The Witness Is Getting Pirated To Hell And Back

If it wasn't for the latest Naruto game, I'd be playing The Witness right now. Even then, that hasn't stopped me from absorbing a good deal of coverage and footage of Jonathan Blow's latest non-linear puzzler.

To my addled brain, it looks like a mash-up of Myst and Heaven & Earth. It's astonishingly satisfying, according to Stephen's review. Mark is loving it so far. And so are players on PC. But that hasn't stopped the vast majority from pirating the game.

The Braid creator has been tweeting rapidly early this morning letting people know just how rabid the rates of piracy are on PC, going as far to say that The Witness was "the #1 game on a certain popular torrent site".

Part of the reason for The Witness's high rates of piracy could be Blow's decision not to include DRM. "I don't like DRM because I think people should have the freedom to own things," he said in a Twitter reply. One suggestion was to introduce DRM for a short period of time, with Blow musing on having The Witness DRM-locked for 4 months.

Blow added that Braid was also heavily pirated on PC, with a piracy rate of "probably 90%". He didn't provide any attribution or verification for that figure, however.


    That's a damn shame. it's really very good

      This is absolutely devastating for an indie developer. I can't imagine how he feels. If this starts happening for VR games as well, it's going to be over as soon as it starts.

      Let's hope there are enough responsible people around to support this developer.

        I only hope it's mediated a bit by people buying it legit on console.

      Agreed, but I can't say I'm overly surprised. I've been looking forward to this game since it was announced, but I really wasn't expecting such a high price. Up to $30 is about my limit for an indie game, and this is basically double that, so it looks like I'll be waiting awhile before I get to play this.

        too high price was my first reaction as well, but them i'm longing for the old days when we could get demos before buying. i've bought too many games that turned out i didn't like to just willy nilly buy anything that looks promising. it's even worse if it's still in development (which is a common indie path).

    I actually bought the game at release on PS4 (rather than waiting for a sale) because I liked the concept and wanted to reward them for it. I hope that some of those pirates do indeed turn around and buy it later. Which is not such a fanciful idea - the very few times in recent years that I've acquired games through questionable means have been because I'm waiting for a physical copy to arrive in the mail.

      Even if they do, I suspect a lot of them will be waiting until it's like $5 in a Steam sale rather than buying it at full price, so the devs are still getting shafted.

        The games industry in general has taught us that buying full-priced games is basically a stupid idea.

        AAA games will nickel and dime you with season passes for about a year and after that you'll be able to pick up the complete collection for about $10, at which point it will hopefully have been patched so you'll be having a much better experience overall.

        Everything else is in a race to the bottom. They either go into a pay-what-you-want bundle within a year or a 90%-off sale. Or they just launch free-to-play.

          In fairness, this isn't a AAA game, it's made by a self-funded indie and there won't be any DLC nickel-and-diming (

          And I've got no objection to people refusing to buy games at full price at launch and waiting for them to get dirt cheap, that's not the issue. The issue is people pirating it to play it at launch and THEN buying it later on at dirt cheap sale prices, especially when they then claim some kind of moral high ground by saying "yeah, I pirated to try it then I bought it later". Bullshit - they pirated a $70 game then paid $10 for it a year later. That does not square the ledger, no matter how much they might like to think it does. If you're only willing to pay $10 for it, then wait for it to drop to $10.

            Yep, completely with you on that. Piracy is indefensible unless it is genuinely not possible to purchase a title here.

    Sucks its not on XB1, probably would be picking it up this weekend. I'll wait several months and pick it up on a steam sale/humble bundle.

      It'll be on there at some point... Sony's deal is just to have it first on PS4... I'm not sure how long that deal is for, though.

    I personally don't like the man himself, but feel for him here (because it is B.A.D)...yet still isn't this just yet another "water is wet" scenario?

    The PC gaming world is one of experiments and iteration and for years now the 'price it so cheap they have no excuse to pirate' mentality has had a negative effect that bled into the console world (ie Witness PS4 version is apparently too expensive, because some whiny cheapskate said so).

