Discussion of Game Dev Tycoon’s DRM. And the game. And piracy.

I want to talk a bit about piracy. (Again.)

Game Dev Tycoon, released recently, has an interesting DRM strategy with regards to piracy – playing the pirated copy will make you lose after a while, because too many people pirate your game, and you go bankrupt.

(I will note this has really done wonders, press-wise for them. Not going into whether this was a marketing stunt (I don’t think it was, for the record – their blog post comes off as this DRM was more of an emotional response))

This strategy roughly says, as conveyed through the gameplay: “Piracy hurts sales and doesn’t let us make any money, and makes us go bankrupt”. It’s a bit harsh, especially since it makes you prematurely lose the game, so hours spent might go down the drain.

It’s sort of clever how the DRM is implemented, but the lesson being taught isn’t entirely accurate – piracy might hurt sales, but it doesn’t guarantee bankruptcy in all cases – hurt profits in larger studios, possibly.

Here’s one negative. When you do this, you are shutting off anyone playing the pirated copy from playing your game. In this group of people, there exist people who don’t have the money to buy the game, simply want to try before buying (And won’t buy otherwise), and people who just never pay – with some overlap between the groups.

You’re genuinely pissing off the former and latter party, which are possible fans. In my experience, some people didn’t have the money to pay at the time, but later paid. Or they told their friends to buy it.

I suppose it’s a VERY strong way of conveying the feeling of getting pirated – by playing the pirated version, you can never reach the goal of making enough money to stay alive. But it’s not entirely accurate. Other studios and I have had benefits from piracy, you don’t necessarily go bankrupt with piracy. Most pirates probably weren’t going to buy it anyways. But some of them would have!

And this is why I’m so mixed on this. The party of people who pirate and don’t think about it – maybe you’re teaching them something, it’s hard to say. But that’s at the cost of negatively affecting people who can’t afford, and people who were trying before buying.

I wonder if this lesson could have been taught more gently, without cutting off anyone playing the pirated version from finishing the game. But, that would have reduced the impact on the party who are “the problem” of piracy – people just pirating even though they can afford the game.

So…hmm. I suppose that, in the grand scheme, maybe this experiment was a good idea. In the short run, it hurts some of the studio’s fanbase. It’s sort of a not-entirely-true “lesson” being taught, and is a bit unfair for people losing their time. BUT, where the real win is, is that it does plant the idea of “hey, maybe I should pay for this” in the minds of the people who won’t pay for it, even if they can. Even if that’s conveyed through a message that is not true – that is a bit of empathy towards game developers, the sinking feeling of not making any money off of something you worked hard on. (Even if, again, Game Dev Tycoon itself isn’t very realistic about this)

But, that’s only part of the battle in reducing piracy in people who don’t need to pirate to play games – I think the other part also lies in increasing players’ empathy towards developers. Showing the human side of development, etc, which I think over time can make people think twice before pirating a game and never paying for it (if they can!) . At the same time, this also includes REALIZING that pirates can sometimes be people who can’t afford the game. It’s not just a group of evil, middle-upper class kids who will steal at every opportunity!

-Sean Hogan


(Oh, and yes, I’ve purchased the game. It’s good at conveying the complexity of scaling up a game company, the issues inherent with taking risks with IPs, having tough publisher experiences, the nervousness of release…and I think that gameplay itself can foster some empathy towards developers.)

For your amusement, here is “Andoyne” not doing well in Game Dev Tycoon 😛



5 Comments on “Discussion of Game Dev Tycoon’s DRM. And the game. And piracy.”

  1. Fantasy and Adventure, together at last!

  2. Nice, well-written article. During Anodyne’s promobay I remember telling a few friends about it, some were kinda skeptical about buying it right on but I told them to just pirate it “because the dev gave pirates his blessing” and it would probably be on Steam later on. The ones that did download it from your torrent ended up buying it on Steam when released. I feel said friends are a bit skeptical about new faces in the Indie scene, naturally, but are a bit more concerned when it comes to the ones that have a “retro-styled pixel-art” aesthetic, I mean, I’m not against it but it’s something that’s been pretty overdone lately (and sometimes pretty poorly), so I understand where that skepticism is coming from. Also, I don’t mean to imply that Anodyne’s art is generic/sucks, I like it and I’m sure they do too.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Pirates are very clever they already fixed this ”bug”

  4. xot says:

    It might have been a good marketing move, but the need for this sort of heavy handed message highlights what were probably missed opportunities in the game. Namely, generating empathy for game developers. You say it’s there to some degree already, which is good. It would please me greatly if the game was not just about making as much money as possible.

    I’m very curious about how DRM and piracy are otherwise addressed and depicted in the game’s world.

  5. Apple says:

    I’m sorry, I missed the part where stealing was justified. It’s not abandonware by any means, so… Yeah, that’s someone’s livelihood. Not cool.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s