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The Almighty Buck Entertainment Games

Independent Dev Reports Over 80% Piracy Rate On DRM-Free Game 422

An anonymous reader writes "Developer 2D Boy has written that they are seeing an 82% piracy rate for everyone's favorite DRM-free physics puzzler, World of Goo . Surprisingly, this rate is in-line with what they were expecting. The article also features a fascinating comparison with the piracy rate of another game that was shipped complete with DRM, at 92%. There seemed to be no major difference in the outcomes of the rate regardless of whether DRM was used or not ... well, no difference other than the cost to implement such nonsense."
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Independent Dev Reports Over 80% Piracy Rate On DRM-Free Game

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  • by Xiroth ( 917768 ) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @01:26AM (#25768661)

    Which is all just proof that the DRM that the other game shipped with clearly isn't strong enough.

    Or at least, this is how I'm predicting most industry execs would interpret this. There's always wriggle room for those who'd rather not face reality (particularly those who have their livelihood staked on it, such as StarForce []).

    • by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <{akaimbatman} {at} {}> on Saturday November 15, 2008 @01:51AM (#25768781) Homepage Journal

      Which is all just proof that the DRM that the other game shipped with clearly isn't strong enough.

      That's far from the only sane conclusion. The problem with World of Goo is that the "honest" customers may take advantage of one of the more convenient [] and easier [] download options. These additional options that do a better job reaching the target audience may artificially inflate the piracy figures for PC downloads. i.e. It's not that the game is heavily pirated, it's that the PC version is less popular among paying customers and thus at a statistical disadvantage.

      • by Ostracus ( 1354233 ) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @02:16AM (#25768905) Journal

        I'm sorry but how does Steam and Wiiware fall under the "counted as piracy" figure?

    • If causation is not correlation, then what is causation? Can you give me an example of causation that isn't merely correlation?

      Cigarette smoke causes lung cancer? Where's the causation apart from correlation there? Smoke goes in habitually and cancer forms. They are just correlated. Or you can say that the smoke molecules cause the disruption of molecules in the cells. But where's the causation apart from correlation there? The smoke molecules enter in proximity to the cell molecules and then the cell

      • Recently they announced that rainy areas of the country have a higher rate of autism than sunny areas. That is a correlation.

        Now if it turns out that rain actually has nothing to do with causing autism and it turns out that it was caused by a certain kind of food consumed in rainy areas then it is not a causation. In that case the rain did not cause the autism. Hence no causation, but it retains the correlation.

        Causation!=Correlation or in the more common form: Correlation!=Causation

    • The flip-side (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SpeedyDX ( 1014595 ) <speedyphoenix@ g m a i> on Saturday November 15, 2008 @03:01AM (#25769053)

      Of course, if we were to look at the flip-side, 18% of the people who got their hands on World of Goo purchased it, whereas only 8% of those who got their hands on the other game purchased it. That's over DOUBLE the rate of purchase.

      It's all a matter of perspective.

    • particularly those who have their livelihood staked on it, such as StarForce

      Ah, don't worry about Starforce. Just wait 'til the Federation hears about this.

  • by yincrash ( 854885 ) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @01:34AM (#25768695)
    there are more variables than "has DRM" and "does not have DRM" that could influence the steal rate. selling price, metacritic rating, marketing to name a few.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Excelcia ( 906188 )
      More variables indeed. Like "is the game worth actually spending money on?" is one variable that leaps to mind.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 15, 2008 @01:34AM (#25768697)

    DRM is about preventing sharing. I don't mean BitTorrent sharing. If you purchased a copy of a game from Walmart and want to lend it to a friend after you are done, DRM is designed to prevent that. Most (if not all) DRM solutions are bypassed before the game hits the torrents, making DRM worthless at preventing piracy. But a limited number of installs prevents honest customers from lending each other games. It also makes re-selling the game difficult if not impossible.

    The game companies would certainly do this for consoles if they could (I believe Sony has a patent associated with it). It's one of the reasons why downloadable games are very popular. I've purchased the first two episodes of Penny Arcade Adventures for the Xbox 360. I have a friend who would like to give them a try. The DRM doesn't prevent an illegal download of the PC version of the game, it doesn't prevent me from lending a legal copy of the game to my friend.

  • by pablodiazgutierrez ( 756813 ) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @01:35AM (#25768699) Homepage

    Which explains why they're trying new ways of making people pay, as we saw recently...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TubeSteak ( 669689 )

      80% does seem pretty high, but a 10% difference in piracy rates would, generally speaking, strike me as statistically large enough to be called a "major difference".

      Unless of course, their margin of error is greater than 10%, in which case their results are meaningless in any comparison.

