If the numbers don't make it abundantly clear, the way indie developers have reacted to them reflects an uncomfortable new reality for PC publishers: In the minds of end users, paying for content has become optional. It's a trend completely at odds with the way the PC games industry has operated for the last two and a half decades, but accepting it might be the only way for developers to move forward.
"I used to pirate a ton of TV before Hulu ... I haven't been able to afford cable for years," McMillen admits. "But that's the thing - it's all about realizing sh*t has changed. If you want to do something about it, then grow up and realize that you have to bend a bit and work with the new setup, like Hulu and what NIN and Radiohead have done."
At least in this regard, indies may be better equipped to adapt to the "new setup" than the majors. For one, there's lower overhead - if you develop a game independently, you don't have an accounting department poring over every balance sheet and trying to figure out how to plug the leaks. And without a dedicated marketing department making sure your game is at the forefront of the gamer consciousness, piracy might actually offer a budget alternative. It's impossible to measure how many additional sales Carmel generated when his comments on World of Goo's piracy rate were reprinted across the internet.
There's one last area where indies may have a leg up on the rest of the industry - public perception. Carmel offers perhaps the most concrete example yet of the benefits of a cordial relationship between a developer and its audience. After World of Goo's release, the first version of the game to appear on torrent indexes was the protected WiiWare version, not the DRM-free PC version (which had already been available to pre-order customers for a week). "If you count the extra seven days of the pre-release, that means the DRM-free version remained un-pirated more than four times longer than the protected WiiWare version," Carmel says. "I'd like to think that this has to do with the good faith we created with our audience by releasing the PC version without any DRM."
Will good faith and indie credibility be enough to stem future losses due to piracy? Could the solution lie in more robust download services or new revenue models? It's hard to say. The only certainty at this point is that indie developers, along with the rest of the PC gaming industry, will continue to be tested by piracy. Many will bend, some will break and the rest will emerge from the ordeal stronger than they were before. Let's hope the games follow suit.
Jordan Deam doesn't pirate games. He just mooches off his coworkers.