It’s not often that I make two posts on the same broad subject in quick succession, nor two posts talking about the same thing with thoughts from a different perspective later down the line, but, as with my original post discussing how I would go about pricing a game under free to play conditions, I feel the timing is right for me to discuss this, and this is enough of a topic to deserve a separate post. Things have changed, and the nuance behind why I feel this is timely is different, too.
In this case, I bring up the subject in light of Game Dev Tycoon, a game that was recently released and has made headlines across several gaming news outlets. The game, as the title implies, is an indie game in the vein of the mobile game Game Dev Story. It is a simulation game where you run a game development company.
On the day the game was released, the developers secretly uploaded a torrent version of the game that would do two things differently than the normal game: First off, it would ping the developers to tell them a pirated version has been booted up for the first time. Secondly, as soon as you get far enough, you run into a scenario where all of your games get pirated and you can’t make a profit, significantly ruining your business and inevitably leading to bankruptcy.
Of course, they ruined this clever ruse by speaking up about it the next day (and by not outright telling pirates what was going on at any point), but this got them lots of positive press, plus they revealed some statistics that are just plain disgusting – 93.6% of the people who obtained the game on day 1 did so illegally. Additionally, several pirates who did not see the irony of their own actions flocked to forums to complain about how they can’t make a profit in-game due to pirates, with one asking if it’s possible to research DRM in-game and another practically crying about how it isn’t fair that their in-game games get ridiculous piracy rates and they can’t beat the game.
This is not the first time developers have screwed with pirates using a method other than traditional DRM. To list a few off:
- The developers of No Time to Explain released a version of the game that had everyone wearing pirate hats.
- Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen would have the guy who checks your ticket for the S.S. Anne tell you to buy the game or die if pirated.
- Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver would stop you from gaining experience points.
- Pirated DS versions of Michael Jackson: The Experience would be drowned out by vuvuzuelas.
- The girls in Love Plus would tell you that they aren’t into pirates.
- Serious Sam 3 would summon an immortal pink scorpion that wouldn’t stop attacking you.
- EarthBound would make the game much harder before crashing at the final boss and deleting your save file.
- Batman: Arkham Asylum would eventually make you unable to progress by making your gliding skill utterly useless.
- All Bohemia Interactive titles, starting with Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis, slowly degrade themselves until they become unplayable. (This is known as “FADE”.)
That said, some developers have done the opposite to great effect. Anodyne breezed through Steam Greenlight after a plea from the developer to at least vote for it there. Additionally, Hotline Miami received lots of positive press after the developers provided customer support to the pirates, even requesting that torrents be updated to fixed versions of the game so people could play the game without bugs.
Both of these ways of going about things are good, but there are also major problems. The spite-based methods only hinder the pirates temporarily and get a few chuckles from the press. Additionally, you run the risk of accidentally triggering the piracy flag with paying customers in cases where it’s built into the game and isn’t a different build, and some pirates will assume the regular version of the game is also like that and tell their friends the game sucks. However, the methods involving developers who appeal to pirates would simply make things too difficult for everyone if too many people do it.
Piracy is a major concern that cannot be simply ignored, so I have to ask myself what I can even do to avoid issues with them. I don’t want to spite pirates, but I don’t want to appeal to most of them. There are many reasons one might pirate, and I want to aim straight at the very small demographic that doesn’t have much money and want to try the game out before buying, but traditional demos seem to not be enough for those sorts of people, so there’s little once can do.
So, as I explained in my earlier post (which I linked at the beginning of this one), I intend to give part of the game for free and offer the option for someone to buy the completed game in parts for a slightly higher overall cost, Ouya or not. The focus of the game has changed, but it’s still 3 storylines and an ending. I could give people the option to pay little bits at a time to access a level at a time, or get an entire storyline at once, or the entire game in one fell swoop, with the price adjusted for how much the player has paid already.
I’ve acknowledged that it’s nothing new, but I don’t think anyone’s tried this with such small slices of a game as of yet. I mean, just think how low the prices would sound.
Magnet’s story has 7 levels and 3 bosses, Shock’s story has 8 levels and 4 bosses, Ruyo’s story has 7 levels and 5 bosses, the ending has 4 levels and 4 bosses, and then there’s the bonus boss. If I were to give out the first 2 levels of each story and the bosses that go with them for free, that would be two levels from Magnet’s story and two levels and a boss from the other two, lowering the count to a combined total of 20 levels and 14 bosses if we were to make the bonus boss a free bonus for purchasing all of the other components.
If purchasing the game on its own would cost $15, then I could make the version chopped up in level-sized slices cost a combined total of $19.90 (higher to recoup higher transaction fees from having more transactions) by charging $0.75 per level and $0.35 per boss fight, or offer entire storylines for $5 (with the ending costing $2.50 for being shorter) for a combined total of $17.50, and offering people the opportunity to complete a storyline for a lesser amount after having already purchased parts of it.
This would basically offer people a variety of price points they could use to only purchase portions of the game until they no longer wish to continue playing – how attached are you, really, to 75 cents? Certainly much less than you are to $15, both psychologically and in terms of budget. While it’s a statistical fact that most people never complete games, the lower barriers to entry would allow more people to play, spreading word of mouth more easily.
Can I actually try this out with The Turtle Who Had Wings, though? I would basically need to master in-app purchases, gain the cooperation of anywhere I try to sell the game at, and (of course) put up an official torrent to take the load off of the website the game would be available at for direct purchase. It would also be wise to somehow make it so the data for the levels and bosses are not present in the game itself at the time of the download for the free version. Certainly doing things that way would be a lot more work.
But I want to try. I can’t really do so until the game is complete, though.