Negotiating with terrorists
Talking to people works. People have always been able to influence people who seem beyond influence. The Northern Island ceasefire only happened when the British government began talking to the IRA behind closed doors, which would have outraged the British public had they known. The U.S. government is currently talking to Iran despite this being a deeply unpopular decision. Governments talk to their enemies even when people donâ€™t think they should, because it is often the only way to get real results. Companies should talk to pirates for the same reason.
An independent game developer named Cliff Harris from Positech games just proved this. Heâ€™s been fighting pirates his entire career, as most game developers have, but he decided to give diplomacy a try, asking pirates to tell him why they were stealing his games. The question migrated from his blog to Slashdot to Arstechnica to Digg and around the world, and the responses from pirates began to pour in.
His post on the results is fascinating. Some highlights:
â€œA LOT of people cited the cost of games as a major reason for pirating. Many were kids with no cash and lots of time to play games, but many were not. I got a lot of peoples life stories, and a ton of them were my age. Even those who didn’t cite cost as their main reason almost always mentioned it at some stage. A lot of anger was directed at the retail $60 games, and console games. People in Australia were especially annoyed about higher prices there. My games were $19-23, but for a lot of people, it was claimed this was far too high. People talked a lot about impulse buying games if they were much cheaper.â€
â€œPeople don’t like DRM, we knew that, but the extent to which DRM is turning away people who have no other complaints is possibly misunderstood. If you wanted to change ONE thing to get more pirates to buy games, scrapping DRM is it. These gamers are the low hanging fruit of this whole debate.â€
â€œMaybe 5% of the total â€¦ basically said “I do it because I like free stuff and won’t get caught. I’d do the same with anything if I knew I’d get away with it.” This is depressing, but thankfully a small minority. I also got the occasional bit of abuse and sarcasm from hardcore pirates who have decided I am their enemy. Who would have thought that would happen? They give the other 99% of pirates a bad name, and are the reason people don’t listen to pirates.â€
(For what itâ€™s worth Cliff, those same 1% of pirates decided I was the enemy too. But trying to tell hardcore pirates who see this whole thing as a movement that we need to legitimize it is like telling a punk in the 1970s we need to find a way to sell Ramones T-shirts in every mall in America.)
What did Cliff learn from this? An awful lot it turns out. As a result of this experiment heâ€™s removing DRM from all his games.
â€œI only used DRM for one game (Democracy 2) and it’s trivial. It’s a one-time only internet code lookup for the full version. I’ve read enough otherwise honest people complain about DRM to see that its probably hurting more than it help’s. I had planned on using the same system for Kudos 2, but I’ve changed my mind on that. I have also removed it from Democracy 2 today. I now use no DRM at all.â€
Heâ€™s also making demos better, lowering prices on older games, improving the quality of new ones and making it easier to by all of them online. He says â€œI’ve gone from being demoralized by pirates to actually inspired by them, and I’m working harder than ever before on making my games fun and polished.â€
Other companies can learn from Cliffâ€™s experiment. Give peace a chance.