Good ‘Pirate’ Reviews More Important Than Piracy Itself, Game Devs Say

No matter what digital media companies produce, it's almost inevitable it will end up online for free, but there is something worse. When unfinished products appear online they are not only pirated, but receive bad reviews that really have the potential to hit future sales. One company affected by this unfortunate situation says it will likely upload a finished version of its game to file-sharing sites in the hope that pirates decide to look more favorably upon their product.

assaultandroidCountless thousands of regular Hollywood blockbusters aside, ‘workprints’ (unfinished copies of movies) always capture the imagination when they appear online. Sometimes appearing months in advance of an official release, these curiosities offer a rare glimpse into the movie making process with their missing special effects and sometimes uneven plots.

While the studios are universally outraged at the appearance of workprints, they don’t seem to affect sales of completed movies when they are officially released. It seems that the public has enough insight to realize that what they’re seeing is not the finished product.

For other media, computer games for example, unfinished but playable products can simply appear shoddy or second-rate. There is nothing that shouts out “this is not what you’ll get in the shops”, and as a result word can get round that Game X is not the high-quality product it should be.

This is a situation that Witch Beam, the creators of the multi-format shooter Assault Android Cactus, have found themselves in. Designer Sanatana Mishra says that after sending out an early build of the game to a number of people in the press and gaming community, someone leaked it online.

The leak itself became evident when a Steam user wrote negatively about the play mechanics in the ‘alpha’ version of the game, a label used by the dev team. Interestingly, Witch Beam weren’t so concerned with the piracy itself, but bad reviews from pirates was a different matter.

“The thing is we don’t see piracy itself as a problem for us specifically since our biggest adversary is exposure, and not any perceived market saturation, but leaking a preview build really hurt us,” Mishra told Polygon.

“It was simply not ready for public consumption, as it was full of bugs with tutorial/difficulty curve issues, things that we know a previewer can understand while still seeing the core of the game.”

So now Witch Beam are left with a dilemma – leave the pirates alone and pretend their bad reviews will exist in a vacuum, or do something to fix the problem. Doing nothing isn’t an option so the company is now considering uploading a finished version of Assault Android Cactus to the sites where it’s currently being distributed in unfinished form.

“Ideally we would like everyone to buy the game, but if they don’t buy the game the next best thing is they play the game, and if they are going to play the game I really want them to have the best experience they possibly can,” Mishra told Polygon.

For those interested in testing the game out in the meantime Mishra is asking people not to try the leaked version but the free demo they’re making available or the Steam and DRM-free Humble versions

“At least then [we’ll] know for sure the people who hate it played the best possible version,” he concludes.

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