Game developer punishes pirates

Start up company deliberately releases a cracked version of its own game with ironic bug

Start up company deliberately releases a cracked version of its own game with ironic bug

An indie developer has taken an innovative approach to punishing those that pirate its game about developing games. It punishes them by crippling their in game releases with piracy.

Greenheart Games, the company behind Game Dev Tycoon, decided to release a cracked version of the game as an experiment.

The game retails for $7.99 (£6.83) and was released yesterday (April 28th 2013).

Within 24 hours of release, the company had sold 214 copies of the game.

Using a unique tracking code in the pirated version of the game, the company was able to work out that the game had been downloaded illegally at least 3104 times.

That means within the first 24 hours of the game being released both legitimately through the company's store, as well as on a major torrent site, 6.4 per cent of gamers playing the game had bought it.

The company said a number of those that stole the game were likely to be playing behind firewall or offline meaning the number of pirated copies could be a lot higher.

However, aside from a unique code that allows the company to track the number of pirated versions, the pirated version also included another trick.

Patrick Klug revealed in Greenheart Games' blog that the pirated version of the game includes a slightly ironic and very deliberate bug.

After a couple of hours playing the game, studios started in the pirated version of the game begin suffering from piracy. Serious piracy. Game crippling level of piracy.

Eventually – and deliberately – their studio goes bust.

"The cracked version is nearly identical to the real thing except for one detail…", says Klug.

"Initially we thought about telling them their copy is an illegal copy, but instead we didn't want to pass up the unique opportunity of holding a mirror in front of them and showing them what piracy can do to game developers.

"So, as players spend a few hours playing and growing their own game dev company, they will start to see messages, styled like any other in-game message.

"Slowly their in-game funds dwindle, and new games they create have a high chance to be pirated until their virtual game development company goes bankrupt," he added.

However, perhaps the best part of this story isn't the genius anti-piracy measure that the game includes. Oh no. That honour goes to the pirates themselves.

Taking to the developers' forums and other online sites, they began posting about the game crippling bug. Many assumed it was a bug in the game that had been missed.

As Klug points out, only the pirated version of the game includes the bug.

Examples of the posts include pirates asking if it's possible to "research DRM or something" to cut down the impact of piracy.

Another example said "Why are there so many people that pirate? It ruins me!"

Klug said: "As a gamer I laughed out loud: the irony!

"However, as the developer, who spent over a year creating this game and hasn't drawn a salary yet, I wanted to cry.

"Surely, for most of these players, the 8 dollars wouldn't hurt them but it makes a huge difference to our future!", he added.

Klug added that the game should serve as a warning to pirates.

"I do think it's important to try to communicate what piracy means to game developers to our consumers," he said. "If years down the track you wonder why there are no games like these anymore and all you get to play is pay-to-play and social games designed to suck money out of your pockets then the reason will stare back at you in the mirror."

Ben Furfie is a former freelance writer for who produced daily news stories for the site on tech and gadgets. He also live-managed the T3 Award websites during the 2013 and 2014 T3 Awards. Ben later moved into web development and is now a Technical Development Manager leading a team of developers.