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Game Developer Asks To Hear From Pirates 1085

cliffski writes "Indie game developer Cliff Harris has long waged war against games piracy, but has issued a call to pirates to tell him why he is wrong. Assuming that developers are missing out on potential sales from disgruntled pirates, Cliff wants to hear specifically from people who have pirated his games. Not to criticize or lecture them, but to answer a simple question. Why? The reasons people give for copyright infringement/piracy are many and varied, but much of the debate has centred around music and movies, with big 'Triple-A' games an occasional consideration. With specific application to the world of small budget 'indie' games like those Cliff makes, he wants to know the thought processes behind people pirating the games. What puts people off buying? Is it quality, cost, DRM, ease of access? Is there anything that can be done to convert those people to buyers? While many pirates often make good general points about the reasons for the widespread pirating of PC games, it's unusual to get a chance to address specific developers with specific reasons. If you knew 100% that the developer would read your email explaining why you pirated their game, what would you say?"
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Game Developer Asks To Hear From Pirates

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  • Re:Lack of demos. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 10, 2008 @12:36PM (#24546333)

    If you *can* try it before you buy it (using a cracked version), you often just don't buy either... I know I never did. It was all about the money... I could get it for free so why pay for it? Even if it was a crappy game, I'd still get a cracked version and play it.

  • Also... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Xtense ( 1075847 ) <{xtense} {at} {}> on Sunday August 10, 2008 @12:38PM (#24546363) Homepage

    Also, pirates do it for fun. No, really, they do. Read some nfos from respectable groups like Razor1911, Deviance or Fairlight, and you're bound to find a note on "why" etc. They also tell warez-users to go buy the stuff they pirate. "If you like it, buy the game - we did!", or something in this context.

  • Re:Lack of demos. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Affenkopf ( 949241 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @12:48PM (#24546459)
    If your read TFA you see that it's not about why people pirate games in general but about people who pirate Cliff Harris' games [].
    Since all games on his site have a demo lack of demos is not a legitimate argument.
  • by 4D6963 ( 933028 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @12:48PM (#24546463)

    I'm a lazy git who couldn't be bothered to pay if he had the money and wasn't a skinflint. Also, there's lots of games/movies/music out there that I want, I don't have the disposable income to pay for them all, and because I don't want to bother with deciding what's more worthy of my money I just don't pay for anything.

    Besides, why should I pay for something I can get for free? Not trolling, I and masses of people think that way. The only way I'd consider buying a game is if it couldn't be pirated, and had a playable demo that made me want to have the real thing really badly. Hasn't happened in at least a decade, so good luck with that!

  • Re:hmm (Score:5, Informative)

    by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @12:49PM (#24546473) Journal
    I don't pirate games. I tend not to buy many anymore either though. I won't download pirated games largely because I pretty much expect them to contain trojans. I won't buy most commercial games because the hoops the DRM makes you jump through take away a lot of the fun. When I was younger, I used to buy games but (in many cases) actually run a cracked copy. Now I value my time too much to bother with this. If I want to waste some time with a game, I want to waste it playing the game, not persuading it that I really did buy it. These days I tend to mostly play browser-based or open source games, because they don't have this problem.
  • by Victor Tramp ( 5336 ) <info.ross154@net> on Sunday August 10, 2008 @12:56PM (#24546541) Homepage

    The problem I see is game developers have the same myopic understanding of their products as the MPAA and RIAA have..

    In the material world, matter can't be created or destroyed. So in order to sell a widget, you have to make a widget first, and when you DO sell a widget, you only get to keep a fraction of the money you make, since the majority of the price has to go into MAKING ANOTHER WIDGET.

    In the digital world, information CAN be created and destroyed. it is very easy to create, and very difficult to destroy once created. So in order to sell a digital widget one merely needs to make a copy and trade material money for it. however, the party RECEIVING the money gets to keep 100% of that money since generating a new digital widget takes no industrial effort at all to make (or allow to be made) more copies.

    As the internet spreads around the globe and everybody has faster and faster access to information, there's no scarcity. ONCE a program has been WRITTEN, it can be infinitely replicated by anyone who has a copy. ..So, crying foul because people are pirating or copying your digital products literally makes no sense. No one gets rich by digging one ditch. If you don't want your information copied, don't put it out there for people to access.

    I'm not saying I have the solution for "piracy", nor am I attempting to explain the motivations behind "pirates". All I'm trying to illustrate is the physics of what the situation is for software developers, and music and movie producers, and all the other people trying to "capitalize" on the information age.

    everybody's motivations in this matter are merely based on physics, not greed or morals.. enjoy the spread of computers, technology, and bandwidth! ^_^


  • Out of print (Score:3, Informative)

    by tepples ( 727027 ) <tepples@gmail.BOHRcom minus physicist> on Sunday August 10, 2008 @01:03PM (#24546603) Homepage Journal

    A lot of programs get pirated because they're not available through legit channels. For instance, Zero Wing gets pirated because it's out of print and the public doesn't know who owns Toaplan's assets. Another case: Over a decade ago, I tried to register a shareware application for Mac. I mailed a money order, but two months later I got it back, marked return to sender. I assume the developer moved without a forwarding address.

