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Some indies don't fight piracy, they embrace it
Some indies don't fight piracy, they embrace it
October 26, 2012 | By Eric Caoili

October 26, 2012 | By Eric Caoili
Comments
    33 comments
More: Console/PC, Indie, Business/Marketing



Jonatan Soderstrom is the latest indie developer who's accepted that people will pirate his game, and has even gone out of his way to provide technical support to people downloading Hotline Miami without paying.

He joins a small but growing list of independent developers who have acknowledged that there's little they can do to stop people from stealing their PC games; instead they have found ways to embrace those pirates and make the best out of the situation.

"I don't really want people to pirate Hotline Miami, but I understand if they do," Soderstrom posted on Twitter, adding that he knows what it feels like to be broke. "I definitely want people to experience the game the way it's meant to be experienced. No matter how they got a hold of it."

After finding a cracked copy of Hotline Miami posted on popular torrent site The Pirate Bay, Soderstrom addressed commentors who complained about bugs in the game -- he not only offered advice for some issues, but also promised a patch and asked that the page be updated once it's released.

When McPixel developer Sos Sosowski found his game on The Pirate Bay recently, he also chose not to ask the site to take down the torrent. He instead thanked the people stealing his game for their interest, and offered free download codes in the comments.

His goodwill caught the attention of people on Reddit, and the buzz around his game led to The Pirate Bay's administrators offering to promote McPixel with a pay-what-you-want deal on their site -- a first for any game. Sosowski signed off on the idea, McPixel sold thousands of copies, and the game was eventually accepted by Steam's Greenlight platform, likely with help from the many fans he's won in the last couple of months.

The developers behind another indie title, Under the Ocean went so far as to offer a humorous "Annoying Cockroach Edition" alongside paid versions for their game back in April. This edition's accompanying text acknowledged that pirates were sure to steal the game, but sought to make those people feel guilty for doing so. There was even a link to The Pirate Bay initially, though that was taken down later.

"The Cockroach edition was actually not an attempt to cut down on piracy," artist Paul Greasley explained to Gamasutra. "It was just one of the liberties of being an indie developer, with nobody to answer to. The elephant in the room is that 90-plus percent of people are going to pirate your game on the PC (and ours is no exception, based on the traffic logs). We just thought it would be fun, and frankly honest, to point that out!"

As with McPixel, Under the Ocean's developers picked up a lot of buzz and a front-page post on Reddit for their acceptance of piracy. The team hopes to convert pirates now by releasing frequent updates that are more convenient to install with purchased copies.


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Comments


Kevin Fisk
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I don't play too many indie titles because even though they are so cheap they're also generally pretty shallow. Being an oldschool console/arcade guy I generally get my quick fix gaming from my old consoles. I feel my time is better spent on these games than wasting my time checking out countless indies. It's sad but true.

That said, I couldn't resist picking up Hotline Miami. The gameplay, presentation, and soundtrack is so well done. I've been going home each night after work, turning up my stereo system, and just going crazy screaming at the random carnage on my TV.

It's good to see the developer has a good attitude about this situation even though I think people should buy his game. I convinced my older brother to pick it up at least so there is one extra sale for them.

Kellam Templeton-Smith
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Hotline Miami is such a great experience, I was glad I got it. I've gotten around 11 hours of entertainment out of it, which is pretty great for ten bucks.

Thomas Happ
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In a way piracy is better marketing than free to play, since people feel like they're getting away with something, whereas "free" arouses suspicion. It reminds me of a friend who put a refrigerator out on the curb with a piece of paper reading "Free!" taped to the front. Nobody would pick up. So she changed the sign to say, "$50!" (or some other nominal figure), and it was stolen the next day.

Raymond Ortgiesen
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I completely agree. The level of street cred you get among consumers for endorsing your game being pirated is far more valuable than what you get for saying your game is free.

Kellam Templeton-Smith
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Yep, I don't think I've seen a true F2P game that doesn't have some awful grind in it. Rather than relying on whales, I'd way rather devs just charged nominal fees for stuff.

Raymond Ortgiesen
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Be the anarchy that you wish to see in the world.

Jed Hubic
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Hopefully more people buy this game! $9! I hope peeps decide to pass on a few pints to rep these guys instead. I've paid a lot more for games that aren't even a fraction as entertaining this year.

Kellam Templeton-Smith
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Yeah, I also have a strong feeling that this is going to wind up in a HIB at some point.

I'll probably pre-purchase their next game based on the strength of this one alone.

Eric McVinney
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Yea, I bought this game soley based on the fact that I was sold on the soundtrack. Everything else is great and love the work put into it. Worth the $9 :)

Justin Sawchuk
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Mcpixel was greenlight I think in large part because of pewdiepie and the bro army you can look at hte comment section if its still there and see for yourself

Michael O'Hair
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"Jonatan Soderstrom is the latest indie developer who's accepted that people will pirate his game, and has even gone out of his way to provide technical support to people downloading Hotline Miami without paying."

