Mobile Mavens

Mobile Gaming Mavens: Should developers play the pirates at their own game?

Our experts discuss Game Dev Tycoon

Mobile Gaming Mavens: Should developers play the pirates at their own game?

The Mobile Mavens is our panel of experts drawn from all sectors of the mobile gaming industry.

Last month saw details of Greenheart Games' attempt to tackle piracy hit the web.

The studio behind Game Dev Tycoon put out a free, supposedly 'pirated' copy of the game development simulator out alongside the standard release.

As players of the pirated version of the game play on, more and more people start to pirate their releases.

It's a strategy that, with beautiful irony, has led to those with the 'pirated' version of Game Dev Tycoon taking to message boards to claim that the game is "unfair", and asking if there is any way they can protect their titles.

The story has opened up the piracy debate once more, with many developers bringing up the issue of lost revenue.

So, we ask:

Are developers wrong to assume that piracy always leads to lost sales, and – ultimately - should they just accept that piracy is a part of the games business?


Oscar Clark Chief Strategy Officer Fundamentally Games

Oscar Clark has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also author of the book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games.

Wow is this still a debate?

Put the value in the server and piracy becomes distribution. I think we talked about that over two years ago.

Okay, I know its not quite that simple, but relying on the value of your game in a client is dumb and broken in a world where there are very smart people very capable of stripping out DRM and doing a ‘man-in-the-middle' replacement of all your adverts with theirs.

We've known for longer than I've been working in games that DRM protection doesn't last and simply means ‘don't release material', harming the experience of the legitimate consumer. This applies to music, film and of course games.

So, instead, lets put the value in the server. Lets make connecting legitimately to the server (even only occasionally) the only way to get the best value from the game means that it becomes more hassle than its worth to break the client.

And if you make the client freely accessible then there is no barriers to people wanting to play.

It doesn't mean it can't be broken, but then if you are hacked you have a chance to resolve the problem on your terms.

Developers who fail to acknowledge this and who continue to sell premium games with no server-side component will I'm afraid suffer from this kind of piracy.

Maybe I'm taking this a bit too seriously. Yes, it is quite funny to throw a joke in on the pirates - but personally I think the developer would have been a lot better off making a free-to-play experience that would turn those pirates into pushers of their game.

Eli Hodapp VP of business development GameClub

Unfortunately it seems if any part of your business involves selling any kind of digital product it seems like piracy is just a fact of life.

However, I don't think the issue of whether or not piracy leads to lost sales is as black and white as a lot of people try to make it.

Rather, like most things, I think reality lies in the grey area in the middle.

If someone who actually wants your product has illegally acquired it for zero dollars, there certainly is little, if any reason, for them to ever buy it.

At the same time, there's loads of serial pirates out there who seem to just steal anything they can with reckless abandon just because they can. For those kind of people, it's more about the collecting aspect and the individual files themselves that they're pirating almost seems secondary.

I think it's fair to classify the first example as a potential lost sale, the second, not so much.

Dave Castelnuovo Owner Bolt Creative

Yea, I think Eli is right.

Being a software pirate in my younger years, the goal was more about collecting everything rather than picking and choosing titles you want to spend time with. It's definitely more of a pack rat mentality.

Sometimes you don't even play most of the games you download - you just stick the files in a folder (maybe boot it up once) and move onto downloading more games. So it's ridiculous to equate piracy to lost sales on a one to one basis.

Maybe 5 percent of pirated units can be considered lost revenue, which is probably being generous.

I guess I haven't been burned by software pirating so it might be easy for me to say but, it seems that there is enough honest people out there - at least on iPhone - that you can make money without worrying about piracy.

I think dealing with pirates by somehow modifying the game when piracy is detected is a big distraction from selling your game to legitimate buyers. You'll get far more return on your investment by focusing on growing the legit market.

At the end of the day, there will always be a segment of the population that pirates games but I truly believe that they tend to evolve toward paying customers.

When you are younger you want to try and get away with something so you dabble in downloading games but the piracy experience is not that user friendly. It's a lot of work. Running into buggy releases and accidentally downloading malware is a pain in the butt.

I'm optimistic that once your time is taken up by a full time job and you have a little bit of spending money, it's far easier to just buy the game legitimately.

One thing about Oscar'ss comment though: Not every game can be put in the cloud. And the server side component can be expensive and a huge headache, especially if you have a hit on your hands where you are forced to scale your backend.

Even with the freemium model, client side logic has an advantage in that every single player doesn't have downtime when you get too many new users on Christmas Day. Zombie Farm and NimbleBit have both proven that client side freemium can work well and that piracy is not a big concern with that model.

Eli Hodapp VP of business development GameClub

Dave raises an interesting point with the feeling of being "burned" by software piracy though.

It almost seems like the people who make the most noise regarding their game being totally ruined by pirates are developers of a title that might not have even done that well anyway.

I feel like I've lost count of the number of developers who have posted sad postmortems on their respective blogs about their 10,000 percent piracy rates, because they had less than 100 sales so those sort of blown up stats are easy to produce.

In that instance, it almost seems like you're getting upset over the entirely wrong thing.

The fact that less than 100 people thought your game was worth downloading is the problem, not the thousands of people who pirated it because they could or because it was convenient and launched it once so it shows up on your stats.

In regards to Game Dev Tycoon, it almost feels like this game was engineered to fail and this whole releasing their own pirated version was a perfectly crafted stunt to guarantee the exact kind of coverage the game has gotten.

The story is too good, the irony is too great to ignore, and everyone likes getting on their high horse to finger wag at pirates.

But, at the end of the day, we're looking at a PC riff on Game Dev Story, a Kairosoft title that was so popular I'm not sure you'd find many people who would be interested in Game Dev Tycoon that hasn't either played or at least heard of Game Dev Story.

Even without this whole ironic piracy angle, I'm not sure Game Dev Tycoon would've been a huge seller.

Scott Foe Chief Product Officer Ignited Artists

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds..."

[staff ID="67" name="Keith Andrew"]

I suspect Eli is spot on when he says the devs were just looking to get coverage. It's definitely something of a stunt.

As a developer on Facebook commented the other day, it's not exactly an original game, and the 'pirated' version isn't technically pirated. In reality it's a free version put out by the developer.

Jared Steffes Co-founder Muxy

I think what they did was awesome, whether it was a publicity stunt or not.

After one of my first titles went to pirate paradise and forced us to stop relying on iPhone game income we decided to put a version of the iPad build as a torrent just so we could track who was using it and where. This was before IAP's and free to play models.

It was interesting and made us realize that the single pay model had room for disruption.

America loves the buffet model. Spotify, mobile plans, TV subscriptions, Netflix, Vegas food buffets or Old Country Buffet!

I assume they have stopped a decent amount of pirates with the "all you can eat" models. It will be interesting when publishers start having users in a web like that.

With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.


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