Yar!!!! A Game Developer talked to Pirates

Image via Moe Imouto

A game developer named Cliff ‘cliffski’ Harris from Positech Games, a small independent PC games company in UK, has been wondering why people (pirates) pirate games (re: his games) and out of curiosity and good intentions, he posted in a well known forum and site: slashdot and Penny Arcade forum . From both, his question made it to arstechnica, digg and bnet.

The answers that he got were massive and he summarized to 4 major points as of why people pirates PC games or other games:

image via google

1. Money / Financial problems

He stated that:

This *did* surprise me. A LOT of people cited the cost of games as a major reason for pirating. Many were kids with no cash and lots of time to play games, but many were not. I got a lot of peoples life stories, and a ton of them were my age. Even those who didn’t cite cost as their main reason almost always mentioned it at some stage. A lot of anger was directed at the retail $60 games, and console games. People in Australia were especially annoyed about higher prices there. My games were $19-23, but for a lot of people, it was claimed this was far too high. People talked a lot about impulse buying games if they were much cheaper.

Although it does not surprise me, I agree with others that the cost of games is one of the major problem.s If you take a look at the price of games these days ranging from $50 to $60 per game, they are quite expensive  especially since one of the major target markets is kids who does not have any income and depends on their parents to buy them games. From the perspective of parents, they have other needs (rent,mortgage,foods, cars, tuition fees,etc)  to fulfill and games are at the bottom of their very very long list. So how do the kids get their games ? Internet is the answer. Cheap and fast way to get their hands of any games they want. I was no exception when I had no income, I downloaded games because I could not afford them.

I also heard about games in Australia are considerably higher than the one in North America. Some of you guys who live in Aussie probably can say more about this matter.

image via google

2. Game Quality

Cliff said that

This was a big complaint too. And this also surprised me. I have a very low opinion of most new games, especially triple A ones, but it seems I’m not alone. Although there were many and varied complaints about tech support, game stability, bugs and system requirements, it was interesting to hear so many complaints about actual game design and gameplay. Not a single person said they had felt ripped off by a game due to substandard visuals or lack of content. The consensus was that games got boring too quickly, were too derivative, and had gameplay issues. Demos were widely considered to be too short and unrepresentative of the final product. People suspected that the full game was no better than the demo. Almost everyone had a tale of a game that was bought based on hype which turned out to be disappointing.

As much as this was a surprise to him,it’s nothing new for me nor others. How do you feel when you spend $50 on a game and you play only like a day if you are lucky ? I bought Oblivion for around $50 and I ditched it after a day because it’s getting to repetitive and boring, although, I seemed to like it when I played it at my friend’s house.

Do you remember Crysis,  the most over hyped game ever? A friend of mine bought it for $50 and finished the game within a day. Personally, I am not willing to pay $50 for a game that I am going to play just for a day and I would rather spend it on a figure for example. According to this news, only 86,633 units were sold in the first month of its release in US. Pretty disappointing numbers considering, it’s one of the most anticipated games in 2007. I am sure it would have done better if the requirements are not so ****ing high. It’s like telling people that you need to upgrade your PC to play the game and you expect to shell out $500 or more back then. Minimum upgrade would be your video card so add that to the cost of the game, total cost would be somewhere around $200.

Out of many PC games that I bought: FFXI , Diablo II and Orange Box are the ones worth every penny. I played Diablo II for 2 years, have been playing FFXI for 4 years and Team Fortress 2 for almost a year.

As for Demos, it’s not a true representative of the game. Unless they have beta version for everyone to test it out, a short demo is not enough to know the game. From marketing point of view, demo is like a movie trailer but your opinion on a trailer compare to the actual movie may be different. I understand that he wanted to give a teaser and not to reveal too much but if majority complaint about the demos then there must be something wrong with those demos.

image via http://talk.bmc.com/blogs

3. DRM

Quote from Cliff

This was expected, but whereas many pirates who debate the issue online are often abusive and aggressive on the topic, most of the DRM complaints were reasonable and well put. People don’t like DRM, we knew that, but the extent to which DRM is turning away people who have no other complaints is possibly misunderstood. If you wanted to change ONE thing to get more pirates to buy games, scrapping DRM is it. These gamers are the low hanging fruit of this whole debate.

