Skullgirls Creator Combats Piracy With Humor And By Being Awesome

from the doing-it-right dept

We’ve long made the argument that one way to combat piracy is to connect with fans and treat them well. In other words, being awesome will generate enough good will from fans that actually want a producer’s product such that piracy no longer becomes a major concern, because fans will want to buy. It’s funny how much of a reputation some folks have built off of this concept, from Joss Whedon to Wil Wheaton to Louis CK. Those examples aside, nobody said combating piracy by being awesome was easy, so it’s still a good idea to highlight instances of people and companies doing it right.

Enter Skullgirls, a fighting game with an irreverent sense of humor and style, both in terms of its gameplay and the method by which it deals with people pirating their game. For instance, if you pirate Skullgirls and progress far enough through the game, you’ll get this message.

Should you be unable to see the screen shot, a popup window comes up that reads: “What is the square root of a fish? Now I’m sad.” This message only appears to players who have pirated the game. The player can then simply click out of the popup. Or, if you’re Dan Hibiki, a.k.a. @SaikyoChamp on Twitter, you can tweet at the Skullgirls developer, Lab Zero Games, and ask them what’s up with the message, which is exactly what he did. The official Skullgirls Twitter account tweeted back at him suggesting that he buy the game instead of pirating it.

Now, that’d be a pretty level-headed response from a game developer on its own, but when Lab Zero Games then went on to hold an awesome conversation with their pirate-on-a-hook, the concept of being awesome got elevated a few notches. Some highlights include:

As a result of not flying off the handle, even though it is understandably frustrating to see people pirating your work, there are a ton of people favoriting and retweeting the entire exchange. In other words, Lab Zero Games builds up a ton of goodwill, Skullgirls gets some viral publicity, and nobody has to spend gobs of money on lawyers. That’s some next-level awesome.

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Comments on “Skullgirls Creator Combats Piracy With Humor And By Being Awesome”

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39 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Paid version: ‘Our servers are down, for whatever reason, and since we require the program to have a stable connection to be able to run, you’re screwed until we fix it.’
Pirated version: No change.

Paid version: ‘We’re updating our ToS, and if you don’t agree to the new terms, we’ll be disabling the program you purchased, and no, you will not get a refund should that happen.’
Pirated version: No change.

Paid version: ‘It seems you’ve changed your hardware one too many times, which we automatically assume means piracy. If you want to continue using the program, please purchase it again.’
Pirated version: No change.

I don’t know what you’re talking about, pirates lose out on some awesome features, ones available only to paying customers.

Zos (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

You know, there have been a few games i bought, because i thought the experience would be better paying. it wouldn’t crash, it wouldn’t corrupt my save files (looking at you fallout 3). and every single time it turned out the issue was with the buggy build that had gotten pushed out the door, not with the crack.

and 9/10 times, it’s the pirates and the modders that end up fixing the bloody thing, when the studio can’t even be bothered to patch it’s bullshit.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

and 9/10 times, it’s the pirates and the modders that end up fixing the bloody thing, when the studio can’t even be bothered to patch it’s bullshit.

And 9/10 times that the publisher/developer comes back and threatens to sue the modders and the patchers for making their game playable.

98% of the games I now buy and play come from GoG and other companies like GoG, mainly because they publish tons of information including unofficial patches and mods, and seem to have a much better handle on the community than the studios. The other 2% either come from Steam (not that I am very happy with Steam but their DRM is the least difficult to work with and they put a lot of effort in it working properly, no matter how you install it, since I don’t do Windows and everything here is virtualized) or from the indies that get it.

No money goes directly to the studios (obviously they get some kickbacks from GoG/Steam) and I will never buy a shrink-wrapped video game ever again.

And so far, I have really enjoyed applying patches and mods to games on GoG to make the games I used to get really frustrated with to play properly as the developers intended.

