Russian 'Pirate' Unofficially Ports Xbox Live Arcade Game To The PC; Moral Conundrums And Fractured English Ensue
from the in-Soviet-Russia,-the-dept-is-from-you dept
Usually when software is cracked, it’s to remove DRM or other limitations that were inserted to prevent unauthorized reproduction and distribution. Once that’s complete, the unauthorized reproduction and distribution begins, with these illicit copies occasionally ending up in the hands of paying customers who just want the software they paid money for to work correctly. (Funny how that works/doesn’t work.)
That’s the usual scenario. There’s nothing “usual” about Russia, as anybody who’s reworked a Yakov Smirnoff quote/watched a few hundred hours of dash cam footage can attest. A Russian hacker going by the name of Barbarus cracked an Xbox Live Arcade game… to port it to the PC.
Ska Studios released their excellent hack-’n’-slash sequel, The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile, back in 2011, exclusively on the Xbox 360. This was the follow-up to the original The Dishwasher game that won the Dream.Build.Play contest back in 2007, which scored the studio $10,000 and an Xbox Live Arcade publishing contract. So when creating the sequel, Ska and Microsoft were already set up to carry on the exclusive publishing contract on XBLA, which meant that the game never saw a release on any other platforms. But that hasn’t sat well with some people, and now a PC port has been managed outside of any official parties.
Barbarus uploaded his unofficial port to torrent site rustorka.net, but the traffic jump took it down. He has since posted it at Yandex as well. The unofficial port is in (unofficial) beta, but is obviously very popular with PC users (or Xbox users who also want to play the game on their PCs). It also has triggered a bit of backlash in support James Silva, one of the game’s developers. Barbarus posted this in response.
The ethics of publication
The view was expressed that, with respect to the authors, it is not very nice to publish the game on the PC. I have to argue that the part of the authors are not very nice to publish the game exclusively for the Xbox 360, making it impossible for PC gamers to play such a great game.
Piracy – yes, that is bad. On the other hand, we did not steal the game for the Xbox 360; we released it for the PC port. Given that the developers ignored the PC platform, about any loss of profit for them is not out of the question. After all, if they wanted to earn money, then the game would be issued on all available platforms. If the game came out on PC officially, then this thread would not exist.
Barbarus’ arguments defending his actions are not completely without merit. It can be argued that Ska Studios does lose money from this unofficial PC version (diverting Xbox users who now have a way to play the game without purchasing it through the Xbox Live Arcade), but then again, no PC version exists, so any amount of money lost lies in the realm of the theoretical.
On the other hand, James Silva didn’t ignore the PC market. The terms of his contract with Microsoft made it exclusively an Xbox title. Again, one can argue against the limitations of the deal or second-guess Silva’s wisdom in agreeing to these restrictions, but that doesn’t do much to address the issue at hand: how much does Barbarus’ port harm Silva and Ska Studios?
Barbarus goes so far as to claim his liberation of Silva’s game from the confines of the Xbox was a “restoration of justice” rather than piracy. This it clearly isn’t. But it really isn’t piracy either, at least not in the normally accepted sense of the word. It’s somewhere in between, traveling in the gray area usually populated by emulators and fan translations. The original has been altered, made to do things it normally doesn’t (run on other operating systems, speak English) and released to the public.
James Silva’s response is understandably conflicted.
“I guess you could say my reaction is mixed. I’m flattered that there’s this much interest in Vampire Smile on PC. I’m not mad about the crack itself; in fact, I’m actually pretty impressed. But I’m bewildered by the cracker’s attempt to justify the morality of it. He assumes a lot about why Vampire Smile’s not on PC yet, and he could have cleared up a lot of those assumptions by just emailing me. I get that piracy is a service problem, but that’s a consequence, not a justification.”
If there was a potential PC market for Silva’s game, Barbarus has beaten him to market (so to speak) with his own game. Barbarus, for his part, has continued to defend his actions, pointing out that his port is far from perfect…
The PC version has a lot of limitations. Cooperative gameplay is unavailable, network gameplay is unavailable, achievments is unavailable…
I should apologize to James Silva did not put him know before porting. Sorry James. I did not want anything bad. I just wanted to give an opportunity for PC gamers to play this game.
A very strange situation. Most people seem to agree that porting a game without the developers’ permission is just bad form (at the very least). On the other hand, porting a game to a platform where it isn’t currently available does very little harm as it’s sort of hard to damage a market that doesn’t exist. Could it undercut an official port to the PC? Possibly, but it looks as though Silva is choosing to go the route of combating infringement by crafting a bigger, better version of Dishwasher for the PC.
Sorry the game’s not on PC in any official capacity yet! The main reason it’s not is because even though the game was developed on a PC, releasing on PC and working out all of the input, display sizes, graphics options involved is a lot of work (and a lot more work than it sounds like!). I know Dean was working on Dust PC for at least a few months before it was even announced (sorry if I’ve said too much, Dean!), and for us, when Vampire Smile shipped, we were already full speed on Charlie Murder. Once Charlie ships, I’d like to try working on a Vampire Smile PC port, but I’d really like to give it a Director’s cut treatment–rework some areas, add environmental hazards and new enemies, etc., so we wouldn’t really be missing out if there’s a cracked torrent with broken shaders floating around somewhere.
And honestly, out of all the possible responses, Silva’s chosen the best one. Going legal is prohibitively expensive and tends to turn a certain amount of public opinion against you, no matter how right you are. If an unofficial, cracked port exists, it’s not going to be as polished as the original. This weird little saga only adds to the reasons for fans to support Silva when the official PC hits and his graceful handling of this screwed up situation should land Ska Games even more supporters.