Matt Chat 127: Jay talks piracy and DRM for indie games

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Hi, guys, this week Jay and I chat about the sales of Frayed Knights and the apparent effect that massive piracy has had on their rapid decline. While Jay acknowledges that DRM has its problems--especially when it makes a pirated product superior to a legal one--it's hard to deny that some kind of protection is essential to maximize sales. Watch the video and let us know YOUR opinion on DRM.

Download the mp4 here.

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Bill Loguidice
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It still amazes me that

It still amazes me that people find justifications for piracy of anything, but I guess we all want to feel vindication for less-than-savory activities, so I guess it's a human nature type of thing. I can only see piracy "justified" if you try something and decide whether or not it's worth purchasing. If it's worth purchasing, then purchase it, if it's not, delete all copies of it so you no longer have access to it. Pretty simple, I think.

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Matt Barton
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Yeah, the comments on the

Yeah, the comments on the video are pretty much what I'd expect--piracy is okay as long as you "try before you buy," piracy helps spread the word, etc. I used to believe like that myself, but have come to change my views. The problem is that software developers face a unique problem--it costs a lot to make the product, but manufacturing and distributing costs are nil. The only thing preventing the spread is the law and whatever software constraints they can bring to bear, but as we've seen time and time again, those tend to punish legit users more than they prevent piracy.

The logical solution is to charge people for the production (making the game) and then let them copy and distribute at will legally. This is the model behind Kickstart projects and their ilk, and while there's apathy and resistance from established developers, this seems like the future to me. It's got a HUGE upside--you lose ZERO to piracy.

I see it working something like pre-ordering does now. Of course, instead of pirates, you'll be dealing with ingrates--people who kick back and let everyone else fund the project, but then get it and play the hell out of it as soon as it's out. I'd love to know if the ratio of pirates to purchases works out better or worse than contributors to leaches.

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Rasmus (not verified)
I did argue against the

I did argue against the position that piracy is neutral or even beneficial in the comments, and as far as I can tell there were only two comments in that vein. So it wasn't *that* bad.

From my point of view the idea that having to compete with zero cost versions of your own product, or substitutes, can't be anything but hugely detrimental for content creators. For that not to be true huge swaths of the understanding of human behavior would have to go. It's pretty close to flat earth level crazy that video game consumers as an aggregate ever would get past zero price. And it's pretty clear that those arguments mostly come from people who want to feel better about themselves. I also think it's clear that a lot of the proposed solutions (eg draconian laws) are worse, or not helpful, than the current equlibrium where life is hard(er) for content creators.

I think many people who suggest different solutions wrt to game making are missing the fact that some categories of games simply might be impossible in the current legal and technological climate. That is, big investment games where the player mostly control and have access to the software.

Games with controlled hardware (consoles), games as a service (WoW) or cheap games (Angry Birds) might very well be the only options there are for industrial scale games. And big single player pc games might be more or less dead, other than as a small stream of revenue for console ports.

My view is that small game makers probably will have to look into other type of games than time intensive projects like Frayed Knights. That is, less investment in graphics, story lines and anything that has to be handcrafted and more focus on mechanics and stuff that is less time intensive and more portable.

Buggy whips, and all that.

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A lot of posters talked about lowering the price, and I think it might be something to that. If it had been a 1-2 click $5 affair straight from the youtube page I'm fairly certain I would have instabought the game without even thinking about it. For $20 and something like half a page of text, 5-10(?) clicks there's a *lot* more opportunities to change your mind. For my part I wanted to play through the demo before buying, and that's an ocean of time to change one's mind even before downloading.

Matt Barton
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Great post, Rasmus. Sorry if

Great post, Rasmus. Sorry if I seemed dismissive of your comments. As I've said, I've held similar positions over the years and am still far from convinced (as Bill seems to be) that piracy is a black and white issue.

In all honesty, I do think Jay priced his game a bit steep. I would've tried to charge less to make it an impulse buy; say, $10-$15. I suggested that he make a "deluxe version" with perhaps a soundtrack or concept art, whatever, and charge extra for that...But in any case, given the ease and ubiquity with which pirated copies can be obtained for zero cost, the only arguments for buying it are ethical (it's the right thing to do!), legal (you could get sued if you pirate this!), and pragmatic (i.e., if you pirate it, you're discouraging people to make more games like this).

I think a developer has to put a lot of thought into making the consumer identify with him and WANT to support him financially. Nobody likes being pestered or begged, but that seems the most effective way from a dollars perspective. Put up a big nag screen or a "NON-REGISTERED VERSION" somewhere on the screen in a conspicuous way. Display a tear-jerking story at the beginning about how many hours and dollars went into it and how little you're asking in recompense. At the quit screen put in a guilt-inducing "Thank you so much for supporting me" type of screen that will make paying customers feel good and pirates rotten. In short, do everything you can do pat the legit users on the back while making the pirates feel like crap.

