Piracy: Does it matter?

Everyone’s a pirate. (Statistically speaking.)

  1. Most users are pirates.
  2. Nearly all pirates would prefer to not have the content at all than to pay for it.
  3. Therefore pirates are not costing us significantly in lost sales.
  4. And, further, it is not worth investing in strategies to convert pirates into paying players.

Does it matter?

  1. How costly is it to prevent enough piracy to have a meaningful impact? The more piracy you want to prevent, the more costly the solution, and the more likely that your solution hurts your paying players. How much development time, or capital (if you’re buying an off-the-shelf solution), are you willing to throw at this problem?
  2. What is the likely rate at which a player who would pirate the game would purchase the game if they couldn’t pirate it? It’s definitely low, but could still make up a meaningful portion of total possible revenue. Will you make as much back as you spent?
  3. How does the existence of pirates impact your other players? If you have a single-player game, probably not much. Multiplayer is a different story. If you have an in-game player economy, or in-game currency that changes the player experience, non-paying players will wreck your economy. Worse, they’ll always have more and better stuff than paying players, who will become extremely resentful of those players. Your paying players will become angry at you for letting this happen.
  4. How adversarial do you want your relationship with pirates to be? Almost all of your potential players are pirates. For a potentially-popular game, that can be an enormous number of people. Can your community management and customer support teams handle the stress induced by a jillion angry people?

Our approach

Design with piracy as a constraint

No open hostility

Minimize support costs

  1. Minimizing the need for customer support.
  2. Minimizing the fraction of support issues that require human intervention.
  3. Minimizing the cost of real-human support.
  • My game is up to date.
  • My operating system is up to date.
  • My device is compatible with this game, according to the store page.
  • I know that there is a real person on the other side of this form.
  • I have a legal copy of this game.

Use web services

  • We don’t create antagonistic relationships with pirates, since they still have access to offline parts of the game.
  • Paying players don’t feel like things are unfair, because they get access to more content.
  • Pirates consume minimal web resources from us. Primarily just limited telemetry!

So… does it matter?

  • People will try to steal your game. Huge numbers of them. This is just the reality. Treat it as a design constraint.
  • This is a business problem. Do your best to ignore how you feel about it. Yes, this is far easier said than done!

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CTO and Fullstack Webdev at Butterscotch Shenanigans

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Adam Coster

Adam Coster

CTO and Fullstack Webdev at Butterscotch Shenanigans

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