Piracy and Premium vs Freemium: Madfinger Games on a developer’s dilemma

Mobile games developer Madfinger Games recently announced that it was converting its latest release, Dead Trigger, to a free download on Android due to the ‘unbelievably high’ piracy rate.  Today the game went free for iOS users as well.  We reached out to Madfinger CEO Marek Rabas to see if he could share his thoughts on the subject of piracy.  What follows is his response;

Madfinger Games is like many other independent labels, founded by a few fanatic gamers who have a passion for making games. Our main goal is not to make lots of money, we do not want to be the second Disney or sell out the company for millions of dollars. Also, we do not have to please investors each financial quarter with better results on their profit. We just simply enjoy making games. That is why we are here.

I think that games development is not easy job. Yes, we love it, but as a developer you must be able to endure many things. First, it’s not easy to even enter the game industry; you have to have really great talent, you must learn new things and spend a lot of time at work to stay on the top. Also, for our team, releasing a game is an emotional thing. It’s totally different from the release of a game on console or PC under some publisher. We are reading the reviews and seeing the opinions of our fans, listening their feedback. I can still remember the names of these nice fans and all of their good feedback which energizes our team. On the other hand, the bad reviews just bring us down.

So, why dwell on the fact that 80% to 90% of the people do not respect your hard work and steal the game?

newsDead Trigger 

In the past, we were too busy developing games to be concerned about our games being stolen. Games are always stolen, there is not much we can do about it. I do not believe that piracy can be stopped. At the very least though, we can make it not as easy as it is at the moment. Just imagine if the piracy rate was 9:1 and ten players played your game. It would be enough to convince at least one pirate user to buy your game and “voila!”, immediately you would have double your money.

There are several myths about pirates. When I?read the forums, I get tired of the excuses for downloading the game for free. The most typical example is made by players who allegedly?download a pirated copy because a demo version did not exist to try, allowing them to decide whether or not they wanted to buy it. In our case, that’s simply not true. Some of our games have demos, but the piracy rate was same for games with demo as for games without.

Another one often repeated is that, while they might have a jailbroken device, they still buy games anyway. Then I do not understand how the number of pirates on iOS is comparable with the amount of jailbroken devices. Of course, I know that some jailbreak users are paying for games as well, but could it be around 1% at the most?

Another ridiculous comment is that developers of games should attend more to their games by providing new upgrades, contents, etc, to protect their games from piracy. In my opinion, the amount of piracy is equal to how easy the pirating is, and the game developer has nothing to do with it. It is really very sad for us and the gaming industry that with a few clicks of a mouse (err.. touches), a user can install the game and use it for free. It’s definitely more easy than setting up an account on iTunes or Google Play, filling out large forms and answering all security questions.

Of course we are concerned about how to protect ourselves from piracy. Either it’s costly, or we can not influence the paying players. As developers who are trying to keep our costs down, we do not want to spend our money and time on safeguards which sooner or later somebody will crack anyway.

newsMadfinger’s Samurai II: Dojo is a free spin-off of Samurai II: Vengeanace 

At the moment, the cost of a mobile game is much more expensive than it was two years ago. As developers of games, we want to concentrate our time and dedicate ourselves only on games.?We want to make them better than previous games. This is why we need help with security from the companies who make the hardware. Their hardware is selling because of our content, and they should protect our games from being stolen. Its really good that Google and Apple are finally making some effort to deal with it. The same as Microsoft and Sony did in the past for their consoles. And so, lets hope that this situation will get better and developers will be able to invest more money into games without fear that in the end most of the players will download it for free anyway.

This leads to the issue of Premium vs Freemium (or Free2Play, Paymium,etc). At the time when Google was born, it opened up many opportunities to get something for free, and from that time it was considered normal. But dont forget that the business will always find a way to make money, and how to make people purchase things which can be gotten online for free. And now we are talking about the freemium phenomenon. It’s the best example of how something really great at first can change into something bad.

The main cause of today’s form of piracy is both because people do not want to pay for games and the availability of pirated copies. Some companies understand how the freemium model works, and somehow they just made sort of demo copies of their game. When the game player will not pay, they will not play for a long period of time. I am sure these companies who utilize pure freemium mechanics have some negative feedback, but this negative feedback we have also. One look at their higher rankings in the App Store and Google Play, and everyone must understand that these games earn many times more than our games, even if their games are of the same quality as ours or worse.

So what now? To make games for the 80-90% of people who are stealing your game?  Or to focus on business only? Is it better to make six freemium games per year or make two Shadowgun games? Should we anger hardcore players and make money, or should we be do premium and be worried that the game will not earn enough money and we will fade away into oblivion? What would you do, if you have to take care about your family, employees, etc? 

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