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Bohemia Interactive: 100 pirates for every 3 legitimate buyers

Fri 18 Nov 2011 10:08am GMT / 5:08am EST / 2:08am PST
GamesDevelopment

CEO explains use of unorthodox DRM system

Bohemia Interactive

Established in 1999 in Prague, Czech Republic, Bohemia Interactive is an independent game development...

bistudio.com

Bohemia Interactive's CEO Marek Španěl has revealed a shocking 3 to 100 ratio of buyers to pirates for its games.

"Our statistics from multiplayer show that for every three legitimate buyers playing their game in multiplayer, there are 100 (failed) attempts to play with a pirated version," he told told PC Gamer.

"This indicates that piracy is an extremely widespread problem on PC, and it's also really worrying for us as a mid-sized, independent, PC-oriented developer. We do not have any such data for single-player, but I'm afraid there the ratio of pirates to legitimate gamers is undoubtedly much worse."

Bohemia Interactive's games, which include the ARMA series, use a DRM system called DEGRADE that makes playing the game more difficult.

"In the ARMA series, players with pirated copies have lower accuracy with automatic weapons in both single player and multiplayer, and occasionally turn into a bird with the words 'Good birds do not fly away from this game, you have only yourself to blame.' While we know we will never stop piracy, we use this as a way to make our stand that piracy is not right, that it has a serious negative impact on PC games developers."

Španěl explains that while unorthodox, this system makes sure that legitimate players who have trouble maintaining a constant internet connection are not penalised. He also points out that games from the company's online store are DRM-free.

"Our approach is to remove conventional DRM not too long after the initial game's release to ensure as smooth an experience as possible for our legitimate users and still appeal to our distribution and publishing channels."

Bohemia Interactive is based in Prague and was founded in 1999.

27 Comments

gi biz
;,pgc.eu

341 51 0.1
A quick search on the internet shows there's really a lot of people asking how to fix the bird problem in the forums. Pretty hilarious :D
Anyways, I know I keep on saying the same thing but I can't stress enough how the humble bundle statistics report that Windows users are not willing to pay for games. Bundles have an average of 4$, while for Linux it's the double. Yeah, Windows computers are numerically more, but how many of those actually spend money for software? 3 out of 100? Then how many of those re-sell the game as a second-hand?

Posted:2 years ago

#1

James Prendergast
Research Chemist

730 410 0.6
How do you know whether someone who's getting the bug of being turned into a bird is not a legitimate customer? AKA. The Titan Quest problem. We had many people in the community getting the same problems as those who pirated the game and the cause was the DRM in both cases.... Of course, shouting at and defenestrating those who say they have a problem when you have no evidence other than "you must be a dirty pirate" is par for the course.

I'm interested in the first quote though as well:

"Our statistics from multiplayer show that for every three legitimate buyers playing their game in multiplayer, there are 100 (failed) attempts to play with a pirated version," he told told PC Gamer.

So... he's equating a failed attempt with an individual copy? How do they differentiate between copies or are they logging every IP address ever used to access MP servers? Are these just jacked-up stats we're getting?

Posted:2 years ago

#2

Jelle Schut
Managing Director

13 4 0.3
I'm wondering the same James. If 1 player tries to login 10 times, you get completely different numbers. Basically, any comparison between pirated games/legal copies is useless, because you will never have 100% correct numbers for the amount of pirated copies.

Posted:2 years ago

#3

Charlie Moritz
Studying Philosophy with Psychology

19 0 0.0
I buy all my games because I want to support the industry I love - problem is that in order to deal with piracy a lot of companies make it really hard for me to play the game, like Mass Effect 2's stupid anti-piracy that wouldn't let me reinstall on my new rig, for example. Things like that make me mad. What they need to do is make it fun and humanise the developer, affecting minds has always been more successful than penalising everyone for the sins of the few (or in this case, many). Also 3/100 is such a bullshit figure, and ARMA is a trash game which is probably why people pirate it, play it once then never go back. For normal games its probs 1/3 are legal copies

Posted:2 years ago

#4
On this piracy problem, it seems the assumption is that each holder of a pirated game will only try to log on once. Or the journalist decided to simplify matters for his readers.

