Dabe Alan

This indie developer is a proud pirate, and argues that we need to change how we buy and try games

This indie developer is a proud pirate, and argues that we need to change how we buy and try games

Alex Nichiporchik, the co-founder of tinyBuild Games, e-mailed to say that he was in the process of pirating Battlefield 4. This is, it must be said, a pretty novel way to get the attention of the press. Isn’t using a criminal act to promote your own game a risky play?

“Criminal? Unsure. We're in the Netherlands where it's not that big of a deal, especially when it comes to American TV Shows,” he responded. “They're simply not available other ways.” Nichiporchik said that even Netflix is often months behind the air schedule of shows, so the easiest way to stay caught up with television was to pirate the content.

“It would, at the very least, be funny if our US office gets raided because of this press release,” he said, adding a smiley face to the e-mail. At least he's taking all this seriously. In fact, the realities of piracy inform how tinyBuild releases and sells its games.

“During the pre-Steam release of No Time To Explain, we simply created a version with pirate hats and put it on ThePirateBay. Did it hurt us? Probably not,” the press release stated. “We got dozens of e-mails from people who found it via TPB and bought it afterwards, sending really positive comments about how funny the joke was. We didn't even provide much value to buy it legally, just normal hats (in No Time To Explain, you collect dozens of hats, in the pirate version they were all just pirate hats). The press coverage spiked our sales. Don't buy into developers blaming piracy for lost sales, it's just silly.”

What they learned

SpeedRunners will be handled a bit differently. The game itself, or at least a significant portion of it, will be free. You’ll be able to play single-player and local multiplayer without paying a cent. Online play, on the other hand, you’ll have to pay for. At the very least, you’ll be able to tell if you like the game before forking over any money.

This ability to try before you buy is a big reason Nichiporchik was pirating Battlefield, in fact.

“In the example of BF4 it's more about—I played the beta, and it was glitchy as hell, ran very poorly. Now I'm wondering if there were any optimisations done to make it run fine on my current setup,” he explained to the Report. “There are probably many people like me, who have a higher-range graphics laptop, used for Photoshop, video editing, etc. that I use for some games. All of Valve's stuff runs perfectly, so I know what to expect—insta-buy on the Valve Complete Pack. With BF4 it's really unclear what to expect, especially after the beta.”

So he’s pirating it. If he likes it, he may buy it.

“I don't like committing $60+ for something that'll take me half a day to download, and then there is a fair chance it won't run on my hardware,” he said. “This is why I loved the idea of OnLive - you'd instantly see what you're buying. Really upset it didn't take off.”

He brought up Minecraft as a game that did things right. Constant updates, a service that people will pay for. Even if you don’t play online, it’s a service that keeps people engaged.

“I believe the ideal situation is to give players more reasons to pay, so like you said be smarter about what you charge for,” Nichiporchik said. This will be pioneered soon by indies due to there being so many of us—we'll need to innovate to compete, because we can't buy our way into more eye balls.”

So he’s going to give away a lot of Speedrunners. He’s going to continue to experiment with using the habits of piracy to make money instead of being a victim of it. We’ll see if it pays off.

But what about Battlefield?

“It's a 23GB download. Want to see if it runs fine on my Bootcamp installation of Windows 8, as in, if it's playable,” the press release said. “Really don't care about the single-player campaign, but hope it's indicative of the game's performance on my machine (you can't play online in pirated versions of games). If it runs fine, I'll happily install Origin and buy BF4 for the multiplayer.”

EA isn’t exactly making the single-player free, but they can’t stop people like Nichiporchik from taking it. According to an e-mail sent the day after our initial conversations, the relationship worked out.

“I did end up buying BF4,” Nichiporchik confirmed. “It's great.”