How TinyBuild plans to take on the pirates

TinyBuild’s new game Punch Club has garnered its fair share of headlines since it debuted in January.

The title was marketed with an interesting Twitch Plays series, and went on to make $1m in sales in just ten days, shifting 100,000 copies.

And last week, TinyBuild announced a new sales milestone – 300,000 units sold. But there was a sizeable catch – that figure represents just 19 per cent of total installs. The game has been illegally downloaded 1.6m times.

People really undervalue the shock that real numbers have,” CEO Alex Nichiporchik says.

I have known that piracy is huge for years, I know that 80 per cent piracy on the overall number of installs is totally normal. But what’s really shocking is when you see that directly correlating to your own numbers. We’re talking to the developer saying: ‘okay, we just sold 300,000 units across all platforms. Great, shall we make a story out of that?’ and we thought no-one would care. Then the designer chimes in saying that it had been pirated one million times. I just wrote it off as a joke, but he was saying it’s actually over a million. I replied with: ‘holy shit’. The shock value of that was really eyeopening for us. It’s a tangible number that’s really big.”

One of the main topics of a blog post published by Nichiporchik was the impact that localisation has on piracy in various territories. For example, the rate of piracy in China was unaffected by TinyBuild translating Punch Club into Chinese. But Brazil only started pirating Punch Club when it was localised for Brazilian Portuguese.

I was really surprised to see that the Chinese market didn’t care about whether a game is localised to Chinese or not,” Nichiporchik says. They still pirated it. But then Brazil is such a huge local market for Brazilian Portuguese that they waited for it to get localised before they pirated it.”

The fact that pirates in China did not care about whether the game was translated into their native tongue implies that localisation isn’t that important to Chinese gamers – so is TinyBuild going to continue to translate its products in the region?

China is one of those huge markets that is in a rapid development stage, so discounting it is a bad idea,” Nichiporchik says.

Discounting China is not the right way to go. And even though the piracy rate in Brazil skyrocketed after we localised, we still made our money back on localising it and then some. Overall it was still worth it. It’s shocking to see those numbers because it really does suck.

But getting back to the overall question, we need to offer good value. Maybe working with different local stores might help because you have localised payment methods.”

But TinyBuild has more than one plan to help combat the piracy of its games.

What we are definitely going to do is look at regional pricing and do more aggressive pricing in lower wealth regions,” Nichiporchik explains.

That definitely helps and we have actually seeing that work in Eastern Europe. The Russian ruble and the Ukraininahryvnia are jumping like crazy. We manually adjust the pricing so it’s much lower there. The game costs $5 on iOS and Android and $10 on PC. But because of regional adjustments, in the Ukraine, the PC version is cheaper than the mobile SKU. We are going to be pricing more aggressively.”

On the surface, changing prices for different regions is a sound idea – but this is also how key resellers get their hands on cheap codes to sell off in more affluent territories for a profit. Is this something Nichiporchik is concerned about?

Oh yes,” he laughs. We are having many discussions with a few of the key resellers. I’m a direct guy, whenever I search for Punch Club on some key resale website and see it for $4, I get pissed off and send angry emails.

The issue in an open economy is that you can’t really combat reselling outside of doing it at a platform level. If a vendor facilitates these sales and doesn’t do thorough checks, such as verifying the origins of the keys, that’s not good.

I’m not sure if regional locking would help fix that. But it would cause us a lot of other issues with imported games and what not.”

"I thought the dev was joking when he said Punch Club had been pirated 1m times. But then he showed us. I replied with: ‘Holy shit’."

Alex Nichiporchik, TinyBuild

TinyBuild has also experimented with ways to stop piracy of multiplayer games like 2013’s SpeedRunners.

When people try to pirate multiplayer-focused games, they have to jump through hoops to get it to work. I have read a couple of threads with instructions like ‘do this, do that, create a virtual server, you hijack this internet connection, you route it here’ and they‘re like: ‘I’m not a rocket scientist, I’ll just pay $10 for the game’,” Nichiporchik explains.

With SpeedRunners, we created a demo which was pretty much the same experience as if you pirated it. It’s a single player experience that you can play with friends locally. I’m not seeing that much piracy for it, just doing random searches on Pirate Bay. I can’t really see a lot of hype for a pirated version of SpeedRunners, because you can download the local multiplayer version of it. That’s my hypothesis, at least.”

He adds: We can also combat piracy by offering more value to people actually buying the game. We may have converted more people who started playing on mobile on to the PC version if we had cross-platform saves. I imagine a lot of people might pirate the PC version in Brazil because they can’t afford it, or it’s difficult to pay, then get hooked on the game and want to continue to play on their phone. Missing cross play at launch was a misstep on our part that could have been much better.

Beyond that, I do not believe we should cripple the experience in any way for people who actually buy our games. We’ve seen the industry try this as a whole and it’s just backfired.”

Years ago, developers banded together to release bundles – collections of cheap digital games. With great value, these helped reduce piracy. And Nichiporchik says there needs to be a new kind of concept to fight piracy now.

Bundles made it too much effort to pirate a game,” he explains. As a poor kid from Latvia I couldn’t afford to buy full price games. And when bundles came about, suddenly it was more convenient to have stuff in your Steam library.

What’s happened in the bundle sector is the same thing that happens to any business – everyone gives it a go and suddenly the market just deflates.

The whole idea of indies joining together for a very low price on a huge volume of sales, that was a very novel concept that helped offset piracy. But now there needs to be something else, something different as the bundle market is saturated. I don’t know what that might be.

That’s the billion dollar idea, giving good value for everyone who is pirating to persuade them to buy the game.”

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