    I too agree people should have the freedom to own things, but don't pretend to preach that while nailing your colours to the "games as a service" mast.

    My PC is full of parts I bought from hardware manufacturers that rely on business from PC gaming world enthusiasts. I own those parts now, they are mine. It'd be real nice if software vendors were able to do the same, but it goes with the territory.

    If you like The Witness, buy it as a gift twice or ten times over!

    I tend to be skeptical of claims that "the vast majority" of people who played a given game pirate it. It just doesn't match at all with what I observe anecdotally, which is that although a fair number of people pirate games, the overwhelming majority don't.

    Although it could well be that this is a product of being at an age where people I talk to tend to be financially independent and living in a country with a decent minimum wage. There's much less motivation for piracy than among other demographics.

    I do think his choice to price the game as highly as he did hurt him. It may well be worth it to many, but I can't justify buying games at a price point that high unless I'm pretty damn sure I'll be playing them a lot for a long time. So I tend to just not play them until they go on a pretty deep sale. But for a lot of people that relatively high price point - especially for a game that's perceived outwardly as being likely to not have much content for the price - is another motivation to pirate.

    Back in the old days AAA priced games almost universally released demos so that I had some way of judging whether or not the game would be any good before buying it. That's very uncommon now and I think this also contributes to piracy. Buying a game without playing it at all first feels risky if the game is expensive.

    Finally I also think the actual affect on profits from piracy tends to be exaggerated. I'm sure some of the people pirating the game would buy it if they couldn't pirate it. But I bet it's a minority.

    I think my point is that I'm not convinced that piracy is a scourge that's killing developers. Certainly it does suck to put in a lot of work on something and then have people refuse to pay you for it - I'm not trying to be an apologist on behalf of those who pirate - but I think the effects of it are often exaggerated and there's more that many developers could be doing to help reduce it. Although almost always at a cost to them, so I guess that becomes a bit of a balancing act.

      I imagine that the game has some callback to a server for updates etc, and he's comparing sale numbers with the numbers of unique clients that have connected to that server, so there could be something to his claim (although to be fair, the post made it sound like he just looked at TPB, so who knows).

      Anyways, I agree it's fanciful to say that "pirated copies == lost sales". Applying the magical conversion rate of 5%, I'm guessing it's a lot less than that.

      Agreed, I tend to tune into twitch a bit these days to check out new games. It's a more reliable source to see how games actually play as opposed to every second gaming site giving every game an 8+/10.

      Pretty sure this guy would have rough numbers of how much it's selling. Not hard to compare that number to the number of seeds in a torrent swarm.

      edit - although not every one of those is a lost sale though.

      Last edited 29/01/16 1:02 pm

    Where are the primary pirated copies going (region)? It's priced at US $40 is that the same in all markets. That price is damn high too - i wouldn't want to drop $70 AU on it without playing it first (yes yes steam refund but that gets you two hours which imo is not long enough for certain titles).

    I hate the woe is me so many pirates i'm loosing so much monies - it's very difficult to actually translate downloads into lost sales. What it does indicate tho is that the title is popular - some of those downloads are going to translate into sales.

      $58 with conversion, not $70.

      Everyone will have their own opinion on what a 'fair' price is. But at an estimated 80 hours to beat all puzzles in a first time run, and (from what I've seen) universally glowing reviews - that's a fair price in my book.

        Yep my bad for what ever reason i did $50 in my head not $40. Regardless doesn't change my pov. I was more leaning to is this being released in russia at US $40 (is it even available there). Where are the majority of the downloads coming from is it from economically poor area's like russia? The other thing to look at was lack of demo and the relatively high price point. Even with the positive reviews perhaps some just want to check it out themselves (EG DA:II was praised by majority of critics but i thought it was absolute tripe compared to DA:O).

        Honestly i can't wait to see when games can no longer be cracked (encryption is getting to strong). I want to see just how that affects sales - i really wouldn't be surprised if it makes no difference at all. Piracy imo is being played as a scapegoat to poor sales expectations.

