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McPixel Embraced Piracy, Lived to Tell the Tale

When offered the chance to advertise his game on The Pirate Bay, Sos Sosowski didn't hesitate to say yes, and his sales went up, up, up.

If known piracy destination The Pirate Bay went to a dozen developers with an opportunity to advertise a torrent of their game on the site's front page, most would say no. McPixel designer Sos Sosowski, however, said yes.

McPixel, for those who haven't watched our ridiculous Quick Look, is a totally hilarious point 'n click adventure game that's drawn a number of WarioWare comparisons for good reason. In each stage, players are tasked with defusing a bomb, with only a precious few seconds on the clock. Most clicks end in tragedy. And laughs. And explosions.

Ask a million developers about piracy, and you'll get a million answers. A broad generalization would say the creators of big AAA games that cost tens of millions to produce are much more sensitive about the consequences of piracy. Smaller, independent creators don't usually obsess over it. Smaller stakes, different philosophies.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent developers Frictional Games recently published a blog post on the two-year anniversary of Amnesia’s release, and dedicated only a single, tiny paragraph to the effect of piracy.

“It has been over a year since we even thought about piracy,” said the studio. “With sales as good as above we cannot really see this as an issue worth more than two lines in this post, so screw it.”

Amnesia has sold more than a million copies in the last two years.

Each stage in McPixel has all sorts of right and wrong ways to finish it. Mostly wrong, though.

By comparison, McPixel, released for various computing platforms on June 25, has sold 2,000 copies.

“My belief is that when many people are enjoying the game and talking about it, I won't starve,” said Sosowski. “I'm not a business, I don't plan to make millions and gazzilions, I'm just this one guy making games! If I can afford to live enough to make my next game from what I got, it's all fine.”

Even with just 2,000 copies sold, Sosowski can consider McPixel profitable. He has earned enough to live off of, which means he can keep making games. Then, there’s the recent release on iOS, which spurred additional interest in the game, and he’s happy with the sales on that platform. The goal for Sosowski is for more people to see and play his latest creation.

It’s what prompted Sosowski to sign-off on an unexpected offer from The Pirate Bay, and become the first game chosen to have a slot on what the site calls The Promo Bay. Saying no actually wasn't much of a consideration.

Every so often, The Pirate Bay uses its powerful front page to help promote something it finds cool.

“Sometimes we link to important political issues like internet censorship and sometimes it's to some cool indie musicians we like,” reads the page dedicated to The Promo Bay.

Sosowski came to the attention of The Pirate Bay after he was praised on Reddit. When he happened upon a McPixel torrent, Sosowski thanked people for their interest, rather than petitioning to take it down. Furthermore, Sosowski left promo codes in the comments. Someone posted a screen capture on Reddit, where he was given a virtual standing ovation. Riding this wave, Sosowski held an Ask Me Anything, and answered hundreds of questions.

As part of the promotion, there was a PayPal account for people to toss a few dollars at the creator, and sales more than doubled* during this time. 2,000 to 4,000 might not be much to Gears of War, but it's huge for McPixel.

The asterisk, of course, is that not everyone paid.

“I think people who wanted to buy but weren't sure, got a chance to play the game,” he said. “Perhaps someone did not like it and didn't pay in the end. But that's not bad. I guess I'd rather that, than they buying it and not being satisfied.”

Sosowski provided a bevy of statistics related to McPixel’s sales during this time, including an hour-by-hour graph of sales during the promo's availability and a breakdown of how people chose to (or to not) spend money on McPixel.

First, the chart.

Second, the stats.

  • $7,824.69 made in total
  • $1,035.05 worth of PayPal fees
  • $6,789.64 overall net worth (without fees)
  • 3,055 purchases
  • $2.56 per-purchase average
  • 625 1-cent purchases
  • 688 zero purchases (or, at least, under .30--all goes to PayPal fees)
  • 1,917 purchases under a dollar
  • 2,185 purchases under the average ($2.56)
  • 870 purchases over the average ($2.56)
  • 171 purchases equal or higher the retail price ($9.99)

Sosowski was pleasantly surprised. These are people who probably wouldn't have discovered McPixel otherwise. As such, anyone who downloaded McPixel and sent a few dollars made the gamble worth it. Plus, making such an extraordinary move prompted dozens of articles, including this one. Such exposure can be cashed in later.

