The Witness is being heavily pirated

Jonathan Blow says piracy could impact his making another game

Jonathan Blow's newest work, The Witness, has been mostly showered with praise, but unfortunately a lot of players don't feel Blow should be paid, as they've been relentlessly pirating the $40 game. Blow tweeted today that "It seems The Witness is the #1 game on a certain popular torrent site. Unfortunately this will not help us afford to make another game!"

The independent developer then continued to lament the potential impact of his game being stolen: "I'm glad that a lot more people will be experiencing the game! But I also want to be able to make another comparable game next! Just sayin'."

For Blow's hit game Braid, which some would argue was a catalyst for the indie resurgence in the industry, the developer actually created a fake version to distract potential pirates from the real game, but on The Witness Blow just didn't have the time to do that.

Along those lines, Super Meat Boy creator Tommy Refenes replied on Twitter that he likes the "idea of seeding torrent sites with a version of the game that cuts out half the content," to which Blow responded, "I did that with Braid actually! This time I was way too busy just making sure the game was the best it could be."

While The Witness costs four times the amount as Braid ($10), Braid encountered a fair amount of piracy as well, so it may not be the price tag that's leading to players stealing copies. The Witness is suffering in part because it has no digital rights management (DRM). Blow said he does not like the idea of DRM but is now forced to consider it.

"That might happen on the next game, I don't know! I don't like DRM because I think people should have the freedom to own things," Blow commented.

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Latest comments (23)

Gareth Martin Associate Technical Director, Coconut Lizard6 years ago
I think it is the price. It's $40, for what seems to have been marketed as just a puzzle game. People want to check it out but not at that price.

Certainly I haven't bought it because of its price tag (but I haven't pirated it either).

Maybe it should have been episodic?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Gareth Martin on 2nd February 2016 2:11pm

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Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus6 years ago
The same people bitching about the $40 price tag are also going to be bitching about freemium.


If these conditions aren't met we will tell you to kill yourself on Twitter, because we're all a people person.

(Seriously... everything I've heard indicates that it's worth every penny. Even if it's not my bag, that's worth something).
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Hugo Trepanier Senior Game Designer, Ludia6 years ago
Just like most games its price will probably be drastically reduced in a few months/years. People who don't like the $40 price point can just wait for the next big Steam sale. Consider the people who are pirating this game probably just wouldn't have paid for it anyway, regardless of price.

I nowadays don't buy anything at launch anymore because a) I still have a huuuuge backlog of great unplayed games and b) by the time I get to actually playing a game it's usually down 60-80% in price.
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Show all comments (23)
Richard Browne Head of External Projects, Digital Extremes6 years ago
I think it's because its a new game out and therefore went to the top of the torrent list . . . .
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Andrew Watson Tools Programmer 6 years ago
I can think of a couple reasons why people would pirate it:
- The price tag. Yes, some people will wait for sales until buying it, but 30/$40 is a lot for a game that only has a bunch of maze puzzles.
- People aren't sure whether they'll like it or not. So they pirate it to try it out, so if they end up not liking it, they didn't waste their money. Though this is kinda moot since steam refunds are a thing.
- People who want to play it now before everything is spoiled, but who don't want to wait until there's a sale on.

DRM fixes none of these problems.
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Shane Sweeney Academic 6 years ago
$55 Australian

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Shane Sweeney on 30th January 2016 2:18am

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Oscar Escamilla Perez Game Designer 6 years ago
I'm not a big fan of puzzle games, but I liked the art style, so I gave it a try buying it on PS4. I'm loving it, and for me it is not just a bunch of maze puzzles.
Some puzzles do open doors; others teach the player how to decrypt more complex puzzles. A few puzzles are there just for fun, without affecting the game world. All of them are surrounded by an amazing scenery and great sound design (no music at all).
I find the game quite relaxing. No enemies, no pressure to beat anyone but your own mental limits. If that is not enough to be worth a purchase I don't know what else is.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Oscar Escamilla Perez on 30th January 2016 9:39am

