Home Editorial Game Dev Tycoon teaches pirates and players big lessons

In recent years, we’ve seen more creative forms of combating video game piracy. There used to only be two major anti-piracy methods, DRM (trying to make pirating the game more difficult or using piracy checks if a user wants to play online) and compelling the user not to pirate (be a company that people people want to support). Steam just so happens to be a mix of both, where it is literally impossible for people to steal or resent games.

Now there’s a third methodmy favourite: Fucking with pirates.

Crime doesn’t pay, especially if you’re an idiot

When Arkham Asylum first came out, the developers released the pirated version of the game themselves but with a slight change: Batman was unable to glide. This made many of the stealth sections extremely difficult and the exploration portions impossible as poor Bruce Wayne Batman plummeted face-first to his untimely demise. Considering the footage of the game at the time showing the caped crusader gliding around without a care in the world, you’d think that there was something wrong with your copy of the game due to the fact that you didn’t exactly pay for it.

Game Dev Tycoon’s creators went about their anti-piracy method in a similar way, but not as extreme. Like with Arkham Asylum, the game developers released their own game on torrent sites with something changed in the game. In the pirated version of Game Dev Tycoon, people will pirate the games you develop leading to a huge loss in sales, forcing the player to slowly go bankrupt.

Surely such a creative method of telling people their swash-buckling activities hurt game developers would work, right? Wrong. Here are some choice quotes from the official forum about this issue:

  • Is there some way to avoid [piracy of my games]? I mean can I research DRM or something …
  • Why are there so many people that pirate? It ruins me!
  • I had like 5m and then everyone started pirating everything I made . . . Not fair.

Irony. So much irony. It’s creative stuff like this that made me proud to throw actual money at Greenheart Games.

There’s a reason modern games aren’t original

When you release a game in Game Dev Tycoon, it’s very quickly reviewed. If you focused in the right areas, released it on the right platform with the right target audience and with the right marketing, you’ll get a good review. Obviously you’ll get increased sales if the sales are good but if the reviews were awful, it’s not the end of the world. What’s more important is the number of fans you have and how big a release you have for your game.

If, for example, a publisher wants you to make a Law Simulator game for kids on the Playstation, you can pretty much guarantee that the reviews are going to be terrible. However, thanks to the size of the publisher, it’s reaching stores on a global scale rather than the much smaller scale you can reach on your own. Once you realize this, the shock of Generic Shooter 15 getting record high sales and perfect reviews is pretty much non-existent.

Hell, why do you think so few people review games like that? The review simply isn’t going to matter when people are going to rush out and buy it anyway. Seeing it from the industry side is somewhat comforting. “Shit, I’m going to go bankrupt… Better throw out a big release sports sim!”

There’s a subtle art to game design

Yes you can crap out shooters and sports sims constantly to earn money, but you will get much more by trying new game topics. Balancing out the genres to make good matches is actually half the fun; it’s extremely satisfying when you create a Vampire/Action game which ends up being a surprise summer chart topper. The real meat of the game, however, is in how you make your games. During the development process, you adjust a series of sliders to decide where you spend the most time. The game engine, gameplay, world design and graphics are just a few of the areas you have to keep in harmony. Time spent in the different areas will produce Design and Technology points with different ratios between the two resulting in different games.

I spent a lot of my time in the game wondering if it’s better for my new franchise of action games, Shoot Dudes, should focus more on design or technology. I mean, do people play action games because the technology behind them is impressive (good looking graphics, modern game engine, extremely smart AI)? Or do they play them because the world seems real, the story is believable and the characters talk like real people?

Once I started thinking about where different genres focus their attention, it became easy to think of real world examples. Trying to make those real world examples in Game Dev Tycoon is actually a really good way to gain insight to this. Even if you get the ratio between Tech and Design perfect, your game could still flop. Maybe you’re not well known enough yet or the scathing reviews make you lose fans. I found that the more formulaic I tried to play, the worse my games did. Whether or not this was intentional or if I just suck at game design I have no idea but it was certainly a lot of fun.

