The pair making online pirates pay

In a bid to stop people downloading their new title for free, the Klug brothers created a version of their Game Dev Tycoon game that would virtually bankrupt anyone who tried it. Jamie Merrill reports

Thousands of light-fingered gamers had a frustrating time this week. They’d downloaded Game Dev Tycoon, a new title from tiny start-up Greenheart Games, on Sunday. It’s a SimCity-alike that challenges players to build a games developer and turn it from a tiny operation to a mighty studio capable of turning out hits like Call of Duty and Assassins Creed.

Their problem was that they’d downloaded a pirate version of the game from an online forum instead of forking out $7.99 for the official version. And no matter how well they managed their assets, their in-game funds dwindled as the new games they created were pirated by unscrupulous crooks. Eventually their virtual game-development firm went bust. Oh, the irony.

The irony gets even sweeter, and the whole thing very meta, when you discover it was Greenheart Games’ founders, brothers Patrick and Daniel Klug, who released this self-defeating pirated version to highlight the challenges budding games developers face.

Game Dev Tycoon is the brother’s first release – they are the firm’s only employees - and it came after nearly two years of gruelling development work: “Our initial thought was simply, how do we deal with piracy?” Patrick, 30, tells Trending. “We knew it was inevitable that our game would be pirated… so we decided that it was best to release a cracked [pirated] version ourselves, since then we could at least control the experience the pirates would have.”

Within 24 hours it transpired that 93 per cent of gamers had opted to download the cracked version of the game, while only 214 honest types bother to pay the small fee the brothers were asking for on their website greenheartgames.com. Patrick then blogged the background to the release and the story quickly went viral. The plot thickened and some gamers even went on to allege that Game Dev Tycoon was all too similar to Game Dev Story, a similar type of game-making simulator released in 2010.

The brothers had expected a high percentage of illegal downloads but was still shocked that so many people chose not to pay up: “It’s depressing… If I had not known to expect such a high percentage of piracy, I would have despaired,” says Patrick.

Game Dev Tycoon isn’t the first developer to prank the pirates. In 2001 a first-person shooter called Operation Flash Point was released with a sneaky addition; if the game was pirated, the players’ weapons would become less and less accurate, and less powerful. Eventually they’d be slaughtered. If you try to play a knocked-off version of Grand Theft Auto IV sees your gangster character Niko Bellic stumble around like a drunk, making completing the game practically impossible.

“Piracy is a constant problem that is plaguing big and small developers alike,” says Dr Richard Wilson, CEO of Tiga, the trade association representing the UK gaming industry. “And this stunt really draws attention to how developers are having to adopt new ‘freemium’ and pay-per-play business models to stay one step ahead of the pirates.”

Patrick and Daniel don’t seem bothered about massive profits – they don’t mind gamers who can’t afford it downloading the pirated versions of their game for free – but in his blog Patricks sums up his situation well: “As a gamer I laughed out loud: the IRONY!!! However, as the developer who spent over a year creating this game and hasn’t drawn a salary yet, I wanted to CRY. Surely, for most of these players, the eight dollars wouldn’t hurt them but it makes a huge difference to our future!”

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