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Editorial: Why Are Indies Embracing Piracy as Big Companies Fight It?

McPixel indie EA SecuROM internet piracy Anodyne DRM

Piracy is the biggest issue to hit the gaming world in recent memory. At least, that’s what popular developers will tell you. Online piracy, or the downloading and uploading of products without paying for them, has been around as long as the internet has been popular. Video games have been one hot product to continually see pirated versions hitting the web on the day of release or even beforehand. Many developers and publishers have attributed more and more “lost sales” to pirates in recent years.

Companies of all kinds have attempted to stop the illegal accessing of their content for a while. The longest standing methods for securing games have been serial keys and copy protected discs. Of course, those with the technical knowhow are always one step ahead of these things. Throughout the years, serial key generators have proliferated the web as well as hackers who easily remove copy protection.

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In the modern era, many developers continue to fight against piracy with stronger methods and mixed reaction. SecuROM, used most famously by EA, is one method of disc copy protection which harms paying users more than pirates. One of the tenants of SecuROM is to only allow a game to be activated a certain amount of times. For example, Spore initially only allowed players to install the game three times before basically voiding their purchase of any value. Of course, that ignores the more unfortunate features of the program, some of which prompted users to file a class-action lawsuit.

Another popular (for companies) method that arrived to combat illegal downloads is games which require an always-on connection. Unlike SecuROM, which tends to only require one-time online activation, an always-on game is exactly what it sounds like. If you want to play a game, you must always be connected to the internet so their servers can continually authenticate that your game is genuine. Not only does it strike many as a violation of privacy, but hurts gamers who do not have consistent (or any) internet connection.

While many developers search for further intensified methods of protecting their property, indies seem to slide in the opposite direction. Last year, Sos Sosowski did something unprecedented. He took his weird game McPixel and allowed The Pirate Bay to promote it on their front page. Although the site regularly features independent artists’ works, this was the first time a game had been given the spotlight.

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This is just the kind of event that would send a big developer into a panic. However, it was something that both Sosowski and The Pirate Bay officiated together. He wanted his game to be available to download from thousands of people who had never heard of it before. It’s true that he would have loved to get money for his game, but in a way, that’s exactly what promoting the game on a pirate site did.

Instead of acting like pirates are evil beings, he embraced their inevitability. Instead of trying to come up with a convoluted (and expensive) scheme to thwart pirates, he invited them to simply enjoy his work. They took to it and downloaded the torrent thousands of times, but not before many donated some funds. There’s something about someone giving away their hard work that makes you appreciate it more, after all. The promotion is since long over but the torrent remains online. It would have been there without the developer’s consent, either way.

More recently, Anodyne hit The Pirate Bay as well. The game got the same promotional treatment as McPixel and was actually uploaded by the developers. Analgesic Productions posted this comment on their torrent:

“While I of course prefer if you bought Anodyne (as we worked a lot on it), I understand that not everyone is able to purchase it. I guess what's more important is that more people get to experience the game.”

This is the same sentiment expressed by Sosowski a while ago. Just like McPixel, they also set up an easy page for people to purchase the game for any price, if they chose to. Any price is allowed, and of course, none whatsoever if people chose to pirate. But why would an indie developer of all people allow their games to be downloaded freely? Don’t they require the money from their games even more than a massive company?

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Yes, indie developers struggle off the meager funds most make. Some people get lucky and create immensely popular games like Minecraft or Super Meat Boy. Most of the time, though, they get nowhere close. Still, when you are a team of one or just a few, it is easier to see every aspect of the game. For small developers who have little to no money to promote their own games, torrents and otherwise free downloads are the easiest method.

Of course, indie games are not the only pirated games out there. Despite the best efforts of big companies to secure their games, most of the means are cracked immediately or soon after launch. Each triumph in the piracy community over updated protection further angers developers/publishers, but the cycle will not end for a long time, if ever. That is, unless every game suddenly became free to play. However, considering how hard it is to maintain a thriving community for one, most companies will probably stick to more traditional means.

Why aren’t big companies about to start embracing piracy as indies have? For one, piracy is basically deemed an illegal activity by media moguls. Explain it away all you want, but it certainly wouldn’t sound “right” for a big name to suggest players just pirate their games. However, with or without acceptance, people are going to keep on pirating games. As such, it seems that perhaps they would do better to loosen restrictions, as they aren’t making a dent in downloading habits anyway.

With all that said, massive developers and publishers would probably prefer that the problem go away on its own than invest in expensive and fake-prohibitive anti-piracy measures. However, they’ll keep doing it as they have all convinced themselves it really makes a difference and doesn’t hurt their own consumers. In the future it seems likely that we will see many more indie developers show an acceptance of piracy’s inevitability. If nothing else, it advertises their games to people who may have never otherwise seen them before. Hopefully a few of those folks will show their appreciation by buying the titles they love as well.

What do you think? Do companies have anything to gain or lose by embracing or fighting against piracy?


1 Comments

I thoroughly believe pirating (particularly with rare games) creates future customers and spreads buzz. If someone is profiting from pirating, they should be shut down, but I think they should leave the average citizen alone. Pirating and knockoffs are also a form of flattery. Problem is corporations believe in keeping every penny and mistakenly claim they are losing money. In fact, I believe the vast majority of piracy is done by people who were never going to buy the game anyway, but if they end up liking it, they might buy future games from the company, thus companies will actually profit from the pirating.

 

 

 

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