  • I've been watching this game on Greenhouse - waiting for it to come out on Linux. It looks extremely cool, its sad that it gets pirated so much, but it seems it made no difference...
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by carlzum ( 832868 )
      I'm playing the Wiiware version now. It's a lot of fun if you like puzzle games. It reminds me of Armadillo Run [] or The Incredible Machine [] (if you're old enough to remember that game). I'd prefer a mouse over the Wiimote, so I'm considering getting the PC/Mac version which allows you to download the Linux beta [] now.
  • by Jimmy_B ( 129296 ) <slashdot@jimran[ ] ['dom' in gap]> on Saturday November 15, 2008 @01:37AM (#25768703) Homepage

    The problem with using a per-game statistic for measuring piracy is that a pirate can play far more games than someone who doesn't pirate, but will play each of them less. If you have 25 pirates and 75 people who pay, and each paying person buys five games but each pirate downloads fifty, then each game will be pirated more than 75% of the time. (All of these numbers are pulled out of the air; I don't know the size of the effect, but economics dictates that the number of distinct games per person is at least somewhat higher for pirates.)

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      We can't let them get away with that, we must force them to play each game to the end, maybe with some kind of technological method?

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        Each game could come with a masked guy holding a whip.

        Plus it makes the pirated version much less exciting.

        • by Qzukk ( 229616 )

          Each game could come with a masked guy holding a whip.

          Plus it makes the pirated version much less exciting.

          The masked guy and whip only ship in the retail box?

  • The fellow interviewed in the Gamasutra link mentioned tracking piracy and purchase numbers across successive improvements of DRM. The punchline was rather chilling: For 1000 units not pirated, 1 additional sale resulted. At that rate, even if DRM were perfect, using it would be more about moral satisfaction than about economics.

    I wonder: are those vast masses of pirates merely aquisitive types who enjoy the download and crack process(the way some people stockpile more music than the could ever listen to)
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by FooAtWFU ( 699187 )
      Methinks a lot of them are college students with fast Internet connections and little or no budget of their own. Or high-school students. (Myself, I got out of the computer-game piracy business after I started making several tens of thousands of dollars a year. I've gone out of my way to buy most of the games I spent any significant amount of time with, as well.)
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by JLF65 ( 888379 )

        Probably most of these people are more likely the "try before you buy" type. They used to rent the game for a night or two to see if it was worth buying. Now they use the internet instead of rental places. Given that 99.9% of games are worthless crap, most people who "try before they buy" will end up not buying the game. This makes it look like the game has heavy piracy when in reality it's simply crap not worth buying. Which do you think the game industry will claim? :)

        • This is me, in a nut shell. Sure, I download X amount of games a month, but most of them live on my hard drive for maybe two days (up to a month if I wasn't horribly interested in the first place and don't get around to installing them) before they're uninstalled and deleted.

          There's no (that I know of) place to get PC game rentals, and I'm sure as hell not shelling out $40-60 for a brand new game if I'm only lukewarm on it, on a college student working part time budget.

      • Are you kidding me? Trying to download anything large over anykind of college or campus network is balls-achingly painful. The only college students who are going to be downloading anything are those with their own apartments and therefore own internet connection.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          Trying to download anything large over anykind of college or campus network is balls-achingly painful.

          I don't know what college you go to, but I just downloaded the latest xcode dmg ( just under a gig in size ) in less than 3 minutes today on my campus. The experience resulted in no ball-aching on my part.

  • Yet more evidence to suggest that piracy is absolutely rife, but that DRM is not any kind of solution. Personally, I played someone elses copy of this game. I enjoyed it, but can't justify buying it for myself. I don't intend to REplay it. However, I've bought it for my dear sweet old mum, for Christmas. So... that's one pirated version and one sale, from a marketing perspective. Mind you, these days the corporate view of second hand goods is that they're evil, let alone borrowed ones!

    On the subject of DR

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @01:55AM (#25768797) Journal
      Unfortunately, customers don't seem to care about DRM per se, just DRM that fucks with their systems. In DRM terms, contemporary consoles are to PCs what cybernetically enhanced Yakuza ninja assassins armed with mind control shiruken are to mall security guards.

      The latter are far more annoying; but the former are far, far more effective. It would not at all surprise me, given their experience with both WMRM and consoles, along with the overwhelming degree of dissatisfaction with current PC DRM, most of which does some seriously dubious stuff to your OS, if Microsoft simply decides to fold a DRM API of some sort into future versions of Windows. By virtue of controlling the OS, they would be able to offer equivalent or better DRM than would the third party stuff, with lower likelyhood of breaking things horribly.

