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What Happens When a Developer Catches You Pirating Its Game

In the case of Skullgirls, it's a humanizing conversation about game development that we could all probably take a lesson from.

While playing Skullgirls, fighting game fan "Dan Hibiki" found this message on his screen:

No Caption Provided

Er, what?

The Internet can be a lonely place sometimes. It often feels like no one is listening, as if you're simply shouting into the void alongside millions of other voices. But sometimes, someone responds.

When Hibiki posted the photo above, he also tweeted at the official Skullgirls account. A huge reason Skullgirls raised nearly $1 million to create more Skullgirls characters was because the game's developer, Lab Zero Games, is constantly talking with its community.

So it wasn't a surprise when the Skullgirls account responded. Hibiki probably didn't expect this, though.

Oops.

Skullgirls isn't the first game to include a message aimed at players who haven't paid for the game they're playing. Mirror's Edge, for example, would slow players down before crucial jumps. EarthBound was probably the most cruel, though. (As cruel as a game punishing pirates can be, anyway.) If players somehow made it past the game's anti-piracy screen, EarthBound would spawn way more random encounters, often with enemies far more difficult than would be present at that point in the story. Furthermore, if players made it to the final boss, the game would freeze. When players reset the game, they'd discover their saves were gone.

But Skullgirls doesn't do that, and the developers were content with teasing Hibiki, who immediately realized he'd been caught red handed.

One of the reasons I answer virtually every private message or email that comes my way is because I've experienced the benefits of open communication. For Lab Zero Games, that's people playing Skullgirls. For me, it's people who read, view, and comment on what I write and record. Even when people passionately, vehemently disagree with me (which happens all the time, as it turns out!), I've been able to have worthwhile dialogues in which we come away with a better understanding of each side. When people realize others are watching, behavior changes. Often, but not always, behavior changes for the better. More listening happens.

It would have been completely understandable for Lab Zero Games to be upset at Hibiki. A sale was lost. Instead, the two sides began to have a conversation about the game, and what features might be coming.

The last time I wrote about Skullgirls, it was during the game's Indiegogo campaign. Lab Zero Games had asked for $150,000 to build several new characters for Skullgirls, and people couldn't understand why it needed so much money. The rise of crowdfunding has been interesting for many reasons. Games that wouldn't exist any other way, like Broken Age, are now on Steam. It's also opened our eyes to the realities of development. Making games costs more than people realize, especially given our sky-high expectations today.

A conversation that started about piracy now becomes a teachable moment about development.

I wish more conversations on the Internet were like that.

Patrick Klepek on Google+