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Dev cracks own game to track piracy

Dev cracks own game to track piracy

Mon 29 Apr 2013 2:14pm GMT / 10:14am EDT / 7:14am PDT
BusinessDevelopment

Nearly 94% of first-day downloads for Game Dev Tycoon were pirated; unpaid copies see players overrun by in-game piracy

Independent developer Greenheart Games this weekend undertook an unusual approach to thwarting piracy, one that began with aiding and abetting it. When the studio released its Game Dev Tycoon for Windows, Mac, and Linux, it also put a cracked version of the game up on a popular torrent site for people to download.

As Greenheart co-founder Patrick Klug explained today in a blog post on the studio's site, the cracked version of the game had a few important differences from the version paying customers would receive. First, it would report back usage stats to Greenheart so the developer would know roughly how many people playing its game had stolen it. In the first day on sale, Klug said 3,104 users (93.6 percent) pirated the game, compared to just 214 who played legitimately purchased copies.

The second major difference in the pirated version was a gameplay quirk intended to make a point to those who would rather steal than pay for games. Game Dev Tycoon is a simulation game that has players running their own game development studio. But after a few hours, players of the cracked game will find that their in-game studio's efforts are rampantly pirated, regardless of critical acclaim or popularity. As a result, sales dwindle and the studio inevitably goes bankrupt.

Klug drove home his point with screen captures of forum comments from players who had illegally downloaded the game. One asked if he could research DRM tactics, saying there was no point in creating a new game if it will just be pirated and unable to turn a profit. Another bemoaned how the pirates were ruining the player's company, calling it "not fair."

Klug was torn on those comments, saying, "As a gamer I laughed out loud: the irony!!! However, as the developer, who spent over a year creating this game and hasn't drawn a salary yet, I wanted to cry."

22 Comments

Russell Watson
Senior Designer

84 33 0.4
Popular Comment
They spent over a year effectively copying Game Dev Story?

Posted:A year ago

#1

Paul Johnson
Managing Director / Lead code monkey

808 1,010 1.3
Kudos to Klug for still being alive. Seeing the epic irony in those blog comments would give me a coronary.

Posted:A year ago

#2

Dan Lowe
3D Animator

46 68 1.5
after a few hours, players of the cracked game will find that their in-game studio's efforts are rampantly pirated
Haha! That's brilliant. Regardless of whether the game is similar to Game Dev Story, it's certainly interesting to see the results of his work into the piracy side of things. It's an important area to look at if we want to see developers fairly compensated without the use of draconian DRM.

Posted:A year ago

#3

David Serrano
Freelancer

299 270 0.9
93 percent pirated? Wow...

But the flip side is... 214 copies? The game is $8 and they only persuaded 214 people to buy it? A box of Girl Scout cookies is $4 and the average scout sells between 50 to 300 boxes. Some girls manage to sell thousands of boxes. Note to Greenheart: hire this kid as your marketing director! http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/09/your-money/for-this-girl-scout-its-more-than-pushing-cookies.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Posted:A year ago

#4

James Battersby
Developer

15 8 0.5
I think the industry gets enough awkward publicity without having to use child labour to sell copies.... ;)

Posted:A year ago

#5

Steven Hodgson
Programmer

80 120 1.5
Popular Comment
so they copy someone else's work and then complain when 93% of players do the same to them?

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Steven Hodgson on 29th April 2013 4:25pm

Posted:A year ago

#6

Barrie Tingle
Live Producer

368 144 0.4
I see multiple comments about copying Game Dev Story which was a great game, however from what I remember it was only on mobile and not PC, Linux and Mac. How many have actually played it to see if it is a copy or is just the same theme?

I would have bought it to try it but the link to the game from their blog site is offline.

Posted:A year ago

#7

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,512 1,294 0.9
Popular Comment
Well, it's a simple experiment, is the problem with this. For instance,
In the first day on sale, Klug said 3,104 users (93.6 percent) pirated the game, compared to just 214 who played legitimately purchased copies
But what about first week sales, as opposed to first day? If half that 93% went on to buy the game after the 3rd day's play, then the statistic isn't as valuable as it first appears. In addition, what about people who pirated, played it for a day, then uninstalled? Both of those points relate to the "try-before-you-buy" demographic who found the game to their liking (or not as the case may be).

Not saying it's a pointless experiment, but it's not as worthwhile as it could've been, sadly.

Posted:A year ago

#8

Paul Jace
Merchandiser

896 1,324 1.5
That was very clever of them. I always get amused when developers do stuff like this and then all the pirates who stole the game instantly hit the message boards to complain about the product that they didn't even legally obtain thru purchase.

I'm still waiting for the day when a developer puts a bug in the cracked version of their game that crashes or does something else to mess up the pirates PC that they used for the illegal download. But I suppose that could cause legal issues of another kind:)

Posted:A year ago

#9

Saehoon Lee
Founder & CEO

60 41 0.7
It doesn't matter how much this game has got similar ideas as the other games out there. The time spent on making a game deserves a decent return if there are customers liking the game. It is sad irony indeed. But this has to be one of the funniest counter attack against piracy.