        Last edited 29/01/16 1:13 pm

          The only games i pirate per say are visual novels etc that are locked to play in japan as some sites dont allow you to purchase them. As far as AAA titles go i dont play them anymore and dont even think about pirating them as the quality of them has dropped so much and been burned to much buying the games in the past.

          Piracy will increase here in New Zealand when they being in Tax for digital content which means less purchases on releases of titles until they have a discount.

        If we apply the logic that number of gameplay hours = game price, then it's reasonable to charge $80 for Threes.

          It's not 'The' metric to price a game but it is a factor. Note I also pointed out the strong reviews for this title. Also, people are acknowledging how beautiful it is. So, really I guess it's going to come down to what 'you' justify is the appropriate metric to price a game by. But for a lot of people it is playtime.

          But even on your example - three's has a long playtime for re-playability. This is on playability (E.g. time based on experiencing content for the first time.) which is a very different thing.

      FYI, 2 hours is probably enough to try The Witness, if you're at all interested. If you like puzzles that get progressively harder and make you feel smart, there's a decent chance you'd like the game.

    The Witness, 30-40 hours of tedious and repetitive puzzles with a non existent story and beautiful graphics, made by that guy that made Braid, yours to own for the low, low price of US$40. 10/10.

    What a crock of shit... This game is trash, why do people keep giving it such high praises?

      Jonathan Blow stole your girlfriend, didn't he.

        HA! Jokes on you. I'm single :'(

        Last edited 29/01/16 1:45 pm

      Because, like me, they genuinely liked it.

      It's something different from the sea of clones we play every year.

      Personally, I get a bit sick of playing ANOTHER 3rd person action game. Or ANOTHER modern military FPS. Or ANOTHER Western/Japanese RPG.

      I'm seriously digging The Witness. If you don't "get it", that's fine. Stick with your clones. Or whatever it is that tickles your fancy.

        Portal exists... Talo's Principle was better even. The game isn't very good, people can't justify the reviews. If Jonathan Blow's name wasn't on it, no one would have cared, it would have been just another Indie game on Steam.

          I'm enjoying it, a lot. It's meticulously designed and polished, visually pretty, and offers an experience that I don't get from games all the time.

          So y'know, different strokes and all that.

          Portal has the same core concept as The Witness. Get to the end of the puzzle/level. Each time you have to get to the door. The method by which you complete the puzzles is different sure, but like Portal, those methods evolve throughout the game. The game is pretty complex. I've done maybe 15% of the game, and already I struggle with the complexity of the puzzles.

          Also there is a story, it's just ambiguous, and finding it out in more depth is extremely hard, as those elements are locked away behind the hardest of the puzzles.

    That's what you get for making a game that people want to play but don't want to pay for it. Entirely Blow's fault.

      No question as to why you have that handle I guess...

    Yeah I agree. I went to buy it. Saw the price tag. Went yeah... got to test it first. Demo'd it. Played it for 5 mins. Uninstalled it. No way in hell this game should be charged at what he's charging. Glad I didn't buy into the hype.

    Last edited 29/01/16 12:40 pm

      Folks enjoy different things, don't let it make you angry. For a lot of people, this kind of experience is worth it. You don't always need flashing colours and guns to make things interesting. I find it worth it, no hype - I appreciate that it makes me think, I love the design and atmosphere.

        I'm not into flashing colours or guns. I was looking forward to a puzzle game with some depth. Not just a random bunch of puzzle lying around the island. Might as well buy a puzzle book and sit on the lounge doing them.

        And yes this game is extremely overpriced for a interactive puzzle book.

          There is definitely depth there. You would know if you played for longer than 5 minutes.

          Yeah, 5 mins isn't going to cut it for a puzzle game where the first 5 mins are the tutorial. The puzzles even 30mins in are wayyy harder than the first 5 mins. While the core concept of the game is the same, the way in which you do complete the puzzles changes.

          You could argue that 90% of portal is just, get to the end of the level. But, like The Witness, the way in which you complete the puzzles evolves as you progress through the game.

