Yet Another Developer Sees That Free Can Work For Video Games As Both An Anti-Piracy Strategy And As Promotion

from the getting-it dept

We’ve made the argument for some time that there are ways to use giving away free content in order to both stave off the threat of video game piracy and to garner greater attention for the product. For all of the congratulations we heap on game developers for simply not completely freaking out over the fact that piracy exists, far too few of those developers go on to actually take advantage of what freely given away products can do for them. But there are those out there who get it, including Indie Gala, a studio that is essentially giving away its product as it stands for free, both because it wants gamers to get clean copies of the game from clean sites and in order to drive those gamers to the Early Access Steam version of the game.

One of their two flagship titles on Steam – Early Access survival horror game Die Young – has been received well enough, but the developers believe piracy is enough of a problem to necessitate an unusual solution: Players unable or unwilling to buy the game are able to just download it, directly and DRM free, from the Indie Gala site.

Speaking candidly, Indie Gala state that piracy is a double-edged sword. For a smaller independent title such as Die Young with little marketing budget, it helps to get eyes on the product, even if they are piratical ones. Less good is that pirated copies tend to be older, less stable builds, and potentially located on malware-strewn sites. The move to just allow access to the game direct seems to be done with the intent of at least converting some would-be pirates to customers as development continues.

Now, the key to this is that Die Young is still in active development in Early Access. The free version the studio is giving away is nearly the entire product as it currently stands, but those freely given versions won’t receive the updated content that gets developed. For that, downloaders will have to transition to the Steam version of the game. In that way, this is a strange sort of hybrid between a game demo, playtesting an early build, and the try-before-I-buy scenario so many of those that admit to pirating games have claimed they engage in. For all this to be embraced by the game studio itself is the difference here, along with its claim of concern that gamers could get malware from untrustworthy sites.

It’s easy to see how this could work. Gamers who like the content will want the updates and some of them will go to Steam to get them legitimately. Some gamers will be willing to try the game out since it’s free when they might otherwise not have and, if they like it enough, will go to Steam to get the updated game legitimately. And some gamers will simply want to support a studio that has treated the larger gaming community so well and will go to Steam to get the game legitimately.

There’s no downside to this. Piracy does exist, but by utilizing free content and treating people in a way that’s human, its effects can be greatly mitigated.

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Companies: indie gala

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Comments on “Yet Another Developer Sees That Free Can Work For Video Games As Both An Anti-Piracy Strategy And As Promotion”

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Anonymous Coward says:

OLD ideas from 1990's at latest.

Remember DOOM? Pretty sure was a full version which I’ve never seen. If not Doom, then some other. You repeat these assertions endlessly — even while pointing out that very few try this!

Seriously, why don’t you pause this routine driveal and take a week to consider WHY most developers try to stop piracy? Just list every wacky idea they have, and evaluate the sum. Is it perverse psychology? Experience? WHY do apparently rational people persist in behavior that you claim is against their interests? HMM?

That’d make a vastly better article — except that you’d get no further in analysis than “they’re STUPID”, because your notions are practically religion after all this time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: OLD ideas from 1990's at latest.


Demo version is a stragety that loses sales to inept players and promotes piracy by the ept. But you cannot placate pirates. They’ll expect all for free, and if there is more, will still take it if can.

Bet this is not “free as in beer”, but you hand over info that can be sold, or includes spyware that takes your info, or uses your box and electricles for botnet and bitcoin “mining”. — The developers are surely exploiting pirates so much as can get away with.

Further eroding the moral milieu at this point won’t harm any particular game, but whether the game turns a profit depends entirely on whether it’s liked as a game. The developer will likely come out same no matter what stragety! So should stay with the usual hatred of pirates, it’s more satisfying.

In any event, we won’t be able to measure result, but you’ll go on claiming victory while admitting as above that piracy actually reduces sales.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: OLD ideas from 1990's at latest.

Numerous developers—and publishers—believe profit is the only endgame of a creative work. They also believe stopping piracy will result in more profits. They view this whole system as a zero-sum game: Either they get money from customers or “lose money” to piracy.