Sounds like the wrong way to go about doing things.

Provide support to the players supporting you (the developer) first.
Why should people who don't support the developer (pirates) receive support from the developer?

Players should understand that by purchasing the game they are entitled to more perks than those who downloaded the game for free off of Pirate Bay.

Pirates should understand that by not supporting the developer, they are not entitled to support of any kind. Don't like it? Then put some food on the developer's table.

If you expect to give away the game and provide support for free, why charge money for a game in the first place?

This kind of pro-piracy support increases the cheapness of indie games.
The worth of something should be equal to the amount of effort expended to create it.

E Zachary Knight
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Word of mouth is a powerful thing that has the potential to make or break an indie game developer. If word begins to spread that a game is a buggy mess, it doesn't matter who is speaking. If it is people who bought the game or people who pirated it, the damage is the same. As this developer knows, it is better to foster positive word of mouth rather than let negative word of mouth grow.

Amir Barak
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It'd be interesting to see how many of those non-sales suddenly became yes-sales... And how many of those would remain a non-sale (a no-profit) and indeed how many more lost-sales he'd have generated if he put in severe DRM schemes or turned his game into a free-to-play rubbish bin.

I have a lot of hyphens in the previous paragraph...

David Canela
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At least where the publicity is concerned, these seem like one-off effects that only work because nobody else has done it. I have my doubts this is a sustainable approach, might be even harmful in the long run (maybe not for these specific developers, but for their peers?). How do the paying customers feel about the developers spending time to cater to pirates instead of to allocate their resources to improve the experience for honest folks?

I'm all for being pragmatic about how you deal with piracy, but I'm not very convinced of this approach...

tony oakden
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I think you are right. I hear a lot of advice, drop prices, go free, support pirates, etc, which sound like short term fixes to a long term problem which isn't getting any better.

Ian Uniacke
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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoner%27s_dilemma

Basically we are screwing ourselves out of an industry.

Raymond Grier
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"How do the paying customers feel about the developers spending time to cater to pirates instead of to allocate their resources to improve the experience for honest folks?"

He's fixing the bug for everybody. In a way the piraters are being sourced as beta testers.

I assume those trash talking his methods are those who don't accept that a pirated copy doesn't necessarily equal a lost sale which I think is true most of the time.

Alex Covic
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More people need to understand torrents can be a marketing and/or distribution model?

I follow the conversations on TPB. You have the 'I have no money crowd' which has a subclass of 'real poor' and those, who pretend they don't have the money. Both of those, you - as a publisher or developer - will never get, unless you hire lawyers?

Another group, in my humble opinion, is downloading torrents like an extended demo, only to buy the games later eventually, for the price they can or want to afford? Conversations in the comments make me think that. I have no numbers, of course. Maybe I am naive.

"Sticky" features, like online leaderboards, achievements, social/friend-sharing features, personal elements, hell - even being a cool dude - might be the turning point, to make those non-sales to real world money in your hands?

Jonathan Eve
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I know a lot of people say that they just "wanna try it" and going to buy it later if they like it... But let's be honest : It's just a way to feel better about themselves, and a very ridiculously small amount actually act that way.

I think a lot of people pirates out of habit. From the times they were young and poor, they just never thought about it since... It's just reflexes.

Ian Uniacke
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Also the argument "they'll pay what they want" is ridiculous because what people WANT to pay is nothing. Which is exactly what pirates pay. How many times have you heard the argument "I pirated (lets say) starcraft 2 and played the entire campaign but the multiplayer unit number 7 was unbalanced so they don't deserve my money". Absolute garbage.

E Zachary Knight
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Ian,

I am sorry that you have such a low view of your customers. Most people would look at a glass as half full, but you seem to freak out that someone is drinking your drink.

While there are some people out there who fit the strawman you set up, not everyone is like that.

Ian Uniacke
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Zach, have some respect please and forgo the ad hominems. By the way I don't have a low view of my customers. My customers are people who pay for the software I produce and ergo NOT PIRATES. Yes, I DO have a low view of pirates because they are nothing but bottom feeders on our industry. Equating pirates and customers is the only straw man in this argument.

Piracy is not legitimate no matter how many times people drag up the same tired arguments (with no evidence to back it up). Show me numbers that prove this mythical "oh I pirated it just to check it out and now I'm paying for it".

E Zachary Knight
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All I am saying is that pirates can be customers too. You may not believe it, but many people have and have found success in accepting that. These guys are one example.

Here is another example:

http://www.techdirt.com/blog/casestudies/articles/20120917/200711
20413/pirate-bay-pays-off-one-enterprising-game-developer.shtml

Here are a few thoughts on why the mindset you seem to have is a losing mindset:

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120910/19261420335/dont-focus-
why-people-pirate-focus-why-they-dont-buy.shtml

More on that:

http://www.techdirt.com/blog/casestudies/articles/20120223/202501
17858/if-you-want-to-compete-with-free-this-is-what-you-need-to-k
now.shtml

Even Ubisoft is having second thoughts about that approach:

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120905/11582820285/ubisoft-lea
rns-hitting-customers-over-head-calling-them-thieves-is-not-good-
policy.shtml

I could provide more links for your consideration, but I am short on time. I hope those at least help you understand where I am coming from.