The final lesson: Game Dev Tycoon is fun

Even if there was nothing to learn from Game Dev Tycoon, it’s an incredibly entertaining game. When I first booted it up, I lost four hours. Four. That’s two hundred and forty minutes. For context, that’s enough time to watch The Hobbit roughly half of the way through.

You can buy the game here, and I strongly recommend that if you’re at all interested you grab the trial and see what you think. In a world where pay-as-you-go social games are getting more and more prevalent with so many indie developers getting ignored or simply overlooked, it’s important we show our support when they do something right!


“8/10 – Can’t wait for the sequel!”



9 replies to this post
  1. I only now realize that the game Escape Velocity from the 90s did the same thing.

    If you had a cracked version or if you had the shareware version and played it past its expiration date, the game would randomly spawn a pirate ship that would hunt you throughout the galaxy.

    The ship had almost infinite armor and fuel, and would just chase you wherever you jumped to. I feel like an idiot now not realizing it was a pirate and that it was punishing you for piracy.

  2. Another tidbit of information: According to the devs and their (anonymous, of course) information collection, 93% (holy f’ing non-gliding Batman) of the players which the server could reach were pirates.

    Hey, don’t look at me just because piracy is legal where I live! I bought the game almost as soon as I heard of it, plus what they did for DRM.

    Why can’t everyone do it like this? Don’t force upon us stupid, cracked-after-an-hour DRM, MAKE us buy the game instead of pirating. With a bit of thought, you can even make this method last, much longer than normal DRM would.

    I’m fine with such methods of anti-piracy, wouldn’t mind even a CD key (it can’t be THAT hard to come up with a method of preventing keygens, can it?), just don’t assume that I who wants to play a game I bought wherever I want, on my own, offline, am a thief. Come on, EA, you’re international, you don’t have to follow the USA’s ways!
    (No hate if you’re American, but you gotta admit that your country is a bit dumb at places.)

    Anyhow. I have to agree that Game Dev Tycoon is stupidly fun and I would’ve paid a fair lot more for it. Even though its difficulty curve does swerve (almost impossible at the start of each tier, almost impossible to screw up at the end,) if you can resist getting cocky, it’s even pretty fair on you. Yes, the game ends a little early for training (special training in particular) to become all too relevant and they definitely could tell you that an R&D department is actually something you really want to have, but who cares. It’s fun and there’s a delicious sense of irony within it. For instance, the game will give you an achievement for developing a (Game dev sim?) game named Game Dev Tycoon, and there’s a charming “remember what they did then” throwback to what happened in the last 30 years in case you lived back then. I know I didn’t, but it was still nice to see.

    What I’m trying to express is that you see that the devs didn’t take everything 100% serious, and that’s perfectly fine. It’s also one of the few games I know which reward creativity without enforcing it, which is pretty self-ironic, now that I think about it. Sure releasing TES VIII: You’ll Buy This Anyway So We Don’t Have To Think Of Another Place will get me millions of moneys mostly thanks to the AweTech V7 engine, but so will releasing a game about ninja hamsters. (Yes, I tried that. 9.75, and that was back when we were still running AweTech Mk5.)

    Besides that, GDT manages not to be a Pay2Win game which is still fairly casual. Yes, you need a bit of working in, but once you have that (really, all the advice you need is within “Don’t get cocky and spend more than you can afford.”,) it’s already understood. It also allows play with short windup times and in short intervals, which pleases me as it allows me to put in a brief session before I remember that I’m supposed to be working on another project. Such as that which is just waiting for polish before release, or the other which is nearly finished, as I’m typing this comment. Irony burns.

    • Making people want to buy a game is still pretty damned difficult.

