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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+
116 Comments
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Posted by Phished0ne

I think, although there is a piracy tinge to this story, it is a more accurate account of what happens when you allow people to pay what they will. I think that is the more important part to the story. I think in the future we will see more indie devs taking this route to get their name out. Either by selling it directly, or by trying to get your game in something like the Humble Indie Bundle.

Posted by Tennmuerti

@gungrave45 said:

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

Here's a fun example. Piracy is probably one of the main reasons i am giving as much to the industry as I do today.

Pirating games at a young age when they were hard to come by as was money enabled me to enjoy many many more games then I would have been able to otherwise (if i only bought what i could find/afford), fuelling my love for gaming as a whole over the years, well into adulthood. Now with a steady job and a decent income, gaming is my prime hobby, with my Steam library of games is too big for me to keep track of in numbers, not to mention occasional console version purchases, pre orders, collectors editions, DLC, and even a rare double dipping on the same game.

My example is obviously far from universal, but it is also quite common. (people pirating when they don't have the means to buy, then become consumers when they do and time/convenience becomes worth more then money; a point raised by Jeff a couple of times)

There is more then one perspective.

Posted by FourWude

McPixel didn't get rogered or buggered by the pirates, even though it was wide open....

Posted by Zaapp1

People who pirate software are still the scum of the earth in my book. Entitled brats... If you can't or won't pay for something, the discussion's over. It's not yours.

Posted by RecSpec

I adore this guy so much.

Posted by JYoung

I didn't know the game was on iOS, so there's another sale from this story.

Posted by JJOR64

Getting this Day 1 when it comes to Steam.

Posted by North6

@Tennmuerti said:

@gungrave45 said:

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

Here's a fun example. Piracy is probably one of the main reasons i am giving as much to the industry as I do today.

Pirating games at a young age when they were hard to come by as was money enabled me to enjoy many many more games then I would have been able to otherwise (if i only bought what i could find/afford), fuelling my love for gaming as a whole over the years, well into adulthood. Now with a steady job and a decent income, gaming is my prime hobby, with my Steam library of games is too big for me to keep track of in numbers, not to mention occasional console version purchases, pre orders, collectors editions, DLC, and even a rare double dipping on the same game.

My example is obviously far from universal, but it is also quite common. (people pirating when they don't have the means to buy, then become consumers when they do and time/convenience becomes worth more then money; a point raised by Jeff a couple of times)

There is more then one perspective.

This is true.

Posted by paisan13

This guy is fantastic. I will buy McPixel for C64 ^_^

Posted by Xpgamer7

It's interesting. Everyone has their own reasons for their stance on piracy but in the end it's an individual decision. It can help or hurt based on the situation. For example, I wasn't able to run PC games when I lived in China. They also don't sell games legally there so buying it would take shipping and possibly be region locked for my consoles. Also due to the fact that I was a student living off of my parents with no job(You can't get a job easily as a student in beijing, you have to be creative) I would have to spend all my money to buy one game. Piracy helped me get games I wouldn't have otherwise had and I buy legally now that I'm in the US. I can't always afford everything, but I always make sure to support people who I think deserve it. Also I have 3 PSPs, partially because of the hacking community and being able to use it for things like a universal remote. And I still own UMDs.

Posted by tourgen

I think what this shows is that for smaller developers piracy isn't the problem. The problem is no one has heard of your product. The few that do buy it stumbled on it by accident or are people who actively search out indie games. ANY form of exposure is good, even if it's from a torrent tracker.

I believe sci-fi book authors discovered the same thing. Giving their stuff away increases sales. It sounds weird, but it's really not. If it's free then so many more people at least give their book a shot. they get exposure and word of mouth. I think it was Baen or TOR that started the trend.

Posted by Grimdaddy

I am proud to have been among the 2000 original purchasers, but had no idea that it was so few - its a great game. I am very glad that the "pirate gamble" worked out so well for this developer. It speaks volumes to the intentions of most who participate in such.

Posted by avidwriter

See. Stop hating on Piracy. It's not all bad, a lot of time it can actually be good.

Posted by Talis12

@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.

  • 7 out of 10 highest grossing movies have been from the last 3 years
  • annual movie ticket sales have been pretty steady in the past 10 years at around 1.3-1.4 billion.. the peak in 2002 was 1.58 billion and in 2012 it has been 1.4 billion so far
  • since 1995 the revenue has doubled from 5.2 billion to 10.9 billion in 2012, going up pretty much each year
  • in the past 10 years video game revenue has gone from 20 billion to 65 billion
  • in the last 2 years video game sales have dropped about 6%, but dont forget these numbers dont include digital sales and digital sales have done nothing but go up in the past years

dont believe everything they say m8.. when they say sales are down its not (just) because of piracy.. its because they have made poor choices, are releasing unfinished products, have to deal with hardware that's at the end of its game, release sequel after sequel after sequel and god knows how many other reasons.. When a publisher says 'game sales are down' he actually means "we aimed to make 100 million in profit but only got 90 million, not what we expected, but i can keep driving my Porsche"

piracy is a thing.. but not as big of a thing as these companies are making you believe.