Kal Zekdor (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Simplest way is often just leak a “pirate” version yourself that has been specifically altered with “features” like the one in the story. More complex methods may involve analyzing the program signature and checking for modifications (which will usually go unnoticed by the crackers, at least for a while, if it doesn’t immediately boot you out of the game), or scanning for external memory edits (if someone is poking around in the active memory, they’re either pirating or cheating).

CK20XX (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Then I guess you could classify it as a rare non-evil kind of DRM. It doesn’t look like it even places the same kinds of restrictions that Steam or even Minecraft does. Instead it plays a harmless prank, so even if you’re against DRM on principle (and you probably should be), you’d have to be pretty anal to get upset over this.

Easily Amused (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

here’s the thing. Would you put more trust in some random internet cracker with no reputation that matters on the line, or with a company that seems for all the evidence to do the right thing with millions of dollars at stake?

Not saying to trust corps at all, but if you are going to draw a trust line that far down the sand then you better get really good at cracking games yourself.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Not that I want to agree with anyone calling themselves Shmerl, but you would have to consider determining if a game is pirated (in any way) and then notifying the user with a message is, in fact, DRM.

It is not preventing access, or limiting features, but it IS managing your digital rights.

This is just a non-crappy way of implementing some DRM. It was not overly intrusive, they did not use it to harm a potential customer, and even if it managed to happen on a purchased copy of the game it wouldn’t be a huge problem.

Shmerl says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

Anyway, my point wasn’t to limit it to phoning home. Any kind of DRM is already not good. And usually it indirectly involves some authentication (for example individual signing at purchase time and verifying the signature later).

Older forms of DRM included asking questions in game expecting users to have some manual at hand. But that’s not really what’s happening here.

Easily Amused (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

and if you had actually fucking read the article, the popup doesn’t prohibit anyone from playing. You just click it and keep having fun.

It’s just a wink to pirates that it’s pirated. Doesn’t phone home, doesn’t delete saves, doesn’t corrupt anything, doesn’t interrupt play.

There are plenty of bad examples of DRM to martyr yourself on, this isn’t one of them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Look at their site and note where it is available. There are Xbox live and playstation network for the consoles, Steam, Gamefly, Gamersgate and Green Man Gaming.

the 3 PC sources that are not steam sell steam keys. There is your DRM. The Pirated version just has to do some simple checks if the steam integration is ok.

There is no totally DRM free version available from what I can tell, not on gog and the store from humblebundle has a steam version as well, so your “whine” about phoning home is misguided.

ryuugami says:

Re: Re: Re:

Since Steam client requires access to Steam server to run (there is an offline mode, but you have to be connected to enable it…), isn’t Steam DRM basically “phoning home”?

To go on a slight tangent, I had to crack some of my (legally owned) Steam games so I could run them without the client. The damn thing was using up over 30% of my CPU (60% of a single core). Yes, I do have a 7-year-old PC, but that was ridiculous.

jameshogg says:

“@SaikyoChamp Oh that? It means you should probably buy the game instead of pirate it. o:)”

See, this tweet isn’t meant to be a “fuck you” kind of tweet, which it could have been. And this is ultimately a good thing.

Here’s why.

What most of us often forget is that people who end up with pirated/cracked copies of a game have not necessarily obtained said pirated copies through BitTorrent, or another file-sharing service. Sometimes, they have been scammed.

It is quite possible for a dodgy street vender to sell genuine looking copies to an unsuspecting laymen who is genuinely trying to be moral by buying the game and helping the developers. The scammer (and that is indeed the word to describe such a person because he is fraudulently claiming the authenticity of his copies) walks away with stolen profits while the gamer goes home to play happily, unaware that anything bad has happened.

So when the gamer plays the cracked copy only to find abnormalities such as shooting chickens, deleting saves, what have you, he is bound to call tech support to find out what is wrong.