      People generally pirate for three reasons: They don’t have the money, they’re protesting something to do with it (often DRM) or they just want to have the game for free. With the first reason (and again, this is generalising) people tend to buy the game or support the developer in some way if they like the game. If they don’t, they play it for about as long as a demo and come to the realisation that they don’t like the game. The other two reasons I take issue with.

      Pirating to protest DRM only makes things worse; I don’t actually know why the notion of “We stole your game because you tried to get us to buy it and your DRM didn’t work, haha!” is considered a smart one. Oh, our DRM didn’t work? Well shit, we’ll just have to implement something stronger to put you off next time because this version of DontPirateThis was ineffective. Not only that but it can actually end up making the company money. Let’s say 20% of people for a big release game pirate it. How many of them will like it enough to buy the game or buy the next one in the series? How many will buy the official merch? The developer can potentially make money BECAUSE of the things people didn’t like about the DRM or the developer or whatever which just seems like an ineffectual means of protest. If you want to hurt a ‘bad’ game then don’t buy it. In fact, don’t go anywhere near it and CERTAINLY don’t talk about it. I mean, why would you want to bring it to the attention of more potential buyers? It’s also not a bad idea to take the time and write a letter to the developer stating exactly what you don’t like about the game or the DRM. Ok, I know it’s a stretch to believe that people will ACTUALLY take part in a polite discourse of that ilk but can you imagine what things could be like if enough people did that to make an impact? A man can dream…

      This could be due to my (relatively) short time on the internet but CD Keys by themselves aren’t too effective at preventing piracy especially with games that can be played offline. All it takes is one person to share out a legitimate CD Key and anyone with the installer can play for free. In combination with some form of online registration, it can be pretty effective (“Sorry, that CD Key is already in use”) but people will complain very loudly about this. If the servers go down for any reason (initial large workload, maintenance, the company shuts down) then you’re screwed, not to mention the seas of people who will scream “ALWAYS ONLINE! ALWAYS ONLINE!”. I’d love to see more creative ways of combating piracy a la Arkham Asylum and GDT but the sad truth is that the game will still get cracked in time.

      Video game piracy is much different than film or music piracy. If you download a CD and really like it, you’ll probably go to a concert and buy a load of merch which will total WAY more than the price of the CD. If you pirate a film and really like it, you’ll probably want the awesome collector’s edition DVD with all the nifty bonus features and/or want to see the sequel when it comes out in theatres. If you pirate a game and play it all the way through, there aren’t many ways to show your support. You can buy merch but there’s not much official stuff floating around and the official stuff you can buy tend to be very expensive (I love the stuff in the Valve Store but the price of the items plus the shipping to my country AND the customs charges on top is just too much). Even if you play the whole game and enjoyed it, what incentive is there to buy it? It’s unlikely there’ll be any bonus features like you’ll get with a film (unless, of course, you shell out for a special edition) and you probably won’t get an entirely different way of enjoying it like you would if you went to see a band you really like play live.

      I think that trying to fight the pirates directly will be a losing battle. If, however, you can combat the reasons why people pirate (which is about as difficult) then you’re set but I think the real thing that developers should focus on is a way to expand the experience for legitimate customers. There’s always so much focus on taking things out for pirate copies but barely any thought for things to put in for legit customers. As soon as a developer figures out a decent way of doing that, I think the industry will be a better place for it (and they’ll also be drowning in money if they’re able to patent it somehow and/or if they’re game is actually good).

      • Exactly.

        Forgive me for not discussing all of your epic post, but it boils down to the reason of “Why should I spend that money on your game?”

        That is becoming an increasingly difficult question for me. I have enough money to afford more games per time than the average person, but it is still hard to justify tossing 60-80 CHF out for what could very well be crap. Forgive me for demonising the game industry, but I feel like there’s a strong trend towards making the game look pretty, preventing piracy at all costs, and being a dick once people are stuck with your game. What I’m saying is, you can’t resell most modern games, so whether or not you like it doesn’t matter since the publisher will already have your money.