    Please don't fall into the movie/music industry pitfall of assuming all pirated copies are lost sales. This is not true. I'm sure it's hard seeing your work being copied like that but I'm glad he see's the upside of more people experiencing the game.

    $50 for a $5 game. No wonder 90% of people are pirating a game that's worth 10% of the asking price. Interesting how nature evens things out that way.

      Well it is ranked 3 on the current best sellers list on steam so many people are happy with the price tag.

      Good old nature, evening things out in the game industry again. Way to go nature!

      If you laid out all the puzzles in linear order it might be a $5 game, but there's an exploration element in there as well that is absent in most puzzle games. Not to mention the occasional bit of lateral thinking.

      For example, near the beginning there are a bunch of puzzles involving tracing the branches of trees to a fruit on stylised diagrams. I was tearing my hear out on it and was about to brute-force it when I instead did a bit of additional exploring and saw a broken branch with a piece of cut fruit next to it through a closed gate. That gave the clue to the solution.

      I agree the impact of piracy is generally over-stated, but nobody is tying these people to a chair forcing them to play the game. If they want to play a $5 puzzle game, there are plenty of $5 puzzle games out there they can play, 90% of which sell very few copies. Why pirate the Witness when there are so many alternatives?

        What you just described sounds like it's worth $5. It's a puzzle game. Who cares if it's got a bunch of nostalgic 90s isometric graphics in between puzzles? It's still only worth a fiver...

          If you think it's only worth a fiver, don't play it. Or wait for it to be discounted.

          If you think The Witness just has "a bunch of nostalgic 90s isometric graphics" between puzzles then you are not particularly familiar with the game. It's a fully 3D environment. The graphics are mostly polygonal rather than fully textured, sure, but that's a stylistic choice which IMO works better than a fully textured environment would have. Or possibly you just don't understand what isometric means (it's a particular fixed viewpoint - as in the original Diablo.)

          I'll agree that at $40 (for the PS4 version) it's probably a bit overpriced. Compare with something like the Talos Principle - which follows a similar structure of an open-ish world with puzzles - which costs... exactly the same on Steam. US$40. Of course, that was overpriced too. However, it was a good game, and certainly kept me entertained for longer than the same amount spent at the cinemas.

          I can't remember how much Portal 2 cost when it came out; it's US$20 now, but presumably cost more on release.

          So we have a pattern. The people selling these games think they're worth US$40; The Talos Principle sold pretty well. Ditto Portal 2, now selling for US$20 despite being several years old (although I'm not sure what the pricing on release was). There are quite a few people willing to pay the price tag; apparently he's sold more copies of The Witness in its first week than were sold of Braid in its first year.

          If you think "The Witness" is worth $5 because it's a puzzle game then Call of Duty is worth no more than about $10 because there's no lack of big FPSes at that price point.

          Fundamentally, in the modern gaming market there are so many games being sold so cheaply that there's no excuse to pirate a game because it is "too expensive." If you want a $5 puzzle game, go buy a $5 puzzle game. There are loads of them. For that matter, there are no lack of free titles. If you choose to grab something pricier instead, you're expressing a judgement that the game in question is worth more... and thereby deserving of a higher price.

    looks waaaay over priced, so people will download it first (THIS IS WHY DEMOS SHOULD STILL BE A THING!)

    It is probably a result of the game being so inscrutable. People are wary of buying a game that they cannot possibly tell whether they will like it or not, what with the abstract screenshots and reviews made vague by the reviewers' reluctance to give away much. Coupled with the fact that it's not the cheapest indie game out there will tempt people to get a "demo" before committing.

    Last edited 29/01/16 4:51 pm

      Yeah, I cant imagine paying that much money for a game I have no idea if I will like or not. If you watch people playing it on youtube it it looks like garbage, but If people are still talking about it a few years later I might pick it up for 5 bucks like I did with Journey.

      Mind you I still haven't played Journey...

        Mind you, we actually disagree more than agree. You think the game is overcosted garbage, I don't think it is either of those things. I just find the piracy behaviour understandable, though not justifiable.