In reality, piracy only reduces potential sales. No developer or publisher can prove that stopping piracy would improve all sales numbers across the board. If they could stop piracy for good, they would likely not receive the spike in sales that they expect. After all, a pirate who never had any plans to buy a certain game would most likely avoid it if piracy did not exist.

A developer/publisher would likely receive more goodwill for embracing piracy—or at least not outright condemning it—than they would for putting DRM on their games. If anything, an embrace of piracy could increase the chances of growing both a fanbase and future support for already- and not-yet-released games. Treating people—even pirates—as people instead of as mindless “consumers” who should feel grateful for the privilege of giving money to a company? That goes a hell of a long way.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: OLD ideas from 1990's at latest.

“Demo version is a stragety that loses sales to inept players”

It also attracts people who would never try the product otherwise. If I won’t buy your game because I realise I’m not good at it, why would I buy it blind? If the pirates offer me a chance to play, but you refuse to offer me a test drive, why should I consider your product? Your usual blathering nonsense misses these points entirely.

“But you cannot placate pirates. They’ll expect all for free, and if there is more, will still take it if can.”

Indeed. So, why stick to business models that try to capture those people, while screwing over legitimate customers with DRM, refuse to offer a trial play and the like?

“Bet this is not “free as in beer””

You seem to misunderstand that term. It doesn’t mean nobody will ever pay anything, only that you don’t pay money directly. The fact that some browsers get a cut of ad revenue from certain searches or for preinstalling certain search engines does not mean they’re suddenly not FOSS.

Though, I do see that you jump straight to assuming that the developer has to have some nefarious other purpose rather than genuinely using a product for free to leverage other options. When a person cannot accept a genuine offer because they assume the other person has to be lying or scamming them in some way, that says more about you than the person offering the product.

“whether the game turns a profit depends entirely on whether it’s liked as a game”

As it should be. Why should a bad product be guaranteed any kind of revenue? Your entire preferred strategy seems to be based on tricking people into buying a product they don’t like, which is not a good long-term strategy even if you manage to catch some suckers in the short term.

“In any event, we won’t be able to measure result, but you’ll go on claiming victory while admitting as above that piracy actually reduces sales.”

Of course they will since they have NEVER stated that piracy doesn’t affect sales, only that there’s far, far better ways of addressing it than pretending that everyone will suddenly pay full retail price if one it were to magically disappear.

Toom1275 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: OLD ideas from 1990's at latest.

One of the first video games I was weaned on was another product of id Software (then called Apogee) – Commander Keen. Our first family computer with Windows 95 had a handful of MS-DOS shareware games dad put on it. The Keen shareware version contained “Episode 1” and when you finished, suggested you buy the rest of the series.

Zoom 20 years into the future, and I was able to follow through with that request. On a whim, I searched for that old game on Steam’s store page, and found the “Commander Keen Complete Pack” offered by id Software. If it hadn’t been available as a free game to stuff the early PC with, I would never have heard about it ever. If I came across the Steam pack without that early experience, I would have been “an ancient platformer? Ugh, no thanks.” But instead, it brought a desire to relive childhood nostalgia. So the shareware technically worked for its purpose, if on a long time delay.

Unrelated, but I also bought WinRAR.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 OLD ideas from 1990's at latest.

So the shareware technically worked for its purpose, if on a long time delay.

The purpose was to make money for the game’s creators, none of whom still work at id Software. All you did was give money to people who didn’t make the Keen games, and are unlikely to make more, but happen to own a 20-year-old copyright.

Bri (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 OLD ideas from 1990's at latest.

Wait Keen is on Steam!? I was in the same boat as you, having it for free on the PC was a staple of my childhood, and it ended up shaping my love of that sort of game. That game was hugely influential on my gaming tastes and history. I need to go buy the pack now.

Also, I also bought WinRAR, or more like convinced my parents to buy it because I had thought that was what you were supposed to do.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: OLD ideas from 1990's at latest.

