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