Posted by Monkeyman04

@Talis12 said:

@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.

  • 7 out of 10 highest grossing movies have been from the last 3 years
  • annual movie ticket sales have been pretty steady in the past 10 years at around 1.3-1.4 billion.. the peak in 2002 was 1.58 billion and in 2012 it has been 1.4 billion so far
  • since 1995 the revenue has doubled from 5.2 billion to 10.9 billion in 2012, going up pretty much each year
  • in the past 10 years video game revenue has gone from 20 billion to 65 billion
  • in the last 2 years video game sales have dropped about 6%, but dont forget these numbers dont include digital sales and digital sales have done nothing but go up in the past years

dont believe everything they say m8.. when they say sales are down its not (just) because of piracy.. its because they have made poor choices, are releasing unfinished products, have to deal with hardware that's at the end of its game, release sequel after sequel after sequel and god knows how many other reasons.. When a publisher says 'game sales are down' he actually means "we aimed to make 100 million in profit but only got 90 million, not what we expected, but i can keep driving my Porsche"

piracy is a thing.. but not as big of a thing as these companies are making you believe.

I have nothing else to add. Just wanted to say, "EXACTLY!"

Online
Posted by SpicyRichter

I bought this game twice, once for PC, once for iOS a few weeks ago

1/2000

Posted by Krakn3Dfx

Buying this as soon as it hits Steam.

Posted by WolfHazard

I'll have to check this out

Posted by George_Hukas

Woah, this Pirate Bay place is pretty cool! Did you guys know you can free games there!??!

Bookmarked!

Posted by Dark_Lord_Spam

The guy seems super nice, and I wish him the best, but I can't help feeling like that breakdown of purchase figures says all we need to know about the generosity of software pirates. It may or may not make a tiny independent profitable, but you just know someone will try to spin this as making sense for multi-million dollar projects. And that's simply not the case.

Posted by PimblyCharles

This reminds me when Zeno Clash was cracked & put up on torrent sites like Piratebay. The developers (brothers I think?) went to all the sites and left comments saying they don't mind if you DL the game without paying, but that if the person likes it to think about buying it. They later said their sales were better than they expected; likely to the torrents. Cool shit.

Posted by punkxblaze

@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.

The reason it didn't have good games is because devs weren't willing to risk putting any on there due to rampant piracy issues. The two sort of go hand in hand with that situation.

Posted by PurplePartyRobot

I picked up McPixel through Android, but I'm gonna donate a little bit more to make it on par with the $10 purchase. This game deserves as much.

Posted by YukoAsho

@Nettacki said:

@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.

Exactly. The system sold over 65 million fucking units worldwide. It should have been a goldmine for publishers, but they were frightened of making large investments in making games for the thing.

Posted by SatelliteOfLove

I don't like this meme, but #gamechanger.

Edited by Kosayn

Seems like some pirates actually do buy things that are good, right?

The other myth about video game piracy is that it is a new thing. The culture of game sharing was very much in swing back in the 1980s, in the days of the 5 1/4 floppy disk, on B&W old school macs and actual IBM PCs, not to mention the many other awesome types of machines back then, none of which were really mainstream at all. Commodores, Amigas, weird russian computers recording on audio tapes, famicoms, etc. Your school was lucky if it had 1-3 of them, with maybe 1 kind of software. The block you lived on probably had 0.

Many gamers and game designers would not have developed their current interest without piracy - even just from a distribution standpoint. I'd venture to say that not only is piracy not currently destroying the market, it played a huge role in actually developing the market in the first place. We could have been a much less playful culture right now, if early anti-piracy efforts worked better.

Posted by Tesla

McPixel is awesome and so is Sosowski. Say what you will about the current generation, but grassroots success stories like this are more likely now than ever in the video game industry. +1 faith in humanity.

Posted by Undeadpool

Is it wrong that every time the dev was quoted, his voice in my head sounded exactly like Tommy Wiseau?

Posted by Gildermershina

It kind of bugs me that shit like this could be used by certain people to justify their piracy. I think it's admirable for a developer like this have found a way to leverage the publicity, but I sure hope that the case of a one-man developer with relatively low production costs doesn't morph into people saying "see, indie developers think piracy is TOTALLY FINE."

But whatever, good for McPixel.

Posted by dr_mantas

I'm still opposed to piracy, on principle. People should be payed for their work. If the developer is all for it, good for them, I don't really care in that situation.

But as a reformed pirate I can say that I didn't pirate because of some deep moral beliefs, I pirated because I wanted to play every game that came out and had no money. So there will always be people that pirate, mostly kids with a lot of time and no money.

It's important to grow up and realize that everything you consume takes effort, time and money to make. And THAT should be recompensed. And this dollar by dollar sale only works for super small indie games. Imagine Skyrim getting advertised on pirate bay and making enough money for ES VI to be made.

Posted by onan

"Look what piracy did to the PSP. for example."

