Thursday, April 16, 2009

More Evidence Of Overwhelming Piracy

An article of some interest over at the Escapist today about piracy rates on Stardock's new game, Demigod. The big takeaway for me:

"Sadly, most of the ~120,000 connections are not customers but via warez," he continued. "About 18,000 are legitimate."

The big lesson here (avoid any position where pirates can tax your resources) is pretty obvious in hindsight, so I won't belabor it. And I think the weak DRM on Demigod doesn't have anything to do with anything. No matter how strong your DRM is, Torrents of cracked versions of your game will be available in seconds.

I am just really drawn to this extra evidence of how overwhelming PC piracy is. 120000 users, 18000 legitimate! It dovetails nicely with what the World of Goo people found. No real conclusions here. Just my jaw hanging gently open.

52 comments:

  1. Unfortunately for Stardock, their long held stance of no DRM is biting them on the ass. Not because they don't have DRM, but because it is so well know they don't!

    It really bothers me that a large percentage of pirates claim "sticking it to the man" and "combating DRM" as their reason for piracy. Yet here is pretty good proof that the majority of people just won't pay for shit if they don't have to.

    As per your previous article, that 15% that actually bought the game are the ones that actively want to "do the right thing".

    The end result is you have a company having to provide infrastructure to support people who have blatantly stolen from them.

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  2. My favorite part is where the pirates caused the game to get worse reviews by overloading Stardock's servers.

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  3. My sentiments exactly Jeff, the number shocked me too, I thought they'd have more respect for their efforts in DRM freedom so to speak, but it seems absolutely rife.

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  4. DRM is a lose-lose situation. If you don't use DRM, people will steal the game because it is easy. If you do, people will steal it because they are "protesting" its use. Better to just be as minimalist as possible and apply simple protections and just let the chips fall where they may.

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  5. Wow, just wow.


    Consider my jaw dropped.

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  6. It's a shocking number, but I don't consider piracy numbers at launch to be significant. If those numbers drop a week from now, that's more a comment on the game than on the state of piracy. If those numbers hold, then I would take offense.

    I love nothing more than to pay game developers for providing me with hours of entertainment. But I really hate dropping 50 to 60 dollars on a piece of crap that I immediately throw out and uninstall.

    When the publisher offers a demo, I'll grab that to try a game out. However, some companies don't (Understandable; it takes time and resources.), and in that case, I'll illegally download the game. Either way, I will buy the game if I enjoy it, even if I have a free and complete copy on my hard drive.

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  7. What a dumb system Yahoo has. The above should be signed Steven Markle.

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  8. The problem with the game's launch is that Stardock didn't had the infrastructure to hold the game. If these pirates were legitimate users, the problem would still exist and unless Stardock plans to keep the initial 18k customers without getting more on board, then they should fix it. And while they're at it, put some better authentication in there so pirated versions wont even connect to the system. They already have accounts for Impulse and the problem is for online games so asking for a valid account* is far from a problem.

    (*=of course if validating the account is really a problem then Stardock should upgrade their systems and has nothing to do with piracy)

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  9. Kostas,

    Maybe if the pirates were actual customers they would have been able to afford buying new servers. Pirates are killing games.

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  10. We're talking about Stardock here, not some bedroom developer.

    Having sold 500.000 copies of a single game - Sins of a Solar Empire - until last September, i doubt they didn't had money to afford new servers.

    Which btw strikes me again as strange because i just realized that they should have this infrastructure for Impulse in the first place. Somehow this makes me wonder if they doubt they'll even make their own system popular enough to hold more users.

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  11. Have they ever heard of a CD key?

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  12. I think this is evidence of the fact that pirated copies of games are often available before the game is even officially released.

    Ive seen mention that copies of the game were released early by some stores that didnt abide by the schedule. So its not unreasonable to expect that there would be more pirated copies than legal copies, because the pirates have had access to the game for longer.

    If the ratio of pirated to legal copies stays the same over the next few weeks, then obviously its serious. Until then I think its more an interesting tidbit than anything.

    (I think thats the first time Ive ever used the word tidbit in a sentence...)

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  13. Just to play devil's advocate:

    If the game was offered free/premium then 15% would be a fairly high buy rate and who is to say that they would have had 18,000 legit without the 120,000 pirated or whether some of those pirates turn to legit copies at some stage.

    138,000 total is pretty low - I hadn't even heard of this at all though so maybe it's a promotion issue. It's easy enough to see some new game on a torrent site and download it but not so easy to go buy it when you've never heard of it.

