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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.

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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.
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.

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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+