A popular indie zombie-style RPG game has been taken offline due to an unofficial feature made available in a cracked copy. The developers of the game say that they usually turn a blind eye to piracy since it could have benefits for their project, but when pirates keep using their servers to get updates instead of using BitTorrent, they had to make a stand.
Since its launch earlier this year, Project Zomboid has been going from strength to strength while building a growing fan base. The indie game is being developed by a small team at Indie Stone and costs a measly £5 to buy.
The developers have said all along that they had no intention of spending that money on advanced DRM and would rather use it to improve the game. Piracy is inevitable, they believe, and it’s pointless trying to fight it. But sometimes a line has to be drawn, even by the most pirate-tolerant devs.
After a build of Project Zomboid was leaked to 4chan by someone from the game’s tester group, it seems that this month a modified version started doing the rounds on torrent sites. The version included an additional ‘Update’ button which downloaded the latest build, not from BitTorrent, but from the developer’s servers.
“We’ve always turned a blind eye to pirate copies, even on occasion recommending people who had problems with the legit version try a pirate version until the issues are resolved. We realise the potential viral benefits of pirate copies, and while obviously we’d prefer people to purchase our issue is not with those,” the developers say.
“However, these ‘auto updating’ versions of the game could screw us completely. We have a cloud based distribution model, where the files are copied all over the world and are served to players on request, which means we are charged money for people downloading the game,” they continue.
So, to mitigate the threat of excessive bandwidth consumption and rising costs, over the weekend the game was switched off for a day. A dramatic move maybe, but according to the developers it was one they were forced into but it could actually have been avoided – if only pirates had used BitTorrent instead.
“Whether piracy actually amounts to lost sales we’re not going to get into,” say the devs.
“The possibility that it raises awareness and promotes the game cannot be ignored, but the difference is offline versions on torrents, which we’ve been largely unconcerned about, do not cost us real money, only potential money, and even then we can’t really guess at what the net effect is.
“Likewise people who download the game through our website only download it when there is a new version, so once every week or so. These new pirate copies have an ‘update now’ button which will download the game every time it’s clicked, potentially every time the game is run by everyone using it.”
After Indie Stone took the game offline, they responded by releasing a free public tech demo, distributed using BitTorrent of course.
Despite the problems, the devs have asked fans of the game not to be “down” on piracy, and have highlighted reasons why people might have gone down that route, such as having no access to PayPal.
“We have no ill feeling toward those pirating the game or those distributing the pirated copies of the game. We’re mainly glad that people feel it’s worthy of pirating,” they conclude.
The situation has been spotted by Notch of Minecraft fame who chimed in on Twitter a couple of hours ago to add his opinion.
“Everybody stop pirating this game, please,” he wrote. “It’s very cool.”