When it comes to how game developers react and interact with those that pirate their games, there are obviously plenty of ways to go about it. There’s the ineffective legal route, which puts developers in a bad PR light. There’s the DRM route, which is a hellish waste of time. And, on the other end of the spectrum, there are devs that choose to embrace the internet and attempt to monetize piracy through human connections and innovative business models.
Somewhere in the middle is the less-traveled path of simply fucking with infringers. Whether its embedding antipiracy messages into the gameplay itself, or simply overlaying the entire game with the drone of a vuvuzela, there are a couple of recent examples where developers figured out how to detect cracked versions of their games and using that to torture pirates. While I would argue there are better ways developers could be spending this time and human capital, such as innovating, it’s also true that it’s hard not to smile when the pirates get messed with.
But this goes back much further than the last few years. The always excellent Tech Rules YouTube channel put out the following video on how Spyro 2 on the Playstation 1 tortured those using pirated copies of the game.
The slow burn of this prank on pirates is what makes it both so effective and so infuriating if you believe, as I do, that all of this is mostly time wasted. The joke being played here, with the effects of using a pirated version of the game getting incrementally and progressively more profound, is indeed funny. You can just picture the person playing a cracked version of the game very, very slowly realize he or she is being screwed with.
But it also appears to have taken quite an effort to pull off. And for what? We have no idea how many would-be pirates were converted into paying customers of Spyro 2 by any of this, but I cannot imagine anyone thinks that unknown number is significant. The game was reviewed well, and sold well in several regions, but not at numbers that would seem to justify the time commitment spent to convert whatever the fraction of pirates turned into customers was.
So, again, funny? Yes, absolutely. Mean or harmful? Nah. A useful use of the game developers’ time? I can’t see an argument for that, so why bother with any of this?
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