“There were people that didn't pay but wanted to say thanks,“ he said, “or couldn't use PayPal and wanted another route of paying me. Some people just 'donated [to] the cause' and didn't want the game at all, as well. Overall, it was really warm. I was busy replying tons of emails 24/7 but a smile never left my face.”

I spoke with Sosowski on Tuesday. Just hours later, McPixel became one of ten games to move from the Greenlight community, and have a slot on the Steam marketplace. Until now, McPixel was only available from www.mcpixel.net, and recently within the App Store. He's probably going to sell more than 4,000 copies now.

Approaches to piracy can and will vary from developer to developer, publisher to publisher, game to game. Each project carries its own risk-reward relationship with piracy. Look at what piracy did to the PSP, for example.

Sosowski, however, just gave piracy a high-five and came out alive. He's probably better for it. So is McPixel.

The best may be yet to come, too. Sosowski is getting ready to port McPixel to the Commodore 64.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
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Posted by patrickklepek

If known piracy destination The Pirate Bay went to a dozen developers with an opportunity to advertise a torrent of their game on the site's front page, most would say no. McPixel designer Sos Sosowski, however, said yes.

McPixel, for those who haven't watched our ridiculous Quick Look, is a totally hilarious point 'n click adventure game that's drawn a number of WarioWare comparisons for good reason. In each stage, players are tasked with defusing a bomb, with only a precious few seconds on the clock. Most clicks end in tragedy. And laughs. And explosions.

Ask a million developers about piracy, and you'll get a million answers. A broad generalization would say the creators of big AAA games that cost tens of millions to produce are much more sensitive about the consequences of piracy. Smaller, independent creators don't usually obsess over it. Smaller stakes, different philosophies.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent developers Frictional Games recently published a blog post on the two-year anniversary of Amnesia’s release, and dedicated only a single, tiny paragraph to the effect of piracy.

“It has been over a year since we even thought about piracy,” said the studio. “With sales as good as above we cannot really see this as an issue worth more than two lines in this post, so screw it.”

Amnesia has sold more than a million copies in the last two years.

Each stage in McPixel has all sorts of right and wrong ways to finish it. Mostly wrong, though.

By comparison, McPixel, released for various computing platforms on June 25, has sold 2,000 copies.

“My belief is that when many people are enjoying the game and talking about it, I won't starve,” said Sosowski. “I'm not a business, I don't plan to make millions and gazzilions, I'm just this one guy making games! If I can afford to live enough to make my next game from what I got, it's all fine.”

Even with just 2,000 copies sold, Sosowski can consider McPixel profitable. He has earned enough to live off of, which means he can keep making games. Then, there’s the recent release on iOS, which spurred additional interest in the game, and he’s happy with the sales on that platform. The goal for Sosowski is for more people to see and play his latest creation.

It’s what prompted Sosowski to sign-off on an unexpected offer from The Pirate Bay, and become the first game chosen to have a slot on what the site calls The Promo Bay. Saying no actually wasn't much of a consideration.

Every so often, The Pirate Bay uses its powerful front page to help promote something it finds cool.

“Sometimes we link to important political issues like internet censorship and sometimes it's to some cool indie musicians we like,” reads the page dedicated to The Promo Bay.

Sosowski came to the attention of The Pirate Bay after he was praised on Reddit. When he happened upon a McPixel torrent, Sosowski thanked people for their interest, rather than petitioning to take it down. Furthermore, Sosowski left promo codes in the comments. Someone posted a screen capture on Reddit, where he was given a virtual standing ovation. Riding this wave, Sosowski held an Ask Me Anything, and answered hundreds of questions.

As part of the promotion, there was a PayPal account for people to toss a few dollars at the creator, and sales more than doubled* during this time. 2,000 to 4,000 might not be much to Gears of War, but it's huge for McPixel.

The asterisk, of course, is that not everyone paid.

“I think people who wanted to buy but weren't sure, got a chance to play the game,” he said. “Perhaps someone did not like it and didn't pay in the end. But that's not bad. I guess I'd rather that, than they buying it and not being satisfied.”

