Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

How to get pirates to complain about piracy…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 30, 2013

It seems that this story went viral yesterday – which could only help the game’s sales…

Game Dev Tycoon forces those who pirate the game to unwittingly fail from piracy (AKA Best Anti-Piracy Measure Ever!)

It’s very clever – a nice “shame on you” against the pirates.

Will it have ANY effect on piracy? I dunno. Maybe there are three or four people out there who might get inspired by the story (probably not the ones who pirated it) and say, “You know, software companies – even tiny ones – really might suffer from rampant copyright infringement. Maybe I’ll quit encouraging it from now on.” That’d be awesome.

Just because the fight is a nearly impossible one doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be fought. And even any potential victory won’t be a  permanent one, and if there is any real success it won’t be won by technology – by “always on DRM” or any of that crap. It’ll be a cultural shift. And this sort of thing is probably as good a place to start as any.

My core question is whether or not the game is actually any good, having not played it yet…

For me, the game’s subject material was already interesting, but speaking for myself (though I imagine many others are in the same boat), it is made more interesting by being “the game that pulled the piracy prank, teaching pirates and others a lesson about piracy.” It makes zero impact on the legitimate purchaser, but that little bit of “meta” information does increase my interest.

While their exact “prank” is not something that could be easily duplicated (it’s unique to the kind of game they made, and now it has already been done…), I do (generally) like the idea of games having a larger “meta” story to them. It’s why I love interviewing developers (new one coming up soon, BTW!) and learning the story behind the game, and knowing about the people responsible for them. That “meta” information intrigues me. Maybe I’m weird that way, but it gives the game more meaning for me.

Not that there’s anything wrong with a game being just a game, having no relationship with anything beyond the context of its own little self-contained universe.  But games that go outside that, and either take or add meaning to the context of the greater world around them (as small of an impact as that might be) do get an added dimension.

Anyway, I hope the prank pays off for the developers. And, the eternal optimist, I really do hope that maybe somewhere out there someone will actually take the lesson to heart.

Filed Under: Indie Evangelism - Comments: 12 Comments to Read

  • BarryB said,

    What Game Dev Tycoon does is clever, and certainly more effective (as you point out) than always-online DRMs. It’s not new, though. I can still remember when Ultima VII part 2 let you play through into the mid-game before having a character ask a question of your avatar that required putting together several pieces of literature in the game box. (You’ll remember just how rich it felt to buy one of the games in those days, because of all the atmospheric bling that came with them.) If you didn’t have a correct answer, all the characters you clicked on from then on would spout a mix of nonsense words and choice insults aimed at pirates. Of course, if you missed on getting that code by even one letter or digit you’d also get the same treatment, as I discovered from my perfec4tly legit review copy. And the only way to fix it was to go back to your last. Still, it worked well.

    More technologically sophisticated times require more technologically sophisticated responses. I like the idea of a cracked game with impossible economics, or maybe an RPG where you can play a quarter of the way through and then find a door barred to your progress with a sign, “No pirates allowed,” on it. Logic and emotional appeals don’t get through to pirates, human nature being what it is. Disappointment and frustration might help.

  • Anon said,

    Such “soft” anti-piracy methods are nothing new even if this one is a more ironic than the older ones (Codemasters also employed such tactics years ago).
    Effectively changing a game into a demo isn’t helping against piracy in general and I strongly doubt that this particular game will be doing much better commercially now.

    However, two things *will* happen as the protection scheme is now known (it will be heaviliy publicized so many users of pirated copies will get wind of it):

    a) Many “opportunity pirates” (plain users either with “connections” or able to find & download a cracked copy themselves) will immediately lose their interest in the game (and play something else they didn’t pay for).
    Some will try to cope with this “special difficulty level” and brag about how long they endured it and only a few people will actually get a proper license.

    b) Now that the kind of protection is known somebody will likely crack it and distribute it. A “clean release” if you so will. Then some persons of group (a) will continue to play it without paying while others are already deep into some other pirated game.