The root of all evil: DRM. The easiest example for a game with DRM problems is Mass Effect. It requires to be activated every few days and each user can only have up to 3 activation keys. Even then there are still other problems with the DRM which stopped gamers from playing. The funny thing is that the pirated version works more smoothly so it means you spend $50 and couldn’t even play. Why would you want to play $50 for a problematic game while you can get the cracked version for free and run more smoothly XD ? Honest games who actualy buy the game got totally pwned in this case -_-;;. DRM is just bunch of marketing BS and a way to squeeze in more $$$ from gamers/customers. Check out Espy’s blog for an article regarding Mass Effect, Piracy and DRM.

If a game has qualities, people will buy it regardless for example, Sin of the Solar Empire released by Stardock Entertainment or World of Warcraft. Unfortunately, a lot of non-online games has minimal content and no re playability in particular FPS games. What I notice from most PC games these days, they are just eye-candy games. Looks good visually and crappy contents -_-; and I am not the only one who is frustrated with the content of PC games these day. Brad Wardell, CEO of Stardock Entertainment also expressed his frustration in this article and he also added why he does not care about piracy in his personal blog. In case if you don’t know, Sin of the Solar Empire does not have any DRMs but made it to top 10 of best selling games in March 2008 according to ign.

image via Gama Sutra

4. Digital Distribution

He said that

Lots of people claimed to pirate because it was easier than going to shops. Many of them said they pirate everything that’s not on Steam. Steam got a pretty universal thumbs up from everyone. I still don’t get how buying from steam is any different to buying from me, other than you may already have an account on steam. For the record, I’d love to get my games on steam. I wish it was that easy.

Well…. I disagree with what others said. Steam is convenient and nice which is true but if you like the game, you will go to a game store and get it. I mean don’t tell me those guys are too lazy to go to a game store to get the games they want. I think this is just an excuse to pirate the games.

What others said above is valid reasons but of course, they are always a group of people that will pirate games just because they can or it’s free :).

The reason Cliff asked people around is because he wants more sell from his games and to understand why people pirate his games. Unlike others, he actually listened to the complaints and took some actions (not just empty promises) as he mentioned them on the last part of his article. I think other developers should learn from him and what he has done so far and also Brad Wardell. Small game companies may follow his footsteps easily but big one like EA, it’s like wishing for a rain in a desert.



  • Added a link to Epsy’s blog

  8 comments for “Yar!!!! A Game Developer talked to Pirates

  1. August 17, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    Thanks for the read. C:

    And yea, to shed light on that segment regarding game pricing here in Australia,, the prices are fairly ridiculous. Metroid Prime 3 retailed for about $99 AUD ($90 Canadian) over here at the time I bought it–this was before discounts though, but at those default prices, my point stands. The worst part is that I got bored of it and stopped playing before accomplishing anything worthwhile, which didn’t really help to justify its purchase.

    The DRM can indeed by really annoying when it’s exercised properly; the worst part is that it’s usually circumvented a few weeks after a game’s release, and depending on the extent of the measures that were put into place, its practical worth becomes variably less. Spore will also seem to have some kind of DRM tagged along with it; however, downloadable content–which seems to be a major facet of the game–will require validation checks, possibly giving players more incentive to buy it. A good online component definitely helps, as in the case of games like TFT, D2, CoD4, TF2, etc.

    As I wrote about before, Mass Effect was definitely a case of counter-productiveness when it came to honest buyers VS pirates. When it comes down to the cold, hard facts, pirates get the game for free AND they aren’t plagued by the activation key limit. DO NOT WANT

    Crysis was a special issue due to the ridiculous system requirements as you stated; it’s the only modern game I can’t run on maximum settings without loads of frame lag. :C Thankfully, Crysis Warhead will be more optimised as to run smoother than its predecessor. They are also offering the game at a much lower price than most other titles on the market right now.

