Parley with pirates

Cliff Harris is the owner and sole employee of Positech Games, an independent developer in the United Kingdom. He’s ranted across forums about game piracy, having seen his precious creations, Kudos and Democracy, end up on torrent sites for anyone to illegally download. Cliff wanted to know why. His games were competitively priced, he updated regularly, and he was just a small developer. So he asked pirates to help him understand them by posting a request onhis blogto tell them why they pirated his games.

“I want to improve my business, and ensure I stay afloat, and to do that, it would be mad to sit in the corner and ignore the opinions of that section of the public who pirate my games,” he wrote. “I will read every single email, and keep an open mind. I will listen to what you have to say, and... use that to make games that sell more, sell more copies of what I have, convert more people to become buyers, and generally make everyone happy.”

Above: Cliff Harris hopes to increase sales of his games by taking a somewhat less menacing approach to piracy

“I expected much abuse, but perhaps some gems of wisdom,” Harris tells PC Gamer. “I’m guessing 99.99% of people who pirate games never contact the makers to say why, and thus both sides are getting further apart and more annoyed at each other, without anyone learning anything about how to make the situation better. People justify music and movie piracy a lot, but proper analysis of PC game (and especially indie game) piracy’s causes is pretty rare.”

Above: One of the pirated games, Democracy 2

The results? One hundred forty-three respondents said that they found demos either absent or unrepresentative of the final product, so they chose to pirate the full game. One hundred twenty-six mentioned price, with 122 giving specific examples of overpriced games where they felt piracy was a viable alternative to paying. One hundred seventeen blamed copy protection, with both Starforce and SecuRom explicitly named. The digital download companies fared well:­ Steam and Stardock were praised (both allow unlimited downloads of purchased games and regularly update them with new content). A few pirates just did it because they could, while others viewed intellectual property as “fascistic.”