Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Piracy and Casual Games

My latest article has been published over at Gamasutra, and it has create a good bit of stir. I'm actually pretty happy about that as I really hoped it would be the springboard to some good discussion.

I thought I'd put in some additional details here in my blog. I ended up cutting 3 pages from that article while writing, which is very abnormal for me, but it was just TOO dry a read to keep all the info in.

On Ricochet Infinity the 92% piracy again was comparing full version against full version.

Some more numbers on that game: (these thanks to James C Smith, who made the game)
43% of the downloaded copies (including demos) went online (which means we can't track 57% - they may have not installed or not gone online, but as I mentioned in my article we can't assume that those who didn't go online were less likely to pirate than those who did go online)

Full data of all the downloads (from
2.3% Bought the game
29% Pirated the game
14% Went online with the demo
57% Never went online

So the 92% is the percentage of the full versions used online that were pirated.

The encouraging piece of all the numbers, I suppose (other than the very high CR of RI) is that of the non-pirates, the percentage who bought the game was a pretty high conversion ratio. I've often stated that the XBLA conversion ratios are inflated due to the $300 barrier of entry...people had to have already spent $300 to get to XBLA, clearly they are people who spend money on games. Online we cater to people who do and who won't. Clearly, if you removed the pirates (who according to the Ricochet Infinity numbers may account for 67% of ALL downloads in the casual space) the conversion ratio of the entire casual games industry would increase a lot :).

Another piece of data that seems useful is when we made the Fixes to the DRM.
Fix 1 was 12/15/05
Fix 2 was 7/12/06
Fix 3 was 4/18/07
Fix 4 was 12/5/07 + 12/12/07 (there was a minor follow-up to this fix)

Ricochet Infinity was released on 7/31/07

I actually had wanted to write this article months ago, but with the recency of that last fix...which was being worked on obviously prior to November, I wanted to give us at least some time to get a feel for how the results went.

Notably, that first Fix had dramatic sustainted results. I've mentioned this elsewhere, but that change is CLEARLY visible in the growth charts that we keep here at Reflexive. (and incidentally, a modified version of one of those growth charts was in my IGS powerpoints from last year's GDC...(text video)

Two last thoughts
I had planed to talk about one potentially positive result of piracy that I found interesting, but couldn't fit it into the article well, so I'll mention it here. In Ricochet Infinity anyone can create a level set and upload it to the server and watch it become popular...or ignored :). We've found that a good portion of pirates created level sets. I find that fascinating myself and it may speak to some possibilities of using piracy to a positive end.

The 1000:1 ratio is really, I think, the key takeaway of the article. Several people have grasped that and started applying it to different numbers in the industry, and the results are very disappointing. Clearly if we could always have a big gain from a fix that maintains itself, it is worth spending the time to fight piracy. However, since that isn't always the case, it can sometimes (often?) be pretty discouraging to try and stop piracy. I don't think that means that we should be any least earnest in our fight, but the ratio is quite interesting. I'd love to see some other portals disclose their numbers publicly to further the discussion :).


The Rampant Coyote said...

Wow - thanks for the additional info.

The 1000: 1 ratio is still something I'm wrapping my brain around, though. I mean, on the one hand, it means only a 0.1% conversion increase. Yet you say you got a 70% increase in sales, at a 33% reduction in downloads... does this mean you were converting at only ~ 0.1% before?

Scott said...

"Ricochet Infinity was released on 7/31/07"

Is 2007 a typo there, Russ? Thanks.

Russell Carroll said...

Ricochet Infinity was released 7/31/07 :). It is the 4th Ricochet title, the first with online (which is what made it a great case study...we actually could look at results).

However, I'm afraid it has confused things as well. The numbers in the fixes were not related JUST to that game, they were for all the games on The only number in the article related to Ricochet Infinity was the 92%.

The article was supposed to go narrow (Ricochet Infinty) - broad (all numbers across our portal) - back to narrow (what would that mean to Ricochet's sales). I'm afraid it has lead to some misunderstanding unfortunately.

As to what we were converting wasn't great :)

Justin Bacon said...

What method did you use to determine the rate of piracy? Specifically, how did Reflexive Games determine that 29% of the people who downloaded the game pirated the game?

I guess I'm not understanding how you can determine that (a) they pirated the game without (b) preventing them from using your servers.