What happens when pirates play a game development simulator and then go bankrupt because of piracy?
That's the question Greenheart Games set out to answer with the release of its first title, Game Dev Tycoon.
In a social experiment, the company released a "cracked" version of the game, which is almost identical to the real deal, with a twist. As people spend more than a few hours playing and growing their own game dev company, they see the following in-game message:
"Boss, it seems that while many players play our new game, they steal it by downloading a cracked version rather than buying it legally. If players don't buy the games they like, we will sooner or later go bankrupt."
Consequently, players' in-game funds slowly dwindle, and new games they create have a higher chance of being pirated, until their virtual game development company goes belly up.
"Initially we thought about telling them their copy is an illegal copy," Greenheart developer Patrick Klug wrote in a blog post. "But instead we didn't want to pass up the unique opportunity of holding a mirror in front of them and showing them what piracy can do to game developers."
Unknowing users responded online with questions like, "Is there some way to avoid that?" and "Why are there so many people that pirate? It ruins me!"
"As a gamer I laughed out loud: the IRONY!!!," Klug wrote. "However, as the developer, who spent over a year creating this game and hasn't drawn a salary yet, I wanted to cry."
As of Monday, the Game Dev Tycoon title earned 214 genuine users, while the cracked version scored at least 3,104 — almost 94 per cent of players.
Klug, a once habitual game pirate, reached out to pirate players in his blog, saying that he's not mad, and even understands that some people can't make a legal purchase or simply can't afford to buy the game. It's the people who can afford to shell out less than £6 for a game, but work around the system, who anger him.
"We are not wealthy and it's unlikely that we will be any time soon, so stop pretending like we don't need your [£5.69). We are just two guys [Klug and his brother Daniel] working out butts off, trying to start our own game studio to create games which are fun to play," Klug wrote.
Game Dev Tycoon is DRM free, and can be used on up to three computers running Mac, Windows, and Linux. A free demo is available for those unsure about dropping those coveted £5.69. The game is also up for a vote on Steam Greenlight.