Piracy and Anodyne.Posted: 2013-02-17
So, in recent news…this has been happening with Jon and I’s recent game, Anodyne.
You may be wondering…why? Why Sean, why?
If you haven’t heard the story, I’ll cover it here quickly. You can skip this paragraph if you know:
Game releases Feb 4th, get some nice press from wonderful journalists, we do some interviews with wonderful interviewers! Over the weekend, someone from France tells me they liked the game, and was sorry for cracking it – I say it’s okay, as I was sort of expecting someone to upload it on TPB at some point – he asks if he can upload it, I say “sure!”. It goes live, I wait a bit to see if it is getting torrented, then comment saying that I’m okay with it (for following reasons in this blog post, more or less). Then a mod takes it down by accident, TorrentFreak does an article, commenters convince me to upload it myself, so I do that. /r/piracy and /r/gaming talk about it, someone from TPB contacts me, and then history.
So, there’s been a lot of luck in getting to this point, but I’m very thankful.
Anyways, here are some thoughts I’ve had on piracy as they relate to indie games (I define “indie” as a small group of people making the game who can market the game however they please). Of course these aren’t all the positives and negatives and it’s not all black and white, but these touch on some of my ideas:
- More people get to play your game. And listen to your music. Etc.
Self-explanatory. Normally only a few people would be torrenting it, but with this promotion, many people get to play it. The freeloaders, the ones who want to try-before-they-buy, the ones who cannot afford your game. They spread the game via word of mouth. Then more people get to play.
If you’re into trying to advance the public perception of games, then by putting your game out I think that it’s possible to shift the public idea of games from a product to an art form, even a tiny bit. Something I think really helps is enforcing the connection that humans created the game. It’s easy to know this for art, or music, or films – but what some people forget is, yes, for video games, some other human beings spent thousands of hours over a keyboard, plugging away at throwing their thoughts into this world! And by commenting on a torrent, or putting up our game for a sale, it helps to associate someone’s face with the game, and even though someone may not realize it, I think it can help in some way in shifting the average public perception towards the thought that games are a creative and expressive medium. Part of the fun of being independent is being able to talk with players – I can jump into comment threads,etc., as I wish.
Additionally, this had a bonus for me as a composer, I’m able to offer my soundtrack as part of a premium bundle, as well as offer it for free through Bandcamp. People seem to like the music, which is nice!
- You will make more money than the normal sales cycle. At least in the short term.
Putting on my business hat…
I hear a lot of arguments saying this will kill your sales because everyone will pirate. Well…
Anodyne had sold almost 1,000 copies before the Pirate Bay promo started. There are still about 12 hours left in the promo and, even with all the piracy, we have made more money than normal sales with our $1-min-PWYW sale using the Humble Store. This has been useful as we were entering the phase were sales would probably only be driven by the occasional large review or huge Youtube video – and now with the Pirate Bay going on, 10s of thousands of people have been able to play Anodyne and talk to their friends, share their experiences!
There is the unknown of how this will fare in the long run. Some have said Valve may not be happy with this sort of behavior, but they seemed okay with it with McPixel. I guess I’ll have to make an update in a few months.
Well, if your game is terrible, there goes your reputation (but maybe you could turn that around into a good thing…). If it crashes really fast in the beginning? Same. So avoiding these two main issues (which I believe we have avoided for the most part with Anodyne, at least from public response and the game not being *too* buggy). My thought was always “well if Anodyne is good enough someone will crack it and put it up somewhere and others will torrent it”, and this happened, kind of (it was interesting that they contacted me first!).
I’ve heard the argument that this might devalue video games over time. One line of thought I had is that indie games might become more valued as a result of more piracy, as people realize the small groups of humans that create them – I’m not sure how well that holds, I’d have to look at analogues in music, perhaps.
I think piracy is inevitable. If you’re going to do it, you’re going to do it – and as developers you may as well just get to know people pirating your game. Maybe they’ll pay for it, maybe they won’t – in any case, they’ll know you’re a human, and that is a good thing, I believe. Piracy isn’t “getting screwed”, but I think a natural process that arises out of the distribution process in any sort of business system. There are good ways and bad ways to deal with it. You may as well deal with it in the way that will let you continue to make games.
But, if I’m wrong, and Sos and I have ushered on an era where no one pays for indie games, I apologize. But I really don’t think that will happen – people *do* have morals, and you’d be surprised at how often people will pay for work they think is good.
What about piracy and larger game companies?
Well, I haven’t researched this and have about as much knowledge as the next guy. But here are some thoughts. Certainly Jon and I benefit from our game being relatively cheap to begin with – someone is more likely to pirate Anodyne and then pay $10, rather than pirate the next CoD and then pay $60. Plus, large companies employ more people who require higher incomes, due to families, homes, etc – thus my intuition tells me that the issue is figuring out exactly how much action needs to be taken to keep enough sales to keep your employees fed and healthy – so there are more complex moral issues at stake with pirating at a larger scale, exceeding the scope of this post.
Will this sort of way of approaching piracy work for everyone?
I can’t say. What would have happened if we didn’t have The Pirate Bay promo? I don’t know. But it worked for Sos and McPixel, and it worked for Jon and I and Anodyne. But, we definitely benefit from being one of the first to have done this. So if you have a game, and sales are dying, and you truly believe it is a game worth experiencing, you should probably get in contact with The Promo Bay – they are very nice people! (Made some good suggestions that implemented or I couldn’t implement – e.g. a top 10 order list, etc). It’s worth a shot.
So, that’s all for now…back to tech support, then.
If you found this interesting, let me know! Talk to me on Twitter: @seagaia2