More like "look what punitive mandatory firmware updates did to the PSP." I almost stopped buying games entirely for mine because I wasn't willing to give up the ability to run emulators on it and was forced into pirating games I wanted to play. I had to weigh my interest in each individual game again the entire back catalog of several classic gaming platforms and it was never a hard choice. The ones I really liked, I bought, pirated, and they stayed in shrink wrap on my shelf, completely useless to me. They also loaded faster, as a plus.

The DS by comparison was much, MUCH easier to pirate games on, and yet it's one of the most successful platforms of all time, and they never did a single thing to stop it other than going after people like the R4 manufacturers.

If all Steam games would scan your hard drive for any software that matched ones available on popular torrent sites and would delete them, would you buy Steam games? I wouldn't. Many wouldn't. Would I ever say then that piracy sank Steam? I'd place that blame on whoever made the boneheaded decision to police people's actions instead of focusing on cultivating the seller/customer relationship.

Posted by TeflonBilly

I threw some change his way when I saw this thing (I was even in second place on his leaderboard for a bit!). It's far from a model people can expect to be sustainable, I just thought it was a nice and ballsy gesture which I appreciated.

More or less it's a nice little experiment to show how digital distribution is becoming a savior of PC development. I mean it was onlya few years ago where people were declaring the death of PC gaming, but thanks in large part to Steam and the timing of console cycles, we're reaching a new golden age for it at the moment

Posted by BeautifulSpaceCowboy

McPixel is great. I am glad things are working out for Sosowski.

Posted by FMinus

@Lurkero said:

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.

That's because entertainment is overpriced in most regions of the world. Latest example the X-Com: Enemy Unknown pre-order on Steam. They demand 599 Rubles from Russians which equals to about $19, while from me they demand 49.99EUR which equals to $65 - Fuck that simply put.

The sad generalizing reality is, that everyone I know from Russia and I know about 15 people, earns more money as I do. I can't afford games at 50 or 60EUR price points simply put. Luckily for Steam sales and other services like Steam, or I would pirate like a motherfucker, how could I, with a 800EUR monthly paycheck and a game is 50EUR, next to all the other bills and food I need to consume...

Posted by DryvBy

Well, that's weird. The propaganda machines say people who pirate cause the market to die.

Reality: game doesn't sell what was projected to the stock holders by CEO, CEO needs a reason they only sold 1.2 million instead of 1.3 million, begins blaming things. Truly though, what's killing the gaming business is the projected figures a game should sell. Remember when a game reached a million sales? That was like...legendary! Now, that's expected.

I worked for a Fortune 500 company in sales and the worst thing you could do there is have a good month selling stuff because every month after that, you were "not meeting expectations" even if you were still selling above the others. In other words, projections suck!

Posted by kerse

Sosowski is getting ready to port McPixel to the Commodore 64.

I hope this is true.

Posted by MrBeabo

Buying this game as soon as it hits Steam. Love me some crazy.

Posted by Tordah

Cool story. I'm sure McPixel will sell much more once it hits Steam.

Posted by Bourbon_Warrior

It should be a free flash game anyway.

Posted by Terramagi

I want McPixel on a floppy disk, both for novelty's sake and so I can say that I DID copy that floppy.

Posted by BiG_Weasel

Just wanted to point out that I watched the Congressional hearings involving the RIAA and Napster back in the day. Thing is, when Napster was at its peak, music sales were the highest they'd ever been. I think this further proves the point that the people that will buy a game/music/movie will buy it, and those that won't will not. Companies really aren't losing that money.

Posted by StartRunning

Sooooooo, when you make something that is cool and/or funny, people will just GIVE you money? Man, those big publishers have got it wayyy backwards.

Posted by JoshingMad

@Undeadpool said:

Is it wrong that every time the dev was quoted, his voice in my head sounded exactly like Tommy Wiseau?

Tommy Wiseau never sounded as eloquent and coherent as Sosowski.

The day that he does is the day when the world ends.

Posted by Cretaceous_Bob

A single person who made a low budget game who has nothing to lose and everything to gain loses nothing from piracy, gains exposure.

Hold on while I freak the fuck out.

Posted by kenniWORLDPEACE

this is awesome.

Posted by SpartanHoplite

good for him, not so good for others.

Edited by KoolAid

It's a cool story and lets hope the greenlight gets him even more exposure!

But I'd like to point out that making enough money "to live off of" is a little vague. I mean, I could live off cup of noodles for the next year and stop buying games if I really wanted to. (I don't want to if I can help it).

I'm not saying that's the case here, but I just feel like there is this disconnect in the scene where you are either perceived as being a starving artist making enough to get by or trying to make 'millions and gazzilions.

Posted by capthavic

I think if game devs/publishers worried less about piracy and more about making excellent games that are easy to play then piracy wouldn't be (as much of) a problem for them. Right now they are like the Empire from Star Wars, the tighter their grip the more potential sales slip through their fingers by making their products more expensive and bogged down with DRM.

Posted by Nintendude

@fisk0 said:

@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.

Didn't Ubi just claim to stop supporting those stupid always online DRM shenanigans? (Probably not DRM free when it comes to Assassin's Creed 3 and such.)

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