On piracy

Arr, disclaimer matey: This isn’t an article on real pirates, but on their incredibly lame and improperly named namesakes: Software pirates.

I’ve just read about Machinarium‘s pirate amnesty. We own Machinarium and I urge everyone to buy it now, because $5 is incredibly cheap for such an exceptional game. Nonetheless, I think of it as amazing that 5-15% actually bought the game. I would have guessed along the lines of 1% because it does not have any copy protection at all. A piracy rate of 90% is nothing special in the gaming industry, even for heavily DRMed games. That said, I’m careful with piracy statistics: Their data is often rather subjective and even if they were accurate, a pirated game is not necessarily a lost sale.

I have profound symphathy for game developers (especially independent) and don’t pirate anything, but I’m not naive enough to believe that everyone is like that. Neither do I think that people pirating games are intending to harm anyone, they are probably just taking the path of least resistance. No matter how great it is, $60 for a video game is a lot of money. Many people will – even if they can afford it – try to pirate it, since such an amount might justify hours spend on warez and crack sites. Now think about the same game being available for $5 per download: Would you even think about trying to get it cheaper? I don’t. There are also players that could never afford $60 because that’d be a tremendous amount in their currency, as this story tells. They probably couldn’t afford $5 either, so whether they pirate the game or not decides whether they play it, not whether they buy it.

I suspect that there are also non monetary reasons for piracy: Many probably pirate merely for the sake of getting the game ASAP, not having to go to a store or wait on Amazon (the success of Steam and other online shops confirms this). Other players might want to try the game before buying it, but many studios don’t make representative demos anymore – especially not for consoles.

These problems cannot be solved with more restrictive copy protection but with different approaches to publishing. Publishers have to do something revolutionary, and if they are too big, it’s next to impossible for them. Independent game developers can, and I hope most of them are actively thinking about better publishing strategies. I likewise urge all gamers to reward them by buying their games.


Amanita Design has sold more than 17,000 copies of Machinarium in just one week. Even at the cheap price of $5, they’ve earned more than $85,000. That confirms my hypothesis of least resistance 🙂

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