Any developer who chooses to publicly raise concerns over video game piracy is just asking for trouble.
Just look at the reaction to Jools Watsham's commentary last week
, in which he stated that Renegade Kid will be forced to stop making Nintendo 3DS games if piracy gains traction on the Nintendo handheld.
This follows the news that hackers have apparently made several breakthroughs in breaching the handheld's copy protection, with one claiming that he has discovered an exploit to take full control of an unmodified system -- although as of yet, no pirated games for 3DS have been demonstrated.
But DreamRift (Epic Mickey
) co-founder Peter Ong puts a different spin on the issue. He too believes that piracy is a huge issue, both on the Nintendo DS and now potentially on the 3DS -- and he puts this down to publisher perception of the problem.
"We definitely found that piracy was a significant factor in our Nintendo DS development efforts," he tells us. "When we approached publishers to propose potential game projects with them, most of them brought up their concerns about piracy at some point.
"Many publishers even cited the issue of piracy as a specific reason why they decided to back away from our game project, especially with it being an original intellectual property concept," he adds.
"The publishers' fear was that, in a climate where piracy is commonplace, original games and new mechanics are far less likely to be successful than games based on previously successful mechanics, established licenses, sequels, and sports."
This is the crux of Ong's argument: it doesn't matter whether piracy is actually a real issue or not. If publishers believe it to be the case, then it all falls down for the developers too.
"There's a perception that the parents/grandparents/non-enthusiast/mainstream/etc. are less likely to go about pirating games," he notes. "Now I want to make this point loud and clear: Regardless of whether it's true that enthusiast/hardcore gamers are more likely to pirate than mainstream gamers, the fact
that publishers believe it to be true has a very real, unfortunate and ugly impact on games."
He continues, "Publishers end up catering to that type of buyer instead of the enthusiast/hardcore players. This means that not only are gamers presented with more and more sports/licensed/sequel games in favor of original IP games, but also that even within non-original IP games, the type of design and gameplay will tend toward less innovative/risky mechanics."
As he sees it, the threat and perception of piracy is what is hindering and constraining the potential for innovation and new IP, because publishers are looking to play it safe when it comes to game design.
"In DreamRift's experience, publishers tended to be most concerned about piracy on the Nintendo DS in certain regions of the world, such as Europe," Ong explains. "This directly affected the distribution and marketing efforts of our games within those regions."
"A publisher would go as far as to avoid spending the investment necessary to even release our game in Europe due to their projections of how piracy would impact its sales."
This, adds the Dreamrift founder, means that studios are left in the hugely disappointing position of not being able to release their games worldwide, simply because a publisher believes that the piracy in certain regions will overshadow the potential sales.
With all this in mind, Ong is worried about the latest breakthroughs in 3DS piracy.
"Whether or not you should take note of piracy on the Nintendo 3DS as a serious issue depends on who you are," he says. "If you celebrate the decline of one of the last platforms where great games are rewarded and held up as shining examples, then there's no need to be alarmed here. Or if you wish upon yourself (and all other 3DS gamers) a market flooded with uninspired licensed/sequel/sports games over original ideas and mechanics, then by all means there's nothing to worry about."
He continues, "There are so many things that are unique about the 3DS right now as a platform, and to see it falter would be heartbreaking."
"It's a handheld gaming machine that's dedicated to playing games first and foremost rather than making phone calls or checking your Facebook page. It offers a home for passionate world-class studios that aren't so small as a garage-operation, but aren't 100+ person juggernauts. As for myself, I am definitely taking notice, because the day that I have no option but to make a sports game is the day that I must look for a new profession."
He concludes, "If piracy becomes prevalent on the Nintendo 3DS, it will affect DreamRift's efforts on the 3DS detrimentally."