Avast, Ye Mateys!

Avast, Ye Mateys!
Rob from the Rich, Steal from the Poor

Jordan Deam | 17 Feb 2009 13:04
Avast, Ye Mateys! - RSS 2.0

That's not to say that McMillen hasn't thought about ways to persuade pirates into becoming paying customers. His most recent project, a self-published CD entitled This Is A Cry For Help containing 10-years worth of his games, comics, sketches and animations, is his most autobiographical release yet. "When people buy my CD, they aren't really buying my games; they're buying my career, my life for the past 10 years," McMillen says. "I also sign copies that people buy. It's a very personal thing."

It's a strategy that only an independent game designer can employ: Remind your customers that your game was made by a human being, not a faceless corporation. So far, there are no active torrents of This Is A Cry For Help. Could guilt be more effective at combating piracy than DRM?

Drawing conclusions
Gish may have wallowed in (relative) obscurity, but the 2008 IGF Grand Prize winner, Crayon Physics Deluxe, benefitted from over a year's worth of hype before creator Petri Purho released the game last month. Nonetheless, Purho decided to self-publish the game from his own site - and without DRM.

"I've had really bad experiences with DRM in the past, and no DRM was also the most practical way to go about it," Purho says. "I don't want to spend my time working on it, because it screws over legitimate customers and someone will crack it anyhow."

Unlike Reflexive's Ricochet Infinity, Crayon Physics Deluxe doesn't connect to a central server, so it's impossible to tell how many copies of the game have been pirated. But if torrent trackers are to be believed, it's a lot. One popular index lists five torrents with over 20 seeders each and one with over 200 seeders. To add insult to injury, some torrents even include player-created levels culled from Purho's Crayon Physics Playground, a database that requires a registered email address to access.

Purho remains unperturbed. "I'm happy if I make enough to pay the rent and buy food, so I don't stare at the figures and think about how much money I've lost due to piracy," he says. "Sometimes 20 bucks is a lot of money, and people playing the game is more important to me than money." He even considered moving to a donations-only revenue model while developing Crayon Physics Deluxe, but ultimately decided against it. His reasoning? "You get very little money (based on what I heard from people doing it), and it's illegal in Finland, anyway."

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But he also recognizes that what's tolerable for him has harsher consequences for the PC platform as a whole. A major publisher putting out a game made by a 100-person development team likely can't afford to be so charitable. For them, it's harder to justify developing games for the PC when a cracked torrent is only a few clicks further away than a legitimate copy. Eventually, it encourages developers to cut their losses and stick to platforms where piracy isn't the norm.

When every sale is pure profit, however, you can afford to take a laissez-faire approach to your work. With the right attitude, it can even be flattering. After all, Purho says, "pirates don't pirate sh*t - they have standards as well."

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