It’s very difficult to estimate the piracy rate of PC games, and even more to estimate the impact on the sales. For my last game Spring Up Harmony, I found out that the piracy rate is 96% (!). Higher that I’d thought, really. Read the details below and find out how I obtained this number.
The PC version of Spring Up Harmony was released last February as shareware. The trial version gives access to 6 out of 35 levels and restricts access to multi-player game play. The registered version costs $4.99 and gives access to the full game.
The game has an online rankings feature. I used this feature to gather statistics about players. Of course, I do not have any information on players playing offline.
The pirated version
A few hours after releasing my game on my site, I receive a Google Alert with a link to a Russian forum pointing to a hacked version of the game. I download it (no virus inside, good point) and it is a package with the full version with a key generator unlocking the full game included. And the following days/weeks, I regularly received alerts with sites linking to the full game for free using download sites or torrents.
As soon as I found out about this version, I quickly uploaded an update. As for every update, I have a unique ID in the game. I changed it so that the ID of games downloaded from my site is different from the ID of the pirate copy found on torrents. I also modified the script used for online rankings to disable the features for pirates and I removed the existing pirates in the rankings. Instead of receiving the rankings, pirates get a specific message downloaded from the rankings server to incite them to get the full version (see screenshot below).
I also tried to take down a few links on download sites by reporting copyrighted material but it’s very slow (when it’s even working).
A twitter user posted a link to the full game too. I contacted twitter (using this specific page) immediatly, they replied in 14 days (!) and only removed the single tweet about my game. The user is still using twitter to post dozens of illegal links to games everyday. Useless.
The different categories of players
By examining the logs of the access to the online rankings script, I could split the players into different categories:
- Registered: A player who bought a legal copy of the game. A real paying customer.
- Pirates: A “player” who used the key generator to get access to the full version without paying for it.
- Trial: A player who downloaded the game from an official source, and played the trial version without registering.
- “Trial pirate”: A player who downloaded the game from an illegal source but did not use the keygen provided to access the full version. A pirate not liking the game.
- Unknown: A player using a copy with the same ID that the one that was released on pirate sites before I updated the new one. These players could either have downloaded the game from my site (Trial category) or from the pirate sites with my pirated copy (Trial pirate category).
I made two different pie charts. The left one shows the ratio of the players in the different categories. The right one is based on the number of levels completed. I find it interesting because it gives more “weight” to big players, spending a lot of time into the game (charts made with NCES Kids’ Zone; you can click to enlarge them).
You can see that the only categories that have a bigger percentage between “players” and “completed levels” charts are obviously the ones that have access to the full version of the game (registered and pirates). The 71% of the levels completed being from pirates shows that some pirates are “hardcore” players.
The refined results
However, free players and trial pirates are not really impacting my sales as they do not seem to like the game. I made other stats where I only count players that played past the level 6. It means that they accessed a paying feature (but might not have paid for it unfortunately). It obviously ignores all the “Trial” and “Trial pirate” players but that’s not all. It also ignores players that entered an illegal serial without really using it. So these players will be ignored as they would have never buy the full game. It also ignores registered players that did not play beyond the first few levels but nobody is in this case.
These charts are probably more representative of piracy of Spring Up Harmony, here are they:
So here you have the 96%. 96% of the players using the paying features of Spring Up Harmony and that accessed the online leaderboards are using an illegal version! The obvious question I asked myself here is “Why?“. The answers that came up when an indie developer asked the pirates are interesting to read.
The additional information
Some important facts can affect/explain these results:
– The overall number of downloads of the game is low.
– Most pirates directly downloaded the pirated version. They probably wouldn’t have found the game at all if they did not visit the pirate sites. I don’t know if it’s good or bad but pirate sites gave visibility to Spring Up Harmony. However, there are also pirates who downloaded the game from a legal source and searched for the keygen online.
– The data only take into account people playing while being connected to Internet. As the game displays a message when the game is launched online with a pirate copy, pirates might be tempted to keep playing offline and therefore do not enter in the last charts.
The piracy rate obtained here seems to be similar to the few numbers I’ve seen online (Machinarium, Ricochet Infinity (2) or World of Goo for instance). Spring Up Harmony should be available on a few portals in the following weeks, it will probably give more exposure to the game and might change the numbers.