Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Casual vs Retail Piracy

Last post, I noted that many casual games are being pirated - occasionally as much as retail computer games, often as much as half as much. Obviously, there's a lot of details which may screw this up. For example, I might be checking networks which tend to cater specifically to casual gamers, or some other unknown might be skewing the numbers.

However, with the numbers as they stand, it raises an important question:

How much is piracy affecting ANYONE?

If casual games are being pirated on a scale comparable to retail games, what does that mean? It means that retail games are not suffering piracy significantly worse than casual games.

There are a few possibilities:

The first is that piracy isn't really all that bad for either of them. After all, popular casual games are certainly raking in the cash. (Unpopular ones don't make anything, but that isn't piracy's fault...)

The second possibility is that both casual and retail games suffer hideously from piracy. This seems unlikely because my admittedly-handwaved numbers strongly imply that piracy is only eating a small portion of casual game profits. Retail games are suffering only slightly worse.

The third possibility is that retail games aren't selling very many copies at all, and their piracy levels are significantly higher, percentage-wise. This seems kind of unlikely to me, but I've been wrong before. And I'm probably wrong now.

The fourth possibility is that there is a huge "invisible market" of pirated retail games that isn't included in my study. For example, how much are Chinese clones costing you? I don't know a lot of Americans who get Chinese clones, so it probably doesn't terribly harm the Western sales. There may be other such markets that weren't in this study.

Which of the four possibilities is right?

All told, my opinion is that piracy is not affecting retail games in Western nations any more than casual games in Western nations. Now, that means that either both are suffering horribly from piracy, or neither is suffering much.

How much effect you believe piracy to have is probably largely determined by whether or not you pirate things. I honestly have no idea.

But I can tell you a few things about which casual games are pirated.

It appears that a certain kind of casual game is only rarely pirated: any casual game with a story. By that I don't mean "saving the cake factory". I mean a character-heavy story which progresses, however minimally.

There are absurdly few pirated copies of games like Outpost Kaloki and Aveyond. You could presume these games didn't sell very many copies, but Aveyond is holding in the top ten at Yahoo! Games, so it's sold a hell of a lot of valid copies.

Games like Zuma and Cake Mania are pirated a LOT. The only link I can see is that they don't have a story.

They "feel" "easier to program". "It's just a bunch of people walking in with bubbles over their heads" "it's just a random bunch of exploding gems". High replay value, but not much "personality".

That's just weak theory, though. I don't know why it's true, and I'm not even 100% it is true. But it's the only connection I can see. Games where you have a character that interacts with other characters seem to have less piracy.

Do they sell as well?

Well, out of the top ten Yahoo! Games, two or three are games with a narrative. Given that more non-story games are produced than story games, this seems about right.

However, Popcap features precisely ZERO narrative games in its top ten.

A difference in the audience of the portal, perhaps?

Anyhow, that's all that I could dig up. :)

Opinions? Comments? Fun things you can do with chicken feathers?


Patrick Dugan said...

I think it has to do with audience solidarity. If there is a sense in the audience (even if only a minority) that the produced media is churn output from a faceless corporation, then people can more easily rationalize piracy as being OK, or even the right thing to do. I've pirated games in the younger years, and I've downloaded the hell out of emulated ROMs, which is different basket, but I couldn't bring myself to pirate Planescape: Torment, because I LOVE IT.

Food for thought, Manifesto has been seeing an average of 4 to 5% converstion. Thats the power of audience solidarity.

So I think your theory holds water.

Craig Perko said...

I figured that story felt like it was "worth more" than gameplay. IE, you'd be willing to pay more for a story, even a crappy one, than simple gameplay. Either way, the idea is tenable.

Manifesto's conversion rate is probably largely due to the fact that many of the games that it offers are ones that people have already heard a lot about.

David Ludwig said...

Zuma's been doing very well sales-wise, which could explain it's popularity in pirate channels. I'm not sure how well Cake Mania has been doing though. Both products are available via major retail outlets (Target, CompUSA, etc.), whereas Aveyond and Outpost Kaloki are not.

Craig Perko said...

That might be a major factor: that they ARE retail games. I didn't realize that.

I don't know how well Cake Mania is doing, but given that it's on a few top tens, I wouldn't mind having written it.

Wizzel Cogcarrier Wizzleton IV said...

It's "chronicling" – in your site desc.

Craig Perko said...

So it is. Thanks.