    Also, I got your e-mail =p I’ve still been around, but not as much. I was actually out of town not long ago for a bit to take care of some personal issues, and when I got back… yea, I’m not sure myself what happened. I’ll be back sometime soon though (I think).

    Espys last blog post..e3 (sucked), games, anime, etc

  2. August 17, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    Hey Espy. Nice seeing you still around ^^. I was going to put a link to your mass effect article when I was writing this one but unfortunately, when I went to your blog, I was asked for password XD. Hence why I sent you the email because I thought you don’t blog anymore ^^;;

    I did hear good things about the upcoming Crysis: Warhead and apparently, Cryptek learnt from their mistakes which is good so I may give it a try ^^. Back then no video card can play Crysis at full settings with reasonable frame rates but latest video cards should be able to play Crysis at high settings. Check this benchmark from a Canadian hardware forum.

    Holy crap Metroid Prime 3 for $90 CAD ? That’s crazy -_-;; since here games are around $50-$60 and I am already complaining a lot.

  3. M12
    August 19, 2008 at 6:10 am

    Nice article.

    Indeed, games are a tad expensive. However, when you consider the effort needed to build a game, it’s really not that much.

    At the end of the day, if nobody buy games, no games will be made @_@.

    M12s last blog post..I fell in love with a hologram

  4. August 19, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    @m12: That’s fair enough but most PC games these days are lacking in contents and re playabilities so it does not make sense to spend $50 on a game that you are going to play in one day or less.

    And the biggest buyers are kids who don’t have necessarily income yet so $50 is expensive for them and expensive games don’t mean that they are successful ^^. There are cheaper games out there that turned out to be a hit.

  5. Rin
    August 20, 2008 at 3:42 am

    Well, I do argee with M12.
    Games cost a lot to make and cost a lot of purchase them. Also, there are other titles also competing with the game being released. The more popular games will be bought over newer and unknown games.
    It all depends on the consumer and what they like.
    For me personally, I love the FF series and the Tales games. I never buy games that aren’t good or from developers who have a track record of bad games…

    Rins last blog post..Night Before Leaving Japan

  6. August 20, 2008 at 10:40 pm

    @Rin: In some cases like crysis for example, it’s overhyped and the game is mediocre. Whoever bought it most likely regret it the next day.

    If they reduce the price, the games will be more appealing and people will avoid downloading it in my opinion.

  7. Meow
    May 13, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    I am disappointed with the logic:
    “I can’t afford it so I just pirate it.”
    When I was a kid, if I couldn’t afford a game, which was the case most of the time, I did not get a game.

    Please think of it in this way:
    “I can’t afford a car, so I’ll just steal one from the dealership.”

    If you cannot afford something, then do not steal it. Stealing a game is lame. It shows you are spoiled and unable to do without.

    Let’s just pretend for a moment that those excuses the Pirates used make sense. Start applying it to other things.
    “I am hungry, but I do not want to do a lot of work; buying, cooking, and cleaning up. So I think I shall just steal from this restaurant I happen to be walking past. It’s convenient and I do not have to spend any money!”

    This is of course never minding the hard work and effort that went into producing food. Never mind the food was intended for paying customers. Never mind that it bleeds the restaurant owner of money that could of been used to re-invest into their business.

    Anybody can claim they have their reasons for stealing games. However, it takes a person of good character to resist falling into the life of software pirate. Just because something is easy and free does not make it alright.

    Imagine if people actually paid for the games they pirated. Heck, maybe that would be used to pay the employees salaries and be used to re-invest in a company.

    When you steal from a game, you are disrespecting everybody who worked on on it and everybody who actually bought it. Thievery, no matter how easy it may be is still a crime and dishonorable.

    But hey, maybe I just have a strong sense of right and wrong.

  8. May 15, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    @Meow: Sadly it’s a fact, although, I do understand where you are coming from. It would be nice if more people like yourself because if that’s the case DRM may not be needed at all as imposing DRM can be counter-productive.

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