Special The pirates of the web: when piracy and developers join forces

It may be that on the rare occasion that an act of piracy is required to follow the right course, piracy itself may be the right course.

[Governor Swann - Pirates of the Caribbean]


Ah, the Pirate's Bay ... one of those things that everyone knows but that nobody attends (at least according to what is stated). And of course, since we are all good and good people, none of us will ever set foot in a "torrent" ...

Irony aside, this article is in no way intended as a moral to pirates, let alone validate the practice in any way, but neither are we stupid enough to deny its existence and the problems it generates. Often groped to fight piracy leads to having to make uncomfortable decisions, both for users and for developers who see their software slip away in the maze of illegal downloads. However, sometimes (rare, very rare actually), some teams decide to follow the old adage: “if you can't beat them, join them”. And this is what the guys from Acid Wizard did, a Polish team made up of three individuals (and a dog), who after a few years of early access on steam and a recently released final version, decided to upload themselves to The Pirate Bay a torrent file of their debut title, Darkwood.

Without tricks, without deceptions.


"For the Sargasso!"


Before we get the wild Guybrush Threepwood up there, though, it's good to know a couple of things. As in the best pirate stories, even in this one there is a bit of digging to find that treasure made up of truth and considerations on the gaming industry that led to this decision ...



Fifteen dollars on the dead man's chest ...

... actually, $ 14,99 to be exact. This is the cost reported by Steam, with the due regional variations, which certainly seems appropriate for the experience offered by Darkwood. After all we have an indie in front of us, not a triple A, but this does not mean a poor quality product at all. There will be time for the more in-depth review, at the moment it is enough to know that, despite the project born from Acid Wizard has been going on since 2014 and has missed its deadlines several times, it has still managed to meet the expectations of almost all the users who are there. they put their hands. That 94% of very positive reviews on Steam speaks for itself, on the other hand.


We took the step much longer than we could muster, but we knew we had something special on our hands, and we had to complete it the way we imagined it.


Which is a very impressive result, if we think that the title was born as an unpretentious tower defense, to be finished in a month of active development. Several years later there are still some filings in progress, demonstrating how much the team cares both for its creation and for its users.


And it is this last aspect that it seems having triggered some spring in the minds of Acid Wizard. The officially reported statements speak of two aspects that led to the decision to use ThePirateBay. The first relates to that slice of users who, due to economic hardship, is unable to spend money on Steam, but would still like to try the title. From this point of view, the Polish team is not the first to want to meet their fans: already in 2014 11 Bit Studios had distributed a series of keys for This War of Mine for free, while Jonatan Söderström of Devolver Digital had on two different occasions demonstrated its solidarity with “pirates out of necessity”, offering technical assistance and updates for torrent versions of Hotline Miami, and inviting Australian users to pirate Hotline Miami 2 following a distribution ban by the Australian Classification Board.


“If it's not released in Australia, you can safely pirate it after it's released. No need to send us any money, just enjoy the game! Peace."


Another striking case was, at the time, that of Stardew Valley, where the massive community itself decided to meet the pirates, offering to buy extra copies for those who can't afford the game, through the Humble Bundles. Needless to say, while not totally erasing the piracy, the operation was a moderate commercial and advertising success for the publisher Chucklefish.


Walking on the axis!

Of course, in each of these cases it was a bet, a thin thread suspended between bankruptcy and the advertising return on which the developers found themselves walking. With the active publication of the torrent, Acid Wizard has limited itself to removing the underlying safety net, but beyond the simple goodwill towards users, the advantage that the team can derive immediately is one: that of creating a solid community that, perhaps in the future, will decide to financially support the development team.


In the last few years in particular, there have been two diametrically opposed approaches, adopted both by the giants of the sector and by small fish. On the one hand there is the "obstacle" approach, of which EA has long been a fan: DRM as if it were raining, right to use software after authentication on the servers at every access, constant need for connection and so on. The general sentiment is that this has more often ruined the experience for legitimate players, while the pirates have limited themselves to ignoring the title or, where possible, to circumvent the limitations with a specific crack. Between the disaster of SimCity 4 and the problems of Blizzard and Ubisoft related to authentication on the Uplay servers even to play in single player ... well, let's just say that the user was not among the happiest of this choice, that despite having cut his legs to piracy, it has also done the same with the public opinion of responsible companies.


