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Opinion: Piracy & Casual Games - The Follow-Up

Opinion: Piracy & Casual Games - The Follow-Up

February 27, 2008 | By Russell Carroll

February 27, 2008 | By Russell Carroll
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More: Console/PC

[Following Russell Carroll's controversial Gamasutra opinion piece on PC casual gaming and piracy, the Reflexive Entertainment marketing director adds lots more hard statistics in this follow-up column.]

My recent casual gaming column published over at Gamasutra, has created a good bit of stir, so I thought I'd put in some additional details as a follow-up and clarification.

For those who missed it, the first column started out with the statement: "It looks like around 92% of the people playing the full version of [Reflexive's PC casual game] Ricochet Infinity pirated it." It went on to look at what happens when DRM is improved for the game, suggesting: "For every 1,000 pirated copies we eliminated, we created 1 additional sale."

As it happens, I ended up cutting 3 pages from that article while writing, which is very abnormal for me, but it was just too dry a read to keep all the info in. This added information should help you further with stats and context.

Reflexive's Piracy Stats, In Depth

- Firstly, for clarification purposes - on Ricochet Infinity the 92% piracy was comparing full version against full version, not any demo versions.

- Some more numbers on that game, thanks to author James C Smith:

- 43% of the downloaded copies (including demos) went online, which means we can't track 57%. These versions may have not installed or not gone online. But as I mentioned in my article, we can't assume that those who didn't go online were less likely to pirate than those who did go online.

- Full data of all the downloads (from
2.3% Bought the game
29% Pirated the game
14% Went online with the demo
57% Never went online
So the 92% is the percentage of the full versions used online that were pirated.

Conversion Rates And Piracy

- The encouraging piece of all the numbers, I suppose, is that of the non-pirates, the percentage who bought the game was a pretty high conversion ratio.

I've often stated that the Xbox Live Arcade conversion ratios are inflated due to the $300 barrier of entry...people had to have already spent $300 to get to XBLA, clearly they are people who spend money on games. Online we cater to people who do and who won't.

Clearly, if you removed the pirates (who, according to the Ricochet Infinity numbers, may account for 67% of ALL downloads in the casual space) the conversion ratio of the entire casual games industry would increase a lot.

When DRM Changes Affected Piracy

- Another piece of data that seems useful is when we made the fixes to the DRM, since the original article referenced this extensively:
Fix 1 was 12/15/05
Fix 2 was 7/12/06
Fix 3 was 4/18/07
Fix 4 was 12/5/07 + 12/12/07 (there was a minor follow-up to this fix)
Ricochet Infinity was released on 7/31/07

I actually had wanted to write this article months ago, but with the recenct nature of that last fix, which was being worked on prior to November, obviously, I wanted to give us at least some time to get a feel for how the results went.

Notably, that first DRM fix had dramatic sustainted results. I've mentioned this elsewhere, but that change is clearly visible in the growth charts that we keep here at Reflexive.

Incidentally, a modified version of one of those growth charts was in my Independent Games Summit slides - here's text and video links - from last year's Game Developer's Conference.

Pirates And Level... Creation?

Finally, I had planed to talk about one potentially positive result of piracy that I found interesting, but couldn't fit it into the article well, so I'll mention it here.

In Ricochet Infinity anyone can create a level set and upload it to the server and watch it become popular...or ignored. We've found that a good portion of pirates created level sets. I find that fascinating myself, and it may speak to some possibilities of using piracy to a positive end.


The 1000:1 ratio is really, I think, the key takeaway of the article. Several people have grasped that and started applying it to different numbers in the industry, and the results are very disappointing.

Clearly, if we could always have a big gain from a fix that maintains itself, it is worth spending the time to fight piracy. However, since that isn't always the case, it can sometimes (often?) be pretty discouraging to try and stop piracy.

I don't think that means that we should be any least earnest in our fight, but the ratio is quite interesting. Closing, I'd love to see some other portals disclose their numbers publicly to further the discussion. Anyone?

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