Super Meat Boy Developer To EA: DRM Hurts Your Bottom Line More Than Piracy Does
from the EA-is-so-hardcore-it-only-plays-PR-in-'Nightmare-Mode' dept
The wheels have now come completely off EA’s DRMobile, thanks to its botched SimCity launch that was marred by server issues, long lines at the refund counter and some amazingly bad coding, all held together by Maxis GM Lucy Bradshaw’s irrepressible bullshit-spinning. The backlash has been enormous and EA is likely wishing it was back in the good old days when Spore (remember that backlash?) was nothing more than harmless vaporware.
It’s safe to say that EA has almost single-handedly run the
good highly-tarnished name of DRM and internet-only requirements into the ground, finishing the job Diablo 3 began last year. Many gamers have pointed out the futility of these anti-piracy (and anti-cheating/hacking) efforts as well as unleashed their fury at being handed a worthless, broken-on-purpose product in exchange for their money.
And it’s not just angry customers making noise. Super Meat Boy developer Tommy Refenes has weighed in with his thoughts on EA’s open hostility towards its paying customers. (It’s a truly excellent post, and I would encourage you to click through and read the entire article.)
The first problem he sees with EA’s actions is its insistence on using intangible losses from piracy to shape its software development.
I think I can safely say that Super Meat Boy has been pirated at least 200,000 times. We are closing in on 2 million sales and assuming a 10% piracy to sales ratio does not seem unreasonable. As a forward thinking developer who exists in the present, I realize and accept that a pirated copy of a digital game does not equate to money being taken out of my pocket. Team Meat shows no loss in our year end totals due to piracy and neither should any other developer.
This last sentence goes against the ingrained thinking of many in the content industries. These industries tend to conjure up huge loss numbers year after year to justify DRM, always-online requirements and a general push for more anti-piracy efforts (including legislation.) To them, every illegal download is a lost sale. It has to be, otherwise the entire premise behind their actions falls apart. (Contrast this all-too-common reaction with Edmund McMillen’s [Tommy Refenes’ partner at Team Meat] disappointment that Super Meat Boy wasn’t charting higher on the Pirate Bay’s download charts.)
Creative accounting is the norm in these industries and nothing is more creative than showing a loss you can’t possibly quantify, as Refenes points out.
Loss due to piracy is an implied loss because it is not a calculable loss. You cannot, with any accuracy, state that because your game was pirated 300 times you lost 300 sales. You cannot prove even one lost sale because there is no evidence to state that any one person who pirated your game would have bought your game if piracy did not exist. From an accounting perspective it’s speculative and a company cannot accurately determine loss or gain based on speculative accounting.
Accuracy isn’t really the aim when it comes to justifying the punishment of your paying customers. In order to get them to accept broken software wrapped in restrictive licenses, they first must be made to believe that millions and millions of dollars are lost each year to piracy. They must be at least somewhat convinced that EA (and Ubisoft, among others) were “forced” to insert crippling coding in order to keep the company afloat in a sea of pirating pirates.
But what have these companies actually lost when something is pirated? Is that “cost” greater than the very real cost of returning a customer’s money to them? EA doesn’t seem to understand there’s more than one way to lose a sale.
After the frustrations with SimCity I asked Origin for a refund and received one. This was money they had and then lost a few days later. Applying our earlier conversation about calculable loss, there is a loss that is quantifiable, that will show up in accounting spreadsheets and does take away from profit. That loss is the return, and it is much more dangerous than someone stealing your game…
In the retail world, you could potentially put a return back on the shelf, you could find another customer that wants it, sell it to them and there would be virtually no loss. In the digital world, because there is no set amount of goods, you gain nothing back (one plus infinity is still infinity). It’s only a negative experience. A negative frustrating experience for a customer should be considered more damaging than a torrent of your game.
For some reason, many content companies cannot see the truth in this statement. Even though they can’t prove that a pirated copy equals a lost sale, they continue to act as though piracy is a greater threat to their business than an angry customer base. For companies like EA, the customer base is large enough that it can usually be shrugged off. For smaller companies, this sort of thinking can do much more damage. In either case, negative experiences do no favors for content creators, especially in an era where people have thousands of entertainment options at their fingertips, 24 hours a day.
Refenes brings the fight to developers (like Maxis) who use “lost sale” figures pulled from the ether to justify the addition of DRM.
I challenge a developer to show evidence that accurately shows implementation of DRM is a return on investment and that losses due to piracy can be calculated. I do not believe this is possible.
Any honest developer simply can’t do this. Pointing to something like a download total from The Pirate Bay doesn’t definitively show anything more than the number of times that title was downloaded. Anything else is merely a theory, and a pretty weak one at that. But Refenes has a suggestion, one all content creators should take to heart.
I do believe people are less likely to pirate your software if the software is easy to buy, easy to run, and does what is advertised.
Why this instead of fighting piracy? Because taking away the free option just isn’t enough.
People have to WANT to buy your software, people have to WANT to support you. People need to care about your employees and your company’s well being. There is no better way to achieve that than making sure what you put out there is the best you can do and you treat your customers with respect.
EA clearly has little respect for its customers. The frontmouth of Maxis, whether using her own words or having them supplied from higher up, proved this with a week of complete denialism. There was no respect from launch day forward. Every new hole in EA’s story was greeted with re-confirmation of the same story, occasionally mixed with a bit of hedging.
The developers at Team Meat obviously respect their customers and have been rewarded for their efforts. Even with evidence of massive piracy staring them in the face, they never opted to cripple their game with a “piracy speedbump” that would have adversely affected those who chose to give them their hard-earned money.