I've read a post that seems to imply that piracy is a big deal for casual developers.
Now, no lie, pirating a casual game is skanky. It would be evil in a way that bilking a giant evil corporation isn't. Don't argue about that last bit, it really isn't the point of this essay either way.
But is it actually a problem? Do people actually pirate casual games?
I thought, "That's absurd. People don't pirate casual games. First, they're not popular enough, second blah blah blah blah blah. Here, I'll just prove it by going and looking..."
Cake Mania, a popular Yahoo! game: more than 250 sources on the immediate net - roughly half to a quarter that of major titles such as Playboy: Mansion. (Playboy: Mansion is my yardstick. People love to pirate that game, and the numbers don't seem to go up or down much over time.)
Diner Dash, another popular Yahoo! game: 300-400 sources, although some smell like spam.
Virtual Villagers: ~175 sources.
Aveyond: ~40 sources.
Talismania, switching to popcap: ~125
Bejeweled 2: Motherlode of about 900 sources - more than many AAA games. Moreover, these are "package pirates", featuring dozens of popcap games...
Zuma reveals the same, mostly because it's in the same packages.
I'm kind of shocked. Actually, I'm just flat-out shocked, there's really no "kind of". Some of these games are pirated at rates comparable to Halo 2.
Now, if there are 250 sources for a pirated version of your game, that means that there are 250 computers actively sharing it. The net is vaster than this little region, but we'll be conservative and say that there are only 2500 sources in all the various P2P networks. Chances are, that's an order of magnitude low, because I think this P2P system stops looking at 200 sources.
These are people who keep it actively shared. For every person who keeps it actively shared, there are at least eight who download it and shlep it off to their desktop instead of their shared folders, or delete it when done. So, say, 20,000 downloads.
Now, we can argue about the validity of calling these lost sales until our faces turn blue. But many of the reasons people argue that pirates wouldn't buy are invalid here. There's no faceless corporation: at least a quarter of your payment goes straight to the devs. There's no excessive cost: these games cost, at most, $20. So lets presume that SOME of these pirates would have made legitimate purchases.
If we get standard solid conversion rates, that would be 2%. 400 copies, at $5 kickback to the developer, is $2000. That's a pretty chunk of change, and probably less than a quarter the actual loss... but how much is it, percentage-wise?
Well, Pharaoh's Curse sells about $2000 a year. However, there are NO sources for it. This implies that piracy is not a huge chunk of the profit, or there would be a few dozen sources. It could be that piracy needs a "critical mass", but that critical mass is obviously significantly more than $2000.
Galactic Civilizations 2 is NOT copy protected. How many copies of IT are there floating around?
Checking multiple spellings, there are less than a hundred (most of which claim to be "cracked". Ha!)
If I knew how much Galciv 2 sold, I could use this to frame a likely answer. It could be that Galciv is in a "middle band", not selling as much as a top ten on a major portal, but selling much more than $2000 a year. If it does sell closer to $2000 than $20,000, their unprotection may actually have brought them into a higher piracy bracket than protected games... but is that something which has affected sales, or not?
To end on a standard mainstream media note: the only thing we know for sure is that people pirate casual games.