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"Talking To Pirates" With Cliff Harris

| 14 Aug 2008 18:24
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Cliff "cliffski" Harris, the man behind independent U.K. developer Positech Games, wanted to get a different perspective on PC game piracy - so he put the call out to PC game pirates.

Harris posted the question, "Why do people pirate my games?" on his blog, a move he described as "an honest attempt to get real answers to an important question." The response was massive, both through email and blog comments (his blog has been unavailable since at least yesterday, presumably the result of overwhelming feedback) and while the majority of responses addressed game piracy in general rather than Harris' games in particular, he called the effort "very worthwhile."

A small number of people offered "semi-political" responses, arguing against the validity of intellectual property and making claims about censorship and other points that Harris called "completely unconvincing, and to be honest, silly." He did say, however, that he was surprised by the small proportion of responses that took this stance. A much larger number of people claimed the problem was purely financial: "Even those who didn't cite cost as their main reason almost always mentioned it at some stage," he said. "A lot of anger was directed at the retail $60 games, and console games. People in Australia were especially annoyed about higher prices there."

Game quality was also a big point of complaint, as gamers expressed frustration over bugs, tech support and steep system requirements. "It was interesting to hear so many complaints about actual game design and gameplay. Not a single person said they had felt ripped off by a game due to substandard visuals or lack of content," Harris said. "The consensus was that games got boring too quickly, were too derivative, and had gameplay issues. Demos were widely considered to be too short and unrepresentative of the final product."

Other issues cited include the growing popularity of DRM, the availability (or lack thereof) of digital distribution and, from a small percentage of respondents, the simple fact that it's free and people can do it with virtual impunity.

Interestingly, Harris seems to have developed newfound sympathy for pirates as a result of these interactions, claiming that people who steal games just because they can "give the other 99% of pirates a bad name, and are the reason people don't listen to pirates." He's also decided to implement changes to his own business as a result, including the complete elimination of DRM schemes from his games, improvements in the length and quality of his demos, possible changes in his pricing and more, but he appears pessimistic about changing attitudes in the industry as a whole.

"I don't think the whole exercise will have much effect on the wider industry," Harris said. "Doubtless there will be more FPS games requiring mainframes to run them, more games with Securom, games with no demos, or games with all glitz and no gameplay. I wish this wasn't the case, and that the devs could listen more to their potential customers, and that the pirates could listen more to the devs rather than abusing them. I don't think that's going to happen."

"Talking To Pirates" can be read in its entirety on the Positech Games website.

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