Sosowski provided a bevy of statistics related to McPixel’s sales during this time, including an hour-by-hour graph of sales during the promo's availability and a breakdown of how people chose to (or to not) spend money on McPixel.

First, the chart.

Second, the stats.

  • $7,824.69 made in total
  • $1,035.05 worth of PayPal fees
  • $6,789.64 overall net worth (without fees)
  • 3,055 purchases
  • $2.56 per-purchase average
  • 625 1-cent purchases
  • 688 zero purchases (or, at least, under .30--all goes to PayPal fees)
  • 1,917 purchases under a dollar
  • 2,185 purchases under the average ($2.56)
  • 870 purchases over the average ($2.56)
  • 171 purchases equal or higher the retail price ($9.99)

Sosowski was pleasantly surprised. These are people who probably wouldn't have discovered McPixel otherwise. As such, anyone who downloaded McPixel and sent a few dollars made the gamble worth it. Plus, making such an extraordinary move prompted dozens of articles, including this one. Such exposure can be cashed in later.

“There were people that didn't pay but wanted to say thanks,“ he said, “or couldn't use PayPal and wanted another route of paying me. Some people just 'donated [to] the cause' and didn't want the game at all, as well. Overall, it was really warm. I was busy replying tons of emails 24/7 but a smile never left my face.”

I spoke with Sosowski on Tuesday. Just hours later, McPixel became one of ten games to move from the Greenlight community, and have a slot on the Steam marketplace. Until now, McPixel was only available from www.mcpixel.net, and recently within the App Store. He's probably going to sell more than 4,000 copies now.

Approaches to piracy can and will vary from developer to developer, publisher to publisher, game to game. Each project carries its own risk-reward relationship with piracy. Look at what piracy did to the PSP, for example.

Sosowski, however, just gave piracy a high-five and came out alive. He's probably better for it. So is McPixel.

The best may be yet to come, too. Sosowski is getting ready to port McPixel to the Commodore 64.

Edited by hampus

yay!!

edit: finally!

and yeah, mcpixel is an amazing game, i hope it helped the developer

Posted by fargofallout

McPixel!!!!

Posted by The_Nubster

To the Commodore 64? Finally, a recent game I can play on my only home gaming system!

Posted by Morridin

I remember the awesome QL, but it didn't really seem to me to be something I'd still play after 10 minutes.

Posted by SquareMatt

I'm really glad that it worked out for him! Hopefully now even more people can enjoy the insanity that it McPixel.

Posted by Little_Socrates

Good job, Sosowski. Glad things are continuing to work for you. I wish I liked your game McPixel at all, but I hope you make something I do like in the future because you seem like a really cool guy.

Posted by Humanity

I can see this being favorable for games that have been out to move some old digital "stock" but never to new AAA titles.

Posted by Cincaid
Posted by xMEGADETHxSLY

I like the approach hey look I'm fine with you pirating my game , the consumer the say I like what this guy or gal has to offer so ill buy it and support it even more

Posted by DrRandle

It's not piracy when you give it to people. It's called sharing. Piracy is when they take it against your wish. There is a difference and it would do people well to learn it, and not use this to tell people "See, stealing other people's shit helps them!"

Posted by jakob187

I'm calling bullshit. Everyone knows that The Pirate Bay is evil, piracy is the downfall of the music/movie/game industry, and anyone who deals with pirates smells of rum and has crabs.

Posted by BonOrbitz

Good for him! I enjoyed the Quick Look but haven't bought the game yet. It's cool of him to expose the game to the masses in such a way he felt was successful.

Posted by Igottadeuce

McPirate.

Edited by MikkaQ

Oh man, I wonder how limited the C64 run will be? I need it. Or will he just post a WAV file of pure data that you have to record onto a fucking cassette? Because that would just about be the coolest thing ever.

Posted by LegendaryChopChop

This is how you do it. Kudos to you, Mr. Sosowski for taking a chance and seeing the benefit of getting your name out there.

The money will flow once people see what you can do, that's exactly why piracy to indie games is beneficial.

Posted by Vitor

Interesting article. Glad to see the game getting more support and a developer trying new ways to monetise/advertise.

