Game Dev Tycoon, a new game from Australian developer Greenheart, features an inventive way of punishing people who download it illegally.

Game dev tycoon anti-piracy measures
The message to pirates as it appears in-game. (Credit: Greenheart Games)

Game Dev Tycoon see players having to manage a game development studio from the ground up, taking it from creating small games in the 1980s to producing AAA titles in the present day. However, in a pirated version, which Greenheart purposefully released online, after a few hours of playing, a warning message appears telling the player that their company is losing money because people are pirating rather than buying their games:

"Boss, it seems that while many players play our new game, they steal it by downloading a cracked version rather than buying it legally," the message reads. "If players don't buy the games they like, we will sooner or later go bankrupt."

The more players continue, the more people pirate their games until eventually their studio runs out of money and is forced to close. Writing on Greenheart's official website, co-founder Patrick Klug said he wanted to show pirates how piracy feels:

"I do think it's important to try to communicate what piracy means to game developers to our consumers. I know that some people just don't even think about buying games. They will immediately search for a cracked version."

In what is a worrying reflection of the state of the games industry, almost 94% of the thousands of people who downloaded the game downloaded the pirated version, with only 214 people actually paying for the game.

Game Dev Tycoon


Klug also posted some of the responses written online by people who had downloaded the game illegally:

"Why are there so many people that pirate? It ruins me!" wrote one user, clearly unaware of of the irony in posting such a comment. "I've reached a point where if I make a decent game with a score of 9-10 it gets pirated and I can't make any profit...Is there some way to avoid that? Can I research DRM or something?"

DRM (download rights management) is particularly controversial among videogame pirates as it allows developers to restrict their games to people who paid for them, using authentication keys and other protective measures:

"Some of the responses I found a gamer, I laughed out loud: the irony," wrote Klug. "However, as the developer, who spent over a year creating this game and hasn't drawn a salary yet, I wanted to cry. Surely, for most of these players, the 8 dollars wouldn't hurt them but it makes a huge difference to our future."

Klug concludes by pointing out that while this experiment may promt some to buy the real version, the same cannot be said for big-name titles as a result of DRM:

"If pirates are put through more trouble than genuine customers, maybe more will buy the real game. Sadly, for AAA games it is currently the other way. Customers get the trouble with always-on requirements and intrusive DRM, while pirates can just download and enjoy. A twisted world."