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PDF Piracy Revisited

Started by Andrew Morris, February 04, 2005, 03:16:39 PM

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Andrew Morris

After reading this thread on .pdf piracy issues and why indie games don't seem to be as prevalent on filesharing networks, the issue's been on my mind. While I agree that indie games are pirated less than mainstream works simply because they have a smaller market, I had another idea that might contribute to the phenomenon.

At Dreamation 2005, I purchased both Dogs in the Vineyard and Capes. Both books came with a free .pdf version. After downloading them from the Forge Bookshelf, I sat back and thought, "Hey, I've got two awesome games in .pdf format straight from the publisher, not some crappy scan. How easy would it be to fileshare them?" Immediately, the very thought struck me as completely unnattractive. Why? Certainly not for any moral reasons (I've never been bothered by the slightest shred of morality), but because there was no challenge to it. It would be too easy.

Pirating something that had no protection in the first place is...well, like cheating. It robs you of any satisfaction. It'd be like sitting down to play chess and then punching your oppenent in the face. You can't really win a chess game by boxing, and you can't get a sense of victory by defeating non-existent copy protections.

Not being a software pirate myself, I can only theorize. Does anyone have any thoughts on this idea specifically, or on the larger issue of indie games being pirated less than mainstream games?
Download: Unistat


I kind of see two versions of "piracy"

1) The crackers- the stereotypical hacker/cracker who does it for the sake of doing it. You're right about the challenge- I'd say the main reason they do it is for
A) Personal Challenge, B) Recognition (Dude, he cracked GameX!) etc. So yea, if there is no challenge they're not going to touch it.

2) The uber-fans - we're talking about someone who is so absorbed by the game they live, eat and breathe it. To them, its not piracy so much as it is sharing the gospel.
A fair bit of what the companies consider "piracy" is this. Nintendo, for example, has all sorts of legal contentions with people making Pokemon fan sites with the graphics, logos and other stuff, more or less bitching out 8 year olds for something I really doubt they understand (not that the rest of us do anyway).

Your normal folks will somewhere between: a fan who gets enough skillz to crack the file to share with friends. Downloaders don't really care which they're getting it from, its still a free file.
Nate Petersen / daMoose
Neo Productions Unlimited! Publisher of Final Twilight card game, Imp Game RPG, and more titles to come!

Andrew Morris

Nate, I certainly agree with you that there are different reasons why someone would fileshare copyrighted material, and also that downloaders are just looking to get something for nothing. But where do you think the balance lies? Are more pirates looking for the challenge or to "share the gospel?"

If the two groups (and there are probably many more than just those two) are roughly equal, then publishers are in a damned if you do, damned if you don't position -- using file protection means the challenge-junkies will go after it and defeat it, while not using file protection means that the uber-fans will share it anyway.

In my opinion, it's probably best not to include file protection, because no matter what method you use, it will be broken. Unless, of course, the uber-fans are the vast majority, in which case it might be better to go with file protection.
Download: Unistat


In my youth I... err, rather, my friends pirated game software.  Naughty, naughty friends.

And what I... I mean they... what they found was that there's this "gateway of naughtiness" phenomenon.  Say it's forbidden, for instance, to copy a game meant to be played on two computers.  Which means that for $40 you get nothing.  You need to spend $80 (buying two copies) before you can even play the game.

How can you see copying the game, at that point, as anything other than an homage to the talent of the designers, and how desperately you want to enjoy the fruits of their labors?  It's naughty, but it's justified.

But once you've crossed that boundary, there's no further boundary.  You're naughty.  Copy it for all your friends?  Sure!  Sell it on the sidewalk (if you won't get caught)?  Why not?

What I work hard to do in my own products is to set the bar of naughtiness at the point where nobody has any reasonable justification to cross it.  So my game explicitly says "Distribute this file at will to people you are actually planning to play this game with."  You bought the game, you have a right to play it.  Beyond that, you're crossing a big, obvious, bright line.  I suspect that very, very few people will cross it.

But if my game gets handed around like some contagious disease, with each new carrier starting a game in order to infect new hosts, and me never seeing a cent beyond the original sale?  Wow... that'd be sort of cool.
Just published: Capes
New Project:  Misery Bubblegum


As far as software goes, the incentive to pirate is to benefit from a program that you would not otherwise have benefited from. My friend buys a game, I copy it and play it. It's just as illegal for him to loan me the actual disk.