Posted:A year ago

#10

Christopher Bowen
Editor in Chief

406 539 1.3
@David - To be fair, I thought about buying it when it came out, but I decided that I already owned it. It's just called Game Dev Story, on my Android.

Posted:A year ago

#11

James Prendergast
Research Chemist

734 430 0.6
Popular Comment
I'm with Morville.

Saying that the majority of your first day sales were pirated when the pirate copy probably got more "marketing" than the official copy is just pointless. I'd never even heard of this game until this pirate sto-oh... very clever, Greenheart Games... Very clever.

Posted:A year ago

#12
Not sure, what the bigger problem is: testing an illegal copy or copy a game?
Its the problem of the Industry, isn't?
We need something new, but no experiments please, so lets copy the cat again and sell it as a brand new dog, mewouing now?

Posted:A year ago

#13

Russell Watson
Senior Designer

84 33 0.4
So when Zynga clone games, they are evil for doing it? If an indie does it, it's ok? Or is how much money you make from it directly proportional to how evil you are?

Posted:A year ago

#14

Martyn Brown
Managing Director

137 33 0.2
Hmm, that correlates with the general theory that about 93% of players don't pay on F2P games...

Posted:A year ago

#15

Karl Bonin
Environment Artist

1 0 0.0
Man .- that was very clever. I like it when developers do things like that.
Its a nice marketing strategy at the same time - also its sad irony. I agree with Steffen, we need something new - something a player would spend his money on.

Posted:A year ago

#16

gi biz
;,pgc.eu

341 51 0.1
Uh I follow Linux games very carefully, I rarely miss new products. But I must say I had never heard of this one at all. Not even linuxgames.com talked about it. Too bad because the developers seem to have done a good job, I'm definitely going to try this one. It could also be interesting to try both the normal version and the "cracked" version if they play differently.

Edit: while sales figures are indeed sad, admittedly 3318 players including pirated downloads is not a great number. Even if each of them had paid the 7.99$ the gross income would be 17.100 gbp... I'm not even counting the fees... they could've done a better job at spreading the word. That said, we still don't know the background of these 3000+ pirates... are they spoiled stingy users who don't want to part from their money or kids from poor countries who will likely never see a credit card for the next 10 years? As I said over and over, without this information the pirate hunt is as meaningless as it could get.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by gi biz on 30th April 2013 9:39am

Posted:A year ago

#17

Brian Smith
Artist

195 84 0.4
Not sure how clever a strategy this is. The 93% piracy rate could be very misleading as there are some who justify pirating a demo-less game in order to try it. Some bizarrely (and I've known a couple) will even pirate, play, complete and then if they liked it, buy the game. I'm of course not saying the entire number is nonsense, some will just never pay for anything but some of them would still have been potential customers. Rigging your own pirate version will probably just ensure that pirate will never buy the game or any other game from your company. Word of mouth opinion from players could also drive a negative opinion of the game based on a non-representative nobbled version.

Posted:A year ago

#18

gi biz
;,pgc.eu

341 51 0.1
@Brian: I agree with all you say. Personally, back when I still had a windows partition I played through the whole Borderlands on a cracked version. Needless to say, I already had an original copy, but it's still sealed and I don't wish to open it. Of course I'm not selling it either. At the time I also played Plants VS Zombies from a pirated download, that was because I wanted to play straight away and I only ordered the boxed version the day after. Very similar things happened for Sacred 2, Darksiders, Grid, Tomb Raider, Faery... oh, I also had to crack Fuel as although I have the original disc it didn't want to run. Trine, that was distributed digitally, was impossible to buy for those who missed the first humble bundle. Luckily I could pay for it in the subsequent bundles. Many other games are in my wish list, but are plain impossible to find (new at least): Alpha Centauri for Linux, Wipeout for Dos, Woodruff, Unreal Tournament 2004...
I think many people also download the cracked version of games to make sure they run in wine, as there's hardly a way to know for sure beforehand - and it could also happen that the demo works but not the actual game or vice-versa.

Posted:A year ago

#19

Anthony Gowland
Lead Designer

174 543 3.1
It's certainly been a genius marketing move - I'd never heard of this game before but now its name is everywhere. They must have shifted a load of copies on the back of all of this.

Posted:A year ago

#20

Barrie Tingle
Live Producer

368 144 0.4
I bought this last night on Windows 8 and whilst it has some similarities to Game Dev Story (as it would since it a game about making games) it feels and plays different enough to stand up on its own.

Posted:A year ago

#21

Jeremy Glazman
Programmer

29 4 0.1
@Brian Smith
Not sure how clever a strategy this is. The 93% piracy rate could be very misleading as there are some who justify pirating a demo-less game in order to try it.
There is a free demo of this game...

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jeremy Glazman on 1st May 2013 8:11am

Posted:A year ago

#22

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