  • Re:hmm (Score:4, Informative)

    by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @01:19PM (#24546771) Journal
    Maybe you don't own a laptop? My computer and the collection of my CDs are often not in the same place. Many of the CDs are in a folder that is not near the cases, so if I want to reinstall I also have to find the case in order to find the CD key. I replace my machine every three years roughly, but I still play games that are ten or more years old. Often these need a reinstall after migrating the contents of the old machine to the new one because they have detected changes in the hardware. Some newer games require an unfiltered Internet connection, which I don't have while mobile. Keeping the CD in the drive flattens the battery and generates a lot of heat too.
  • Re:hmm (Score:2, Informative)

    by Futile Rhetoric ( 1105323 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @01:22PM (#24546825)

    Wanting something for less (free) is about as legitimate an excuse as you can get in a capitalist society. Of course, that's where other considerations enter the picture: you might want to support the developer; you might want to own a physical copy (which is where added value in the form of elaborate packaging and "extras" comes in); you might want to "do the right thing" (whatever the fuck that means) and get the warm fuzzy feeling inside.

    I buy the games I love, because I love them. Unfortunately, those are few and far between, and I'll pirate to fill the time. Sometimes, I get pleasantly surprised, and go out and buy a game afterwards. Most of the time I don't. The experience, to me, is usually not worth the fifty bucks they try to charge for games. Sometimes, the experience will have been worth a tenner, say, but sadly, that option is unavailable -- so the next best thing is piracy. Besides, if after playing a game I have to think to myself that the game I've just played (or finished) would've been a huge waste of fifty of my hard-earned dollars, then I feel I'm fully justified to have pirated it anyway -- and those who would say that I should've wasted my money due to their particular brand of moral sentiment can go fuck themselves.

  • by cliffski ( 65094 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @01:57PM (#24547257) Homepage

    FWIW, Democracy 2 and Rock Legend are now on impulse: [] []

  • Re:Why do you care? (Score:3, Informative)

    by cliffski ( 65094 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @02:05PM (#24547341) Homepage

    There are mac demos of all the games at
    I need to make this fact clearer on my own site,
    (RMG do the ports for me).

  • Re:Lack of demos. (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 10, 2008 @02:08PM (#24547375)

    And then I graduated from college and got a job and now I have money, I don't pirate games anymore, I don't need to.

    (Another AC)

    And this does not apply to games, but also to other software; E.g. tools & utilities

  • Re:Also... (Score:3, Informative)

    by MaineCoon ( 12585 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @02:32PM (#24547629) Homepage

    When it comes to big name commercial games, those first 3 days can make a big difference in total sales. If it can be delayed out to a week, even better.

  • Re:Mutual respect (Score:3, Informative)

    by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <> on Sunday August 10, 2008 @02:34PM (#24547639) Homepage Journal

    So... you're saying A) that you've not bought a physical media computer game in the last, oh, 10 years (at least some floppy disc games had copy protect, for that matter), and B) just because you claim to be trustworthy, the game developers should trust everybody?

    A) I did, then installed the cracked version.

    B) The game developers are indirectly asking why their customers resent them. I'm telling them why.

  • Abundance (Score:5, Informative)

    by Brain-Fu ( 1274756 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @03:38PM (#24548227) Homepage Journal

    There is a fundamental, philosophical, problem with the traditional means of distribution: the product is abundant.

    Cars are not abundant. It takes a significant expenditure of materials and effort to put one together. When I drive off in one, I cannot simply dupe it and give the dupe to my friend. The laws of physics dictate a level of scarcity to this good, and as such it makes perfect sense to expect to receive money from every person who obtains a car.

    The world of "data" follows different laws of physics. Once I have the data in my hot little hands, I can dupe it and give it to my friends at zero direct cost to the producer. There is no deprivation of use nor loss of mineral resources nor expenditure of manpower nor anything of the sort on the part of the original developer when I dupe the game. None. And I can keep duplicating this ad infinitum, at the same cost (of zero). Furthermore, my friends can do the same thing with the copy I gave them...there is no quality loss. Once the good exists, it can instantly exist everywhere. It is "abundant."

    So, since data follows these laws (rather than the laws of physics as they apply to physical goods) people feel like they are being cheated when they are asked to pretend like data follows the laws of physical matter. They feel like they are buying into a game of control that is unfounded in reality and ultimately to their detriment (since they have to pay money for something that doesn't cost anything to produce *at this point* (excluding initial development costs).