With PDF publishing, that whole thing is mootified because you take away the incentive. Exactly as you said, "here's a game you bought, you have the right to play it." You can't do that without other people. So... when you buy a PDF game, other gamer's you've networked with are explicitly benefiting from you. There's no need to pirate, because the benefit is built in.

I think the whole piracy issue is just stupid. The same logic applies to the public libraries, and, in fact, the same rabid anti-piracy groups have allies who are trying to close down the library system.


There are two other motivations I've seen more often than those mentioned so far.  

Basically, I've known people who believe that all information (including software) should be free, and that to charge for it is on the same moral level as slavery and the holocaust.  In a sense, they feel like they're righting a wrong by distributing pirated copies.  

The other group of people I've known take a Golden Rule approach ("Do unto others have you would have others do unto you.")  So if you like free software (or whatever), you should make the stuff you have available, so that others will make their stuff available to you.

Oh, and there are financial motivations in piracy that happens outside the peer-sharing networks.  For example, a client's accountant charges her clients $60 to install a copy of QuickBooks for them.  She's not charging for the software, just "the labor to install it," but it's illegal either way.

When it comes to non-free indie titles, I'm not convinced that people have less motivation to pirate them.  I think there are just fewer people with the game and fewer people who want it.  To successfully pirate something, someone who wants it has to meet up with someone who has it, and when the number of players gets very low (in the hundreds or thousands), the odds of them meeting drop.

There may be an issue of perceived value that does reduce the motivation to pirate.  I've only pirated one thing ever - a network administration program that I couldn't get a trial version of, wasn't sure if I really needed, and wasn't about to pay $650 to find out.  Had it been a $20 program, I probably would have bought it just to try it out.  With most games (especially PDFs) in the $5 to $20 range, how much are they really saving?  Still, with people pirating Harry Potter like mad, a $20 price tag is obviously still high enough to drive piracy when demand and supply are large enough.
Justin Dagna
President, Technicraft Design.  Creator, Pax Draconis


Tony's helpin out my observations ^_^
Rationalization or honest belief, I think the majority of "pirates" are huge fans of the material looking to share it. For your average user, it may not be "gospel", but like everything else its a scale.
For example, I'm a moderate fan of Diablo. For the longest time I played a burned copy, but I didn't and don't consider myself to have an alterior motive- I like the game, I wanted to play it~ I eventually bought a copy mind you, but that mindset can be dangerous.
In the gaming industry I don't think theres as much for-profit piracy as there is sharing the experiance piracy. I highly doubt theres much "Challenge" piracy either- there may be a challenge to it, but those who overcome it are more likely fans who really want to crack that.

The thing about the fans though is that those transfers will more than likely generate sales. I know people whose only reason for buying something is they got a copy of it, really liked it, and want a copy for themselves.
Nate Petersen / daMoose
Neo Productions Unlimited! Publisher of Final Twilight card game, Imp Game RPG, and more titles to come!

Brennan Taylor

Quote from: daMoose_NeoThe thing about the fans though is that those transfers will more than likely generate sales. I know people whose only reason for buying something is they got a copy of it, really liked it, and want a copy for themselves.

I think this is key for small press, non-electronic gaming. Many people sample on PDF, then buy in print. People getting a free copy in PDF form is an advantage, free advertising basically, in this model. I really think this is the space most of us occupy at the moment. You're always going to have some freeloaders, but the more people exposed to your game the better, at least in my experience.


I think the motivation is still there to get a copy of the game to your friends.  But I think the difference is that for indie games the game came from an actual person.  I mean that if, for example, I get the new D&D book and pirate it no real people were harmed in the act.  I mean its just WotC right?  But when I email a guy and order a game from him or download it off RPGnet or whatever he becomes a real person.  I think its tougher to steal from actual people.


For me at least, the issue is largely monetary.  If you charge me $10 for something that I turn out not to like, oh well.  If you charge me $100 for the same, I'm ticked.  So if I see something that looks vaguely interesting but you charge $100, I might, just possibly, look for another means of getting access to it.  But that's work, and it takes time, and if I can just download it for $10 I can have it now, so why not?

I think it's essentially the shareware principle.  You get the game for not much, and you like it, and the author asks you maybe to tell your friends to buy it too, so you do.

I think the notion of saying, "Please feel free to distribute this among other players in your game" makes a lot of sense.  I'd follow it up with this: "If you all like it, it'd really be great if some or all of them could buy it too."

