Infinity is the demand for a product at zero cost. It’s an equation where price is the denominator. That’s the greatest possible demand you could possibly ever have for you game.

It can’t be related to any non-zero price tag for the game. That’s where the real disconnect starts. People confuse infinity with a meaningful number.

They get it into their head that all of those moochers represent potential full price sales when it can’t even be reasonably compared to even a purchase for a single cent.

Anonymous Coward says:

Man! everyone bad raps Pirate Bay! But if you could get an advertisement on there you would be successful if you had a good product. Highly desirable ad placement site. If you are an Indie Musician and release your songs there for free you will pack the house when you play live, if you have good music. Same for film makers and writers. Great place to get creative feedback.
It is a great web site and as far as I am concerned, way more socially cool than Facebook could ever be. Go there and check the comments. All the detractors are just jealous, they wish they had such a successful web site.

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