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  14. Additional, right now there appears to be no trial version - few people will fork out cash on a game there is little information about (like maps/mechanics/differences from dota) on their site and they've heard little about. As bv-games said, this is too early to be useful - if anything it could be an indicator of how piracy will help them. As steven.markle hinted at, piracy is kind of like a running marketing cost now.

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  15. As Jeff, has pointed out earlier, if you are a single-player game, you are essentially a charity case. But this is an online game. It should not be this bad, and the fact that it got this bad is hurting their legitimate users.

    If you have an online component to your game, you must have user accounts. They can be free accounts that do not require subscription (like Blizzard does with Battlenet), but you should have accounts. That gives you some control over the people playing the game and gives you a way to police the legitimate users from the illegitimate ones. So for these types of games, the challenge is how to give accounts only to the legitimate users.

    I the problem here is that we are wedded to supporting brick-and-mortar retail stores. If all game distribution were electronic, then the solution is simple: you give the person an account at the point of sale. But in a retail store, I buy the box, and then go home to get the account on my own. This means you have to introduce some intermediate form of authenticating my purchase, like CD keys. This is what is easy to crack.

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  16. @Walker:

    But take World of Warcraft for example... You buy the CDs in the brick-and-mortar store, you still have to create an account at Blizzard's website - the same as if you had to buy it electronically.

    I thought that multiplayer subscription games would have less piracy rates simply because of the account verification and login step which you cannot fake. You either have a registered account or you don't.

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  17. As a PC game dev, statistics like this make me want to curl up in a corner and cry! :)

    Jeff, a question for you. Your work is popular and successful enough for you to earn your living, but I think we can both agree that it is not "mainstream." Do you think that works in your favor?

    Personally, I am lucky in that my games tend to be popular with the "casual" gamer market, most of which don't know about pirating or even how to go about doing it.

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  18. The fact is, most of those who pirate Demigod and such games wouldn't have bought them anyway. In such cases piracy is not against game designes - they lose barely few percents of sales. Who piracy really hurts are large game companies, because a lot of people will agree to pay for their titles (like GTA IV) if they'll be unable to get those for free. But with Indy and other poorly promoted games the situation is completely different, so you'd better thank pirates for their hard work instead of blaming them ;).

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  19. I pirated Demigod just to try out the gameplay, because there was no demo available. Played a few rounds of single player tournament, tried out the different Demigods, and only found one whose playstyle I enjoyed. Uninstalled the game that same day.

    I never buy anything without trying a demo first, but if I like it, I buy it. I paid for Sins after pirating it (also no demo), but Demigod just didn't have enough appeal to me as a single-player gamer.

    I am really shocked that no multiplayer piracy protection was in place, especially considering that Demigod is a multiplayer focused game. Crazy.

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  20. But take World of Warcraft for example... You buy the CDs in the brick-and-mortar store, you still have to create an account at Blizzard's website - the same as if you had to buy it electronically.This is a flawed comparison.

    WOW doesn't care (much) if you pirate the physical media. Their income is the subscription that you pay on the account. You stop paying and they shut down the account, whether you got the account legitimately or from a cracked key.

    The problem is online games where you do not charge an account subscription. In that case your are providing server architecture, but it is only funded through initial box sales. So it is crucial that you only give accounts to people who paid for them.

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  21. @WAdjet Eye: "Jeff, a question for you. Your work is popular and successful enough for you to earn your living, but I think we can both agree that it is not "mainstream." Do you think that works in your favor?"

    Absolutely. I think the best thing an aspiring Indie can do is find an underserved niche and own it. I don't have the budget or resources to compete with the mainstream.

    - Jeff Vogel

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  22. The fact is, most of those who pirate Demigod and such games wouldn't have bought them anyway. In such cases piracy is not against game designes - they lose barely few percents of sales.In the case of Demigod, this is completely false.

    Do you think servers are free? The company has to pay for electricity to power them, people to manage them, roll-over servers in case they fail, and so on. Right now, Stardock is having to pay substantially more (I won't say 10x, because costs don't necessarily grow linearly -- it is a stair-step model) than it should if all of the users were legitimate.

    And this is stealing - stealing in the legal sense. You don't get to hide behind copyright/stealing semantics this time. You may only violate copyright in copying the game file, but you are stealing electricity and server management costs from the company.

    In fact, multiplayer piracy not only steals from the game company it also steals from legitimate users of the game. Stardock is going to have to pass its increased costs (created by free-loaders) to the people paying for the game in order to turn a profit.