        Name 3 modern releases which had demos and (many, not obviously cream-off-the-top) gameplay demonstrations. Honestly, I struggle to do that. Instead we get cinematic trailers about as related to the game as an egg-laying rooster.
        (No, I don’t know what I meant to do with that analogy either.)

        The devs don’t want you to like the game, they want you to _think_ it’s good and/or buy it because it’s another release by the same guys. Once you do, there’s no reason why the game should be fun.

        That’s where my motto of patience comes in. Some decisions I can weather over for years before coming to a conclusion without feeling like I lost time. I watch gameplay footage put out by other players, learn tactics, et cetera. That’s how I got into TF2 and Assassin’s Creed, both courtesy of Wing. Sometimes I pirate a game in order to force them to give me a demo, and if I like the game, I buy it. Hell, while typing this comment, I bought FTL because the fun it gave me is well worth the money, even if I might never open it again.

        I only buy very few games from first impression alone, most of them Blizzard games. Come on, even though HotS had atrocious writing and my nature of taking things too serious stops me from enjoying the MP, you just know that Blizzard is worth the money you’re throwing at them.

        Unfortunately, it seems as though many people think the same way about EA. Perhaps they just lack the patience and/or rudeness to get the demo they deserve.

        Anyhow. TL:DR: In the right scenario, a game without DRM should be less pirated than one with always-on or some other COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY BULLSHIT.
        When will developers realise that trying to fight people pirating your game will inevitably fail and only take away budget and time which you could spend on making the game better so that we WANT to buy the game, instead of producing crap that we’ll only play because we “happened upon a free version.”

        I’m still fighting for the sort of DRM that makes you get a rotating disk out of the box in order to solve an early puzzle. Sure it will eventually also be cracked, but so will your million-dollar DRM, so you could at least pick a solution that’s cheaper for you to make.

        On a slightly related note, that’s also how microtransactions could be done right. Instead of putting Pay2Win into a 60$ game, give us the base game for 5$ or even free and then charge for additional CONTENT, not ingame items, once we have our impression and decide that we want more of the game. It’s the concept which runs MMOs, and seeing as WoW is perhaps the biggest game ever, it’s hard to deny that it is effective. The Moorhuhn games (not sure if they were ever made in other languages than German) sometimes also employed a similiar one, with a free demo, a medium version reduced in price and content, and the full game. That goes to show that the same approach can be applied to non-MMO games. Okay, you would pretty much always buy the full game as stopping midway during an adventure is stupid and you’d still have to pay full price after playing the medium version, but it’s the thought that counts. Letting us expand our experience as we see fit rather than forcing upon us the entire block which we might not even like to play is the way to go. Unfortunately, as mentioned, it seems that devs don’t actually want to be fair, and that forcing you to pay for everything even though you might not even want it appears to be their business model of choice.

    • I can’t think of a developer off the top of my head who directly blame piracy for poor sales but if you think piracy doesn’t affect sales then I have some bad news for you.

      • The article is not all about piracy nor is it all about developers blaming poor sales on piracy. The image you linked states the fact that if people don’t buy the games they like, the developer will lose money (as they’re obviously not getting revenue from the pirated games). The pop-up does not say “Sales of our recent game were poor due to it being pirated”. Do you dispute the fact that developers will go bankrupt if no one buys their games?

        There is a similar game to Game Dev Tycoon which only recently had a mobile release. There is a PC version of that game but it sadly does not have an English translation. If I recall correctly, the PC version of that game came out first so it could be argued that Game Dev Tycoon is a flash game similar to an older flash game. Then again, I’ve seen people accuse Call of Duty be a rip-off of Counter-Strike, Elder Scrolls be a rip-off of The Legend of Zelda and Sonic be a rip-off of Mario. Still, if you only spend your time on things that are completely and entirely original, I can’t help but think you’re missing out on things that you’d actually find fun.

        As a slight aside, there’s no DRM in Game Dev Tycoon.

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