Pirating your own movie: why 2 Player Productions uploaded their Minecraft documentary to Pirate Bay
2 Player Productions raised over $200,000 to make a documentary about Mojang, the studio that sprang from the success of Minecraft. The three-man team was finished with the movie, hilariously overbudget, and had just sent copies of the film to Kickstarter backers before showing it on Xbox Live. The film had been released in a number of ways, and it was time to try to make their money back, if not turn a profit.
To make that happen the men ripped their movie and uploaded a torrent to the Pirate Bay, thus making it it available to anyone who wanted to watch, free of charge. As a way to make money, helping pirates may require something of a long view.
Controlling the message
“We wanted to come here first because we knew the movie would end up here eventually, and the best thing to do seemed to be opening a dialogue,” the torrent’s description read. “Torrents and piracy are a way of life and it probably won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. There are many people that want to punish you for that, but we have a more realistic outlook on things.”
The torrent says that they are three people trying to make good documentaries. That their for-pay downloads are DRM-free. That they understand some people may want to see the film before buying it. They talk about putting their own money into the project when the budget ran out, and how the film took two years to create.
“Watch the movie. Hopefully you’ll like it, and understand what we’re trying to do,” they told the pirates. “Please consider supporting us by buying the $8 DRM-free digital download of the movie at www.theminecraftmovie.com, or the $20 DVD from www.fangamer.net.”
I later spoke with the three men behind 2 Player Productions on the phone about the move. I had covered their work before, and in fact they were one of the catalysts behind Double Fine’s Kickstarter success.
“We knew going into it that the film was going to be pirated like crazy,” 2 Player Productions’ Paul Levering told me over the phone. “We thought that it made more sense to meet that head-on instead of pretending that it wasn’t going to happen.” He said he received many e-mails from people saying they torrented the film, and later bought it. In fact, the majority of e-mails from people who bought the movie bring up the fact that they had pirated it first. If the movie was going to be pirated anyway, at least this approach led to large amounts of goodwill from people who downloaded the movie for free.
Then the story exploded across the gaming news sites and blogs. “When all the blogs blew up about it, I feel like it wasn’t being processed in quite the way we intended,” Levering said “People were reading into it that we were insulting Microsoft, which was not something we were trying to do. We were trying to protect ourselves from the inevitability of piracy. No one really reached out to us, the story just spread like wildfire… it was kind of terrifying, actually.”
Kotaku reached out for comment, and the three men were unsure what to say. The website ended up posting information from the film’s distribution company although Levering claimed they never confirmed the provenance of the torrent, despite Kotaku’s post stating the torrent was official. The story continued to spread, without any involvement from 2 Player Productions.
For now they’re still producing some of the bonus content for the Kickstarter campaign, and they claim the process has been a learning experience. As long as piracy remains an ongoing concern, they’re going to try to find ways to deal with the problem head-on, and to spread the message of a small team trying to make great content about video games. It seems like people are listening.
I asked the trio if they worry about setting a precedent. Won’t fans just realize they can wait and grab the torrent when it becomes available? There is a long pause. “Not until now,” they say.
“As long as piracy continues to be as prevalent as it is now, we’re going to respond to it in the same way,” 2 Player Productions’ Asif Siddiky said. “We still need to retain that control over it. I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon.”
The pirated file has a watermark, some scrolling text, and it’s a little larger than it has to be. Based on the description, it looks like what you’d expect from a standard leaked copy of a film screener. “There’s going to be slight distractions as you’re watching it, but I can’t honestly say I’m all that bummed out that we made the experience a little less great for people who decide they don’t want to pay for the movie,” Levering said. “I kind of hope they watch it and say they will actually buy it.”