      Now, having the guys you buy your OS from in on the conspiracy to control your use of it is not exactly an improvement from the freedom perspective(and you might want to look into bidding fairwell to first sale); but it would quiet the people who oppose DRM merely on convenience grounds.
  • Counting IP's? Fail. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Presence2 ( 240785 ) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @01:41AM (#25768725)

    They're counting IP connections of users who opt to check a box within the game as the foundation for their argument. It's difficult to take any Piracy/DRM conversation seriously when developers are using sensationally hyped math as a starting point. Pirates vs. buyers, static vs. dynamic IP's, and those who choose to check the box to upload their scores or not; three wildly oscillating figures they're saying = 90%.

  • One versus one? Hardly a definitive sample size. This doesn't really tell us anything about the state of copyright infringement (NOT PIRACY GOD DAMNIT) or DRM, it just tells us about these two games.

  • odd math (Score:5, Insightful)

    by socsoc ( 1116769 ) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @01:49AM (#25768771)

    TFA: we divided the total number of sales we had from all sources by the total number of unique IPs in our database, and came up with about 0.1. thatâ(TM)s how we came up with 90%.

    Heaven forbid a legit user installs it on his laptop, takes it to the library, starbucks, work, university, a few friend's houses and whatever other wifi signals he comes across.

    This math seems pretty flawed.

    • Re:odd math (Score:5, Informative)

      by IceCreamGuy ( 904648 ) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @02:13AM (#25768895) Homepage

      it's just an estimate though... there are factors that we couldn't account for that would make the actual piracy rate lower than our estimate:
      * some people install the game on more than one machine
      * most people have dynamic IP addresses that change from time to time
      there are also factors that would make the actual piracy rate higher than our estimate:
      * more than one installation behind the same router/firewall (would be common in an office environment)
      * not everyone opts to have their scores submitted
      for simplicity's sake, we just assumed those would balance out. so take take the 90% as a rough estimate.

      I think they make it pretty clear that their math is flawed and based on shaky assumptions. If you scroll down further in the article there is an update, too, with much more detailed math and the final conclusion of an 82% piracy rate.

    • Or even just has a dial up account that gives you a different IP address every time you connect.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 15, 2008 @01:50AM (#25768777)

    I downloaded it (the full version) to try it out. It's neat, but it's not my cup of tea so I deleted it. In my case there's no lost sale, as I was using the game as a demo. I'm sure a fairly large chunk of that "82%" probably downloaded the game so they wouldn't have to pay for it, but I think it's important to note that there are people who will just download something because it becomes available. They don't necessarily want it specifically, and will probably never touch it, but they download it anyway. It's my opinion based on my own experience (I have done zero formal research) that these people comprise the bulk of the "pirates". They didn't buy the game because they were never going to buy the game. Their downloads will get stashed on a DVD or a hard drive somewhere and then go ignored until the heat death of the universe.

    Back when I was younger I was really into the "collecting" aspect of downloading software. I didn't know when or where I might need something (or indeed IF) but if I could get something my friends didn't have it felt like a victory of sorts, as did sharing what I had. I tell you, if I'd put half as much effort into my studies as I did into downloading I'd have a PhD by now. Now I waste all my time downloading music I never listen to. :D Some things never change.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) *

      I downloaded it (the full version) to try it out.

      Here's an odd question: What is so horribly wrong with the demo that you refused to download it? If you had done so, you would be providing one less piracy statistic and instead providing a failed-conversion statistic. A failed-conversion tells the developer that they need to do better. A piracy statistic suggests that they're not getting paid for their hard work.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Hm. You know, and this says nothing good about me, it never even occurred to me to seek out a demo. I very seldom play new games because most games these days are either huge FPS/RPGs or strategy games or lame rehashes of Bejeweled, so when I saw something a little different I wanted to try it out. I'd hoped for a side-scrolling platformer, but alas, it was more like lemmings than anything else so...

        To the devs, if you're out there reading this: I'm sorry. It's not you, it's me. I'm just an idiot. I hope yo

      • Piracy is wrong for sure. However, some demos are not time trial or usage count based, but rather an annoying form of "cripple-ware" with features missing or turned off. So I can understand why someone would pirate the full version to try it out. I personally don't see a moral problem with that approach. What I *do* have problem is when someone pirates software for personal productivity or enjoyment without paying for it. The relative questions being when and at what point should that distinction be made.


        • The demo in the case of World of Goo is the whole first chapter. There should be enough game to form an opinion.

      • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @02:27AM (#25768951)

        Here's an odd question: What is so horribly wrong with the demo that you refused to download it?