    Two things are very clear to me regarding software piracy:

    1. Pirates will always exist: There will always be someone who is able to crack software – and do so.
    Of course some crackers go legit, eventually, but it doesn’t really matter: There’ll always be somebody to replace them for the same (wrong) reasons.
    Note that many pirates never actually play the game they crack, let alone would pay for one. Their challenge (or “game”) is to crack it and they “win” if they accomplish it.

    2. There will always be users avoiding to pay for something they can get for “free”. It doesn’t matter what nationality, what social class, what income – there will always people rationalize their stealing as if they actually have a birthright to play/consume everything, especially if a digital copy can be made so easily.

    Rationalizing with pirates and users of pirated copies is completely hopeless – they either realize the consequences of their behaviour themselves and go through a learning process or they need to learn it through punishment. Some even to get hit hard several times before they change their mode.

    No wonder every mainstream game publisher has either already switched to DRM copy protection like Steam, Origin, UPlay etc. or will do so with their next release – while not perfect their chance to rake in more profits has apparently risen dramatically with these systems…

  • Adamantyr said,

    It reminds me of one of Chris Crawford’s later games, which he copy-protected by using code obfuscation. Crazy loops, code data embedded in sound effects, the whole works.

    He also broke the game so it was un-winnable, and that entering the correct pass code would fix the broken part. So pirates who hacked the easy part of the software (evading the pass code system) would still have a broken game but would not know it unless they played it most of the way.

    I’m really thankful I had an orphaned computer system in the 80’s now. It showed me the damage piracy does to an industry early. If you like it, BUY IT, so more will be made. This isn’t hard.

  • Xian said,

    I really like the way that they are getting the message across, especially in a game about being a developer.

    Like others have said, this isn’t the first time someone has set a surprise for the pirates. Serious Sam 3 had the pink scorpion: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/12/07/serious-sams-drm-is-a-giant-pink-scorpion/

    My opinion is the best way to deal with piracy is to not put up any barriers to your paying customers. As Coyote had said it a previous post a while back, with all the DRM hoops and aggravation that the paying customer has to go through, the pirated product turns out to be superior. I think Valve and Steam has turned many pirates around by making it easy to play a game when and where you want to along with their frequent sales. I know some others that have bought many Good Old Games not just for nostalgia, but because they played copies when they were new or felt guilty about copying in the past and wanted to assuage their guilt.

  • McTeddy said,

    I love these things and will never say something bad about “Anti-Pirate” pranks. (Except, of course, when it breaks a real customers copy)

    Sure… these moves won’t convert pirates to paying customers. But I don’t care. Most pirate’s WON’T buy regardless of your protection.

    At least these give me a warm and fuzzy feeling as a paying customer whose game isn’t broken.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Well, as I suggested above – it’s not gonna be the hardcore pirates that are gonna come around. But there’s a lot of casual pirates who don’t even think about it. It’s just what is done. So maybe somebody starts thinking about it.

    And yeah, my take is – take care of the real customers, ignore the pirates as much as you can afford to.

  • Kyle Haight said,

    One of the annoying things about DRM is the way it punishes the legitimate customers. This kind of ‘pirate prank’ neatly turns that around, punishing the parasites for a change.

    Plus it’s hilarious watching the casual pirates unknowingly ‘out’ themselves with their complaints when their games don’t work right. It opens them up to mockery, which should be rained down on them profusely at every opportunity.

  • Anon said,

    About DRM:

    While DRM is probably very good for the publisher (bigger sales from the get go) it has a very noticeable downside to more than a handful of gamers: They usually can’t sell their DRM-enabled game to somebody else.
    There may be ways to circumvent it but I’m not aware of them and the established opinion is that you can’t.

    As console games could easily be sold in the past it’s no wonder the console makers all now offer their own networks and try to convert players into service users.

    Sony is no exception here and I’m actually experimenting with PSN+ right now (I only have a PS3 and no other current console) to see if it actually bothers me.
    I got myself a year subscription when it was 25% off and started to download and play the games that are free with this service (I’m not taking rebates into account – just the free games).

    My results after about six months:

    – The price of admission is lower than buying a full price title (or two platinum games) so the price is acceptable if I get at least two platinum games for it.
    = I win as I already did that with the downloads on the very first day of the subscription.

