Challenge #10: What Opportunities Piracy Offers?

BBC reported that rampant piracy is threatening the future of the PC games industry. Todd Hollenshead, head of Doom 3 creator Id software was quoted for that statement. The comments and reasons for piracy were quite typical (that were have seen also before). It’s fun to see the “games would need to be cheaper” arguments (and then imaging how these people download those 2 gigabyte games over and over using their 100 megabit cables and drinking wine ;).

Enough joking.

I admit piracy can be a problem, but I doubt it will threaten PC games in the nearly future. One example is the Windows Vista & Xbox Live. They are basically merging Xbox and PC gamers to play together. Does that look like Microsoft is forgetting PC? I don’t think so.

Almost anywhere I look I see “piracy is a problem”. The business mantra I’ve heard over and over says exactly the opposite: there are no problems, only opportunities. What would happen if we’d say “piracy is an opportunity”?

As I start thinking about it, I come to see several opportunities. One opportunity is for copyright protection software developers: the one who makes such protection that keeps pirates away is going to get rich. Secondly there might be room for people to set up a “pirate hunting” group and start taking down pirate sites – money sponsored from developers. One opportunity for developers could be to use the piracy to help promoting their game: instead of fighting against pirates, they could distribute free software and use in-game ads, pay-per-item or other models to fund the development. I would also believe that if big players leave, it basically gives more room for indie and casual games. All of these opportunities might not be viable, but when one starts to look for opportunities – he starts to seem them.

The 10th GameProducer.net challenge: What opportunities you see in piracy? Feel free to post your comment on this.

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. yep, it sure sounds that.

    I also believe more and more games are moving in the online arena (in terms of copy/asset/story protection). Imagine an adventure game where you’d load stuff from centralized server as the game progresses… it has be done well though to make sure it does not annoy customers.

  2. Greg Costikyan has some interesting thoughts about copyright and the way that the business models should change in order to take account the increased ease of distribution on his blog. While I agree that piracy is harmful to the business I would think that the available ease of distribution demonstrated by the p2p application use (which, of course, is not the same thing as piracy, those applications can be used for perfectly legitimate causes) is one building block in building this industry all over from the creator point of view and making the “old” publisher gatekeeper model obsolete.

  3. Good thinking people. Orange Brat’s note is a good reminder that piracy has its effects. Remember what happened to Amiga 500? The whole machine died because of piracy.

    I think GBGames gave a very good point:
    “when the real problem may just be that the business model is obsolete.”

    Now… if we take this phrase and also remember what the 10th challenge was about, the next question could be: How should the business model change?

  4. Example)

    World of Warcraft
    Minimum System Requirements:
    933 MHz or higher G4, or G5, or Intel processor
    512 MB RAM or higher; DDR RAM recommended

    I have an eMac 700MHz, 384MB SDRAM.
    If I had went to the store to buy this game, I would’ve immediately been discouraged from buying the game due to the minimum system requirements.

    Now obviously I didn’t pirate WoW, but I did download the demo.
    Upon installation WoW told me that my machine didn’t meet the minimum requirements.
    (Off topic: most games would’ve simply prevented me from installing/running the game)

    But in fact, WoW was able to run quite nicely on my less-than-par machine.

    My point:
    Piracy boosts your demographic, and in turn, can shed light on things that would’ve otherwise went unnoticed. If WoW didn’t have a demo, and if pirating WoW was a viable option (which it isn’t), then Blizzard probably would’ve never known that their minimum requirements are a tad bit too high. This translates into slightly less sales, and a less solid product.

  5. I think that more software developers should try to take advantage of the ease of distribution. If it is simply easier to let people give it away, then maybe putting arbitrary restrictions on distribution isn’t the best way to improve sales.

    Slapping more restrictions, copy protections, and so-called digital rights management involves a lot of expense and effort, and for what? More opportunities for bugs, security vulnerabilities, and ways to upset your customers, all for the illusion that it is helping improve sales.

    I think too many people in the software industries simply assume that “piracy” is an obstacle that needs to be overcome, when the real problem may just be that the business model is obsolete.

  6. I have no benefit input, but it has been reported that Funcom will no longer make “offline” games because of piracy. This move hasn’t been confirmed by them, but given that Dreamfall Chapters and a potential Longest Journey/Dreamfall MMO game has been mentioned may make this more likely to be true.


  7. basically increased coverage. your game gets copied loads by people that would never buy it anyway and then some people see it who DO actually buy it.

  8. I believe the biggest benefit of piracy(worded quite poorly) is that it is basically the beta test for digital distribution. I know everyone hates steam, and claims they want physical media, but I believe Steam’s setup is marvelous. It is advertisement friendly, has a ‘back up data’ option, has a download in the background approach to upgrading, can be turned off if you don’t want the footprint… and the list goes on. Digital distribution is great for high-end games, because gamers have broadband. The login to play approach of Battlefield 2 and Half-Life 2 means it is harder to pirate, easier to patch flaws, and offer perfect spots for paid advertising.

    I know that all focuses on the triple A titles, but if gamers get used to paying for downloaded games… Wouldn’t that only help the casual/indie scene?

  9. The biggest opportunity in piracy is simple, it is the perfect distribution and advertising tool. Make a game and find a way to earn from it in a way that individual sales don’t matter.

    I think this would make a lot of people look at piracy in a different light.

Comments are closed.