        Because you can't trust demos. Over the years, demos have been the subject of just about every anti-consumer dirty trick you can think of from polished demos for hastily finished games to significantly different game play. If the real thing is available, why even bother with a potentially misleading demo?

        • by cliffski ( 65094 ) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @11:37AM (#25770657) Homepage

          So do you take the same approach with movies? ie, sneak in and watch the whole movie, then maybe flip some coins to the till on the way out?
          After all, you can't trust trailers can you.
          Also, take cars. That test drive is a very inaccurate demo. You don't get to test the car at night or in the snow. Way better to steal the car, and then pay the manufacturer in 10 years time once you are sure you like it right?

          Face facts, people pirate because they want to take stuff for free and don't care about the developer. it has fuck all to do with the nature of the demo.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by c0d3g33k ( 102699 )

            Bad examples. It's more like going to a friend's house to watch a movie, then deciding you like it enough to buy a copy for yourself. Or going to a library, reading a book and liking it enough to want a personal copy. Or borrowing a book.

            The existence of ways to experience something without payment to the original creator doesn't preclude a purchase if someone wants a copy for themselves. The missing piece seems to be to give people enough of a reason to want a personal copy.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Blakey Rat ( 99501 )

              Yes, but your example is bad also.

              If you watch a movie at your friend's house and decide you want it, you can't just take it from him and keep it until the end of time. Unless you're an asshole. Ditto with the library.

              In the pirating case, however, there's no practical difference between pirating the product and owning your own copy. So the incentive to buy your own isn't there in the same way it is with the "book" and "movie" examples above.

              What it really comes down to is that software pirates delude thems

      • by Splab ( 574204 )

        Demos can be severely limited, and also as creature creator showed us, they might piggyback some very very unwanted software.

    • by CSMatt ( 1175471 )

      I downloaded it (the full version) to try it out. It's neat, but it's not my cup of tea so I deleted it. In my case there's no lost sale, as I was using the game as a demo.

      No, but from the game publisher's case it is. If you bought the game, hated it, and sold it at a break-even price, they still have your money. They honestly don't care whether or not you like the game, just that you buy it. Why do you think that most media is packaged in non-refundable shrink wrap?

      Media publishers in the past were able to get rich off of hype and deceptive marketing because the potential buyers did not have the actual product yet. The Internet has, practically speaking, lessened the ris

  • Awesome game (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mrsteveman1 ( 1010381 ) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @01:50AM (#25768779)

    I only heard about this game because of the piracy story here on slashdot, went and played the demo, and loved it. I'm gonna buy the full version now.

    Hows that for irony?

    • I did the same thing a while ago when the author of Democracy 2 [] was featured on Slashdot when he asked the gaming community [] about why they pirate.

      I had never heard of Positech or their games, but since this developer was being pretty cool with the piracy responses, I downloaded the demo of Democracy 2. Fun game. Bought it.

    • I played the demo on steam, thought it was pretty good, and went to buy it in the UK. And it's not available in my region. And the website is down (presumably from a slashdotting), so no direct download either.

      On the other hand, there's copies available right now for free by various piracy means.

      Sigh. Staying honest is *really* tough sometimes.

  • by L4m3rthanyou ( 1015323 ) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @02:09AM (#25768869)

    I don't see how such statistics are even useful, anyway. Piracy is an unfortunate market force, an inevitable cost of doing business. We all know that. Clearly, it hasn't stopped games from being profitable.

    I think that even the most thickheaded publishers are starting to figure out that trying to stop piracy is futile, at least for single-player games. It would seem to me that most developers releasing their stuff DRM-free have simply stopped worrying about what's being "taken" from them, and refocused on maximizing their income. In the ever-expanding world of online gaming, where authoritative control is actually possible, the DRM makes sense and will continue to be used. It's all about the benefit against the cost.

    In other words... DUH.

  • On the surface, at least, it seems to be a good thing that these guys are doing this sort of empirical analysis. But it seems to me that it isn't the rate of piracy that matters, it is the rate of actual sales. That is hard to control for because you have to take into account the sukekekeness of the game - but in theory you should have to account for teh sukeke when evaluating piracy stats too.

  • Terrible study (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RichPowers ( 998637 ) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @02:33AM (#25768977)

    This study is deeply flawed. Optional checkboxes? A reliance on IP addresses (dynamic, logging in from multiple locations, etc.)? I eagerly await the technical analyses of the study's flaws.

    This story is making the rounds surprisingly fast, which is fucking terrible. The study is flawed, but how many readers will see that? Will they take this 80% piracy rate at face value? I really hope not.