    – For the relatively low year subscription price I can download more than a dozen games at any time. Some of them are for the new PSP, most of them are a bit older (platinum range). I can play these games as long as my subscription is active and I have my PSN account (and the platform needed for them, obviously).
    = I win as the game selection is changing and I can try out way more titles than normal purchasing would have enabled me to.

    – I downloaded and played (sometimes: “only tested”) several games I would have bought on disk for more money (= I won as I saved money) or wouldn’t have bought in the first place (= I won as I could try them out at least – and still didn’t specifically pay for them).

    – Of course I don’t own any game and can’t play them in a bunch of years – something I eventually do with my older consoles & games. Either I don’t have a subscription or Sony kills the servers – it doesn’t matter. The games will become inaccessible at some time.
    = I clearly lose freedom here. No way around it.

    – And obviously I can’t sell anything.
    = I also lose here.
    However, the price of the subscription is fairly low (given the amount of possible downloads) so I don’t lose much money (=missed sale profits).

    – The subscription fee is paid in advance. The cheapest fee is the one for a year – if you get a heart attack the money is gone for good…
    = I may lose out but it’s not very likely.

    – I haven’t had a problem with the network being down – but I WOULD have had major problems if I had been a Plus user when PSN was down for weeks because of the hacker attacks. What do we learn from it: The service provider HAS to make sure that the service runs as flawlessly as possible! I can only hope that Sony has learned from the PSN debacle…
    = I can’t win here – but I could lose dramatically!

    How would I rate the sum of my experiences?
    Answer: Very good. I have more wins than losses.

    Who also profits from it? Sony. They get the subscription fee (in advance) and only they know how much they will transfer to the content providers…

    Who loses out: The content providers. I may have bought more games on disk (mostly platinum releases) which may have made them more money (even though Sony would have gotten their license fee, of course).

    What will I do? I’ll likely extend the subscription for another year and then end it, at least for the PS3.
    In this time I will have had the chance to effortlessly play more than two dozen mainstream & indie games I was interested in.

  • TheBuzzSaw said,

    Why is everyone celebrating this as a wonderful anti-piracy mechanism? This style of anti-piracy has a really bad history. There was a high profile game that did this (a Batman game, I believe). There was a part where your jump/glide failed to work, so you could not progress past the barrier. The studio was all proud of itself for exposing a bunch of pirates, but all it did was generate a ton of bad press for a “defective” game. Sure, the COMPANY may know about the pirates, but when people tell their friends about the game, there is no context. Those are ACTUAL lost sales.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    It’s been publicized enough at this point that I doubt that’ll be an issue. Most people who have heard about the game (including me) heard about it on account of the piracy prank.

    Yeah, this could all be a cheap publicity stunt, but frankly indies need all the publicity they can get, and they need it cheap…

  • WhineAboutGames said,

    Yeah, the payoff for this is really the publicity stunt. Of course, I’ve done things like this many times in many different ways, but I don’t write press releases about them, partly because that would defeat the point of actually impacting the pirates.

    Some stuff we’ve done:

    Magical Diary has a little subplot where a business closes down if you don’t shop there often enough, blocking you from being able to complete that quest. Someone comments that a business can’t survive without paying customers. That’s it. Maybe it’ll lurk in the back of someone’s mind, maybe it won’t.

    There’s a well-distributed pirate verison of Magical Diary which crashes at a particular point, identifies itself as a bug caused by a corrupt download, and tells you to use your license key to download a fixed version. Some people figure out right away that this is a fake. Some people assume that the actual on-sale version has this “bug” in it to force people to register (It doesn’t). Some come to my forums to ask in really roundabout ways how they can manage to fix their damaged install when they kinda sorta forgot their key…

    (It does upgrade cleanly if you have a regkey, so any real customer downloading the bad copy isn’t impacted.)

    LLTQ got even sillier, but that’s another story.

  • poopypoo said,

    Although it makes for a hilarious story, I doubt this plan made the developers any money. My advice to developers would simply be to forget entirely about piracy. If the publisher wants to waste their time, fine. But you’ll be better off getting 20% more stuff done, not alienating any paying customers, and not daring people to pirate your game. Just forget the word exists; piracy is just another useless doubt.