    I think that is the crux of the issue. We all know the good is abundant, and we all feel like pretending it is not abundant is just silly, and harmful to us (our money is valuable and if we can get games for free then we have optimized our entertainment budget and have more money left over to spend on things like real cars or educations for our kids or what-have-you).

    What about the potential sale that we are "stealing" by copying a game? We tend to respond to such a representation of the situation with great cynicism. We feel like the only reason you feel entitled to every single "potential sale" is because of your insistence in everyone pretending that an abundant good is not abundant. We also feel that the dog-eat-dog world of capitalism doesn't guarantee a ROI on any kind of development project, so when you pound your fist in frustration at your inability to monetize your efforts we just say, "so try something else...thats what every other entrepreneur in the world has had to do...what makes you special? If you can't make money making games, do something else, and stop whining." That is the same answer we get when we complain about being downsized, or having low-paying jobs, or we are just responding in turn.

    Lastly...the age-old mantra that if you can't get money for every copy of a game sold then nobody will produce games. I call BS. Piracy has been alive and well since before the computer games industry even existed...and since long before DRM existed...and the games industry thrived anyway. And it still thrives, despite the continued piracy. Enough people pay for the games (even though they don't have to) that the industry remains profitable. If that model suddenly stops working, alternative models will take its place (subscription-based games and so on). If that doesn't work, and we actually reach a state of utter cultural impoverishment where no games (or music or movies, for that matter) are being produced because nobody can figure out how to make a living doing it (and no hobbiests manage to churn out anything but crap)...which I maintain is an economic impossibility...but if it actually does occur THEN it might make sense to talk about legislation...and there would be a conscious buy-in to the legislation from the masses who are hungry for cultural enrichment. However, this has not happened, and I therefore submit that it makes no sense to try to preemptively pass laws based on the premise that it might happen (given that it is unlikely and that the situation could be remedied after the fact anyway).

  • Re:Who is This? (Score:3, Informative)

    by cliffski ( 65094 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @04:07PM (#24548471) Homepage

    its in TFA.
    and the link in the summary too :D

  • Did I miss a memo? (Score:3, Informative)

    by deblau ( 68023 ) <> on Sunday August 10, 2008 @04:25PM (#24548609) Journal
    The reason people pirate games is because getting games for free is cheaper than paying for them, and because of the thrill. People have been sneaking into movies for years -- it's no different.
  • Re:Lack of demos. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 10, 2008 @04:54PM (#24548835)

    We see unlockable demos in the shareware arena, but I don't think I've ever seen a big title go this route before, and I don't see why it hasn't happened yet.

    You mean like Portal [], or World of Warcraft [], or Guild Wars [], or Final Fantasy XI [], or City of Heroes [], or etc., etc.?

  • by Jekler ( 626699 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @05:11PM (#24549017)

    I identify most with a group which I'll label "The Conditional Pirates". Pirates who see a critical flaw in your product. They can be converted to sales, but you flubbed something significant that's a barrier to their willingness to buy. Game lacks crucial features or was abandoned.

    The flaws I notice the most which will prevent me from buying is overzealous tamper protection (like GameGuard, PunkBusters, etc.) which somehow restricts my use of software which I paid for (or would have). As a Linux user I'm particularly offended when developers use tamper protection to make sure I don't run their program in Linux. Once I pay for their software, they shouldn't care or have any say over which computer, operating system, or environment I run it in. Because of that, I won't pay for software which will police how I use it after I buy it.

    The other flaw is abandonment of a game. Buying a game comes with an expectation of support because game developers ship games fully aware of the many bugs it contains and intend to patch them later. When I buy a game, I'm not given the option of "abandoning my payment", but game developers/publishers choose to abandon each game at an arbitrary point, sometimes that point is acceptable, many times it's not, and pirating games is really the only weapon people have against abandoned game rot.

    If you build a relationship based on lies and deception, expect it to go both ways. Game developers/publishers lie about the fitness of their product, and the consumer lies about their purchasing status.

    A few specific cases:

    Shadowrun (Windows Vista/XBox 360) - Released June 2007, Abandoned September 2007. Company closed a few months after release, the game still has many critical bugs that lead the game to have about a 20% crash rate. There are no game servers, it's entirely peer-to-peer so the company was able to wash their hands of this mess 100%. Take notice, the game developers felt no obligation to let players know they closed the studio and abandoned the game. For 8 months after the release, the game's web site still had information leading people to believe it was a vibrant an active game supported by the company with a message that you could "play against the developers!"