If I ever make Shadows in the Fog a pay concern, I intend to do just this.  Make it cheap and readily available.  If you want a nice printed copy all bound up, I just tack on the printing, binding, and so forth costs, nothing more.  I say that if you want to distribute it to other players in your game, that's great, but I think it would be nice if they would also buy it.  And I conclude with the remark, "If you pirate this game, I hope you get eaten by sharks."

That's it.  So long as I don't charge much, and have made quite reasonable preferences known, I'm not that concerned about piracy.  What kind of nut steals a cheap game?  I mean, his money is as green as anyone else's, but it's just not worth my time to worry about him and his weird friends.

And as somebody said, if everyone starts distributing thousands of unlicensed copies because there's a growing cult of hard-core fans out there, well, that's pretty cool too.  I'm sure I'll get something good out of that eventually.

I guess I wonder why anyone is particularly worried about this.  Does it really happen often?
Chris Lehrich


I thought this thread as more of a "this doesn't happen often but why?" sort of thing.


I can't really say that it does, but we've had one person on here say (check Andrew's link) that a few games are on the P2P networks regularly.

Its a concern for myself because I'm looking into alternate models for card game production. I want to either secure it enough so that its not a cakewalk to abuse whatever system I end up with or be secure enough in knowing the players won't do it. So, I keep my nose in these threads as much as I can.
It is looking indie-creator loyalty is pretty high though. Greedo's got a point- if someone orders it direct from the publisher/creator, exchanges a chatty e-mail or two (I try to on my card orders, at least learn a little bit), they'll feel a small guilt putting the file up on Kazza. Not so much sharing it with their friend, however, who they plan on gaming with in the system next week. And their friend, having none of that sentimental get the idea~
Nate Petersen / daMoose
Neo Productions Unlimited! Publisher of Final Twilight card game, Imp Game RPG, and more titles to come!


QuoteNot so much sharing it with their friend, however, who they plan on gaming with in the system next week. And their friend, having none of that sentimental get the idea~

Well yeah.  That certainly could be true.  But I don't think that sort of thing is really avoidable.  If its in pdf (or any electronic) form it will always be quite copyable.  But I still think the dialogue between creator and customer is the best way to discourage this.  "Yeah, I'll make a copy for you now but you really should pick this up from the guy.  Its only $5 and he's a really nice guy."  But maybe that's just me (not that I've done this with RPG rules but CDs from local bands and such).

Andrew Morris

Okay, thanks for all the ideas and comments everyone, but let me take a moment to refocus this thread. I reviewed what I was trying to get out of this discussion, and realized I was probably not clear enough in my goals. While the larger issue of piracy is of interest to me, what I'm looking for specifically here is discussion on the following two points:

1. Are indie games really pirated at a lower rate (not just at a lower volume) than mainstream RPG titles? Personally, I think so, but I'd appreciate posts from anyone with information on what is available on P2P networks, in what numbers. If anyone can extend that further by integrating it with print runs, market share, etc., that would be wonderful.

2. Does the "challenge" idea I posted play into piracy? If so, to what degree?

Hard numbers would be great, but theories and anecdotal evidence are useful too.

Specifically, I'm not looking for other ideas as to what causes data piracy. If you want to extend the conversation into a different idea or broader concept, please start a new thread on it. I'm sure I'll follow it and join in.
Download: Unistat


According to our industrial-espionage unit in charge of pirates, who is still complaining that she hasn't gotten any use out of her cutlass and brace of pistols:

1) Maze of the Minotaur is available P2P; about 350 legitimate users exist (either customers or people who were given a PDF through the EN World server drive, in return for playtesting, etc.) A Swarm of Stirges has similar numbers but isn't being file-shared to my knowledge.

2) No, the challenge is trivial and one of the things you can often find in the file-share folders of "pirates" is step-by-step guides to removing DRM, scanning in a print book, etc. that make defeating anti-piracy measures as much of a test of your prowess as making chocolate chip cookies from the directions on the bag of chips.

Most "hackers" of any kind are script-kiddies who don't show any genuine innovation or creativity, just as most grafitti is the work of taggers with a simple scrawl rather than nascent Keith Harings. It's romantic to think otherwise, but it just ain't so.

My only likely response to knowing our stuff is being file-shared is to increase the amount of internal advertising we put into the PDFs. We also encourage people to become legitimate users by offering freebies to registered owners like tactical maps, counters, etc.; since these are PDFs too they could also be file-shared, but so far there's no report of this happening.
Masters and Minions: "Immediate, concrete, gameable" - Ken Hite.
Get yours from the creators or finer retail stores everywhere.