Until we have more detail, i will assume this is a classic case of garbage in equals garbage out.

However, I enjoyed reading about how the devs created this bird problem for the pirates :p

Posted:2 years ago

#5

Peter Paninar
Artist

34 3 0.1
haha this was quite funny as somebody who comes from these countries myself I can tell you that 3 to 100 can be fully legible number for czech republic :D ...here in UK for example is the culture a lot better as long as piracy goes, but you need to realize that the average salary here is a lot higher while the games cost a lot less... so you get the idea, especialy with people who don't earn their own money yet and are fully dependent on their parents and their low salary and about the same prices as here.

Posted:2 years ago

#6

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,716 598 0.3
Well done Marek.
This is a good use of the Fade system invented by Richard Darling at Codemasters.
I remember on one version of snooker it gradually turned off gravity on pirated copies till the balls were floating over the table.

And the stealing of PC games is a disgrace. It is in the high 90s%.

Piracy is the biggest problem our industry has, if we don't control it we will go the way of recorded music.

Posted:2 years ago

#7

Paul R. Statham
PR/Community Manager

2 0 0.0
@James in the ten years I've been involved with the Bohemia Interactive forums the number of complaints from legitimate users suffering some kind of DEGRADE problem is probably less than half a dozen, and of those it will be because they did something they weren't supposed to (ie tried to mod the game or a registry entry in some weird way that was easily corrected).

Posted:2 years ago

#8

Tom Pickard
Lead Environment Artist - Campaign Map

308 382 1.2
This is an important issue, I remember when the first full game I worked on Empire:Total war was released, we sold well over the first week 800k or something, but I checked alot of the file sharing sites shortly after the game was cracked (about 3 days after release) And there were aproximatly 300k leeches downloading the game on one well known site... I was thinking... wow 300k people at least won't pay 26.99 (the cheapest launch prices) for a game they will likely play 40-50 hours which they'll be playing on their 1000 Pc's with 30 a month internet connections drinking their 70p cans of coke etc etc... It was quite an eye opener! how little people value the work and effort that goes into games...

I still rate Steam as the best DRM, sure it has issues and is an extra step you have to take to install your game. But it has proven to slow the release of a cracked game by days or at least up until launch if you put the exe in the steam download (which is the key time for a pc release, the inital opening week sales) And it has features that allow you to play your games wherever you want or redownload them as many times as you need. And other good features such as keeping all your games in one place. But I can see why some people dislike it as paying customers...

I doubt we'll ever get a nice balance which reduces piracy and makes life super easy and not intrusive for paying customers, but we should be aiming as a group to make sure paying customers are not hindered more than absolutly necesary... and by that I mean somthing at instilation and a log-in if they're playing online...

The bird issue is a great Idea though...

Posted:2 years ago

#9

Andrzej Wroblewski
Computer Games Translator

86 43 0.5
Our industry suffers the same disease as other ones: THE MARKETING PEOPLE. Their influence means: lower and lower quality, inflated pricing policies, lying to the customers, playing with creative people lives, etc... etc... Until the society gets rid of the marketing scourge, things will never change.

Posted:2 years ago

#10

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,716 598 0.3
@Andrzej

You obviously don't understand what marketing is.
Zero marketing = zero sales.