Shame though that without any labels on the axis or explanation for the colour coding makes it a little hard to read. Rookie mistake number one for any sort of graph work.

Posted by granderojo

I've been waiting to buy McPixel for when it comes to Steam. I knew even before Greenlight that it would eventually come to the platform. Good to see Sos made some dough.

Posted by BooDoug187

@jakob187 said:

I'm calling bullshit. Everyone knows that The Pirate Bay is evil, piracy is the downfall of the music/movie/game industry, and anyone who deals with pirates smells of rum and has crabs.

You forgot scurvy.

Posted by Sooty

But...piracy is evil! It's killing the industry! All PC gamers are pirates.

- Ubisoft

Posted by Kaigan

McPixel creator says "pirating single developer/indie games is A-OK".

More at 11.

Posted by spilledmilkfactory

@Morridin said:

I remember the awesome QL, but it didn't really seem to me to be something I'd still play after 10 minutes.

Same here. Looks like it would get boring pretty fast.

I'm glad all of this exposure was able to help such a small developer, though. It's probably largely due to this exposure that the game flourished on Greenlight, and it'll undoubtedly sell many more copies now. It's just really interesting how some companies or individuals can turn the piracy crowd into a new and untapped market, while others cram lame DRM down our throats and then wonder why people pirate their stuff. Not that I'm defending piracy.. it's just interesting.

Posted by test0r

I bought it for $10 during the "pay anything" sale.

Was not disappointed.

Posted by wumbo3000

"Approaches to piracy can and will vary from developer to developer, publisher to publisher, game to game. Each project carries its own risk-reward relationship with piracy. Look at what piracy did to the PSP, for example."

Okay, someone wanna fill me in? I thought lack of good games is what did in the PSP. Didn't really hear about piracy being a big issue on it, or maybe I'm just ignorant.

Posted by nemesisND1derboy

Great story Patrick.

As someone who's firmly against piracy, even I can realise how something like this can help small developers. Great attitude for Sosowski to have.

I just want people to buy McPixel I suppose. It's an awesome game and I'm glad this has led to more exposure and sales, and to be honest it's probably the reason it's been Greenlit on Steam.

I've bought it on PC and iOS.

Posted by Tennmuerti

@jakob187 said:

I'm calling bullshit. Everyone knows that The Pirate Bay is evil, piracy is the downfall of the music/movie/game industry, and anyone who deals with pirates smells of rum and has crabs.

Hey! I resent that statement, I do not smell of rum.

Posted by predator
Posted by oneidwille

I bought it because it was on Pirate Bay.

Posted by gungrave45

People can be dumb. Mcpixel is a small one man game with barely any sales. The creator only has to worry about paying himself. When a large or medium sized developer creates a game they need to worry about paying the entire staff. Piracy is for dumb thugs who don't want to give anything back to the industry.

Posted by Stubee

I love that here in the UK Piratebay.org has been blocked by most ISPs. Instead you have to go to pirateshit.com. The new URL is way better!

Posted by Ravenlight

@gungrave45 said:

Piracy is for dumb thugs who don't want to give anything back to the industry.

The industry you mention should be doing all it can to give back to us the consumers, because when we're happy, we tend to pull out our wallets instead of saying, "More bullshit DRM? I guess I'll just pirate it."

Posted by Dezztroy

@patrickklepek It's available on Desura as well.
 
Great read though.

Edited by I_smell

I approached Pirate Bay last year and did this before they had a name for it! god I feel like ol' Gil in The Simpsons reading this: "virtual standing ovation"? argh fiddlesticks!!

Side-note it's really surprising McPixel only sold 2,000. I expected by the time a game gets a Quick Look it must be already in the 10,000s or something. Also it's weird Patrick didn't mention that McPixel just got greenlit, so you can buy it on Steam soon.

Posted by Bludgeoner86

Waiting for that Commodore 64 port. I actually have one. :-p

Edited by Gaff

@wumbo3000 said:

"Approaches to piracy can and will vary from developer to developer, publisher to publisher, game to game. Each project carries its own risk-reward relationship with piracy. Look at what piracy did to the PSP, for example."

Okay, someone wanna fill me in? I thought lack of good games is what did in the PSP. Didn't really hear about piracy being a big issue on it, or maybe I'm just ignorant.

