Sep
24

THE PIRACY FALLACY (?)

DRM free logo

This article expresses Lightmare Studio’s stance – our opinion, on the thorny matter of software piracy.

Whenever one sets out to create entertainment or artistic and cultural work (no matter where you feel videogames should stand in this spectrum), one can right away expect to face a well-known phenomenon: piracy.
With the incredible development of the Internet during the last decade, the sky-rocketing download rates, the growing number of content sharing sites and the massive advent of dematerialization, access to pirated games is easier and quicker than ever.


A lot is being said and written about piracy. According to some, it may be a major cause for poor sales, and, more or less directly, for the increasing price, while justifying the presence of anti-copy protection system, often referred to as DRM (Digital Rights Management).

It is extremely hard to measure the actual damage caused by piracy to sales. An easy yet somewhat theoretic shortcut one could make would be to regard any illegally downloaded copy as a lost sale. But there is an issue here; just as any hasty and obvious conclusion, it is shaky at best, completely false at worst. In order for it to stand, one would need to be absolutely sure that “if any given copy couldn’t be downloaded illegally, then it would definitely be sold”. However, in practice, nothing is less certain.

First, nobody should go for the assumption that any copy downloaded illegally, but more importantly *for free*, could be compared with a purchase, because the latter implies a cost to the player; doing so would mean one regards the price as a perfectly negligible value…and that, of course, wouldn’t be reasonable.
Moreover, in order to actually know whether a person who “would not have been able to pirate the game, would have purchased it” – which might justify the presence of DRM -, one would need to read the mind and intentions of every single “pirate”.
In reality, the answer is by no way evident, even for pirates themselves. Some pirate just to test a bit before buying, others do so just to add a game to their personal culture, without being able or willing to afford it. Some pirate anything available just for the sake of it, regardless of the content’s quality. A good deal among them – most of them? – don’t even beat the games they download illegally. It is unfortunately impossible to quantify who pirates what and for what reason, and it is, therefore, impossible to know who would buy if they had no access to free yet illegal downloads.

Since it is impossible to know that, and since a pirated copy isn’t the same as a lost sale, then it seems obvious to us that one should accept that piracy is simply part of the creative ecosystem. Pirates are there, the game will be pirated, regardless of the actions taken to stop them. Games that sell little are little pirated, games that sell a lot are pirated a lot. That’s how things are.

Three pirated boxes
▲ Suddenly…pirate box art! Note: we’re not actually G4W compliant!

Enter the DRM problem: should we really try to protect the game? Isn’t a lack of protection an invitation to pirate games? A way of saying: “hey guys, look, I left the door open, just come in and loot my fridge!”? We believe that pirates are not that stupid; they know perfectly well that they don’t pay when they should, and they don’t mix up “DRM-protected, so it’s pirated” and “unprotected, so it’s free”. DRM can’t be justified this way.

What really bothers us with DRM, even the lighter ones, is the risk, however slight it is, that they spoil the experience of an honest buyer, for example if the protection fails to recognize a rightful owner and blocks the game as if it were a “bad pirated copy”. Granted, the risk is more or less tangible depending on the protection systems, but it does exist; just think about the DRM requiring a permanent Internet connection to play…what if the player temporarily loses their connection?
In fact, the rationale behind DRM is deeply flawed in at least one obvious way: pirates systematically bypass those protections…it’s the very purpose of piracy! If anything, honest buyers are going to be annoyed by DRM…pirates less so! Of course, one could argue that even though DRM might sometimes annoy some honest buyers, it’s a small sacrifice if it stops pirates from playing.

Well…that’s quite not the way we see things. Even if it were true – which is yet to prove, it would amount to handcuff everyone “just in case” there might be, hidden among the crowd, an undefined number of potential criminals. This also means that there is a chance to “shoot down an innocent” while trying to fight an indistinguishable enemy in unknown numbers. And this somewhat amounts to criminalize all the players, because behind any of them a villainous pirate might be hiding. This is the very reason why “Beware Planet Earth!” is completely DRM-free. Speaking of which, if you ever pirate the game – and we do invite you to purchase it instead :p -, beware of the suspicious links mentioning “Beware Planet Earth!+crack”! No DRM also means no need for any crack!

A somewhat shabby box art
▲ Seems legit.

Much in the same way, it actually feels wrong to us to criminalize systematically genuine pirates, because you can never tell the intentions behind the action. Don’t get us wrong: piracy IS a violation of law and this article is in no way an apology. But we can also imagine that, in a way, a pirate is also a customer. A customer who kind of “forgot” to pay, true. But a customer anyway.
It’s a simple matter of interpretation; the fact is, a pirate, out there, owns a copy of a given game, which they didn’t pay for. Of course we could regard them as a thief, hunt them down for being one, punish them, make them feel guilty or…on the contrary accept this fact and regard them as a potential customer instead, who hasn’t paid for the game yet, but is invited to do so. A pirate may also help the game get sold and known by talking about it if they liked it.