Try listing “most developers”. Except you won’t, because you think video games are stupid. The only media that matters to you is $100 million movies – not cheap movies, not independent movies, because those don’t count. Only Hollywood $100 million movies matter to you and whether they get to pay off the loan on that forty-second yacht with the diamond-studded swimming pool.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: OLD ideas from 1990's at latest.

“Remember DOOM? Pretty sure was a full version which I’ve never seen.”

Yeah, that’s right, there was a shareware version that only showed you the first part of the game and asked you to pay for the rest. A shame, really, since ID Software, the Doom series and the FPS genre in general could have done well if only they’d not done this. After all, since you never saw the full version, that means that nobody ever bought the

Oh, wait, you’re utterly full of shit as usual. Not only was it hugely successful, you can barely play a modern videogame without seeing some DNA from that era, despite the fact that there were a huge number of freeloaders such as yourself who never ponied up a cent to play the game’s opening levels. The game literally changed the industry, and it did so while you were playing for nothing. Would you have honestly played the game had there been no demo and you could only play a moment of it if you had paid full whack? Very doubtful.

Always a shame when objective reality disproves your bare assertions, isn’t it?

Tobias Cook says:

I am, admittedly, known to pirate media. Games, particularily games from consoles I owned as a child over twenty years ago but also the occasional modern title. Why you may ask? To see if my POS computer can run it! Why do I not just get a new computer? Well, I am one of those drains of the economy supported by government assistance.

That being said, I do also sometimes buy games. Used games are my bread and butter, and I often stay years behind the tech curve so I can keep things affordable. Arguably most games I buy, the money is either going to a resaler or is so far past the release date that I won’t be so much as a blip on profit considerations for a title.

Still, why do I spend money on media from time to time when I can get it all for free, and arguably that money would be better spent buying myself a new shirt or picking up a huge bag of rice and potatoes? Because I find media that is worth the money. Worth the investment. Worth the support.

I have purchased games that I will never play, especially horror titles (I wholeheartedly admit to being a cowardly pussy when it comes to horrot), that I instead watched a full lets-play of the title, and found something in the title WORTH supporting. Atmosphere, good gameplay, something unique. Something actually worth putting my exceedingly limited luxury budget towards if it means showing support for trends in the market I find admirable.

Other times, I keep a list of games I want to purchase as soon as they hit an affordable point, often through steam sales, because the game proved to be more than a flash in the pan that I played for 2 or 3 hours and never looked at again. I am a shameless pirate. I assure you no companies are ‘losing sales’ on me if I don’t purchase their title. If I didn’t have the oppertunity to try the game out to make sure it runs on my hardware and is worthwhile, they would not be getting my money. If not for my ability to wait for a good sale period on the games I do decide to support, they also would not be getting my money. If not for a chance to see if the game actually held my attention and proved engaging long enough to be worthwhile, they would not be getting my money. It would be far too much of a risk. Instead of throwing money at the wind and supporting things not worth the investment because I had to pay just to try it, I support things that are actually WORTH my money.

Frankly, this is a wonderful idea. I will not speak for every pirate, nor will I try to foolishly lump every pirate into the same mold like so many who throw about blanket statements about ‘pirates just wanting everything for free, taking more and more’. This lets me try the game. This lets me see if the game will run on my hardware. This lets me see if the game is something I would be invested enough in to spend money on. This lets me have an actual experience as I wait for a decent time to buy the game when it is at a price I can afford.

So I at least am glad to see this. I miss genuine demo’s. Frankly, I have an old 3ds, and the thing that pisses me off most about the shop’s demos is that they both limit how much of the game you get, AND limit how many times you can boot up the game.

I am not saying either in isolation is horrible. Well, I frankly always prefered the former to the latter. If the game is engaging enough that I keep playing the demo, clearly it is engaging enough to stay on my radar to look for oppertunities to buy, whereas if a demo decides ‘Naw, you’ve tried the first level enough times’, I’m likely to forget about it and move on before I am in a position to buy. Still, leastwise, either one in isolation is understandable. I remember demos giving me the full experience for an hour. I remember demos that would only let me play the first two or three levels of a game.

In both cases, I got some assurance that I was getting what I wanted.