    To those who think piracy will ruin PC gaming by making profitability impossible, I offer the following analysis of the sales of another DRM-free game: Sins of a Solar Empire.

    In September, Stardock reported that Sins sold over 500,000 units: 400,000 at retail and 100,000 online. For the sake of these back-of-the-envelope calculations, I'll assume that the average retail price is $40. The online price is $40. I'll round down total sales to 500,000.

    So 500,000 * $40 = $20 million. We know that Stardock took in at least $4 million by virtue of online sales. I don't know enough about retail sales to estimate how much retailers take in per sale.

    Sins cost less than $1 million to make. After the retailers get their cut, and Stardock pays for Impulse's bandwidth, I'll estimate that they pocketed at least $10 million, probably more. (I'm being conservative.)

    That's at least a 10:1 return on their investment. That sounds like a killing! And Stardock/Ironclad plans several micro expansions in the coming months.

    Even with piracy, Stardock did quite well. Hell, even if piracy is 90% (which I think is a buncha crap), they still made plenty of dough. Why? As explained by Brad and others:

    1) Ironclad/Stardock kept costs low. I hate how the industry creates these multimillion dollar games that necessitate a huge number of sales to recoup development costs. Piracy or not, the PC gaming market is simply too small to fully recoup the dev costs of today's AAA games (not enough high-end PCs etc. etc.). That's why big-budget games need multiplatform sales.

    2) Relatively low system reqs.

    3) Sins is a PC game. At the moment, you simply can't have a Sins-like experience on a console. Stardock's offering a game that takes advantage of the PC's strengths. Imagine that, appealing to your target audience. AFAIK, the game doesn't suffer from "consolitis."

    4) Excellent customer support and relations. Patches, active forums, listening to customers. The other day, Brad left a post on a somewhat obscure topic at CivFanatics. He wanted to to clear up any misconceptions about Stardock's upcoming fantasy 4X game to an audience that's clearly interested in 4X stuff.

    5) Lots of positive press. Slashdot and other PC/geek sites responded positively to the company's anti-DRM messages, the PC gamer bill of rights, etc. This probably attracted customers and overall goodwill.

    Now if Sins isn't your kind of game, you probably don't care either way. What I'm arguing is that it's possible to profit handsomely in the non-MMO PC game market, provided you know your audience and release a game worth playing. Having good marketing and PR certainly helps, too.

    Source: []

    • I think one of the reasons sins does well is that the main developer or manager targets these games at people who will pay for them: my guess is young adults who have money, like strats, and might want to play a game with friends. When I consider World of Goo, the target audience is much larger and the game size is much smaller. The former increases those who might distribute the game and the latter increases the likelihood of the game being distributed. I for one, would rather shell out 40$ then spend a we
    • by Ash-Fox ( 726320 )

      In September, Stardock reported that Sins sold over 500,000 units: 400,000 at retail and 100,000 online. For the sake of these back-of-the-envelope calculations, I'll assume that the average retail price is $40. The online price is $40. I'll round down total sales to 500,000.

      Wow, that's quite a lot.

      I wouldn't pirate Stardock's games though for one reason - They have nothing I want to obtain in the first place.

    • DRM-free game Sins of a Solar Empire

      Hahahaha, no.

  • I played Tower of Goo back when it was a toy on the Experimental Games project. Cool that it's become a full fledged commercial game.

  • From TFA: "one thing that really jumped out at me was his estimate that preventing 1000 piracy attempts results in only a single additional sale. this supports our intuitive assessment that people who pirate our game arenâ(TM)t people who would have purchased it had they not been able to get it without paying." ... this from a game development house? Wow...
  • by rabtech ( 223758 ) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @07:21PM (#25773095) Homepage

    The real purpose of DRM, especially the EA "limited installs" kind, is to shut down the resale market. The publishers look at that market and think "they're selling my games for free! those bastards...".

    Like the telcos who talk tough words about "using my pipes for free", they fail to acknowledge that We the People own the land, and our government has graciously granted them access to right-of-way on our behalf, to run their lines and deliver their services. Like a renter, the furniture (pipes) may be yours, but the building (right-of-way) belongs to us. We can easily terminate their access if we decide it is in society's best interests.

    Copyright is (was) a balance between encouraging creativity and our natural right to share, duplicate, and/or dispose of our own personal property however we see fit, regardless of its content or the desire of the creator. Blatant attempts to alter the balance in your own favor cannot be tolerated. We've seen what happens when the financial sector is allowed to have the very ropes with which to hang themselves, we can't let the rest of our society go down the same path.

C makes it easy for you to shoot yourself in the foot. C++ makes that harder, but when you do, it blows away your whole leg. -- Bjarne Stroustrup