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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 6 years ago
The Witness is suffering in part because it has no digital rights management (DRM). Blow said he does not like the idea of DRM but is now forced to consider it.
From KAT:
The.Witness-HI2U Posted by mercs213 in Games > Windows
3.63 GB 2 3 days (Seeds) 1373 (Peers) 499
Rise.of.the.Tomb.Raider.Full.Unlocked-MERCS213 Posted by mercs213 in Games > Windows
18.5 GB 202 1 day (Seeds) 1991 (Peers) 6857
Both results ordered by number of Seeds. I don't think DRM has anything to do with it... Personally, I believe that some people would pirate it regardless, simply because they would never have bought it and want everything for free.
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Janne Lampela Student / Freelance 6 years ago
People who don't like the $40 price point can just wait for the next big Steam sale.
A lot of the appeal of a game like The Witness is being part of the zeitgeist of people discovering all the secrets in it. A lot of people don't want to miss out on that, but also don't want to drop 40 bucks on it, so if you price it that high you shouldn't be surprised if it gets heavily pirated.
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee6 years ago
I don't think desire to experience a game overrides piracy and its negative effect. I feel people need to make a choice; if they value the product buy it, if they don't then leave it or wait for a sale.

For me personally, I've skipped a lot of things due to price but I know people, even who have a respect or ties to the industry that have no reservations about pirating the games anyway.

You can't blame the developer/publisher for pricing their product.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 6 years ago
I bet that within three months there will be an ad financed clone of The Witness for mobile out-grossing the 40 version. Call it unfair, or call it sign of the times and ramble all day about the redux mobile version not having all the gimmicks of the original. Threes and 2048 ring a bell?

Can't wait to hear the comments when it is not the customers ripping off Jonathan Blow, but competitors who are more predatorial than artsy.
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James Prendergast Process Specialist 6 years ago
I don't think DRM will fix anything (as pointed out above by other commenters) - We're talking about people who will pirate stuff even if it's basically free.

As for Jonathan Blow's comment - isn't it a bit early to be extrapolating revenue from a game that literally went on sale a month ago?

I mean, as an industry, there are the people who cry wolf when a game doesn't make unrealistic first week/month/year sales and they switch around and change their tune when two years later they exceed those 'lifetime' sales... Braid was a cheaper title, more easily understood and experienced and had a more mainstream audience.

I know it's weird to be saying this but the platformer audience is larger than the Myst audience (I don't say puzzles because even match-3 could be considered a puzzle game...) so, in that sense, Blow's game was a gamble. Now, for me, the gamble paid off. I think it's a great game that I'll probably never finish (I don't usually cheat or look for hints online). Believing that seven years of work can be repaid from a niche product? It's possible. It may not be probable given the proclivities of the current mainstream audience.
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Lucija Pilic Journalist 6 years ago
"Game is worth as game is good!" - to paraphrase a quote from Forrest Gump. :P

So sad to see how gamers don't appreciate the art and craft of some genres (puzzle, adventure, 3D platformer games), while they happily shell out 60$ + season pass price for a physics simulation upgrade in sports games or action-adventures/FPS' with 5-10 hours campaign and tons of mediocre side-quests.

I'll take 20+ hour worth of brilliant puzzles over 60+ hours generic content anytime.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 6 years ago
Relevant to the article is this conversation thread on Jonathan Blow's Twitter. Makes for interesting reading when you take the two things (the piracy quote and the sales talk) together. :)
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I just do not get The Witness. I have tried, hard, but all I can see is same maze puzzle over and over and over again with increasingly difficult rules. Rules that are deliberately left untold. This game makes not having a tutorial or any guidelines, directional guides or anything "art".
Incomprehensible modern "art" was in fact an analogue that came to my mind many times. Gaming media has hailed The Witness as some kind of a second coming after Blow made Braid. The game has had huge amount of overly positive hype from media and that picks up and snowballs. After its release, I'd say that many reviewers have felt the pressure to "get it" and so they give the game a score around 20 points higher on average than they would if it was not THE Game. The discrepancy between reviewer and user scores is telling, for example 88 versus 68 for PC at Metacritic.

Another good example is this very article: "The Witness is being heavily pirated". Yeah, so is every other game too but The Witness being pirated gets headlines across the gaming media. And also the pirating in itself is telling of the hype: I'd dare to say that this type of hard core puzzle games are not the typical pirated game but the hype has been so big that it even gets pirated more than games like it would normally do.