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Bill Loguidice
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The other funny angle (funny

The other funny angle (funny odd, not "ha ha") to the whole piracy thing is that it somehow seems worse when it's for an indie production because the stakes appear to be higher for the creators. Of course, that's an oversimplification, because if a big budget game doesn't sell well it can affect as many - if not more - lives (through firings) than the "modest" indie production. I guess it also seems worse when an indie game is pirated because there's the idea out there that these are somehow more "honest" creations and more targeted to "real" gamer tastes (i.e., a labor of love versus a labor of maximizing sales). Again, an oversimplification of how both "sides" operate (let's face it, there are both types of operations in both scenarios), but still interesting to realize how the collective "we" perceives things.

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Matt Barton
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I think the indie thing is

I think the indie thing is more shocking because in most cases the developer is personally invested in the project. The profits (or lack thereof) go directly to him, and that's the ONLY income he gets. Contrast that with a mainstream game, where everybody who works on it gets paid a salary and aren't directly dependent on whether it's a hit or not.

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Bill Loguidice
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Important distinction
Matt Barton wrote:

I think the indie thing is more shocking because in most cases the developer is personally invested in the project. The profits (or lack thereof) go directly to him, and that's the ONLY income he gets. Contrast that with a mainstream game, where everybody who works on it gets paid a salary and aren't directly dependent on whether it's a hit or not.

Maybe, but I think the difference with an indie (and I mentioned this in the other thread), is that such development for them tends to be a spare time scenario where they have a day job to support themselves, so if the indie game tanks, it's an unfortunate, but acceptable loss. For the mainstream developers, it's their primary job/primary means of support, so if the mainstream game tanks and they get fired, it's not an acceptable loss.

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Matt Barton
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Good Point
Bill Loguidice wrote:
Matt Barton wrote:

I think the indie thing is more shocking because in most cases the developer is personally invested in the project. The profits (or lack thereof) go directly to him, and that's the ONLY income he gets. Contrast that with a mainstream game, where everybody who works on it gets paid a salary and aren't directly dependent on whether it's a hit or not.

Maybe, but I think the difference with an indie (and I mentioned this in the other thread), is that such development for them tends to be a spare time scenario where they have a day job to support themselves, so if the indie game tanks, it's an unfortunate, but acceptable loss. For the mainstream developers, it's their primary job/primary means of support, so if the mainstream game tanks and they get fired, it's not an acceptable loss.

That's a good point.

However, I know there are plenty of indie developers who are professionals who depend on it for most if not all of their income. True, they may be rarer than the hobbyist, but they do exist.

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clok1966
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there are several indie guys

there are several indie guys (especailly now) that gamble.. no job, just the game. Some right out the gate with the first game. And yes many do have jobs so if it fails it fails. The piracy thing is has never been hard to me. Laws, agree or disagree with them are LAWS.. there is no gray area, if you think there is, then you need to change the LAW before you break it. Breaking it and getting caught, or trying to justify it doesnt change the fact that its a LAW. We have a ssytem that lets you change laws if they are incorrect. I dont see any diffence in stealing a DRM free indie game or a ALmost cant start Corperate DRM infused AAA TITLE.. Is stealing 1 egg from the local farmers market differnt then steal a cartonof eggs from the local chain grochery store? OH.. its not tangible i make a copy the ORIGINAL COPY is still there, therefor I didnt hurt the seller. There reason there is a price on a chunck of gold is people want it. its just a rock.. but people place VALUE on it.. if you spend the time to download a game you feel it has some value as you just spent time doing it. How much value you feel its worth, that is a differnt story and then we get into supply and demand. We would all love a 65" big screen tv (well maybe not all of us) but.. is it worth spending $3000 on? Consutants/ stockbroker /psycitrists all work with good that have no substance you can hold, but you would sure get in trouble for recording there voices without paying.. and thats a DIGITAL copy of something that was intened for a specific end user (who paid for it).. that person got his full use, whats the harm of useing it again, right? except it against the law.

the "i never would have bought it anyways" dont wash with me either.. if you had no interest, you would NOT HAVE downloaded it. YOU STOLE it becuase the price was not one you liked, or could afford. But that option doenst work with any other goods, why should it work here, becuase you can get away with it?

with that said.. I was a horrible pirate in the past. Honestly can say.. if you scanned my machine at home on a spot check there woud be no illegal games on it. There might be a tv series downloaded from a torrent though..

I shouldnt talk much about it as I have done it to the extreme (in the past) but with GOG, STEAM, netflix.. i have no reason to anymore. making games accessable was a HUGE step forward. paying $200 on ebay to play an old game as it was RARE (and quite possibley not that good a game) is not the way to go.. GOG has made a huge dent in my 'collection on CD's"..

THIS IS THE SINGLE place i can see any reason for "stealing" .. make no bones, its still stealing.
but there are so many games not on it.. Old classics by Mindscape. the SSI games. This is where i run into issues.. many are note avialible on EBAY even. ( but.. i would guess as BILL can attest too, at sometime they almost alwasy show up for some price) so where does one get them, except illegal ways? Look for SEIGE by Mindscape.. nothing anywhere, heck even google has only 1 link to a crooked (assumption) pay to download site..

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