For the one true enemy for developers, be they independent or not, is the lack of fame. Lack of publicity. Oblivion. Explaining a commercial failure by piracy would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. What follows in the way we see things may, we admit, be quite unexpected: we believe that piracy may have a definite positive effect. If oblivion is an enemy worse than piracy – and we strongly believe it is – then any content creator should wish for their work to be played and enjoyed by as many people as possible, refraining to hunt down and hate those who do without paying. They should rather look for solutions to convince pirates not to pirate, not through fear, but through giving them the desire not to do so.

The money we get from the purchased copies is mostly a way to keep on doing what we love most; we have no doubt that pirates are well aware of that. We are content creators, entertainment makers: sure we hope to make a living out of the games we make, but our primary goal is to provide something for the players to enjoy. If we must make a choice between a pirate and a paying customer, we will obviously go for the customer, if only for the moral investment behind the purchase. But if we must choose between a pirate who plays and enjoys our games, and a person who will never play them, then we will go for the pirate.
That is why we read user comments on torrent sites from which “Beware Planet Earth!” can be downloaded illegally, and that we do appreciate positive comments, even though they don’t come from paying customers. Much in the same way, we do not request these sites to remove illegal torrent links.

Maybe we are swimming against the tide and, someday, we may have to pay the price for this stance. But we are confident that pirates take responsibility for their actions when they download illegally, and that they will put some money in our work if they respect it and deem it good. Some comments on torrent sites we visited strengthen our belief; we could read more than once comments like “This game’s really good, I think I’m going to buy it to support the dev!”


Too long, didn’t read? To sum it up:

  • Damage done by piracy to sales can’t be quantified, because it would require knowing whether each pirate would buy the game if they couldn’t pirate it, and therefore, it would require to read minds.
  • If oblivion is a developer’s true enemy, they must fight it before (instead of?) fighting piracy.
  • Moreover, pirates may not be the enemies one may think they are. They can actively contribute to the game’s fame and, even as customers, they are not “permanently lost”. This is why Lightmare Studio doesn’t join the witch-hunt on torrent websites.
  • There is a chance for DRM to annoy rightful owners, while pirates will bypass them without thinking twice about it. This is why “Beware Planet Earth!” is completely DRM-free.
You wouldn't download a car
▲ Depends on the number of seeders, I guess.


19 comments for “THE PIRACY FALLACY (?)”

  1. A big autistic article about a simple topic.

    Try before you buy full stop.

    Piracy has saved me from Mass Effect 3, Skyrim and Dragon age 2.

  2. So, where can I get your game for free? I’m sort of not willing/able to pay for it at the moment but I do want to make it part of my culture.

  3. Totally agree. Pirates will steal something if they want it, or if it’s just there. Trying to stop them will only work on those who aren’t prepared for it, and hinder the experience of the genuine consumer.

  4. Floris > As I said in the article, I believe that pirates take responsibility for their actions ;)

    Andy > Yep, that’s exactly my point. And yet, the verb “steal” doesn’t feel right to me. It’s close to that, but a little off. Maybe we’ll have to invent a better word.

  5. “Don’t get us wrong: piracy IS a violation of law and this article is in no way an apology.” > With any crime then, someone steals a purse or beat up someone on the streets, as in crime, you go report it. Then why not report Piracy in a situation you know someone is doing it? Maybe “others do so just to add a game to their personal culture” As in you are also the part of that Culture? :P

  6. I think it’s clear enough in the article, but I’m ready to express it more precisely here; reporting it as a “crime” would amount to hunt pirates down, which are not willing to do. Then again, I’m only talking about what affects us as a company. I obviously can’t say that this stance should be how everybody, including companies, governments and peoples all over the Earth, should think. I’m not such a megalomaniac :p
    As for the culture, nope, I’m not part of that culture. I actually don’t have enough time to play all the games I purchase (mostly on Steam and Indievania, admittedly). That doesn’t mean I can’t try to understand it.

  7. To “steal” something means to take something away from someone.

    Enjoying something without paying is “dodging the fare”, which is still against the law but it’s also way different than actually “stealing” something.

  8. With the advent of digital sales, one of the things people have against it is that they no longer have a tangible case/box to proudly display on their shelves. Custom box art for games that otherwise not have any is a solution for those situations.

  9. Loud applause for truth!

    Sadly, the topic will not debate well so I wont try to followup any anger this post unleashes but speaking as a decades long pirate i’ve come to see the role i play in sales as the one you describe.

