Epic talks a storm of bullets. Piracy hurt the sequel?

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | April 10, 2012 - 10:45 PM |
Tagged: piracy, epic games, bulletstorm

Mike Capps of Epic Games, among many other developers and publishers, completely misses the point about piracy. No-one can control piracy, they can only control factors which influence it -- but controlling those factors is meaningless if sales are sacrificed in the process. No-one gets paid by not being pirated; people get paid by making sales.

Frequent readers of my editorials are probably well aware that I am quite vocal about many topics including piracy, the consumables model of art, censorship, and used content sales. I take a very mathematical approach to a lot of complicated topics. Unfortunately, a lot of what is considered common truths is based on fundamentally invalid statistics. It gives me a lot to write about.

Mike Capps of Epic Games was interviewed by GameSpot during PAX East and at some point in the discussion the topic floated across Bulletstorm. On the topic of its lower-than-expected sales, Capps added that the PC version was adversely affected by piracy.

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Piracy gnashing its teeth?

Similar statements have been made for countless other games at countless other times. Each of those statements makes a subtle but gigantic mistake in formulating the problem: piracy is not something which does, piracy is something which is. Piracy does not affect your sales, but whatever affected piracy might also affect sales in one way or another.

The intuition is that sales decrease as piracy increases and vice versa. That assumption is nullified by counter-example: do not release a product. Piracy and sales, if you do not release a game, will trend in the same direction: to zero. It is now obvious that sales and piracy do not always inversely correlate.

As Mike Capps also stated in the interview, Bulletstorm had a very rough launch and lifespan on the PC. Bulletstorm required for Games for Windows Live, encrypted its settings, and did other things to earn a reputation since launch as a bad console port to the PC. Customers complained about the experience on the PC which fueled an inferno of uncertainty and doubt for potential buyers.

Being pirated is not losing a sale, but losing a customer before their purchase is.

I was personally on the fence about Bulletstorm and this negative word-of-mouth lead me to ignore the title. I did not purchase the game, I did not pirate the game; I ignored the game. Perhaps those who pirated your title did so because they were interested, became discouraged, but were not discouraged enough to avoid giving it a chance with piracy?

What I am saying is -- piracy cannot reduce your sales (it cannot do anything, it is a measurement), but perhaps whatever combination of factors reduced your sales may also have increased your piracy?

Piracy is an important measurement to consider -- but it, like sales, is just that, a measurement, nothing more. Strive to increase your sales -- keep an eye on your piracy figures to learn valuable information -- but always exclusively strive to increase your sales. It is the measurement that will pay your bills.

Source: GameSpot
April 11, 2012 | 12:01 AM - Posted by Wolvenmoon (not verified)

I skipped Bulletstorm for the same reasons, and told my friends to ignore it because of them. I'm disappointed by Epic - they're smarter than this. Bad games don't sell well on PC, but they'll sell like hotcakes on console with sufficient marketing.

April 11, 2012 | 09:43 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

"Being pirated is not losing a sale, but losing a customer before their purchase is." is correct enough in context.

"perhaps whatever combination of factors reduced your sales may also have increased your piracy?" is a very interesting and worthwhile insight.

But then you ruin your argument with:
"piracy cannot reduce your sales (it cannot do anything, it is a measurement)". That's a weird convoluted statement - most likely because you are trying to avoid the inconvenient fact that some people who pirated a game would have bought it had piracy not been an easy option.

April 11, 2012 | 12:45 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

Actually I'm trying to frame the problem properly.

You cannot "control piracy", you can only control factors which influence piracy. If you could control piracy you could say: "I only want to be pirated 20,152 times this game". No, you cannot do that, that makes no sense. Piracy is not a value you can "set".

What you can do is use more or less aggressive DRM, support your game after launch, sue people, do nothing, remove DRM after the launch window, etc. etc. etc.

The point of this article is to illustrate that subtle distinction.

The distinction leads to the very important point: When you measure piracy and you measure sales -- they are making two distinct measurements. One action can (and probably does) influence both outcomes... but the one measurement does not influence the other measurement.

Yes it is entirely possible that a DRM method frustrated a pirate into purchasing the game, it is also entirely possible that 5 legitimate customers got frustrated and ignored your product as a result. In this hypothetical situation you would be down a pirate but also down 4 sales.

*****
((After Ubisoft implemented their DRM service, they lost 90% of their sales. They considered it a "success" because they saw a "reduction in piracy". They also shed 9/10ths of their customers. THIS is the mentality that is poisonous, they believe that decrease in piracy will increase sales because they do not understand that they are distinct measurements driven by common factors. Perhaps they would have had more sales had they used a less intrusive DRM method -- or even turned a blind eye to the piracy?))
(source) http://www.pcgamer.com/2011/10/07/opinion-ubisoft-piracy-and-the-death-o...
*****

April 11, 2012 | 10:29 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

we are still talking about piracy?

piracy didn't hurt anything thats just epic using it as an excuse for the real reason. Haven't game devs got over piracy horsesh*t already? Its a stupid silly argument for not making a game, or even just making an argument.