Posted:2 years ago

#11

Dustin Sparks
Interactive Developer / Gaming Blogger

14 0 0.0
Piracy is only going to increase until developers do something to profit off of it. You guys are going about it the wrong way. I don't know what the right way is, but fighting the mob seems to be a more appealing route than manipulating the mob. Do something to promote your game to others through these pirates, stick ads in it to monetize it for those that didn't pay, do something, but don't try to fight them - they're not going away any time soon. If you fight them there's just going to be more of them. Someone needs to do something that appeals to this crowd. Look at the stats - what if you could monetize the 97% group of pirates instead of trying to make money off of your 3% legitimate users. I just don't get why people are ignoring this marking and trying to push them away. The MPAA and RIAA are doing the same thing, quit fighting them it's not working.

Posted:2 years ago

#12

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,716 598 0.3
The industry answers piracy by abandoning developing for pirated platforms.
So the owners of those platforms shoot themselves in the foot by stealing.

If all platforms suffer high levels of stealing there will be virtually no games. The money to pay the wages has to come from somewhere.

Posted:2 years ago

#13

Benjamin Seeberger
Writer/Translator

27 14 0.5
DRM is the way to go. Honestly, Steam's deal on Oblivion ($5) has given me hope that piracy won't last if buying games was made as simple as it is with Steam.

But I agree with the others that piracy won't go away until developers figure out how to design the game so that a pirated version is monetized while a non-pirated game isn't. Then the company releases the monetized version online to various torrent sites, a copy that is free of errors, malware, viruses, or incomplete code. And also releases the game via DRM for authorized copies.

Posted:2 years ago

#14

Andrew Ihegbu
Studying Bsc Commercial Music

415 110 0.3
If this is true, which I highly doubt for the reasons already stated by others, then without a large amount of piracy, devs could get away with selling thier games for 3% of the price they are now and make the same money. Does this not say how much of a problem the pricing is in countries such as India where a $50 game is stupid.

I mean honestly, the Xbox 360 is fast approaching the 100 market (129 new last time I checked) and games still retail for 40?

Maybe ARMA has the right idea with the DRM as it worked with GTAIV as well, but most pirates won't be forced to buy because of DRM, they will simply pirate something else.

Stardocks policy, no DRM and a low price offered direct to customers without a middleman (such as a high street store) is the true way forward. To me Steam is just as good, as despite them being technically DRM and technically a middle man, they do not seem to be taking huge amounts of money from devs and are generally a pleasant non-intrusive experience.

Posted:2 years ago

#15

Daniel Hunnicutt
Gameplay Programmer

2 0 0.0
For those who said Steam is the answer to the problem, I completely agree. A magical combo of really easy convenient use and pretty darn good DRM. The sheer amount of players playing games on Steam is evidence that whatever they are doing is working and people are buying games.

Posted:2 years ago

#16

Andrew Ihegbu
Studying Bsc Commercial Music

415 110 0.3
@Benjamin you are a genius!

Okay, this should be simple enough to implement. A game is released apparently DRM free apart from an "online" code, unique to the user (like SupCom had). This restricts servers from being overloaded by pirates later.

Until you enter your online code, the game is perpetuated by ads and content being restricted (such as higher level weaponry which has been left off the disk and on the server)

A pirate can add the content back, but due to the fact that the Ads are initially built into the models used into the game and are individually removed by runtime code, there would have to be a hell of a lot of work done for a pirate to stop that money stream, especially seeing as it is otherwise un-intrusive.

This way, even if a pirate is able to hack the extra content back into eh game, it is pointless for him to remove your money streams.

Posted:2 years ago

#17

David Canela
Game Designer

31 32 1.0
about the pricing issues:

I rather liked the CEO (I think) of Tencent at the GDC Europe 2011 saying in his keynote speech, that fixed prices didn't make much sense to him (Tencent does lots of f2p). if you have a game for 50$ and your customer only has 49 to spend, with p2p you get 0$, but with f2p they just happily take the 49$ (especially since once the game is made, the costs of one more copy is negligible).