Simone Tanzi
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Actually I always thought piracy is a blessing for the industry.
I mean the actual level of piracy, giving the game up too easily would be harmful indeed.
But the fact is, there are a lot of VG fans out there, with a lot of passion and not enough money to buy every game they want.
You can be sure that whenever they have some spare money on their pocket they will spend them in games, but once the money is over they will download the rest.
You cannot do much about it, nobody in their sane mind will prioritize VGs over food and house.
If those people download your game you don't lose anything (because they cannot pay you money they don't have in the first place) but still they are playing your games and possibly becoming your fans.
This means, the next time they have money in their pockets and they see your game, or even better a sequel, they will buy it.
If they didn't have the chance to play it in the first place they will never get the chance to get interested at all.
Giving the game blatantly for free may be too much, invites people to not pay for your game and buy something else.
Giving them the chance to find the game, making them "work" for it, having to browse TPB or other similar torrent sites, sorting the real game from fakes and flawed installers.... basically, making sure that the paying client always have it easier and better is good.
I'm pretty sure that most of the sequels sales are hugely affected by people who downloaded the first game, liked it and saved the money when the sequel was announced.

Emppu Nurminen
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I find it peculiar why people are always criticizing the financial aspect of piracy, while the consumer habits that will follow from piracy are far more disturbing. At least I find it odd how people constantly complain about non-innovative game play, if the game experience is overall unique. That's the nice side effect of piracy to you all and it eats the industry faster than financial troubles.

Amir Barak
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I'm not sure what you're saying there to be honest; are you making a point that piracy is making games less innovative?

Emppu Nurminen
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I'm saying piracy is consuming the innovation to level, where the games aren't funny and entertaining to play. When players consume games in means to find different ways to play games rather than concentrating the whole experience of it brings, it's quite inevitable to bring out rejected prototypes on the table, ain't it?
You can see these kind of effects already in Greenlight and Kickstarter.

Ian Uniacke
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Good to see indy's selling out the industry for a quick buck.

E Zachary Knight
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You are right. What these guys should be doing is adding DRM that forces the game players to be connected to the internet at all times. They should force said players to log onto unnecessary services, install spyware and toolbars with security holes you could drive a truck through. They should threaten to sue every single person who downloaded the game on the Pirate bay. They should waste time and money banning pirates, chasing faults in their DRM to keep filthy pirates out.

I mean, why waste all that time making a great game and giving them a reason to buy when you could punish your paying customers?

Ian Uniacke
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The two are not related. Piracy is not made legitimate or illegitimate by the difficulty in reducing it.

Would you say the same thing in other scenarios? Oh murder is to hard to stop, and jail sentences are akin to medieval justice, so we're just going to help the murderers by providing them with guns and ammo. Absolutely ridiculous.

Again, please provide your evidence that pirates intend to buy at all. There is no evidence, this is pure hyperbole to justify piracy.

E Zachary Knight
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"Again, please provide your evidence that pirates intend to buy at all. There is no evidence, this is pure hyperbole to justify piracy."

Just like you, I only have anecdotal evidence. However, I also have a few studies that show that people who pirate are also big spenders on things like music.

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20111118/02101616810/swedish-stu
dy-shows-file-sharing-music-buying-go-hand-in-hand.shtml

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2009/apr/21/study-finds-pirates-b
uy-more-music

"Would you say the same thing in other scenarios? Oh murder is to hard to stop, and jail sentences are akin to medieval justice, so we're just going to help the murderers by providing them with guns and ammo. Absolutely ridiculous."

Now there is a logical fallacy if I have ever seen one. Yes, murder and copyright infringement are equivalent and can be used to help one understand the other.

Saul Gonzalez
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Between pay-what-you-want, freemium, mega discount sales (and piracy if you legitimize it), you can hop between games without ever having to pay more than a latte. Great for players. Unsustainable for developers as a whole.

The way I look at it, this has the markings of a tragedy of the commons.

For a successful individual developer, the equation is: I only make money from 5%~20% of the players, but my audience grew so big that I make more money in the absolute.

The flip side is: that 80%~95% of players you entertain for free are kept from supporting other games during that time. You cannibalize a large fraction of the total market for your own benefit.

However, it does work in the long term for the industry if the total expanded audience is 10X~20X compared to before. That's not an unrealistic figure.

Andy Lundell
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"When McPixel developer Sos Sosowski found his game on The Pirate Bay recently, he also chose not to ask the site to take down the torrent."

Haha!

Recently, I chose not to ask Hurricane Sandy to avoid making landfall.


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