Software Development

A lesson on piracy, distribution, or marketing?

Independent software companies have a hard task of getting their wares in front of an audience; has a pair of brothers cracked that nut?

Over the past 24 hours, the internet has latched onto this blog post from Patrick Klug. In it, Klug details how he and his brother Daniel decided to deal with the problem of piracy for their Game Dev Tycoon title. TechRepublic previously covered the development of Game Dev Tycoon in the Using JavaScript to create Windows 8 applications podcast.

After deciding to create a single player game without DRM, the brothers were faced with the issue of piracy — an issue that would be trivially overcome since the game does not try to prohibit its unauthorised use.

The choice was made to create a crippled version of the game to place on The Pirate Bay. The game was identical to the real thing, players were free to start their studio in the game development simulator, but after a period of time, "pirate" players would see the following message:

Boss, it seems that while many players play our new game, they steal it by downloading a cracked version rather than buying it legally.

If players don't buy the games they like, we will sooner or later go bankrupt.

From that point on, the "pirate" players in-game funding dries up and their virtual companies go bankrupt.

Users of this version of the game took to asking the game makers how to proceed in the game to avoid going bankrupt, and whether virtually researching DRM could help them.

"As a gamer, I laughed out loud: The irony!" wrote Patrick Klug.

"However, as the developer, who spent over a year creating this game and hasn't drawn a salary yet, I wanted to cry. Surely, for most of these players, the $8 wouldn't hurt them, but it makes a huge difference to our future."

At the end of the first day of release, the game had 214 genuine users, and 3,104 users who had downloaded the game from The Pirate Bay or other online sources.

Have the Klug brothers stumbled into a better way to deal with pirates, distribute independent software, or how to game the online media into providing a much needed publicity boost?

At this point in time, I'd suggest that the answers are no, yes, and a one-time yes.

While it is very amusing that gamers would complain about the problem of piracy in a piece of software downloaded from a torrent site, I think this is mostly a problem of distribution, not theft, as Klug claims.

In essence, the Klug brothers have reached a pool consisting of thousands of users that would not have come across their game before.

But rather than try to convert these "pirate" users into paying customers — for instance, from an easy in-game transaction — the version of the game uploaded to The Pirate Bay by the game creators was simply crippled. In essence, it was a freemuim game without an easy upgrade path.

The game in question was available through the developer's site, Windows marketplace, and had only just began the process of appearing on Steam. It needed a mechanism to reach the masses, and torrenting was the ticket.

I think that the idea of creating and uploading a "torrent" build to reach new audiences is a great one — especially for a small, independent gaming house, you need to get in front of people to have any chance of succeeding. This lesson goes beyond gaming to any small software shop trying to survive. It's just a shame that there was no easy way to convert discouraged "torrent" users into happy paying customers.

The story of "holding a mirror" to pirates was embraced by the tech media, and in this case, it has turned out into a marketing windfall for the Klug brothers. But it is definitely a one-time use.

I approached Patrick Klug with questions about his approach to seeding this game, but luckily for Patrick, he is way too busy having to service his new found customer base to answer questions from journalists — a good problem to have.

It will be interesting to see how much a day at the front of the internet hype machine can help a small business looking for a break.


Some would say that it is a long way from software engineering to journalism, others would correctly argue that it is a mere 10 metres according to the floor plan.During his first five years with CBS Interactive, Chris started his journalistic advent...


Welcome to the late eighties and early nineties when the term shareware was used for software which were playable demos but nagged you to purchased the full product. These usually had crippled features, could only play the first level, was missing the last level or abilities that vanished after some time of playing. The best thing now days is game devs have the internet to push their crippled product out to more users to try before they buy. A lot of smaller game devs don't have the money to have massive marketing campaign or to pay game reviewers to feature a review of the product; Or in some cases a paid favorable review of it. Steam is now starting to fill that role a little to help smaller devs if they make it through the greenlight process.(Featuring them in sales etc.)


Called like Dev story or something like that.


Offering a cut down, restricted game on P2P networks goes back quite a long time. There's always one that is 'properly' leaked though, from a known, reliable source. If you as a game developer upload your game onto Pirate Bay, anyone downloading it is NOT stealing it either, you have provided it for free download on a P2P client. What a crock! And how about the fact that he is ripping of the original game anyway, clown! Their own free download form their website does the same thing, so game testers who want to check out a demo are deemed thieves too. If you buy it, they send you a fixed EXE, which is now available for download too. If you want to be paid a nominal fee for developing a game, make it a game worth $7. Stealing an old game and rebranding it deserves nothing more than pirating. It took a whole 5 minutes to find several pirate copies with the crack fix applied anyway, which downloaders all seem to agree works perfectly. Greenheart Games, what a laugh! Steal a game, upload a copy on a P2P network for free, call the downloaders thieves and pretend it's a groundbreaking idea. Takes a real geek to be a real loser I guess. It's a lesson in how not to try to thwart piracy, how to follow an ancient distribution model and how not to market a new product. I can't believe guys like this get press at all, it just fuels other idiots to demonstrate their own idiocy.


doesn't creating a 'pirate' version of your game just increase your costs? Perhaps that's not relevant in this situation


Those shareware version always ended up with a fixed EXE though so they were fully playable. One guy buys the game and it's a public 'free for all'. Perhaps they are clever in getting it in to the news as if they came up with the idea though, even TR seems to praise their efforts as if they've never seen such a thing before. I've done it with music releases even, low bitrate roughly engineered tracks that are faded short, just to get it on the market. It actually works well, especially for selling a back catalogue to newer listeners. I wouldn't dare claim that I started it though, everyone in the industry does it now, release garbage on iTunes and people actually PAY for it!! :D Well, mostly US and Japanese do but that's a very strong, hard rock market (Japan is anyway, Americans just buy what they are told to).


As I said above, it's a stolen concept. Even if one of the original designers is in on it, it's still a clone, nothing new. The guy also uploaded it and called people thieves for downloading it! If I had a case on notebook computers and put them on the front lawn with a FREE sign on it, can I call people thieves for taking one? Plus that leak of a partial to a P2P group has been done for ages and ages, they aren't the first, they just think they are clever and hit the press with it. The full game is also available for download anyway and his leaked copy has countless warnings by others saying it's the fake copy. One dimwit is not about to shut down the file sharing community, much bigger and smarter people have tried for years. They have dragged people through courts and raided server rooms, only to have people let off Scott free and the server rooms are back up and running in a few short hours. It reminds me of America's war on drugs, that costs them trillions at the taxpayers expense and results in nothing new being done, nothing stopped and the drug trade continues on as usual each day. Some people are delusional. Maybe it's because they are American that they actually believe they are more powerful and capable than they really are, that's what the government keeps telling them anyway, while failing globally itself.

Editor's Picks