    Am i unfairly justifying my illegal actions? Probably

    Do I still buy games? Definitely

    Do I buy games with obnoxious amounts of DRM? No – that kind of thinking needs to be punished

    I will buy your game when it hits Steam (as i reward Steam with my business for its business practices as a game delivery platform) and have already put my vote behind getting your game on steam.

    I vow to buy your game when I see it on Steam. A thief’s word might not be much but considering I pirate because of poverty – my word is all i got and thus is pretty solid (when given, not when implied via EULA)

    More game developers need to think like you for the exact reasons you list. I’ve seem DRM frustrate legit end users more as victims than pirates who find a simple step by step list of instructions and never waste a second thought on it.

    In summary: I would download a car. There, i said it.

  10. Another independent game developer here.

    This is my model which I had since 2007, and suggested to the Pirate Party, and many others. (Hoping it would inspire others, and maybe it has.)

    My finished work is 100% open and 100% free. Because anything else is physically not feasible anyway as it is not based in reality, so there is no point in deluding ourselves with lies and business models that will never work.

    I am doing a service! I take money for that actual work. (A copy of data is not actual work!)

    So I make my money, by having people suggest improvements (and adding them myself), and then have people vote with their wallets. (Kickstarter style. No loss if it never reaches the goal. And I hope I can say I have a reliable track record.)

    Then when it’s done, those who paid, and only those, get a copy. After that, anyone is free to do with it whatever he wants. He can even ask others for money to give them a copy! (But he won’t get much when somebody else gives it away for free.)

    “Piracy” is not something that exists with business models based in physical reality. It is only an artifact of delusion, based on a lie spread by what I fully and seriously consider organized crime.

  11. @Evi1M4chine

    You restrain:
    - “reality” to non-digital life,
    - digital “work” to service.

    This is an arguable position and an inconsistent view of your work.

    While you consider “[your] finished work is 100% open and 100% free”, you consider you take money for the hours of work (“I am doing a service! I take money for that actual work”). However, the business model you describe consists of making some people pay earlier for everyone to enjoy your finished product, these people do not pay for the service but for the product.

  12. Pirate here.

    You guys are right on. I don’t buy games unless they’re on the steam sale or I’ve played them before. Too many big name games have let me down already. (I’m looking at you, D3.)

    One thing I do frequently, however, is buy a game after I pirated it and know it’s good. I also get as many of my friends to buy it. Minecraft, Braid, Torchlight, and many more games sold about 10 copies each because I was able to pirate it once.

    Now I need to try out your game. :D

  13. Looking at the screens and videos this game is not my cup of tea.

    However I will say Lightmare is doing so many things right that other companies are doing wrong.

    1. No DRM
    DRM is like arresting someone because they may commit a crime.

    2. They offer a demo
    a lack thereof is why there are so many try before you pay pirates. I understand with open world games,etc and large games making a demo could be a bit of a pain in the ass, but it serves to your interests if you’re an honest company. EA and the like don’t offer demo’s because hopefully once you realize their game is terrible they already have your money.

    3. They accept piracy as best they can in a positive attitude.
    Piracy is kind of like rule 34. If it exists, someone will find a way to copy it. Period.

    4. Trying to make their game accessible.
    I like steam, steam is convenient, and they seem to be an honest company.
    If nothing else though, it appears as though Lightmare offers a direct download option, which is nice.
    I am a bit OS agnostic as I run windows, mac and linux on a regular basis Alternate OS support is really the only thing that I could grumble about, as I’m assuming this is windows only.

    5. I don’t see any mention of DLC.
    Gearbox got DLC right with borderlands. Adding substantial (or at least adequate for the purchase cost) content onto an already complete game. Anyone doing anything otherwise is terrible and should feel bad.

    There are games that I am willing to deal with DRM, bugs, DLC, etc (stalker, borderlands) BUT I would rather not have to.

    There are companies/titles that I will always buy.
    I’ve bought Doom 1&2 about 3 times now.
    I bought dungeons of dreadmor via steam, and desura (didn’t know at the time the steam version included the linux version of the game)
    I’ll admit when borderlands first came out I was using a pirated copy for about a week, but then I bought it. And all the DLC. That is one of the few “big name” titles that I’ve payed full price for (didn’t catch on sale or wait for the price to drop) that actually felt like it was worth what I paid for it.

    Beware planet earth isn’t my cup of tea but I’m going to be keeping an eye on Lightmare’s future releases.

    P.S. Anonymous, who said: Piracy has saved me from Mass Effect 3, Skyrim and Dragon age 2.
    I’d like to correct you a bit. Piracy saved you from EA’s standard issue bullshit.

  14. After reached the top on reddit with this page I hope u guys are prepared for a bit sarcasm from childish users. Besides that I love the point of view if a game is good even if it’s downloaded illegally in the first place the user will support it. I’ve seen this many times that you want to support the dev. Hell I know a guy who bought Mirrors Edge on pc,360 and ps3 for that reason. and first contact he got with the game was actually a pirated copy.