This is how tech support should not react in a situation like this, or any situation at all:

http://forums.eidosgames.com/showthread.php?t=95030

If tech support instantly and prejudicially assumes that the player asking for help is a thieving pirate with no morals, when said tech support has no possibility of an idea of what background this gamer had that led to the situation in question, and that “this particular “fan” is the scum of the Earth and deserves to be named and shamed harr harr”, the player can give only one well deserved response:

“FUCK YOU. How DARE you assume without any proof that I was out to rip you off! I just LOST $50 for a game I tried to support you with and you are treating me like a dickhead for it? FUCK YOU. Any help you thought you deserved in catching the real scammer is now not going to be provided for you. To hell with you if you think I will even breathe the same air as your games again.” And then proceeds to throw all games by said developer away.

I can still remember to this day old VHS tapes of Disney movies I watched when I was a kid: 101 Dalmatians would not have so much an anti-piracy “warning”, but rather a piracy “awareness” notice. It would spell out the differences between genuine copies and pirated copies. Genuine were colourful, clear, crisp, professional. Pirated were grainly, black and white, unclear, etc. And then it would proceed to say something like the following: “If you have bought a pirated copy under the pretense that it was genuine, please call this number and report where you bought it from to etc etc..” It was not by any means “you fucking thief fuck you because that’s what you MUST be”, which is what we seem to see all the time now.

Now forgetting the slightly funny issue of pirates who would have most likely removed that 101 Dalmations warning from their copies, and whatever you think of Disney’s copyright maximalism, you have to give them credit here for this rare occasion where they assumed the consumer was innocent first and foremost.

This is the old tradition that @SaikyoChamp seems to be keeping alive. Even although he did assume piracy had happened, innocently enough, he did not react in a destructive way.

But anyone who proceeds with a culture of blaming (ridiculing?) potential victims deserves the condemnation that is coming to them.

Easily Amused (profile) says:

Re: Re:

that’s a hell of a rant. That covers a niche situation accounting for maybe 1% of pirated copies.

You are ignoring that the user in question admitted to pirating it. Also that these days installing a cracked game that was originally only available on pc through steam requires you to jump through a couple hoops to allow it to be ignored by steam. You don’t get tricked into running this.

AJ (profile) says:

In Consistent Disagreement with Your Stance on Piracy

On the hand, I understand what you are saying about how to deal with piracy and the benefits of building consumer goodwill. But on the other hand, I think that outlook is very short-sighted.

Yes, the examples you bring up have gained in popularity because of their stances on piracy, but do you truly believe that is a common occurrence? And even if you did believe such, is anyone except the individual reaping the rewards of that open stance on piracy?

The TV and movie industry require a lot of moving part, and just because someone is achieving celebrity status for a mainstream stance does not mean that it is an effective solution to stopping the continually growing problem of piracy.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: In Consistent Disagreement with Your Stance on Piracy

Yes, the examples you bring up have gained in popularity because of their stances on piracy, but do you truly believe that is a common occurrence?

Whether or not it is common, what we have seen is that basically everyone who has taken an approach similar to this one — open, human and awesome — has found that they’ve benefited from it. At the same time, nearly everyone who has taken the “pirates must be stopped!” approach has found that it doesn’t help at all, and tends to only anger fans.

Which do you think is better?

is anyone except the individual reaping the rewards of that open stance on piracy?

Of course? If it’s leading to more revenue down the road then absolutely.

The TV and movie industry require a lot of moving part, and just because someone is achieving celebrity status for a mainstream stance does not mean that it is an effective solution to stopping the continually growing problem of piracy.

Huh? First, can you explain what the “continually growing problem of piracy” is? Because the stats suggest you’re wrong. Don’t fall for the hype.

Second, this isn’t about “achieving celebrity status.” It’s about winning fans who want to support you, because it’s a better experience than piracy. In other words, the creators we’re talking about are looking at piracy as a marketing problem, not a legal problem, and they’re finding a damn good way to turn it from a “problem” (as you call it) into an opportunity.

Why would you be against that?

ChrisH (profile) says:

It would also be nice if they could solve the problem of having to buy the same game twice just because you want to play it on different systems. It probably won’t happen though, because it makes them extra money. For that reason, I consider it perfectly acceptable to download a copy if you’ve already paid for one. Another situation would be if you bought a DVD and the disk became damaged.

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