April 11, 2012 | 01:07 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

It's only getting started.

Developers and publishers are fighting tooth and nail to get into the consumables/licensing business: content is licensed under certain situations and has no resale value.

They see illegitimate copies, transfers of licenses (used games), etc. as users of their product which they cannot obtain value from.

The problem is they forfeit any possible indirect value that can be derived from that relationship AND completely ignore all value that they lose in their attempts to "reclaim" their value from the improperly licensed product.

In other words: they want every user to pay them what they ask, under the conditions they ask, regardless of how that will affect anyone -- including themselves.

Because it's not about how much money they make -- it's about how much they feel like they are making.

April 11, 2012 | 02:41 PM - Posted by ChangWang

Another thing that some Dev houses never consider is a certain titles value to the purchaser.

Speaking only for myself here, I played the demo of Bulletstorm and determined that it was not a $60 purchase. The game play was ok and the graphics were fine. What put me off was all the silly teenage sounding cursing. Mind you, I don't mind cursing in my games, but at least make it sound right. In the end I picked up the game during the last Christmas sale for $4.99.

Another example is the recently released Kingdoms of Amalur. Played the demo, determined that it wasn't a $60 purchase. I did like the demo though. Just today, Amazon has the game for 33% off ($40). That turned this game into an impulse buy.

April 11, 2012 | 02:42 PM - Posted by Cannyone

I am so sick of game executives that constantly cry about how much they are "loosing to piracy"! When there are lots of things they can do to minimize it. It's just that I suspect the "problem" is completely exaggerated.

Yes, there is some piracy! NO, I don't pirate games. But then again there aren't a whole lot of games that I'm interested in playing. And games like "Bulletstorm" come to the top of the Unwanted List.

Honestly I could have told you 9 months ago that someone at Epic Games was going to complain about "Bulletstorm" being pirated. And the simple reason is that these guys are "Epic LOOSERS" who don't understand their market, and only want to make console games. I just wish they'd go ahead and file for bankruptcy and stop whining about stuff they can't control.

April 11, 2012 | 02:54 PM - Posted by Goofus Maximus (not verified)

I am reminded of the news article I read recently on Ars-Technica, about how France has trumpeted their success in reducing piracy over the internet, and the article notes that sales have actually gone down by about 3% anyway.

April 11, 2012 | 03:30 PM - Posted by jcboy (not verified)

I played the demo a while back and thought, meh dick jokes and guns - its kinda juvenile but worth a go. When a sale comes around i shall purchase. Just bought it on steam for under £4 and its worth that. Who needs to pirate when your happy with the deal.

April 11, 2012 | 05:08 PM - Posted by Bill (not verified)

I played the Bulletstorm demo and was in awe that they ever thought it was worth $60. These stupid publishers just don't get it. Most people I know and including myself are on a tighter budget nowadays than years past. So what do the publishers do? Raise the price of pc games from $50 to $60 of course! I've never paid $60 for a game and I never will, as most of the time mere weeks after release they are already under $50, with patches to fix a lot of the usual release day bugs to boot. Case in point is Batman Arkham City. It came out at the end of last year for $60 and last week was available for only $13.50! That's almost 80% off! Even better is it includes all the patches that fixed it's issues. When I see a promotion for a new pc game now, I always read it as "PC game beta testers needed. Only $60 to apply!"

Another reason I don't pay full price for a game anymore is half the time the game ends up being very short or mediocre. In the good old days I didn't care as my game was DRM free on optical media. That meant I'd go through the game in a week or two and put it on Ebay. It might only cost me $10-20 to play a game that way. Now if it sucks you're stuck with it.

So yeah publishers. Bitch and moan that it's the pirates that have done your sales in. Funny though, I don't hear Bethesda whining about Skyrim piracy losses.

April 12, 2012 | 09:21 AM - Posted by Tim (not verified)

There seems to be a general consensus that falls in line with my believe. If the game is worth it, I will buy it. If not, Ill look in the bargain bin at gamestop a couple years from now. I havent played a madden game since 06, I picked up 11 for $14 the other day. Not a bad game, until I tried to play online and had to pay more money (NOT!!) so instead of getting the hang of this game and then buying madden 12 at full price (Since my team had WAAAAAY better stats in 12 haha) I said *&^% you guys, took the game out and went back to my beloved assasins creed titles.

April 17, 2012 | 04:05 PM - Posted by Anonymous Coward (not verified)

So Bulletstorm didn't sell well on pc because of piracy, is that it Epic? LOL

I tried Bulletstorm during that free weekend on Steam. I had access to the full version for 3 days to try it out. I uninstalled it the day I got it. Input lag up the ass, and other hallmarks of sloppy console ports. It was utterly unplayable. I downloaded it on the free weekend thinking I would buy it. Not a chance in hell.

But I guess I didn't buy it because I "pirated" it, right? Epic, your shit these days isn't worth the download time off steam's high speed servers, much less a slow ass torrent.

See you in bankruptcy court!

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