    If you are just pirating the game as a single player demo, you might be be justified in hiding behind your "free advertising" rationalization. But multiplayer piracy is serious theft.

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  23. @Walker:

    I get it. It runs sort of like Battle.net. But if you have a duplicate CD-key than someone else, then you can't hop onto Battle.net. And if all sales are online, then you can be certain to know which CD-keys are legitimate.

    Is this happening because this game is DRM-free that it doesn't even use a CD-key?

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  24. This makes me sick.

    I remember asking one of my roommates, while he helped pass the perverse ritual of torrenting to another, the reason they were stealing. The response I received was "why would you want to pay for it?" I didn't know how to respond, save leaving the room before I grew to angry to breathe. Personal ingerity and morals considered, there is never a choice (definately not in the hands of the consumer). Unfortunately, as I learned that day, most people just don't care.

    If you're one of these troglodytes, please, don't search for sympathy with whatever cockamamie rationale you've cooked up to explain why it's okay for you to steal (I'm looking at you Taloen). Please don't compare yourself to other pirates in order to show that degrees of the trade are more appropriate than others. You're all the same. At least spare a sliver of your integrity and own up to your crimes.

    I feel so bad for the developers of Demigod. I hope you're still able to etch out a living in this market Jeff.

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  25. @sn
    "But with Indy and other poorly promoted games the situation is completely different, so you'd better thank pirates for their hard work instead of blaming them ;)"

    If you really believe this, then you're an idiot.

    How does your pirating a game help promote the game? The only people who are on the pirate websites are pirates, and if it's true what you said right here:

    "The fact is, most of those who pirate Demigod and such games wouldn't have bought them anyway."

    Then none of those people who hear about the game through piracy are going to generate additional sales.

    The fact is, that pirates don't contribute anything positive to the game community. I agree with Jetguitarist, the least you could do is admit that you're hurting the industry, instead of trying to pretend that you're doing something noble.

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  26. This is amazing. With the copyright laws this tough, they could track down the pirates and charge them one by one. Just write a simple program to sent to emails of unauthorized users and tell them to cough or be sued. The copyright violation will result in at least $750 in damages, to as high as $30k pre case.

    demigod is a only game, and has to have some kind of register process right? Usually at least a email account is needed.

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  27. @Dariuou:

    "How does your pirating a game help promote the game? The only people who are on the pirate websites are pirates, and if it's true what you said right here:
    ...
    Then none of those people who hear about the game through piracy are going to generate additional sales."

    Why not? I see no logic in your conclusion. More people play the game - more people begin to talk about it, share their opinions / tactics, create fan websites, etc. As a result, the game becomes more known and popular. "The only people who are on the pirate websites are pirates" - that's a totally false statement. Most of those are ordinary people who have ordinary relatives, friends, etc.

    "The fact is, that pirates don't contribute anything positive to the game community."

    Yes, but they don't steal much from Indy game developers neither. I agree that "Demigod" can be an exception here if they really spend a lot on those ~102,000.

    "I agree with Jetguitarist, the least you could do is admit that you're hurting the industry, instead of trying to pretend that you're doing something noble."

    I'm not a pirate and I don't advocate them. It's just that I don't think the piracy causes any significant damage to the Indy game "industry". We'll see.

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  28. I wish people would stop saying 'If they pirated the game, they wasn't gonna buy it anyway'. Couldn't you just as easily say 'If they pirated the game, they didn't want to pay for it'.

    Most people pirate simply cause they can (demo or not), the easier you make it for paying customers and the harder you it for thief's, the better! I think my next game will be using an account check / purchase combo. Getting fed-up of all of this nonsense and lame excuses (in most cases).

    "Yes, but they don't steal much from Indy game developers neither. I agree that "Demigod" can be an exception here if they really spend a lot on those ~102,000."
    World of Goo is an indie game and was reported to have a 90% piracy rate, there are others too, pirates don't give a shit whether your 2DBoy or Microsoft, they do it because they can get away with it and it doesn't take food from their own families mouths. Simple.

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  29. One solution is to make games that honest people want and pirates don’t. That's what I'm doing. I'll let you know if it works. (see EnterTheStory dot wordpress dot com for details)

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  30. I hate the whole concept of combining artistic passion and business. If you're an artist then you should be ecstatic that 100,000 people are 'stealing' your art. And if you're a businessman, then you should get litigious on their pirate asses or spend 95% of your time on DRM.

    I don't know how you find the middle ground there, Jeff. But I respect you and your art, and I hope you can continue to feed your baby in these tough economic times.

