Piracy is a fact of life, so why not just have fun with it?
Tackling PC game piracy is always an on-and-off talking point for indie developers. Every now and again a studio throws out awful piracy rate figures for its latest release, and the internet goes ballistic over how terrible it is and what can be done to prevent it. These discussions usually culminate in DRM being called the worst thing to happen to video games ever.
One indie studio recently took a different approach to piracy, and ended up being called out by a number of other devs for actually advocating piracy.
Under the Ocean, a fully-fledged sequel to 2010 free download Under the Garden, launched as a paid alpha build earlier this year, costing $7 for the base version of the game, and $25 for a special edition.
However, there is also a third free "version" of the game, titled "Annoying Cockroach Edition" -- although it's not really a separate version at all. It's simply a humorous acknowledgment that some people (well, "cockroaches") will skip the two legitimate options for obtaining the game, and just pirate it.
"Pirate the game when it comes out," the cockroach version's features list reads. "Not much we can do to stop you, is there?" There was even a link to infamous torrent website Pirate Bay, giving visitors access to a free, pirated version of the game.
The approach gained a lot of attention from game players and the press, with social news website Reddit in particular exploding with support for the game. Although the traffic from this influx has now finally died down, it earned the title a great deal of notability for a good while.
At the time, a number of other development teams were not exactly happy about the phrasing, calling artist Paul Greasley and company out for condoning video game piracy. Says Greasley, this simply wasn't the case at all.
"If we could wave a wand and stop people from pirating stuff, we would," he tells Gamasutra. "But we can't. It's a fact of life right now, and in our opinion there's nothing wrong with a little gallows humor, so to speak."
Although the team removed the link to Pirate Bay after deciding it was perhaps a step too far, potentially linking users to malware on the website, it has kept the "Annoying Cockroach Edition" in place for visitors to see.
Greasley is keen to stress that many people have simply got the wrong end of the stick about what the team is trying to do with this approach.
"The Cockroach edition was actually not an attempt to cut down on piracy," he notes. "It was just one of the liberties of being an indie developer, with nobody to answer to. The elephant in the room is that 90 percent+ of people are going to pirate your game on the PC (and ours is no exception, based on the traffic logs). We just thought it would be fun, and frankly honest, to point that out!"
Instead, the team plans to convert pirates to purchases via simplistic methods. "We're going to be releasing a whole bunch of frequent updates, with lots of feature additions," notes the artist. "If you want to stay up to date, buying it is much easier than pirating it."
He adds, "The users win, because it's DRM free and they get a bunch of cool new updates for Under the Ocean, and we win, because the updates get us new ways to promote the game outside our game forums."
For Greasley, tackling piracy comes down to three key points: "Make a product people want and will talk about, make that product as good as you possibly can, and treat your customer base with respect."