Indie Game Dev Embraces Pirates Instead Of Fighting Futile War

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An indie game developer is doing rather well from approaching things just a little bit differently, and even winning over pirates in the process. Notch, the driving force behind the still-in-alpha game Minecraft, says there's absolutely no point in fighting the Internet and "the biggest revolution in information flow since the printing press". Results so far? 155,000 people have purchased a game that isn't even finished yet.

Week in, week out, we sit here at TorrentFreak engaged in our never-ending task to document developments in BitTorrent, file-sharing in general but increasingly the online war against music, movie and software pirates. This war has been going on now for a decade or more and shows absolutely no sign of ending. The general consensus is that it simply cannot be won.

Or can it?

Last week TorrentFreak had a very civil email exchange with someone working for a very powerful media company with an almost unrivaled reputation for being tough against online piracy. Refreshingly we discussed ways of moving forward, and touched on the relationships big companies have with their customers. Sadly, big music and movie companies have a lot of ground to make up in the PR department – relating more closely to their customers and giving something back wouldn’t be a bad idea at all.

So how could this be achieved? We didn’t get that far – so often the all-important devil is in the detail – but the example shown by programmer Markus Persson might be a great pointer.

Persson, known online as ‘Notch’, runs a company called Mojang Specifications and has dozens of projects under his belt. For now, though, his main focus is a game called Minecraft.

The development of Minecraft, which is still in alpha, is being charted on the game’s dev blog and has already attracted an excited and enthusiastic fanbase. There are many popular videos detailing the game on YouTube which seem to have begun here.

Despite currently having graphics to make a 10 year-old machine blush, the refreshing approach to this game is clearly winning over hearts and minds in the target audience. The attitude of Notch, who yesterday revealed he’s a member of the Pirate Party, is even winning over pirates.

Although Minecraft already has 658429 registered players, due to the fact that it’s widely available on torrent and warez sites, many of these are unauthorized users.

But what’s most impressive is that at the time of writing, 155521 (23.62%) of these have already bought the game of their own free will. In the last 24 hours alone, a 11804 people registered to play, and 4910 of them bought the game. (updated stats here)

In an interesting piece yesterday, Notch went into some detail on his attitude to piracy.

“To people who want to get paid for their digital works, myself included, [piracy/copying] is a bit of a problem. All of society and economics is based on an old outdated model where giving something to someone would rid the original owner of their copy, so everyone who wanted a copy had to buy one from someone else who would lose theirs, and the only source of new copies was you.”

“There might be actual development costs involved in making these copies. For example, for every wheel in the market, someone had to make that wheel. With digital copies, you only need to make the wheel once,” Notch explains.

In contrast with the media exec TorrentFreak spoke with last week, Notch doesn’t try to analyze why people pirate and labels that a moot point, but notes that while this amazingly effective way of distributing culture is beneficial to humanity, it also clashes with current economical models.

“Piracy will win in the long run. It has to,” says Notch. “The alternative is too scary.”

While Notch acknowledges that if someone pirates Minecraft he may have lost some “potential” revenue, he is also very aware of the marketing potential that pirates could release.

“But what if that person likes that game, talks about it to his or her friends, and then I manage to convince three of them to buy the game? I’d make three actual sales instead of blocking out the potentially missed sale of the original person which never cost me any money in the first case.”

Wasting money on trying to stop pirates or laying a guilt-trip on them are not approaches favored by Notch. Instead he prefers to offer online-only services that will add something to the game experience including level saving, centralized skins, friends lists and secure name verification for multiplayer. He hopes that these subtle feature additions can help to tempt pirates into become customers.

Of course, Notch is also pragmatic when he notes that if he suddenly got a deal with a big company, they may demand a more aggressive stance against file-sharers. Nevertheless, he feels there are better ways to deal with them than by force.

“Why fight the biggest revolution in information flow since the printing press when you could easily work with it by adding services that actually add some value beyond the free act of making a digital copy?” he concludes.

After revealing his Pirate Part affiliations yesterday, Notch also revealed his secret admiration of file-sharing.

“Don’t tell anyone, but I actually kinda like file sharing as a concept,” he told everyone on Twitter yesterday.

“It’s like the replicators in Star Trek, but seedier.”


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