TECH TALK: A lesson in game piracy

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First Posted: 5/7/2013

Ahh… Irony.

Software developer Greenheart released a game titled “Game Dev Tycoon.” In it, the player assumes the role of – you guessed it – an aspiring game developer, working out of a garage in the 1980s.

As the game progresses, players gain experience and skills, and as time progresses, they can release games for increasingly modern platforms. They determine what areas of game development to focus on, which directly affects sales and helps to unlock industry changing technologies that move things along.

“Game Dev Tycoon” costs all of $8, and it’s a fun game, well worth the money.

The game’s developer, who is either a marketing genius or an evil mastermind, also released a “pirated” version of the game downloadable via Torrent, an extremely popular peer-to-peer file-sharing format that allows for extremely fast downloads. Torrents are widely used by video game pirates.

There was a small Easter egg hidden in the pirated version, however: Players would find it increasingly difficult to progress in the game due to… software piracy. As time went on, game pirates ate more and more into the profits of their virtual company. Just desserts, I’d say.

The interesting twist here is that as it turned out, more than 90 percent of players had the pirated version of the game, so while Greenheart only made a few thousand dollars from the game, it wasn’t for lack of popularity. It was just because piracy is rampant on the Internet.

I’m not sure what portion of the freeloaders would have actually downloaded the game had they been forced to pay for it, or how much more money Greenheart would have made if that were the case, but this little turnabout illustrates very clearly – to just about everyone – how much impact piracy can have on independent game developers.

Many people who utilize pirated software view their actions as justified, since huge companies charge a ton of money for games that you don’t even technically own when you “buy” them, hold back built-in features and force users to pay for them later, or create games that depend on a constant Internet connection to the company’s servers to continue working.

In a lot of cases, frankly, I have to say that I agree with their motivations – charging $600 for photo editing software seems excessive when there’s open-source software available that has substantially the same functionality and is free, as one example.

On the other hand, if it were, say, $100, it would be well worth it.

And I can see the other side. Companies have to defend their business model from erosion as aggressively as possible. Companies are out to make money – that’s why they exist – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But the ones really damaged by piracy are small independent developers like Greenheart. They’re every bit as capable of making a great game as a large company, in some cases more so. But if their game becomes popular, it will be pirated, just like any other, and when that happens, it literally takes food out of their mouths.

-Nick DeLorenzo is director of interactive and new media for The Times Leader. E-mail him at