The developers of the bizarre first-person brawler Zeno Clash is adopting an unusual approach to piracy by taking their case directly to the pirates, asking them to actually buy the game in order to support the future of independent game development.
Developed by Chilean studio ACE Team, Zeno Clash is a unique first-person shooter-fighter hybrid set in a fantasy environment described as "Tim Burton making a movie about cavemen... only weirder." As is common with independent games, Zeno Clash features no DRM and as expected showed up on all the usual file sharing sites in no time at all.
Rather than demanding the removal of the game from torrent sites or railing futilely against the evils of piracy, however, the developers decided on the novel approach of directly addressing the people who were copying their game. "Zeno Clash is an independently funded game by a very small and sacrificed group of people. The only way in which we can continue making games like this (or a sequel) is to have good sales," ACE Team designer and artist Carlo Bordeu wrote in a message posted on at least one torrent site. "I am aware that at this moment there is still no demo of the game, but we are working on one which will be available soon."
"We cannot do anything to stop piracy of the game (and honestly don't intend to do so) but if you are downloading because you wish to try before you buy, I would ask that you purchase the game (and support the independent game development scene) if you enjoy it," the message continued. "We plan on updating Zeno Clash with DLC and continuing support for the game long after it's release. Thanks for taking the time to read this... hopefully it will make a difference."
Bordeu told Ars Technica that he doesn't agree with the age-old argument of pirating games to "try before you buy" but said that some people do end up purchasing games after downloading them, so encouraging them to do so only makes sense. "I always believe the legitimate way of proceeding is downloading the demo and/or seeing review scores or watching trailers," he said. "But the reality is that many, many people do download pirated games to test them and sometimes they end up purchasing the game later. The best thing we felt we could do is to appeal to these people's conscience instead of trying to stop them - you cannot stop piracy anyways. If you won't be able to police them, why not get some on your side?"
The impact of Bordeu's appeal on the level of Zeno Clash piracy is hard to nail down but TorrentFreak says the general response among file-sharers has been "pretty positive" and the ACE Team message has actually been spread to other sites by the torrent's uploader, who claimed he wants to help the studio "sell more of this good game." The TorrentFreak article added that while it's impossible to say exactly why, "At the moment downloads of Zeno Clash are pretty low."
I'm a bit torn on the issue: I hate the idea of "legitimizing" file sharing but it's impossible to ignore the reality of its existence and prevalence. It's also hard to argue that this wasn't a very smart public relations maneuver by ACE Team.
"We were surprised about how positive [the reaction] was," Bordeu said. "We've received several mails and posts in our own forums of people who pirated the game that decided to buy it because of the message. I don't know if it is a significant percent, or whether this is good strategy as a whole... but it has sparked some very positive reactions in the community."