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August 13, 2008

Pirate Adventure

Indie Developer Cliff Harris ('cliffski') of Positech Games has been running an interesting experiment of late. In his search to answer the question, "Why do people pirate my games?", he decided to take the question directly to the pirates themselves. A public, genuine request for opinions, posted on his blog. The request was also submitted to slashdot and the Penny Arcade forums, and made its way to other sites like ars technica, digg, and bnet. The response, as it turned out, was huge -- hundreds of comments on the blog, hundreds of e-mails, and many more responses at the other sites. And, interestingly, it seemed as though people really did have something they needed to get off their chests.

cliffski's summary of the results is posted here.

As expected, a number of people pirate because of a serious dislike of DRM. As cliffski says: "If you wanted to change ONE thing to get more pirates to buy games, scrapping DRM is it." No argument there. As a result, he removed all DRM from his games, and will not use it on any future projects. Cheers.

Money, of course, was cited as one of the big reasons. I didn't find that to be a huge surprise, since pirating is (among other things) a way to avoid paying money for something. What I did find interesting is what people seem to think of as a reasonable price for a game. Sure, there was plenty of ire directed at the $60 games, but people even seemed to think that $20, roughly what he charges for his games, was far too high. I had always thought of $20 as a "cheap" price for games.

It's an interesting observation in light of the recent discussions of money and game pricing I brought up earlier. There's a fascinating interplay between cost and perceived value, particularly when placed in the context of a game developer seeking to achieve a certain level of return to stay afloat. If the game is cheaper, will more people buy it? Maybe more pirates will — and maybe not — but then factor in the number of people who might pass on it based on the perceived value of a cheaper game, who knows what the final tally would be. And of course, it's much more complicated than that.

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