Ok, just give me a second. Deep breath.

So, the PSP was hacked very early in its life, which allowed the PSP to run homebrew software and, at best, run UMD backups of games you owned straight of the Memory Stick or, at worst, allowed people to pirate games. Sales of the system itself were fine (it wasn't doing great, but still), but software sales were incredibly disappointing (largely in part due to the pirating). Developers and publishers took notice and stopped developing and releasing games for the platform: Why make games for a platform when you won't earn any money? So new games stopped getting released, which slowly lead to the PSP dying a slow and painful death. In the West at least.

While it may not be the most accurate description of what happened (lots of details, etc) but it basically boils down to this.

Posted by bhhawks78

@wumbo3000 said:

"Approaches to piracy can and will vary from developer to developer, publisher to publisher, game to game. Each project carries its own risk-reward relationship with piracy. Look at what piracy did to the PSP, for example."

Okay, someone wanna fill me in? I thought lack of good games is what did in the PSP. Didn't really hear about piracy being a big issue on it, or maybe I'm just ignorant.

Fanboys, and devs that made bad games blamed piracy for poor sales of poor games on a poor platform.

Posted by FLStyle

Well that's one way to solve piracy, good job Mr. Sosowski.

Posted by Baal_Sagoth

Very interesting read. Of course, it remains to be seen if the bold developer just rode a momentary hype wave or if Pirate Bay promotions and similar concepts might be an opportunity - for a niche of games if nothing else. I love that someone tried this and hope for a sustainable outcome for this sort of thing but it still seems to be up in the air for now.

Posted by ds8k

I'm waiting for a Steam version, at which point I will throw money at Sosowski.

Edited by Lurkero

I don't think this strategy could ever work for high budget games.

Seeing as how only a little over 3% of people were willing to pay retail price or more, it would be dangerous for anyone other than a low budget indie to appeal to pirates.

I would appreciate more variety in retail prices though. Not every game should be released at MSRP.

Posted by Phatmac

FUCK YEAH, C64!!!!!

Posted by fisk0

@Sooty said:

But...piracy is evil! It's killing the industry! All PC gamers are pirates.

- Ubisoft

Ubisoft do sell some of their games DRM free on GOG, though not their most recent releases (but Assassin's Creed isn't that old).

I do think that in Europe, developers are generally not that much against piracy, at least not outside the UK. One reason may be that most of the major developers in northern and eastern Europe have roots in the pirate scene themselves. It would seem that the skills used in cracking copy protection, as well as programming technical showpieces for the demoscene do translate pretty well to game development. Remedy, Future Mark, Starbreeze, DICE, Avalanche and GRIN/Fatshark were all founded or have several members that are or used to be part of various scene groups, most of which were in part involved with piracy (though Triton and Future Crew - that became Starbreeze and Remedy/Future Mark respectively were mostly involved in demo/cracktro and tracker music production). There are people from major pirate groups like Razor 1911 and The Red Sector all over the industry.

Posted by wumbo3000

@Gaff said:

@wumbo3000 said:

"Approaches to piracy can and will vary from developer to developer, publisher to publisher, game to game. Each project carries its own risk-reward relationship with piracy. Look at what piracy did to the PSP, for example."

Okay, someone wanna fill me in? I thought lack of good games is what did in the PSP. Didn't really hear about piracy being a big issue on it, or maybe I'm just ignorant.

Ok, just give me a second. Deep breath.

So, the PSP was hacked very early in its life, which allowed the PSP to run homebrew software and, at best, run UMD backups of games you owned straight of the Memory Stick or, at worst, allowed people to pirate games. Sales of the system itself were fine (it was doing great, but still), but software sales were incredibly disappointing (largely in part due to the pirating). Developers and publishers took notice and stopped developing and releasing games for the platform: Why make games for a platform when you won't earn any money? So new games stopped getting released, which slowly lead to the PSP dying a slow and painful death. In the West at least.

While it may not be the most accurate description of what happened (lots of details, etc) but it basically boils down to this.

Thanks for the in-depth answer. I never had a PSP so I just wasn't really familiar with that platform in general. The more you know!

