Game Marketing Tips, Analysis, and News

Monday, July 18, 2011

Piracy Revisited

FingerKicks, an app kidnapped by pirates.
Once again we can read a sad tale about piracy, this time about a soccer app for iOS called FingerKicks. The story is worth reading, about how a dedicated developer create a soccer game for iOS and sat back to await fame and fortune. Sadly, they were only selling a couple of hundred copies. But then they saw on Apple's GameCenter that 5.000 people were playing their game! Joyous celebration... until they realize that only 160 of those were paid copies.

The rest were due to their app being featured on a pirate web site. What really honks them off is that Apple's Game Center made no distinction between legitimate copes and pirated copies. Not surprisingly, these developers are annoyed that Apple doesn't make that distinction. I agree; Apple should restrict Game Center to legitimate owners of legitimate copies.

But on the whole piracy issue, I'm afraid I don't fall neatly into a category, either the yo-ho-ho crowd or the he-man pirate-hatin' publishers. I think piracy shouldn't be promoted, and people should be buying copies if they want to play a game. But I also don't think that the enormous claims of lost revenue that you see from publishers and publisher associations are legitimate. I think if there were some way to keep games from being pirated that was 100% foolproof, you wouldn't see a game's sales increase by 100% of the number currently being pirated. The true number would be somewhere between 0% and 100%, and I think it would be much closer to 0% than 100% of the pirated copies.

Lots of pirates grab copies of things because they can. Others because they can't pay for a legitimate copy; they're too poor. Neither of those would pay for a copy if that was the only way to get it.

Reality is that efforts to stop piracy never seem to work. Many of these efforts make it more difficult or annoying to be a legitimate owner, while not stopping the determined pirate. There's a constant arms race going on between Digital Rights Management (DRM) and piracy, and the pirates always seem to be a step or two ahead.

I think it's a waste of time trying to stay ahead of the pirates. Sure, stop the commercial copiers if you can; the factories churning out DVDs and the like. But the casual copying is nearly impossible to stop.

I think your time is better spent figuring out how to use piracy to your advantage. It's a viral marketing tool, if you can figure out how to monetize it. Additional digital content sales are a good way to do this. If you're running a server that players compete on, you should be able to restrict that to legitimate owners.

I think the best way to deal with piracy is a free-to-play game where you make money on the digital goods and just give the game away. Then piracy is just a marketing tool for you; look at the League of Legends guys. They're making a lot of money with a game they give away for free. I'm sure they don't spend any time worrying about piracy.

Yes, encourage people to pay for your software as much as you can. But don't waste time in rage or ineffective measures to keep people from grabbing copies of your game, if those would never really be legitimate sales anyway. Look for ways to reward the people who give you money, and then the freeloaders will become unpaid marketing assistance for you. Which is really the best revenge of all.

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