Playing with Piracy: ‘Game Dev Tycoon’ Demonstrates the Effects of Illegal Downloading


After downloading an illegal copy of the recently published Game Dev Tycoon, the respective gamers found themselves unable to achieve any virtual success. While the game objective is to establish and manage a game studio, the users experienced such a high intensity of virtual, in-game piracy that they were unable to make any long-term profit. The alleged bug turned out to be a strategic effort by the independent game development company Greenheart, targeted at demonstrating the impact of game piracy.

The illegal copy of the game differs significantly from the legal version which can be downloaded here. It has been strategically placed on a torrent side by the indie game developer Greenheart itself. After seeing the first reactions of gamers playing the illegal copy, co-founder Patrick Klug documented and revealed the company’s unique strategy on his blog:

“The cracked version is nearly identical to the real thing except for one detail… Initially we thought about telling them their copy is an illegal copy, 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. So, as players spend a few hours playing and growing their own game dev company, they will start to see the following message, styled like any other in-game message:”


Greenheart’s strategy and particularly Klug’s blog post address piracy immersively and on a personal level. Seeing the irony in some illegal gamers’ advice requests, he commented: “(…) 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!”.


Nevertheless, one might have to keep in mind that Greenheart’s meta-strategy does exceed the purpose of education in gaming netiquette and digital fairness. It is also a marketing and publicity strategy which has resulted in a reasonable number of articles and comments on this topic. The company’s effort should not merely be seen as an approach to raise awareness of piracy effects, but it is likewise targeted at increasing public interests and boost legal sales of the game through addressing additional customers. It seems particularly likely that the interest in a comparative gaming experience ‒ based on the illegal as well as the legal version ‒ will rise.

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