Competing With Free: Selling Games in a Pirate World

It used to be that if you wanted a game, you had to buy the physical copy on disk. These days all you have to do is click a few buttons and you have it right there on your PC or Console. Purchasing the game in this process can be completely optional now. So how can game developers fight such an easy way to have their product stolen? Well there have been several countermeasures that have either worked or failed.



Arr we be changing the world.

DRM: Failure

DRM has been the biggest failure in anti piracy efforts, according to most consumers. A function that has many times lead to the digital product being less useful or even frustrating to use. Causing people to pirate the media they want, just for the simplicity of having a version of the product that is hassle free. When a customer can choose between your flawed product at a cost, and your non-flawed  product for free with no cost, they are going to choose free. Why? Them being morally bankrupt could be a reason you point to. But at the end of the day customers want the best product for the best price. You cannot beat someone offering a better product for free.

When apple first launched their platform, iTunes, they had all their songs sold with DRM on them. People who did not have an iPod could not listen to the music they bought on their non apple devices. In addition, they could not copy the song more than 5 times. A limit that was unacceptable to people want to store digital media. What happened was that this drove people to pirate more, with less guilt. Apple then got rid of the DRM, and their service became more convenient than pirating. The 1 dollar it took to buy a song was less costly, to some, than trying to find a pirated copy that had higher risks of viruses or taking too long to find.

Steam: Success!

When Steam first launched, it was pretty bad. However over the years Steam has become a service that is easy to use and automates the process of buying, installing, and even modding games. With the introduction of the popularity of steam, the rate of piracy has gone down. This is common knowledge to some by now, as Gabe himself has stated:

“They’re low enough that we don’t really spend any time [on it]. When you look at the things we sit around and talk about, as big picture cross game issues, we’re way more concerned about the stability of DirectX drivers or, you know, the erroneous banning of people. That’s way more of an issue for us than piracy.

Once you create service value for customers, ongoing service value, piracy seems to disappear, right? It’s like “Oh, you’re still doing something for me? I don’t mind the fact that I paid for this.” Once you actually localize your product in Russia and ship it on the same day that you ship your English language versions, this theoretical hotbed of piracy becomes your second largest- third largest after Germany in continental Europe? Or third after UK?


Public Relations: Success and Failure

When a potential customer wants to boycott a company, they simply do not buy or use their product. But the thing with piracy is that you don’t need to not use their product, you just need to not pay for it. So now being a company, or even a public person, that people like is more important than ever.

We live in a world of social media where every action is under scrutiny. Some say this is good, and some say this is bad. The reality for developers is that the way they use social media is extremely important. They need to show that they are a company that a customer is going to want to give money to. Have good faith with their fan base, and try not to hurt the people who support them. So when Microsoft accidentally made a sexist marketing campaign, many people could choose to not only boycott the Xbox One but also any Microsoft software they choose.

Are these Pirates using an excuse to simply steal from Microsoft? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that they are not buying Microsoft products when they don’t like the company’s image. This is worse than a lost sale. It needs to be fixed with proper PR.


At the end of the day pirating may seem like a morally bankrupt way to live your life. But I think piracy has put more power into the consumer’s hands. It has forced the market to cater to their needs of convenience and social responsibility. The latter can be debated in many ways, but in the end it is a very interesting result.

Written by Mari


Mari is a short and stout thing that loves video games, movies, some tv shows, and casually encounters anime and comics. She created this website because she wanted a place for people to express their passion for all things geeky.

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Mari is a short and stout thing that loves video games, movies, some tv shows, and casually encounters anime and comics. She created this website because she wanted a place for people to express their passion for all things geeky. 


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