    Hope u spread your realistic point of view to many other developers and I wish u a happy day

  15. Im not gonna lie, I do pirate. Usually not games, since I found steam sales, but for movies and tv shows. The reason I do so is because if I was going to watch all of the tv shows and movies I would like to, i would need netflix, hulu, vudu, and a few other smaller services. I am not and never will be willing to pay a subscription for 4 or more services at once just to see the shows I wish to see. Cable tv is also way too expensive now, and seeing how my entertainment budget is roughly 60-100 dollars every few months, if I ever want to do anything, I cannot pay for all of those various services. By doing this, I have found some god-awful tv shows and some awesome tv shows and movies, which I will then go out and purchase merchandice and/or a copy of if/when I have enough money to do so.

    For games, whenever I see a company like your’s with this oppinion on piracy, I dont even bother trying the game. I buy it outright as soon as I aquire the necessary funds, due to wishing to support this view and those who have this view. The worst thing in my eyes would be for those who do not hunt pirates to suffer because of it. I look forward to trying this game as soon as it is greenlit! We really need to stop companies from freaking out about pirates and instead have them address why people are pirating in the first place (for me because I lack the funds to view and try all of the material right when I wish to or because im taking a stand against what the company is doing with drm/their view towards pirates).

    TL;DR

    1. I pirate
    2. i dont have enough money to pay for everything
    3. if i like something, I save up money and buy it
    4. I spread it to friends
    5. focus on why piracy happens, not on killing it

  16. I pirate, I do so willingly freely, and with out remorse. I am a college student for Game Development, believe it or not. So I am also an Indie Dev, in my free time I make my own small games as I go through final project.

    Piracy doesn’t hurt games, because all of my friends who pirate games, do so because we don’t have the cash, or we dislike the publisher. Example: EA, I hate EA and I refuse to buy from them. I do enjoy a few games published by EA though.

    I recently got a friend to buy me Borderlands 2, because I respect and want to support Gearbox. I pirated FTL, and I am glad I did not buy it, as I was disappointed in the game play. I have also recently Pirated Torchlight 2, and the moment I am able to get enough cash, I might purchase that game, because it is a great game and its what Diablo 3 SHOULD have been.

    Even though I am a pirate, I am also a customer, and a Dev, and I spread the news about good games. Games like FTL, Torchlight, and other games I pirate. I tell my friends who have jobs, who have money. They buy the games, the Dev gets more sales because I pirated the game. Word of mouth is a great advertisement, and its free. Case in point, Minecraft. All word of mouth, tells you to pirate it if you cant afford it and buy it if you like it. I don’t see Markus, hurting for sales right about now.

    Quality speaks for itself. Make a great game, it will sell. Pirates will Pirate for their own reasons. Don’t fight the trend, roll with it. A lot of Dev’s post on Piratebay, or other sites saying, “Hey guys, I know you’re downloading it, but it’s cool, I just hope that if you enjoy it you will tell your friends and maybe purchase it when you have the cash to do so. Thanks and enjoy our game!” This is normally very well received and shows that the Dev’s are a class act.

  17. Who does DRM even make it more difficult for? Pirates download zip files with all the appropriate instuctions and all the hard work done. So who then? The person who first produces the appropriate crack? The person who is more savy than many of us and has a belief in the free sharing of media? Are gaming companies really introducing DRM to make it difficult for this one individual? Seemingly yes. DRM does not impact the experience of the average pirate because all of the hard work is already done by someone else. This is not then a question of punishing everyone for the actions of few. It is punishing everyone for the very very very few (potentially one person) and is irrational on the part of many gaming companies.

  18. Foug,

    I’m a software developer and I really appreciate you post. The only problem I have is with the terms “Steal” and “Pirate”. It seems obvious to me that you are uncomfortable with them as well.

    Someone who steals from another person takes property from the other person leaving that person with less. If a person steals an item from a shop then the shopkeeper has one less item to sell or use for his own benefit. In the case of someone taking and using a piece of software without permission that has not happened.

    A pirate is a person who robs another person. Robbery is stealing from them (as noted above) by use of violence or threat of violence either explicit or implicit. Software “Pirates” have not stolen from anyone or threatened anyone with violence.

    Coincidently, enforcing “software piracy” laws DOES take the property of others by threat of violence. Essentially robbing those who download software without paying.

    I applaud you for not committing these acts against those who use your products and services without paying.

  19. I believe that maybe half of the people who download something (song/movie/game) from internet would actually buy it if they weren´t able to get it illegally, I know a friend who use to own a great collection of albums and movies during the early 90´s but suddenly he stopped buying at the very moment when he discovered this horrible tool called internet :(

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