On the other hand we have the “Lassaiz-faire” by companies like Remedy: if it is so impossible to beat the pirates, a good alternative seems to be to use them to advertise. And so examples emerge that make the news not so much for the protests of legitimate players, as for the self-reports of the pirates themselves. In Alan Wake, and later in Quantum Break, for example, the only penalty (apart from the lack of achievements in the console version) is being forced to run with a pirate blindfold on his face, consistent with Oskari Hakkinen's statements of Remedy about asking the pirates, if nothing else, to speak positively about the title if they liked it. Far more ironic and karmic was the punishment implemented by the team Game Dev Tycoon: in a torrent uploaded voluntarily by Green Heart Games in its simulation title of a videogame company, after a few hours of play the pirates would have found themselves on the other side of the fence, to face pirates (virtual this time) who prevented their fictitious company from making money. Before the official explanation arrived, many asked for clarification on the matter, unknowingly revealing their pirate nature. Other developers have even worked hard to create ad hoc situations for pirates. In The Witcher 2, Geralt's bedmates were replaced by burly and clumsy innkeepers, while in Arma II a sort of "hangover" mode was introduced, i.e. a progressive degradation that gave the impression of being under heavy alcoholic effects, up to to ultimately transform the player into a harmless bird.

In general, however, this second attitude to the problem, in the long run, seems to play in favor of the development teams, attracting good publicity and often providing what is a sort of demo at the end of the pirated game, rather than try to nip the situation at the root with more damage than gain. And in some cases, it has also happened that the unsuspecting targets of the protection measures, after having inadvertently self-accused themselves in search of information on the mysterious "problems" of their copy, have decided to examine their conscience, purchasing the title at a later time. .

However, even the advertising aspect alone does not seem to be sufficient to justify the extreme choice of Acid Wizard. Especially if we consider that it is a rookie team ...

To learn more:
Piracy and video games: when the future is in the past

Pirates, but with dignity!

Of course, the image gain is immense in this case, but the goal of Darkwood's torrent file does not seem to be only to make people talk about itself positively, but rather to discourage another type of behavior, linked only conceptually to the piracy out of necessity. We are talking about the resale of unique keys for game download, that is the world of resellers. A world made up of digital distributors alternative to official channels, which in recent years have proliferated like mushrooms, offering keys to the titles at discounted prices. This includes both more shady subjects and more established and reliable realities (some, like Kinguin, for example, even sponsor e-sports teams).

However, it is in fact a gray area between official platforms and customers, which often presents calculated risks. First of all, that the keys sold are not valid or already used: in fact, the resellers they have no way of verifying the authenticity of their products, as this would mean having to activate them themselves. In other cases it is possible that it is the publisher of the game to withdraw them because perhaps purchased by illicit means, or in areas other than those in which they are then used, requiring activation through a VPN (which goes against the policy of many companies) .

However, the discounted prices sometimes even more than 50% of the product, convince gamblers to gamble. While the relationship between sold keys and valid keys is not always so black, it is also true that there have been situations in which publishers have actively blocked hundreds of keys in bulk. The case of Far Cry 4 was sensational: keys sold on G2A.com were revoked en masse as they were purchased with credit cards cloned via Origin. As with torrent hosting sites, it is not our intention to point the finger at the aggregator site (be it The Pirate Bay or G2A.com). However, as the guys from Acid Wizard also point out, the presence of individuals who try in every way to obtain valid license keys, posing as reviewers or bloggers / vloggers intent on creating advertising content, makes it difficult for developers make sure they end up in the right hands, and not auctioned on some reseller site.

The sad thing is, a lot [of the emails we get] are scams. You know, when people pretend to be a youtuber or blogger and ask for a Steam code. The code is then resold through a shady platform. To be honest, we got bored. This practice makes it impossible for us to do any giveaways or send codes to people who actually don't have the money to play Darkwood. [...]


We only have one request: if you like Darkwood and want us to keep making games, consider buying it in the future, maybe even on sale, on Steam, GOG or the Humble Store. But please, please don't buy it from a code reseller site. By doing this, you are feeding the cancer that is draining this industry.


With all the risks that a maneuver like that of Acid Wizard can entail, with all the considerations made so far on the advertising advantages and economic disadvantages of piracy, and on how much this can affect a small indie team ...

Well, say what you like about the current state of the industry, but as I see it the fact that a group of passionate newbies at their debut still prefer to risk losing money rather than face it, while much bigger companies prefer to declare war on everything and everyone in order to keep a grip on their income (often without even looking the satisfaction of the community in the face), thus giving fertile ground to unconventional actions, it should be a wake-up call ...

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