(not saying here that f2p is the solution to all problems, but I just found it an appealing little piece of logic. How many people started playing LoL, thinking they'd never spend money on it. then they get hooked, and after many hours of playing, it suddenly seems a small investment to buy skins etc.).

on pirated versions ;it should be obvious, but:
# of pirated games != # of games you would have sold otherwise.
for one thing, there may be people who buy it later if they like it (or is that just a common excuse? I know I've bought mp3s after some friend copied them for me, even if it would have been completely legal to listen to the copied ones in my country). you'll also get people who are just curious about the game (how about making more demos?). Thirdly, there's those who won't pay 50$, but maybe would pay 20$. finding out how to monetize these would be a great thing. (And then there's of course those that will never pay)

Posted:2 years ago

#18

William Usher
Assistant Editor

34 14 0.4
Right on David. I also don't agree that F2P is the be-all, end-all of piracy but I, too, find myself hooked on games I thought I would never spend money on. If the game is good you'll eventually get drawn in and spend money regardless.

One thing EVERYONE seems to be forgetting: even if pirates didn't pirate the game what makes you think they would pay the game at full price otherwise?

I oftentimes read these articles on how X amount of copies of Y game was pirated with many people assuming the company is being burdened with these pirates and their game is being pirated at a loss, which in reality isn't true at all. Realistically, no one knows if the pirates would have bothered to pay for the game even if they had the choice. And how exactly is a company losing money from a game if people weren't going to buy it to begin with? It's just a common assumption that pirates always equate to potential consumers and that's not always the case.

I think that's one of the real issues of piracy right there.

Posted:2 years ago

#19

Tommi Kalliokoski
Quality Assurance

1 0 0.0
Really interesting comments, but I have to agree with Andrzej Wroblewski. The biggest problem with the gaming industry is that 70-90 % of the games released each year are just really bad and badly made. One of the most interesting trend are the indie games. These games are selling really well even for PC, because they are made for the gamers. Really good example is Minecraft. Game that has simple graphics, but is so innovative (even that the idea isn't new) and lets player do what they want and create their own worlds.

You can also see that well made games usually sell well if they are main stream. I know that Total War -series is great and I like it a lot myself, but still it's a game for more targeted gamers, who like strategy games. This can be one reason for the game to be pirated by so many people, because they want to try it before buying it. Remember gamers don't have infinite amount of cash to use on games released each year, the more you release bad games will only make the gamers choose more carefully and they might want to try it first.

YES, Pirates are problem and of course they are hurting the business, but it's not time to sit down and cry about it. You have to find and create new and innovative ways to sell your games. First make them well! There isn't more bad marketing for you than making a half decent title full of bugs or even horrible UI, design, story etc. Price your games better and make use of services like Steam (Only good one currently). Services like Steam will give the players same kind of enviroment to PSN and Xbox Live, and it has great features like cloud service, game library, community/social aspect and so on.

And please listen to the gamers, ask what they want, ask did they like your game, ask what they want to change in it! Make new innovative games! Don't just fall in that old bag of tricks, it will only make you fail in the end. And remember the better game you make, less marketing you will need to sell it. Ouh, and you can always get some gamers to try your game or idea of game before you even make it too far, they can tell you pretty early if it's going to fail. I've seen this many times during focus groups or pre-versions of the game. You could just had asked your QA what they think of the game, they would have told you will it make or break!

Posted:2 years ago

#20

Jamie Watson
Studying Bachelor of Games & Interactive Entertainment

179 0 0.0
Wow...those are some bad figures (if correct) piracy will exsit and i agree with Andrzej in saying with games been badly made now there is no NEED to buy a game anymore, and with hardly any demos of the recent games oout, how are gamers meant to know if this this new game is worth paying $80-$100 for? simple: they pirate the game and if they like it they buy it (or not) to stop piracy better games have to be made as well as have good rewarding DRm systems for players dont have the urge/need to pirate (some people pirate a game because the DRM makes the game not work on there system).