Posted by Jams

The only reason it's a success is because a story has been made out of it. All the pirates pat him on his head for saying it's okay to pirate and they give him some money for it. But what about once pirating games became a standard? Then they'll just pirate the game without all the head patting and thanks that's he's getting now. They'd just steal it.

@DrRandle said:

It's not piracy when you give it to people. It's called sharing. Piracy is when they take it against your wish. There is a difference and it would do people well to learn it, and not use this to tell people "See, stealing other people's shit helps them!"

Like you said, it's not pirating when you're making a little show of it. You know those pirates are going to throw money at you so they can say, "see we'll still pay! Now let us pirate your AAA games, we'll pay we swear!"

Posted by Xeirus

@Jams said:

The only reason it's a success is because a story has been made out of it. All the pirates pat him on his head for saying it's okay to pirate and they give him some money for it. But what about once pirating games became a standard? Then they'll just pirate the game without all the head patting and thanks that's he's getting now. They'd just steal it.

@DrRandle said:

It's not piracy when you give it to people. It's called sharing. Piracy is when they take it against your wish. There is a difference and it would do people well to learn it, and not use this to tell people "See, stealing other people's shit helps them!"

Like you said, it's not pirating when you're making a little show of it. You know those pirates are going to throw money at you so they can say, "see we'll still pay! Now let us pirate your AAA games, we'll pay we swear!"

and?

Do whatever you can to help your gave survive and to pay your rent. It was piracy, he found out about it and then lured the pirates in. It's smart, it's also a good game.

Don't try to undermine his success by saying crap like "the only reason". There are tons of reasons, one of which is, he's smart and know how to treat people.

Edited by c_rakestraw

He's really porting the game to the Commodore 64?

Dammit, I need to get this game. Anyone that awesome deserves to be rewarded big-time.

Posted by Nettacki
@bhhawks78 said:

@wumbo3000 said:

"Approaches to piracy can and will vary from developer to developer, publisher to publisher, game to game. Each project carries its own risk-reward relationship with piracy. Look at what piracy did to the PSP, for example."

Okay, someone wanna fill me in? I thought lack of good games is what did in the PSP. Didn't really hear about piracy being a big issue on it, or maybe I'm just ignorant.

Fanboys, and devs that made bad games blamed piracy for poor sales of poor games on a poor platform.

You can't deny that piracy had SOME effect on PSP software sales. Even for devs that made GOOD games.
Posted by YukoAsho

@Jams said:

The only reason it's a success is because a story has been made out of it. All the pirates pat him on his head for saying it's okay to pirate and they give him some money for it. But what about once pirating games became a standard? Then they'll just pirate the game without all the head patting and thanks that's he's getting now. They'd just steal it.

@DrRandle said:

It's not piracy when you give it to people. It's called sharing. Piracy is when they take it against your wish. There is a difference and it would do people well to learn it, and not use this to tell people "See, stealing other people's shit helps them!"

Like you said, it's not pirating when you're making a little show of it. You know those pirates are going to throw money at you so they can say, "see we'll still pay! Now let us pirate your AAA games, we'll pay we swear!"

Pretty much. This was all a nod and handshake deal. Just because this guy's decided it's OK to give the game to the pirates doesn't mean piracy doesn't affect gaming in general. The dev even said "I'm not a business." Try that with popular games, where millions upon millions are invested, and you're not going to be profitable.

Posted by Anund

@Jams said:

The only reason it's a success is because a story has been made out of it. All the pirates pat him on his head for saying it's okay to pirate and they give him some money for it. But what about once pirating games became a standard? Then they'll just pirate the game without all the head patting and thanks that's he's getting now. They'd just steal it.

@DrRandle said:

It's not piracy when you give it to people. It's called sharing. Piracy is when they take it against your wish. There is a difference and it would do people well to learn it, and not use this to tell people "See, stealing other people's shit helps them!"

Like you said, it's not pirating when you're making a little show of it. You know those pirates are going to throw money at you so they can say, "see we'll still pay! Now let us pirate your AAA games, we'll pay we swear!"

You're forgetting that the entire story starts with him finding a torrent of his game and commenting on the associated thread.

Posted by Peanut

I've never been into buying games from random sites, with the exception being Minecraft, so once this thing hits Steam I'm there.

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