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  31. @Vlad, the 'art should be free' argument is not a very valid one: almost all the world's great works of art were done on commission. There's no incompatibility between wanting to be an artist and wanting to be financially rewarded for your efforts. 'Art' comes from how it affects the viewer, not in the motivation of the creator.

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  32. "I hate the whole concept of combining artistic passion and business. If you're an artist then you should be ecstatic that 100,000 people are 'stealing' your art."

    That is the concept dreamed up by the kind of people who have no sense of responsibility. "Hey man, I should be given stuff and allowed to do nothing. Artists and their families should live off of love and soup kitchens."
    If people won't support you doing something, they don't deserve to benefit from the output, and probably won't.

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  33. "I'm not a pirate and I don't advocate them. It's just that I don't think the piracy causes any significant damage to the Indy game "industry". We'll see."
    Well, a pretty good argument is that the other massive benefits of the Internet for Indie developers (in terms of ease/reduced cost of distribution, improved word of mouth, everything else involved) offset the damage done by the inevitable increase of piracy.
    But that's like saying that the other benefits of cars make "hit and run"s okay.

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  34. Ah yes, and the lame ass excuses from the pirates start rolling in. Of course the actual reason is "they steal it because they can." What's sad is that most of them would have a hissy fit if someone were to steal something from them.

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  35. @sn

    I'm sorry, but you're flat out wrong, did you read the article and click the links?

    Pirates don't go after indie games huh? On what planet do you live on? Check out ANY iPhone game developers blog and see how many games they're selling versus the number being pirated on hacked iPhones. Check out the link he posted on the sales rate of World of Goo. Just check out any indie developer and ask them personally, at least before making such broad, sweeping and inaccurate statements.

    So pirates are supposed to now be some sort of third party revenue through word of mouth? Again, what planet do you come from where this is true? The rare game that gets media attention for having ridiculously low income rates might benefit, such as World of Goo. I'm pretty sure they'd much rather have 1/5 of their sales than a 90% piracy rate, because then they'd still be making more money than the pirates have stolen. And if you actually spent the time looking into it, as in actually talking to real live developers who release games, you'll find most of them have the same story, this is not isolated incidents.

    In summary, there is no "we'll see" how piracy affects the indie game industry, it already has, and anyone who hasn't seen this hasn't been looking.

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  36. @Ben, deworde: I'm pretty sure I didn't say all art should be free. And there's nothing wrong with wanting (and hopefully getting) financially rewarded. All I'm saying is that there are some people who are purely artists, people who are purely business-people, and people who can do both. I wouldn't get pissy if someone stole my IP, because my art is all freely available on youtube.

    I'm not a pirate, Relax! All I'm saying is I couldn't express my creativity if I had to consider how to make it more profitable (as opposed to better/more enjoyable.) If you guys can find a balance there, then awesome for you. But I have a day job to support me, I would have to be a pretty lazy artist to eat at a soup kitchen.

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  37. This isn't very good evidence. I'd imagine if you could somehow get piracy-to-sales ratios on games sold that most of the games out there started out with huge numbers of pirates but later evened out a bit.

    As an example, a while back you mentioned sales of Geneforge 4. Why 4? You mentioned it was average. Thing was, how could you tell if it was average if it wasn't around for a while? If you had picked a one week old game and said it was average for your sales, how likely would anyone have taken that seriously towards the article?

    Anyways, continuously discussing piracy is a bit pointless. People will pirate. Get used to it. Not a single thing you can do. Piracy sites like Pirate Bay will be taken down but others will take their place.

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  38. @Vlad: I also don't believe that artists who share their work for free have any sort of moral higher ground than those who sell it. Attention is a form of currency, after all.

    Games take a lot of time to make and it's not practical to make certain kinds of games when holding down a full-time job at the same time. We probably wouldn't have had the Sistine Chapel painting if Michelangelo hadn't been given 20 months and 3000 ducats to do it. But we don't sit back and think, "how great would his work have been if he'd not been paid to do it".

    I don't think any games are approaching that sort of cultural significance yet, but when they do, I expect it will be as a result of someone being paid to make something beautiful, not someone who's had to fit it in their evenings and weekends.

    I'm not a fan of IP to be honest. I just think that culture is worth something. And therefore, we have to find ways to fairly reward those who gift us with such things, and avoid implying that if they expect or require any compensation then they're not a 'true' artist.

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  39. http://www.dperry.com/archives/news/dp_blog/the_pirate_bay/

    I thought I'd post this link here. Someone in the industry actually agrees with me!

    The day media producers start viewing piracy as true and valid competition, is the day they'll start winning the war.

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