As developers of digital products we have to deal with piracy at some point. Especially if we sell our games through traditional models. Have gamers become so greedy they do not want to spend money on games anymore? Do games not harvest any value anymore? Or is something else at play here? In this article I will try to awaken some ideas to counter this phenomenon and prepare ourselves for a brighter future.
If we take a look at the market today, a large share of our clients and customers are playing pirated versions of our passionately created games. My question is 'why do these players find the pirated version more attractive?' I think we can't completely blame our players, and perhaps take a closer look at ourselves.
Why Do Players Pirate?
I am sure a lot of you would think players pirate games because its 'free'. I agree, for some this reason is indeed a motivation, but we can then immediately question why they would decide the game isn't worth their scarce money. If we compare getting a game for 'free' with spending around $50 for certain Console or PC games, I would understand some of them choose pirating. Especially games that focus on generating income rather than on delivering a great experience. These developers/publishers do not take their customers seriously, they only seem to care about filling their pockets with your hard-earned cash. This 'trick' has worked for a while, but players are starting to catch-up on this method.
Not all players would consider 'free' to be their main motivation to illegally download games instead of buying them. They just want the immediate satisfaction of playing the game 'now' and 'fast' without any trouble with required logins or subscriptions, DRM checks, installing mallware applications, and having to contribute their complete birth certificate to start playing. They know buying this game would take them at least 40 minutes to enter your beautiful game world. Pirated versions offer you a smoother and faster road to the doors of the game world.
Some players are not directly convinced to pay big bucks for your game, they have to take it for an ' illegal test drive' to decide. I have heard this reason a lot. "Oh, Yes I pirated it, but I will buy it eventually, because it's awesome!". Apparently, sometimes these games need a player's approval before being valued as a game thats worth investing money in.
A Good Thing About Piracy?
Are there any good things about Piracy? Hell yes! Players massively downloading your game would be a dream to all of us developers! Also the wide spread of availability is greatly appreciated. When people are enjoying your game, this could be a great opportunity to establish a fan-base which might even generate future buyers! Some of them buy the game eventually after they have pirated it and the pirated version thus served as a 'sneak peek'.
Besides bringing the game to the consumer, it can also be used to measure your games' 'value' among players. If a game is largely pirated, players could think its not worth the money. This could be a real and harsh eyeopener for you as a developer. It helps you raise the bar and strive for more quality to establish that 'value'.
How To Outsmart Piracy?
Trying to completely eliminate the possibilities of acquiring pirated versions of games would not help us one bit. If we eliminate one source, the next one will pop-up elsewhere and we can start all over again. The piracy system is greatly established and is still beating us in a lot of ways.
I think it's important to stop fighting this illegal system with solutions that are definitely harming our digital freedom online. Instead, we should be focusing on finding ways to beat piracy all at once - possibly by delivering better on each single aspect piracy has to offer.
For instance, I personally think our games are easier played through a pirated version of the original. Hell, I have even read an article about some developer recommending their players (the ones that actually bought the game) to download a pirated version, because their failed DRM security options held them back from playing the game properly. A serious confirmation that fighting this system, even with heavy security solutions, is not a wise thing to do!
When looking at the type of piracy that takes place in the movie industry, one can conclude that this industry is using interesting methods to win the popularity race from piracy.
Movies and TV shows have been suffering from piracy for a long time . I think movies have a few 'key' reasons to be an interesting target for piracy;
Not all movies or TV shows are available or accessible globally.
Whenever movies or TV shows are published globally, their release dates differ greatly.
Some systems are unbelievably slow when downloading your freshly bought movie.
Digital versions or even rental copies are often priced unreasonably high and compared to cinema experiences are not considered worth it. Hard copy products can be watched endlessly and are able to showcase in your actual 'collection', a fair reason why they are priced higher.
Piracy delivers on all these aspects. Its free, directly available from all over the world at any time at very high speeds.
I think if people had to pay $1 each month to freely pirate anything they want legally, they would have a very large user base of subscribers because certain websites constantly deliver new content at high speeds. Because piracy has such an 'illegal' vibe to it (or is actually really illegal), many of us would not commit to this, scared to violate something like this being a one way ticket to jail. Since we have learned that we are being monitored on the internet by our government, the fear of possibly doing something wrong or illegal has only gotten worse. Not a very subtle solution if you ask me. However, most of us have likely pirated something off the internet. Even if you didn't do it yourself, you were probably watching a pirated movie at a friend's house. Therefore, it's almost impossible to avoid contributing to piracy.
In the case of movies and TV shows, we now have a great system that is gaining a lot of popularity. This, of course, is "Netflix". I think Netflix is a great example of how we can beat piracy. They are however not fully armed yet. So in which aspects is Netflix already beating piracy to the punch?
Movies and TV shows on Netflix are directly available, however they still lack to deliver the newest movies quickly enough to satisfy every consumer. Piracy is still winning and delivering on this part.
Directly available through all Netflix accounts, however their catalog still differs from country to country. Piracy is losing here, but they haven't lost yet.
No downloading and unzipping needed, directly streamed in 1080P HD. A huge win for Netflix. The only downside would be, without internet you can't access Netflix while having downloaded a set of pirated movies these are available to watch even if you don't have access to the internet.
A low monthly price to access almost every TV show or movie you can think of, and eventually forgetting that you are actually paying them $7,99 per month for this. Big win for Netflix here. You have actually subscribed to the feeling of 'legally watching movies'.
We can conclude Netflix is competing to outsmart pirated content.
Active Solutions In The Game Industry
There are already innovative approaches occurring to beat Piracy within the game industry. Some of them only partially help to beat them, others evade piracy by creating a different path to play the game.
