Piracy of Spring Up Harmony (PC Game) : 96%

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 game

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.

The response

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).

piracy

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).

The results

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).

players_all levels_all

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:

players_fullversion levels_fullversion

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 conclusion

The piracy rate obtained here seems to be similar to the few numbers I’ve seen online (MachinariumRicochet 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.

Feel free to comment, follow me on twitter and/or facebook and try Spring Up Harmony.

Comments

  1. Sea

    <>
    is laughable – EVERY guy that had played or used priated software can tell you the ‘why': because $0 is better than $5.

    * DRM had never bothered much gamers – assassin creed 2 sold well even with such invasive DRM. DRM is my favourite excuse – too funny card to play.

    * Quality – are you kidding? most of the ppl are whining on superb games finding defects on them – hell, windows hang alot, so I’d take it illegally?!?!?! i’ve seen ppl complaining on Dragon Age, batman etc… it’s easy: you say ‘x is wrong’ ‘y is not as i would’ ==> i dont pay money as it is not as it should be. Childish excuse, and less funnier than DRM one, however.

    * Demo… pirates play demo????? and since when??? Am i missing something in the last 20 years of v-gaming? Demos are good only for legit players, pirates dont play demo. Never. They wait the pirated copy and whine on crackz sites if crack isnt available within a week, usually. Demo… lol

    * Price… depends on game quality and store. But as you can see by yourself (your piracy rate), even 5$ IS TOO HIGH. But we all know it’s a classic excuse.

    By the way, thanks ALOT for this blog post – it express in numbers something i knew and i were curious to know ‘in numbers’ in the last years ;)

    ah, the solution to this problem… well, my suggestion is to get out with the game with 1/2 levels, and offer for downloads to registered users OVER THE TIME, so you can block backlisted serials on server in time.
    Sure, you WILL get pirated/cracked any way, but you will heavily reduce the pirates tax rate – good luck on this ;)

    GL HF ;)

  2. Sea

    on head of prior post I had pasted

    I asked myself here is “Why?“. The answers that came up when an indie developer asked the pirates are interesting to read.

    …but blog code blocked it :p

  3. Thanks Sea for the reply (I manually approve comments since I got a lot of spam but did not remove manual approval when I added reCaptcha that reduces the spam, will do it now).
    I might do a separate demo/full version for my next game as it might slow down the piracy, at least at launch because pirate must get access to a full version.
    When I wrote this article, there was only a keygen available but there is now a crack that bypasses protection. According to google alerts, it’s a lot more spread and available on p2p networks. I spend days writing do download sites to remove links. They usually do remove the links but that pretty annoying.

  4. Sea

    going against links is a lost war – at the end, you’ll end up becoming like RIAA – the only thign you’d stay away like hell.

    Trust me on word, i have… ahem… a huge experience in the field, on all sides ;)

    Do this:

    1) if you got a keygen, it means you have no real competence in Cracking/Software security – stop writing your OWN protections now!! buy a cheap software protector that uses asymmetric keys and use it. This will avoid keygens.
    2) make a CRIPPLED demo, i.e. without save between levels.
    3) make levels downloadable by valid serials.
    4) make impossible to download all levels at once, but say only after a level is ‘finished’.
    5) of course, try to bring down links to crack etc from twitter, facebook&co – but dont spend much time in this. It wont really reduce piracy rates.
    6) …profit ;)

    …7) I’d appreciate if you elaborate and add details to the text of your blog entry, so that it becomes something more ‘article-like’, maybe in PDF format. Your analysis is something very interesting to read, and it’s a shame to keep it in a blog only.

    …Good luck ;)

  5. Ann

    That’s really strange that it took twitter almost two weeks to reply to you. I myself regularly report abuses to them, they remove warez tweets within a working day. Though it seems to me rather useless, because tweets propagate at a great speed. Usually I report several tweets at a time, and there are almost always new ones.
    I used this form
    http://support.twitter.com/forms/dmca

    I have tried to report warez blogspot posts to google. But without great success. They reply within a week (too long), and they sometimes refuse to remove posts with warez links pointing to non-google-sites file hosting services.

    I reported abuses to numerous file hosting services, they replied very quickly (like twitter), within a day.

    Looking at the speed at which all this warez info is spreading thoughout the Internet, I am beginning to think that it is useless. The only advantage is that I sort of can let the steam off and become less angry myself.

  6. Yeah, removing links on file hosting services works very well for most of them. Some others however never respond sadly.

  7. buy a cheap software protector that uses asymmetric keys and use it. This will avoid key gens…….

  8. PcGamer4Life

    Consoles are where the money is. I would never advise a non mmo/free-to-play developer to code primarily for the pc, let alone only for the pc, especially if they have kids to feed. You’ve got to expect 90%+ PC piracy, even if you have uber-DRM like ubisoft.

    Consoles are where the money is because their rates of piracy are in the single digits. Certainly throw out a PC version to maximize revenue, but never never dev solely for that platform or put much effort or money into it.

    In fact its best if the PC version is nearly unplayable in terms of bugs. It helps to steer people towards consoles.

    Best of luck as I know how hard coders work.

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