Posted:2 years ago

#21

James Ingrams
Writer

208 72 0.3
Certain titles are more likely to be pirated, but just like the music industry that complained about piracy in the best sales year it has ever had, you have to decide how big a problem piracy is when we have seen a 38% growth in PC game sales over the last 5 years compared to a flat console game market!

It also doesn't explain how other small/medium titles like The Witcher series, just get on with it and make millions!

Posted:2 years ago

#22
@James - This is what good journalism should be for. In a Andrzej who mentioned marketing was to blame has a point. In the past good games where overlooked because big companies (EA and others) got so good at marketing that their games where often inferior but sold better. A lot of marketing is dishonest with the consumer and as a result gamers may have simply decided to either pirate or only trust games from companies and IP they already know to be good explaining our current state of affairs and it's no surprise it's COD rather than MOH that is now the dominant franchise in gaming i.e marketing only worked for so long.

Now the industry has improved and executives do realize that quality is the most important factor and therefore the heavely marketed games are also generally the best made now but the trust is gone.

All that being said, I don't condone it as it's stealing plane and simple and I suspect until Cloud Gaming makes it impossible to pirate (there's no reason the games ever have to be played on a local machine that can be tampered with) it will only increase.

Posted:2 years ago

#23

Andrew Ihegbu
Studying Bsc Commercial Music

415 110 0.3
@John

That's the way of the modern world. The world itself is a saturated market now that we have brought ourselves (and thus our businesses) so close together with the internet. The only way to be noticed by most is marketing, wether by billboards and TV ads or just a good recommendation from a trusted gaming friend, unfortunately.

Posted:2 years ago

#24

Keldon Alleyne
Handheld Developer

422 361 0.9
@Tom Pickard: It was a Total War game that had some terrible DRM that failed to work on my PC. I still have the game here plus the identical copy the Creative Assembly sent me (that didn't work because the problem was in the DRM not my disk).

After a few months I had to resort to downloading the pirate copy, but by then I had lost all enthusiasm in the game and I never played it. IIRC the pirate version lacked some features (being the CD version) which put me off of playing, and after replacing my Sony DVD drive which was incompatible with the (I would believe) non standards DVD, I had absolutely no interest in the game.

---

DRM needs to be so transparent that the user isn't aware of it, quite like options during installation. The barrier between having a game and playing it should be reduced, otherwise it becomes difficult work that they the gamer had never signed up for.

Nobody even notices the DRM for the iOS App or iTunes store any more. It's so easy for them to buy the games and music that it increases the likelihood of an impulse buy.

Rather than degrading their experience, how about putting in some subtle messages in the game to entice them to buy? And rewards are known to have much more positive behavioural changes than punishment does ... so instead of degrading the experience of pirates, why not reward paying customers with a one time treat that only paying customers could receive and to the pirates, notify them about this in the game with videos or images of someone enjoying the treat - a much better use of copy detection. The pirates will line up at the till.

Posted:2 years ago

#25

Colin McBride
Studying MA in 3D Design for Virtual Worlds

36 6 0.2
I agree that these figures look somewhat suspect. We need more info on if that is 100 logins or 100 IP addresses. The problem with piracy is that it's essentially an arms race -- boost your DRM and it's only a matter of time before someone out there finds a way around it. I quite like Bohemia's approach to dealing with pirates though and would like to see more of this and agree @Keldon above that the carrot is probably going to work better than the stick.
I suspect that it might be as simple as good, well-made, value-for-money games will find legitimate sales and that overhyped, rushed and incomplete and buggy ones will find themselves being pirated.

Posted:2 years ago

#26

Sean Warren
Inspector

34 0 0.0
We will never beat the pirates... Why waste our time trying? Seriously, we could be making better content with all those resources...
Get it, they will not be buying our game, or they will... we will not determine that by bloating our process with a bunch of bullshit that bean counters insist will raise our profits. It can all be beaten in an hour by a 12 year old. Get over it and get back to work making games, not money.

Posted:2 years ago

#27

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