A new game called Game Dev Tycoon is forcing software pirates to take a long, hard look in the mirror.
The game, which costs $8 on Windows, Mac, and Linux, lets players run their own game development studios. Players start off in their garages in the 1980s, and slowly become multimillion-dollar corporations.
But for players who download a pirated copy of the game, their stories turn out a bit differently. After a few hours of building up a studio, the game informs them that piracy rates are too high, and begins eating away at players' funds.
"If players don't buy the games they like, we will sooner or later go bankrupt," an in-game message says. Inevitably, exactly that happens.
This was by design, of course. In a blog post, Patrick Klug of Greenheart Games describes how he uploaded the pirated version to a popular torrent site himself, calling it a "unique opportunity of holding a mirror in front of [pirates] and showing them what piracy can do to game developers."
The response was deliciously ironic. On forums, one player asked if it was possible to "research DRM or something." Another asked, "Why are there so many people that pirate? It ruins me!"
Klug, who created the game with his brother Daniel, appreciated the irony, but "as the developer, who spent more than a year creating this game and hasn't drawn a salary yet, I wanted to cry." He noted that one day after release, 93.6 percent of Game Dev Tycoon players had downloaded the pirated version of the game.
"We are not wealthy and it's unlikely that we will be anytime soon, so stop pretending like we don't need your 8 dollars!" Klug wrote. "We are just two guys working our butts off, trying to start our own game studio to create games which are fun to play."
Other creative efforts
This isn't the first effort by a game developer to thwart piracy with clever pranks, rather than straight-up digital rights management. In 2011, Serious Sam 3: BFE punished pirates with an invincible pink scorpion that attacked players until they died, and the flight sim Take On Helicopters progressively made graphics blurrier until players couldn't tell what was happening.
In 2009, players who pirated Batman: Arkham Asylum discovered that the Caped Crusader's hang glider didn't work properly, preventing them from jump across distant platforms. And in perhaps the most classic example, entering the wrong copy protection codes in 1988's Zak McKraken and the Alien Mindbenders resulted in a trip to "pirate jail."
But none of those measures seem quite as biting as Game Dev Tycoon's antipiracy approach. Klug wrote that he's not mad at pirates, but asks that they consider buying the game if they'd like to see a sequel and hate the industry trends toward social and free-to-play games. He noted that if pirates purchase the game, they'll be able to pick up from right before piracy ruined their companies.
Even if that message is lost on many of those pirates, it's a clever campaign that introduces more people to Greenheart Games.