Game Dev Tycoon – The Microcosm of the DRM Debate

Pirates pirating game dev game have problems with piracy as a game dev. Sweet, sweet justice tainted with the words "can I research a DRM or something..."

It’s not easy being Greenheart.

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A budding gaming company, Greenheart Games has released one title to date—and it was only two days ago on April 28th, but that isn’t all they’ve done.

Minutes after opening their store, Patrick Klug, one half of the two-man indie developer team, uploaded a cracked version of Game Dev Tycoon—with a few extra lines of code—to the top torrent sharing site. After a day of sales, 3318 people were playing the game…  3104 of those copies had been pirated.


To a developer, it has to be. But this goes beyond a sales metric.

The cracked version is almost identical to the real thing, except for one little detail. Originally, the intention was to simply point out that the copy played is an illegal copy. Standard and boring, this strategy implemented in a community too long inured to fakes would have caused not even a blip on the radar.  Instead, the developers used the opportunity to point out to players what it was they were actually doing. After a few hours of play, growing their own game dev company, they began to see a new in-game message:

You’ve Been Warned

Pirated versions of the games were repeatedly warned that their own attempts to create games were being hampered by piracy. Profits for each project were less than those earned in the legit version, and players of the cracked copies eventually saw the end of their careers in bankruptcy.

But such subtlety was too much for the average gamer!

Even after a touching entreaty on forums to purchase the $7.99 game, replies poured in from players plagued with piracy issues. “HELP!” one user says, “Back in the 80s and 90s I could easily make a 1m sales with 9-10 game but now its not possible due to piracy. It says bla bla our game got pirated stuff like that. Is there some way to avoid that? I mean can I research a DRM or something…”


As a gamer, I laughed. As a bystander, I smiled at the amazingly delicious irony. As a person who’s taken part in more than a few failed indie game startups, I empathized with the developers for that feeling of fruitless, wasted work. But being a gamer first and foremost, I thought gee, this was the story of the DRM debate writ small.

I hate DRM

All gamers hate DRM. It is such a natural prejudice to anyone who knows their way around a WASD configuration, and who’s ever had to stare at a server message for a game like SimCity. (I don’t care what EA has to say about the DRM for SimCity—if it looks like a cow, moos like a cow, and stays online permanently in single-player for no other reason but that it has to, it is not a sparkly pet unicorn). But if this is the conclusive reasoning that one fool on the internet comes to when playing with fake dollars in a fake game development even with all that natural prejudice in play, I can see why AAA game  companies continue tripping over themselves trying to protect their work, alienating their paying customers in the process.

Meanwhile, the upshot of the situation is this: I have a healthy respect for cleverness and creativity in a difficult situation, and I was much impressed with Greenheart Games and how they managed to turn this around on online piracy. Enough to plunk down my $8.39 (I’m Canadian) for a game I’ve already seen one rendition of in Kairosoft’s Game Dev Story.

How about you?

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Stephanie Tang
Avid PC gamer, long-time console lover. I enjoy shooting things in the face and am dangerously addicted to pretty. I'm also a cat.