Free To Play
The most important weapon of 'free to play' against piracy would be that it is free, equivalent for pirated content. Some 'free to play' games do not need to be downloaded and are therefore directly winning from piracy. If 'free to play' games require a download, and pirated distributers offer you these downloads as well, piracy hereby would be helping us get more users, and actually functions as a publishing platform, a win win situation.
Most F2P games generate money by offering extra or helpful content within their game structure. A structure that seems to work for the casual games market. I doubt it works for a hardcore audience accustomed to pay $50 to have it all. This is of course debatable but it doesn't fix the problem. Besides, not every game is 'fitted' to have a 'free to play' structure. Some games want to offer you a complete experience from start to end without harassing their players with locked content. It would even destroy their goal and would fail to communicate the game experience to their players.
Most MMORPGS are played by being online all the time. To play the game will require an account. This would allow developers to check for 'genuine' versions among their players. A direct counter part is you have to be 'online' and you need an account to play. In the case of MMORPGS being online is one of the 'core' elements of the genre, not particularly designed to counter piracy. Some single player games do require an online component or account to be played. Two barriers players have to deal with if they want to play your game. A connection to the internet and an account would hereby be a major blockade. I remember the discussion about Microsoft claiming their Xbox One would 'always' need a connection to the internet. Something Netflix also requires to be used, however Netflix uses a cloud to pull movies and TV Shows from. A logical reason why you need to be online.
Pay What You Want
It should have occurred to you platforms like "Humble Bundle" and Indie Game Bundles surprised us by making profit. Sometimes these average revenues go even higher compared to fixed prices. There is however a threshold 'triggering' us to at least pay above a certain amount to get the complete bundle. The fact players decide to pay above that amount proofs they think it's valuable and meaningful enough to pay the minimum. It does also leave 'space' for players its worth more money than the minimum, a positive thing. It proofs players really DO want to pay money for our creative work. Not to forget the players that DON'T think its worth the minimum. They are still able to pay an amount suitable to their 'standards of value' for these games. These players could be proven wrong when they have finished the game and are turned into a large ambassadors investing more money in your second game the next time.
A very interesting part of Humble Bundles is that the 'customers' have the ability to see and decide where the money is going. I remember I bought the "Botanicula Humble Bundle" for $15 (the average threshold at $8) and used the 'sliders' to give the largest share of money to the developer. (Knowing how much effort they have put into it, because I am a developer myself). I don't think I would have 'over payed' if I did not have this option. Assuming this opinion is shared, I think knowing where the money is going is definitely a factor why people 'over pay' these bundles.
Offering access to alpha and beta versions of your game could be something interesting since the pirated networks mainly offer finished game experiences. It makes their release system unstable, since you are not promised a time of delivery by a pirater. It would mean they have to upload new versions each time a developer does. The advantage of already having bought early access, gives you priority to this version 'earlier' and than anyone waiting for the pirated version.
If Netflix would offer us the newest films in their catalog when film companies would release, they would beat Piracy by far. Of course this could be considered a problem for Cinemas. If Cinemas do not invest in meaningful and special cinema experiences, Netflix customers able to see the newest films will stay at home. I am not talking about investments such as doing a 3D version of the movie, those improvements are 'too thin' in my opinion.
I decided to mention Kickstarter, because its the best way to earn actual money without ever losing your game to the pirated network. It does however need great conviction to get players invest up front. This doesn't actually mean you 'earn' money for your game. It supplies funds to 'create' the game. When you are 'over funded' you could say you start to earn money for the game. Because of that possibility I consider it a great way to earn honest money without it ever going through pirated networks and you evaded them for now.
Ideas For The Future
So what do I think our future will look like?
Free To Buy
I think more meaningful content focused on enriching the players experience with your game product rather than focusing on profit and money will become more common. Giving players a 'choice' to meet their standard for 'value' will be even more popular. Communicating the use of money to your players will be an important piece of information to convince them with trust in your developer.
Subscribe To Be Free
Taking Netflix as an example, we can assume these models will also appear for games. We have seen "On-Live" and "Gaikai" already taking the first steps in the right direction. Extra complexity has everything to do that games have the 'input' and 'direct feedback' while sending data packages online. Systems as such for games are a little more complex if compared to Netflix. Nonetheless I think we will see more platforms like this.
More Free To Play
Games to play for free will become more and more available. I think a lot of variations on free to play models will be designed and the ways to earn money will become fairer.
Pay What You Want Catalogs
Instead of 'one' bundle being sold this way, it could be complete catalogs of bundles, or standalone games are going to be sold this way. Maybe each one of them will include certain thresholds, but hopefully they do not focus too much on these average prices. This would mean its actually a flexible fixed price, only differing with the possibility to pay more or less.
To establish trust I think transparent development (getting to know developers, their goals and believes) will help adding 'value' to our games. Only 'Rockstar' is able to keep things secret for years and still outsell anyone. Taking a look at indie-game successes, you can notice nearly all of these developers are personally known as well. That is because these games are made out of their personal passion. This could also mean developers would easily generate a budget on platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo to at least 'create' the game. Customers can put a 'face' on a company, something we could only 'guess' about some developers years ago. I think we rather give money for a game made by someone we know than a corporate company.
In my opinion the most important message would be "Outsmart piracy in every way possible to make their system unstable and meaningless" beat them on everything that makes it easier for customers to acquire and play our games. If we create easier and affordable doors faster than piracy can work up to, we will most definitely win.
What do you think about piracy? Do you have any suggestions to beat piracy?
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PS: For the people suggesting I pirated my games,
The picture below is a part of my hardcopy game collection (all originals).
Not even showing my digital games collection on Steam.
I think I have contributed royally to the games industry ;-)