Particularily in the atrocious state of video game advertising these days, where advertisements are more cutscene and pre-rendered showing off than gameplay, of pre-order culture trying to convince you to buy something before ANYBODY really knows what you are getting… this market needs more demo’s.

Trailers and cutscenes work wonders for movies and television shows because they are entirely audiovisual media. WYSIWYG. Games by nature are interactive. If your advertising can’t be… well then you are only ever giving a hollow husk of what the person is buying.

Beech says:

Make MORE money this way

What’s REALLY interesting about this strategy is that a lot of games will increase their price when they move from Early Access to normal release. If a bunch of people take the “demo” version and like it, but wait until after the game is out of EA to buy it, they may end up spending more on the game than they would have otherwise!

Anonymous Coward says:

I’ve got some video game ideas kicking around in my head. When I finally get around to making and publishing them, whether or not I put a price tag on them, the most important thing to me will be that people are able to play, experience and provide feedback on my work.

You don’t get rich off video game sales by aggressively fighting a futile battle against copyright infringement. You don’t get rich by automatically assuming your legitimate customers to be criminals. You don’t get rich by flailing your arms and screaming about how a civil infringement on your intellectual property is the moral equivalent as violent, savage, maritime warfare.

You get rich off video game sales by making a hit, and selling enough millions of copies that it doesn’t matter how many people copy it. That’s how it always has been, and it’s a lot easier to do now than ever before since digital distribution platforms gives you infinite “shelf space” with next to zero physical production overhead. Less costs in production and marketing mean even less net losses due to copyright infringement.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Do You Prize Money, Or Do You Prize Honor?

I am mostly interested in useful software, not games. Useful software is, of course, overwhelmingly dominated by open-source. It takes an organization on the scale of Microsoft to even keep pace with open-source, and occasionally, Microsoft gets in trouble because it has filched some open-source software, in violation of the terms. Open source useful software tends to be about honor, not about greed. There is a little bit of Richard Stallman in all of us, and a little bit of Linus Torvalds likewise. “A touch of Harry in the night,” as Shakespeare put it in Henry V…

The limit of useful open-source is, I think, represented by the PL/I programming language. PL/I is the first and most important dead programming language. It was always very closely tied to the IBM mainframe, and was involved in the decline of the mainframe. Very little system software made the transition from mainframes to personal computers. Everyone started over again in assembly language, and then in C, after a brief experiment with Pascal. People wrote compilers for FORTRAN, the scientific programming language, for personal computers, and these eventually turned up in open-source. And the same for COBOL, which was popularly reputed to be a dead language. There was a project for PL/I, within the Gnu C system, but it was last modified in 2007. It was presumably a private enthusiasm, and PL/I is a big language, and this kind of project would require a group commitment. What is left of PL/I seems to be a commercial program, or rather, a commercial service, which translates PL/I into Java. The idea is to move business logic from one’s mainframe to one’s website, and it seems the translation process is not fully automatic. It involves a certain amount of edit-and-rewrite work.

People do produce open-source game development tools, and good development tools tend to lower the threshold for game developers. In the open-source framework, people produce sufficiently good chess programs, mah-jong programs, solitaire programs, etc., games which have a good solid intellectual tradition, but which are of no interest to modern gamers. But there is no will to produce an open-source equivalent of Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty.

My mother is one of those really old programmers. She was programming on military projects, with a government security clearance, back in the 1950’s, trained by the people who had built the first computers, five or ten years earlier. She has asked me about what is happening in programming now, and I had to explain all about video games, ab initio, as if to a person from another planet. From there, we went on to the kinds of hardware and software which support video-games. Her summation was that this kind of programming was really a form of prostitution.

Anonymous Coward says:

Reducing piracy to zero would, in abstract, increase sales but only by a very small margin and only for a very small number of developers.

Many pirates would pretty much swear off gaming.

Former pirates who used piracy as a trial would only buy one, maybe two games a year. All of them “safe bets”, usually multiplayer titles to play with their friends. Think CoD, Destiny, Diablo 3.

Indies & AA publishers would see a huge drop in sales.

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