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Monument Valley dev views piracy as "essentially free marketing"

Pirates are unlikely to be paying customers, "so it's not like we're losing revenue"

Despite only a small fraction of its Android customers actually paying for Monument Valley, the mobile developer ustwo is looking on the bright side. With so many mobile users unwilling to pay upfront for content, piracy of premium games can be interpreted as "free marketing."

In an interview with Recode, Monument Valley's producer, Dan Gray, admitted that there were no effective protections against piracy for Android games. However, while many games have a similar piracy rate to the 95 per cent revealed by ustwo earlier this week, that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

"The majority of those users probably wouldn't have bought the game anyway," Gray said. "So it's not like we're losing revenue. And, of course, I'm sure some of those users have recommended the game to friends who maybe aren't as tech-savvy as they are. It's essentially free marketing.

"When I say we're not complaining about that ratio, that kind of ratio was expected before we made the game and it's not that surprising now that we've released the game. You just roll with the punches."

As Gray pointed out, at this point rampant piracy on Android is to be expected, and at roughly the same rate as Monument Valley. Back in 2012, for example, Sports Interactive revealed that Football Manager Handheld had a 9:1 ratio of illegal downloads on Android. Later in the same year, Madfinger made the Android version of Dead Trigger free due what it called the "unbelievably high" rate of piracy.

However, developers quickly became accustomed to the problem, rationalising it in a similar manner to ustwo's Dan Gray, or even actively engaging with the pirates. In April 2013, Greenheart Games actually uploaded a cracked version of its development sim Game Dev Tycoon to popular torrent sites, allowing it to track piracy data with greater accuracy, and affording the opportunity to have the last laugh.

In the cracked version, players soon discovered that the products of their fictive development studios were undermined at every turn by piracy and illegal downloads - a feature not included in legal copies of the game.

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Latest comments (7)

Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd4 years ago
It's good to hear a level-headed view on piracy. There are a lot of Android devices in the world in places where paying for apps isn't the norm (or isn't easily possible). Counting these as "lost sales" is an unwelcome distraction.

(BTW I think you mean Game Dev Tycoon rather than Game Dev Story - an easy mistake to make!)
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Matthew Handrahan European Deputy Editor, GamesIndustry.biz4 years ago
Thanks Robin. That one slipped by me.
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Anthony Chan4 years ago
Finally! A dev who can see the light on it. Piracy is an act committed by criminals and people who do not have the funds to purchase games. Unfortunately this demographic does not rise out of their "rut" very often. It is meaningless and a waste of resources to try to deter this demographic from pirating games. It is not loss revenue, when the poor could never afford your game and the criminals just refuse to pay regardless.

Revenue is lost when a normally paying consumer of your game refuses to purchase for their own reasons. As soon as publishers realize this, they can focus less on activities to make it harder for pirates/poor people and more on activities that generate new customers and bring back old customers!
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development4 years ago
Most developers take that pragmatic view, but keep it to themselves. However it's quite another thing to shout from the highest rooftops that basically "Piracy is ok, we're fine with it", just to get some easy PR.
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John McGrath Student - Computer Games Development BSc 4 years ago
I wasn't aware of this game till I read this article. I have now bought the game, thanks to the free marketing provided by GamesIndustry.biz because of piracy.

I agree that pirates are unlikely to make a purchase anyway - in a market where dozens of titles are released every month, the majority of consumers won't have the budget to keep up. A single game can mean 5% or more of someone's monthly income!
People at the poorest end of society in the UK might only be able stretch to a game for Christmas/birthdays or titles from the bargin bin. How does it hurt the market if some of those people acquire games from shady sources?
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Igor Galochkin Game Programmer 4 years ago
Oh sure he is losing revenue! Namely, he is not earning anything from all those free downloads coming from pirates. He could easily monetize on them by having a free version supported by ads, and some would be not tech savvy enough to play in airplane mode or install an ad-blocking app. The other question is how many users who would otherwise buy the paid version would now just grab a free one with ads (but then go and give a 3- or 4-star rating, if not a 1-star rating saying "the game is good but the ads are annoying")? Their average rating of the free version would be somewhere around 3.5 but that wouldn't really matter much cuz their total revenue would probably go up compared to what they have now.
Btw 5% is close to the free->paid conversion rate they would just get by having a free demo of the game available on GooglePlay (or just an ad-supported, fully unlocked, free version) because the game itself is pretty high-quality.
I suspect they did lost some revenue as well by not having a demo.
When people pirate a game on Android, some of them just want to try the game out because the idea of paying for a game they haven't tried yet feels unfair to them. If they like the game and feel that devs have done a great job, and the price is not too high, they will at least consider buying it, and some will actually go and buy it.
And yes, most of those 95% would never buy anyway.
It's all math with unknown parameters, and there is essentially no way to know what would earn more.
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Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd4 years ago
At least dirt cheap mobile games have dispelled the notion that if games where cheaper they wouldn't be pirated.
People even pirate free stuff, bizarrely. But on the other hand, Steam sales (and some bundles) have shown that pricing fairly can net developers more revenue than trying to maintain high prices.
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