I do enjoy the graphics and the island environment with the micro biomes and the feeling of solitude. But as a game it is not very good in my opinion and all this enthusiasm from gaming media gets me thinking of emperor's new clothes.
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Shane Sweeney Academic 6 years ago
What I've loved about it so far is its Myst vibe. It's definitely an extremely challenging game, but unlike just about every other puzzle game it's non linear. I can explore other sections and other puzzles then return when ever I like much like you could in Braid.

Getting stuck isn't a bad thing it encourages exploration, I think that's a really great way to motivate the player.
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany6 years ago
I'm surprise to read people justifying in one way or another that this game gets pirated. Some being people within our industry, on top of that. Personally for me is as simple as everything else; I can't afford a Ferrari, so I don't buy it; I don't steal one and make excuses of "If I had the money I would totally buy it" or "If it were half price I would have got it into a shop" That's doesn't make it right nor justifies what I did.
Also, I don't believe much the "I download games to try them and them buy the ones I like" since in my experience it always comes from people who actually finishes the game they download, or play for weeks that pirated copy and then never get the original one.

Last but not least. 40 is indeed a bit high for what you expect from an indie game, but we are talking about an independent developer here; I'm sure they know what kind of game this is, the audience it will have and they thought well enough that they could not go with less than 40. We don't know which were the production costs or situations they went through, so I say let's give them the benefit of doubt there.
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Martyn Brown Managing Director, Insight For Hire6 years ago
Piracy has always been happening, since the 80's, it's not like this is a new situation. If he's done nothing about it, then that's his decision, which is weird if you're spending X years developing something that is highly likely to be stolen away from the safer platforms such as PS4.

But it's not a question of price at all, if people can get it for free, they will - thats been proven time and time again.
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Aleksi Ranta Category Management Project Manager 6 years ago
Indeed, if you can get it for free, some people will do so. And they dont care if a sequel or another game is made by the same developer or not. A lot of todays experiences for the younger generation are one-time disposable bits of enjoyment. Music is binged on and thrown away, move onto the next thing. Relatioships are the same thing, im looking at you tinder, just pick and choose, enjoy and throw away. And games....enjoy it for a few hours, throw away and pick from the line of thousands of other possibilites.

I want everything now and preferably for free.....Im slightly worried about the future in general.
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Andrew Watson Tools Programmer 6 years ago
Personally for me is as simple as everything else; I can't afford a Ferrari, so I don't buy it; I don't steal one and make excuses of "If I had the money I would totally buy it" or "If it were half price I would have got it into a shop" That's doesn't make it right nor justifies what I did.
This argument never holds up because pirating software doesn't result in the original owner losing access to the thing you pirated. Copying makes this fundamentally different from real-world theft.

I'd bet that many people who pirate games would never steal anything from a brick-and-mortar game shop.
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Bryan Robertson Gameplay Programmer, Ubisoft Toronto6 years ago
I don't mean this to sound as sanctimonious as it most likely reads, but I think the "you're not depriving the owner of the original" argument is flawed. Copying stops it from being theft, but it doesn't change the fact that you're helping yourself to someone's hard work for free, nor does it change the fact that the developer is out of pocket.

"Copying doesn't deprive the owner of the original" doesn't put food on the table, nor does it pay the rent. When a developer can walk into Tesco and say "no but you see, I still have the original data for my game, so I don't have to pay for these groceries!", I'll accept that argument.

To be honest, I don't see the big deal about $40. Sure, I understand the state of the economy means that there are a lot of people who are struggling, but for people who can afford to buy a AAA console and AAA games, or a PC capable of gaming, $40 is next to nothing.

Another thing that's worth mentioning, is that people balk at $40, or even a $5 mobile game, but when developers move to free to play models, people complain.

Edited 4 times. Last edit by Bryan Robertson on 3rd February 2016 6:50am

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Justin Biddle Software Developer 6 years ago
I'd say it's somewhere in the middle. A good number of those who pirated would not pay even if they had no option to pirate. They're just freloading. If it wasn't there they just wouldn't bother. However there are those who would if they couldn't pirate so yes they are depriving to some extent. But certainly the industry either is being slightly disingenuous or naive to believe that every pirated copy equals one lost guaranteed sale.

Just to be clear though I'm not condoning piracy. Whether depriving or not it is still wrong and the above does not justify it in anyway
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