    Giants: Citizen Kabuto - Released December 2000, Abandoned immediately upon release. I bought this game on the day of the release and the game's link to play online brought you to a web page which said they had changed their mind about supporting online play, and recommended you give Gamespy Arcade a shot if you want to play multiplayer. To make a decision to pull a game's support on or before the release date is shady by any definition. It didn't stop them from talking up the multiplayer features on the box or on their official web site.

    Tribes: Vengeance - Abandoned upon release. The company even stated in future messages on the forums that support of the game was conditional on the game's success. They knew the game had a lot of flaws when they released it, and even completed development of a patch, but decided not to release the patch because they didn't see a future in supporting the game. That's real hard for my mind to process. That they would actually pay for a patch, get it, and decide not to release it for spite of poor sales. Their refusal to release a patch they had already developed was nothing short of malicious.

    When game developers are so willing to treat customers maliciously, why should I feel like I owe them something? To address the argument that "My company doesn't screw people like that..." As an industry, developers and publishers who do screw people aren't ostracized by the ones who don't. The first time Vivendi Universal screwed people, every development company under their umbrella should have turned their backs on them. It should have become virtually impossible for Vivendi to stay in the industry. But companies which have poor practices aren't ostracized, it's seen as business-as-usual or a "toug

  • Re:Lack of demos. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Pharmboy ( 216950 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @05:23PM (#24549099) Journal

    All the "big" titles used to be released as shareware, unlockable once you buy the full version. Doom, Terminal Velocity, etc. Even Wolfenstein, the first FPS that I am aware of, came as shareware, where you got to play the first part of the game to try it out, then you bought the full game for the other levels.

    Some games are fun to play on the shareware level, but not really worth the cost to buy the full game. Others are worth the expense. Either way, at least the developer had their chance to get my dollars.

    Shareware still works, the problem is that publishers are simply not using the method as much as they used to. This may be because most of the new titles coming out seem to be multiplayer only, which can't be restricted so easily. Steam sorta does, by having games that you can play for a weekend, or play for a few hours, then it expires.

    I accidently discovered a bug (maybe fixed now) with their free trial of "The Ship". During the free weekend, I downloaded and started The Ship, then firewalled out steam on my computer so it couldn't talk to their servers (since I was already logged in, everything worked fine). I played The Ship for about two months for free in single player mode since it couldn't call back home and get deactivated, and played my steam games on another computer I had, that I just logged on to. I didn't play the game that much (games was good, but not great), I was just curious if the game would finally deactivate, which it didn't until I removed the firewall rule on Steam so I could play multiplayer games on that first computer. So Steam does have *some* ways to try before you buy, but not the same as good old fashioned shareware.

  • Re:Lack of demos. (Score:2, Informative)

    by hanako ( 935790 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @09:09PM (#24550885) Homepage
    Before you rant, make sure there actually IS this huge delay - I know *my* order processor usually sends out download information right away, but every now and then either the servers are down for maintenance or the people handling the money decided that the order needed extra scrutiny to be sure it's not a stolen credit card.

    Neither of which are things that I can do ANYTHING about, nor even know that they've happened until I get an annoyed email from someone asking where their download is.

    Almost every single time this has happened, by the time I've actually GOTTEN the annoyed email and responded to the customer with apologies, the payment processor has figured out where they hid their ass and given the customer their download. Delay time - Less than 8 hours.

    It's possible you've been given a "48 Hours" message as pure ass-covering, rather than a sign of the actual delay.

  • Re:Lack of demos. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Physicser ( 1104279 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @10:15PM (#24551235)
    This was one of the large reasons I had held off on playing half life (2) for so long. I really didn't like the idea of having the games tied to an online account which, as you mentioned, would prevent me from reselling them. Personally, I rarely, if ever, sell my old games but I like the idea of actually owning them, not just "borrowing" them from the company.
  • Re:Abundance (Score:3, Informative)

    by AGMW ( 594303 ) on Monday August 11, 2008 @03:32AM (#24552783) Homepage
    ... based on selling the service of writing software rather than selling a disc in a box.

    How is that going to work? Hmmmm. I fancy playing WoW tonight, I'll shop around for some programmers to write it for me? More likely is that, as another poster suggests, EA, or whoever, shops around for programmers and they write the game for EA, then EA (try to) sell it - oh wait, isn't that what currently happens?

    The whole concept of "if I can copy it easily it must be mine" is really just a cover for shop-lifting! If I can walk into a store and pick up some stuff and there's no obvious (or effective) security to stop me walking out without paying ... then it's mine! If you cared about it you'd make the security better!

    That not to say that sometimes the perveyors of such goods don't grossly over-estimate the worth of their wares, of course! But it's still not OK to steal it - just don't buy it!

    I'd have to say I have some sympathy with the try-before-you-buy folks, but maybe the game writers could build something like that into the purchase process - as others have suggested - demo versions that can be unlocked etc.

Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed. -- Neil Armstrong