How to Creatively Fight a Pirate!

The video game industry is a massive market, valued at approximately at $18 billion a year in the North American region.

Amazingly, this is also one of the most pirated products, with an estimated $3.5 billion a year in losses due to illegal copying and downloading. Many of the big software developers are venturing into digital rights management (DRM), such as only allowing the customer to install the game on one machine and requiring constant internet access to ensure no illegal copying is occurring. This movement is frustrating many gamers who are feeling unfairly punished for being legitimate purchasers of the product.

© Goldenlis | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images
© Goldenlis | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

What else can be done?

Patrick Klug from Greenheart Games, a small independent game developer, decided to think creatively about this issue. Instead of annoying the consumers who did buy the product - what if he could create an experience for the pirates that gave them a taste of their own medicine?

Greenheart Games developed and produced a game called Game Dev Tycoon, in which you play as the manager of a gaming development company. The player starts in the 80s as a developer working out of their garage, and tries to expand their business, hiring staff, researching new technologies and making great games (and profit) in the process. Game Dev Tycoon costs $8 to download - not something that will break the bank for many.

Straight after putting Game Dev Tycoon on the market, Patrick Klug put a copy of the game on an illegal file-sharing site, giving it the illusion of a straight copy of the original. After one day, 3104 people had illegally downloaded the game, compared to only 214 paying customers.

However - the version that Patrick had put online had a slight difference to the legitimate copy. A few hours into the game, the player will receive an alert saying that the games they are creating are being pirated. In fact, one of the staff will come up to the player's character, saying:

"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."

Slowly but surely, the player's in-game funds will decrease and their new games will be pirated until their company can no longer exist anymore.

This creative exercise is intended to give pirates an acute awareness of how their actions are actually hurting the gaming industry, without coming across in the usual heavy-handed way. Some of these illegal downloaders have been posting online for help fixing the problem within the game, seemingly unaware how their actions are the same as the ones they are complaining about:

Regardless of your views on piracy, this is a great example of a small organisation that was willing to be playful and innovative in engaging with a unique problem. It is easy to see how this idea would have spawned as an ironic joke, shared amongst the staff and then questioned to see how it could be made more effective. This serves as a great case-study for how we can learn to engage with problems to turn them into opportunities, and adapt a playful approach to listening to all new ideas.

For the full story on Greenheart Games, follow this link.