Anti-piracy measures such as DRM are more damaging for developers than piracy, Super Meat Boy developer Tommy Refenes has said.
In a new blog post, the Team Meat developer said that disappointing game releases and frustrating DRM policies, such as SimCity with its early server troubles and always-online requirement, could create apathy among consumers, which he called a potential “swan song” for developers.
He went on to say that consumers were much more likely to buy from distributors they trust rather than ones they have been frustrated or slighted by before, with consumer confidence playing a huge role in how they spend money.
Refenes explained that piracy, particularly for digital titles, could not be quantified as there was no way for developers to judge who would have bought their game if illegal file-sharing didn’t exist. He said that this in turn meant that companies who have invested into the research and development of DRM measures could not judge whether they were making the money back they had spent on it.
"Loss due to piracy is an implied loss because it is not a calculable loss,” he said.
“You cannot, with any accuracy, state that because your game was pirated 300 times you lost 300 sales. You cannot prove even one lost sale because there is no evidence to state that any one person who pirated your game would have bought your game if piracy did not exist.
"From an accounting perspective it’s speculative and a company cannot accurately determine loss or gain based on speculative accounting. You can’t rely on revenue due to speculation, you can’t build a company off of what will ‘probably’ happen.”
He added: "As a result of piracy developers feel their hand is forced to implement measures to stop piracy. Often, these efforts to combat piracy only result in frustration for paying customers. I challenge a developer to show evidence that accurately shows implementation of DRM is a return on investment and that losses due to piracy can be calculated. I do not believe this is possible.
“The reality is the fight against piracy equates to spending time and money combating a loss that cannot be quantified. Everyone needs to accept that piracy cannot be stopped and loss prevention is not a concept that can be applied to the digital world.
"Developers should focus on their paying customers and stop wasting time and money on non-paying customers. Respect your customers and they may in turn respect your efforts enough to purchase your game instead of pirating it.”
Refenes stated that Team Meat’s own game, Super Meat Boy, had been pirated at least 200,000 times, but the game was still closing in on two million sales – with illegally downloaded games not showing up as a yearly loss.
Despite Refenes’ assertions, many developers in the past have spoken how the issue of piracy has greatly affected sales. Developers such as Crytek have previously claimed that Crysis 2 had been downloaded four million times – stating that is money lost.
Sports Interactive has also previously claimed the Football Manager had a piracy rate of 80 per cent, while Shadowgun developer Madfinger also said mobile game Dead Trigger had an 80 per cent piracy rate on Android, with the studio later adopting a free-to-play approach in an attempt to battle it.
Other developers appear to agree with with Refenes’ opinions however, with indie developers in particular treating pirates as they would normal consumers, believing they wouldn’t have bought the game anyway even if piracy didn’t exist.
Taking to a thread on a torrent site, indie developer and Hotline Miami co-creator Jonatan Söderström told users that he and his co-developer Dennis Wedin were working to fix a number of the game’s bugs, and asked them if they could update the illegal torrent once the patch was released.
“I don’t really want people to pirate Hotline Miami, but I understand if they do,” he said. “I’ve been broke the last couple of months. It sucks.
“And I definitely want people to experience the game the way it’s meant to be experienced. No matter how they got a hold of it.”
Another indie developer, Anodyne developer Sean Hogan, also used The Pirate Bay as a method to advertise his game, helping with increased sales and Steam Greenlight support.
Image credit: Official GDC