Game Developer Offers ‘Pirate Amnesty’

There’s an interesting development with the developer of the game Machinarium. The developer has decided to offer a “Pirate Amnesty” and sell their games for $5 to anyone who downloaded unauthorized versions. The package includes the official soundtrack for the game.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

The offer was posted on their blog. To their credit, it’s certainly a more progressive approach than most to courting file-sharers. Rather than threaten litigation and demand hundreds of dollars or threaten file-sharers with disconnection, they are offering a deal with their game and soundtrack.

One reason this is actually a better approach – particularly with a smaller company, is because the biggest problem for smaller developers is actually getting their name out in the market. One of the fastest and most cost effective way to penetrate the market is, I’d argue, to get high profile release groups to release the work. It’s not like a smaller developer has the ability to fund nation-wide TV ad campaigns, so cheaper marketing typically has to suffice. This is, of course, not to say this developer actually put their game online for free in the first place as if it was just simply pirated of course.

The fact that people are downloading it for free means that there are people playing your games which is really good news. Worst case scenario is that you spend a wad of cash and spend a year developing a video game and no one plays it after. That tends to kill companies that develop games.

The posting on the blog says, “Our estimate from the feedback is that only 5-15% of Machinarium players actually paid for the game.”

A survey based on feedback clearly is not scientific, but for the sake of argument, let’s say this is the actual number of an even 10% (a number that keeps popping up in terms of a paying percentage in my travels interestingly enough). If an earlier game you’ve developed sells a hundred copies for $20 per game, that’s grossing at $2,000. Probably low, but this is hypothetical. Now, you’ve made a few games and you’ve developed a bit of a reputation, so a later game sells 1,000 copies. Same price would net you $20,000 gross. Sounds like a lot, but you’ve probably hired a few people to take care of things like art and sound design. Now your next game is part of viral downloading for free. The game gets downloaded, again, hypothetically because there’s no good way to track this sort of thing, 5,000,000 times. 10% of those people pay for the game. That means 500,000 people paid for the game. At $20 a game, that’s $10,000,000 gross. Make of that number what you will, but the point is, even if only 10% pay for the game consistently, then your goal is to get as many people downloading that game for free as possible because it’s all about marketing. If you get 10 people to download that game for free, that means 1 person will pay for it. I think content creators shouldn’t look at downloads as a loss and look at downloads as a potential gain. The reason so many people play World of Warcraft is because everyone has heard of it. The reason not everyone plays a game developed by a small company is because fewer people have heard of it. If people are playing your games, that is power you can use to leverage the market and it doesn’t necessarily mean trying to get as many people to pay for it. It can be leveraging word of mouth too.

The sale isn’t limited to people who have downloaded the game for free. An update added to the blog said it’s for anyone willing to buy the game.

“we just want to assure you,” the blog update said, “we don’t think you have pirated the game first if are going to buy it now:)”

“This sale isn’t only for [pirates], it’s for all. Thanks to everybody who paid for the game!”

Personally, this is actually quite a smart move for this developer. I’m a little hesitant on the fact that the posting said how it is illegal to download the game for free, but that’s pretty much splitting hairs. It’s appealing to people who are most likely checking out what you have to offer. It’s hard to go wrong with that.

The sale runs to August 12.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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