Super Meat Boy developer Tommy Refenes thinks that publishers should be worrying about customer satisfaction and ignoring piracy.
“As a forward thinking developer who exists in the present, I realize and accept that a pirated copy of a digital game does not equate to money being taken out of my pocket,” he began.
“Team Meat shows no loss in our year end totals due to piracy and neither should any other developer.”
The crux of Refenes’ argument was that piracy simply wasn’t measurable at all.
“Digital inventory has no value. Your company isn’t worth an infinite amount because you have infinite copies of your game. As such, calculating worth and loss based on infinite inventory is impossible.
“Because of this, in the digital world, there is no loss when someone steals a game because it isn’t one less copy you can sell, it is potentially one less sale but that is irrelevant.
This made it impossible to calculate whether money invested in DRM was worth it, Refenes continued. That said, he suspected it wasn’t because in an overwhelming number of cases, DRM measures were hacked almost immediately.
The solution was to make products people cared about, and treat them well enough that they care about you too, he said.
“Unfortunately there is nothing anyone can do to actively stop their game from being pirated. I do believe people are less likely to pirate your software if the software is easy to buy, easy to run, and does what is advertised.
“People have to WANT to buy your software, people have to WANT to support you. People need to care about your employees and your company’s wellbeing.
“There is no better way to achieve that than making sure what you put out there is the best you can do and you treat your customers with respect.
Refenes' point was that a dissatisfied customer was much more harmful than a pirate.
“After the frustrations with SimCity I asked Origin for a refund and received one. This was money they had and then lost a few days later.
“In the retail world, you could potentially put a return back on the shelf, you could find another customer that wants it, sell it to them and there would be virtually no loss.
“In the digital world, because there is no set amount of goods, you gain nothing back (one plus infinity is still infinity). It’s only a negative experience. A negative frustrating experience for a customer should be considered more damaging than a torrent of your game.”
Refenes said he had learned that lesson the hard way with the poor port of Super Meat Boy on the Mac.
“I know for a fact we have lost a lot of trust from Mac users due to the Mac port of Super Meat Boy being poor quality," he said. "I could go into the circumstances of why it is the way it is but that is irrelevant…it’s a broken product that is out in the public.
“Disappointment leads to apathy which is the swan song for any developer. If people don’t care about your game, why would people ever buy it? When MewGenics comes out, I doubt many Mac users are going to be excited about our launch.
Consumer confidence played a very important role in how customers spent money, he added.
“I’d take any amount of pirates over one return due to disappointment any day.
“When EA/Maxis create their next new game how many people are going to be excited about it and talking positively about it?”
That game’s launch was a perfect illustration of his point, said Refenes.
“Often, these efforts to combat piracy only result in frustration for paying customers. I challenge a developer to show evidence that accurately shows implementation of DRM is a return on investment and that losses due to piracy can be calculated. I do not believe this is possible.
“Everyone needs to accept that piracy cannot be stopped and loss prevention is not a concept that can be applied to the digital world.
“Developers should focus on their paying customers and stop wasting time and money on non-paying customers.
“Respect your customers and they may in turn respect your efforts enough to purchase your game instead of pirating it.”