Sunday, October 23, 2011

Allow Game Piracy...And Get Paid Anyway

Somebody once said that requiring a cash investment filters out those who are truly serious.  If you've ever seen those  hideously expensive workshops or conventions, you'll realize quick that not everyone is allowed to play in that sandbox.  But it's not just like that with "walk over hot coals to my new self-help book" seminars that cost 900 clams.  We're like that with EVERYTHING.  Money's got this crazy all-encompassing power that makes us hem and haw and consider our purchases.  And as a result we love getting free crap.  "Want a free sample?"  "Get a free mug!"  "The hotel soap isn't actually free."  "'Free the slaves'?  Does that mean we can get some free slaves?  Where do you go for those?"

Money is a psychological barrier.  It represents an investment.  And games challenge this barrier.  Video games spring for 50-60 bucks a pop.  Some roleplaying games go that high too.  Collectible card games take money over and over again like a Nigerian prince playing a Ponzi scheme during a bank robbery.  And there's no guarantee that these games won't suck when you drop the bomb.  How can you tell?  Easy.  You try and get it for free first.

And for some people, that opens the big city gate to Piracyville.

And people try to fight against all the torrents and Rapidshares.  They throw down free previews, 30-day software trials.  They understand that education kills fear, that if they learn what the game's about with free previews, they might fork over their green and copper presidents.  But there's still the prevalent thought of prevention, that it's all intended to shut down would-be pirates, postponing their plot to plunder because once they've procured the prize, then what's the point of trying to get them to make the purchase?

Objection - there is a monster point!  Because with the right attitude, a bippity-boppity-boo of marketing magic, you may win that pirate to your side just yet.

The assumption is that once a pirate has pirated something, he will never buy.  It could happen.  It could ALSO happen that you apply such splendid charm that he offers his wallet ammo anyway.  However, the barriers of PayPal and RPGNow and whatever don't apply at this point.  You can't try to force him to double back and cross them - at this point, as far as the pirate's concerned, he's already won.

How to Free Your Andrew Jacksons from Blackbeard

So don't try to win.  Unleash your inner Gandhi powers.  Acknowledge that he may have downloaded your game without paying, and that's fine.  Because now your goal now isn't to get him to buy out of an "obligation", a societal belief that he's already chosen to ignore.  Here's the new goal - getting him to buy as a "compliment".

I dig how Maid RPG did it.  Near the beginning they acknowledge that Blackbeard might've swiped their PDF, and they answer that to the effect of "Hey, if you like what we do, paying for an actual copy tells us we're doing it right and that you want to see more cool stuff, which we'll be happy to make".  Instead of asking for a customer/retailer relationship, you're asking for a partnership.  Now the pirate has the chance to contribute to that company's future, and feel awesome about it.  "Yeah, I downloaded it at first, but they did such a great job that I went back and bought a copy.  I want to see what's next."

Postmodern Press did something like this too.  They're behind a little cosmic freakout called Eclipse Phase.  Piracy was inevitable, so hell, they just dumped it onto Creative Commons anyway!  It's free to download and redistribute.  And by letting that drive their marketing, running on a donation model for this prime and free RPG, their sales have never been better.

Now, you don't have to take the Postmodern Path.  You can still ask for payment up front, set up the normal barriers like buying through RPGNow.  And you'll still get people cashing in through these channels.  But never quit reaching out, even at the post-piracy phase.  Try offering a hand of partnership instead of a fist of die.  And you never know.  Maybe Blackbeard will hang up his beard.  Totally ripping it off his face like a total badass.  Because he liked the cut of your jib.

Not that piracy doesn't have its own inherent evils.  What do you think?  Can piracy be turned around and used as a selling tool all its own, or is it far too risky to be used for good?


  1. Its all according to a person's moral values as you put it. Honestly piracy in most cases is a selling tool cause face it. A lot of companies don't even bother to advertise expecting various reviewers and other companies to do it for them. Which usually leads to, "This game sucks and here's a plethora of reasons on why you shouldn't buy this game."

    They should either take greater steps to stopping piracy or just do nothing cause either way you look at it, its not helping or hurting sales of any particular game.

  2. I really like this perceptive. It makes it feel like the selling of games has, somewhere, a strand of hope and positivity. People, after trying out a free product, like it so much that they decide to invest in it. You mention getting a free taste of a game through piracy, but it works for any free model. A good point is the recent Humble Indie Bundle ( )sales, where people could pay what they want for a set of games. They raised a lot of money!

    However, this is the internet. The pessimistic side of me sees people pirating and laughing and not paying a dime toward developers as being the norm.

  3. @Brad_Ry, Ellyndia: My point is more around selling copies in spite of piracy. By all means, do the normal stuff related to selling a game. Offer it through normal channels and ask for normal purchases. You can even work to prevent piracy through certain measures. But you never stop selling, even after someone skips everything that comes before. You just need a different strategy at that point.

  4. It's a little trick called "relationship marketing". Taking advantage of the fact that you already sold to a customer once in order to sell to them again. Except in this case, the initial sale is not a sale.

  5. @Doug: Exactamundo. All stages are fair game, it just requires some different tactics.