        Last edited 29/01/16 5:51 pm

          I don't think the game is garbage, I think it LOOKS garbage from videos.

          One of those games thats horrible to watch and the only way to really "get" it is to play it.

            Goddam it, play Journey. It's so good!

            Also out of interest, do you go see New Release films at the cinemas? If so, why wouldn't you spend $20 on Journey, but would spend on movies for the same price/time. :)

              I go to the movies once every few years and I only went to see Star Wars.

              My problem with Journey wasn't the price so much as it looked like a game where all you do is walk.

                I mean that's true. It pretty much is. You would do well to consider it less of a game and more of an experience. If you go in expecting deep mechanics you'll be disappointed. It's more of an indie film festival type thing. Still, if you have 2 hours to spare it's a good experience.

    It is really a shame. This is why the big companies are putting the DRM that everyone hates on their games.

    Ah, c'mon guys... #1? I mean, good on you for broadening your horizons or whatever, but it's an indie dev, not a major publisher who've riddled their title with flimsy, douchebag online-services-as-DRM garbage, low content for the price, and tonnes of DLC and bugs in equal measure. I hope a lot of these guys are buying after playing.

    I'm all in favour of 'piracy as protest', but there's nothing to protest here.
    Hell. Reasons to pirate have dropped significantly since the advent of Steam's return policy.

      Is it really that hard to be the number one downloaded game in January? What other big releases would it have knocked off the top?

        Hm. Fair point. Still old ones, I'd have thought. Kharak, maybe, but even then, that doesn't really deserve it either...

    I bought it, have several hours in it at this point. Puzzle solving games have very little replay value once you've learned all the solutions, I just don't think there's enough value in the game to justify its current price. $25-30 would have been more reasonable in my opinion, and I think it probably would have converted more of those pirate copies into sales if it were priced lower.

      Learned all the solutions. Christ if you've done that in several hours you're a god. How the F*** do you do the damn Tetronimo puzzles :P

      With price I agree that it may have generated more sales if priced lower, I'm sure Jon Blow considered this when coming to a decision on the game's pricing. I have money to spend, so $55AU doesn't really concern me. I've done maybe 10-15 hours, hard to tell, and I'd say at this rate I will get my money's worth.

        I haven't finished it yet, I'm about half way through. The Tetris puzzles are tedious, probably my least favourite ones.

    Sorry, Jonathan. I'll admit I initially pirated Braid about a year after it was out, and that's when I became a fan, and I now proudly own it on steam.
    I am eager to play The Witness - it looks awesome. But I'm a cheapskate and I don't pay $40 for ANY game. Don't worry, I won't pirate it either, I'll get it when it's on sale for around $15. Looking forward to it, too. Thanks for your great work!

      Why won't you spend $40 on any game? Don't mean to criticise, just after you're thoughts.

      Personally, $55AU is a lot, but I can afford it and have no problem spending it on games.
      I think that I'll get my money's worth, I'm sure the Dev's are asking for a fair price, given they spent millions on the game 5+ years or something? Not sure on specifics there.

      Is your perceived value of this particular game lower? Is it more of a financial situation? Do you just value games as a less important part of your life? Idk. People who want to play a game on release should have to pay for it. If people want to wait for it to be on sale fair enough, I don't really have a problem with that.

      Your thoughts?

        It's just a rule I have, I don't buy games for anything much over $15USD, this way I save time and money. Money because obviously the game is cheaper, and time because I barely have the time/energy to play much these days.
        I have enough of a backlog as it is, and I try to finish every game I play, in a kind of 'one-out, one-in' system. So since I haven't finished any of my current ones, I couldn't really allow myself to get drawn in to yet another game anyway. It's a bit OCD I suppose.

        To answer your other questions:
        My perceived value of THIS game is actually HIGHER than $15, and I'm a bit tempted to get it even at $40 (I have ignored the $15 rule a few times in the past). However the unfinished status of my current games and lack of time overrides that.
        My financial situation is fine, probably thanks to my $15 rule, and I wish to keep it thus.
        I do value games as a less important part of my life these days. I don't have as much time to play them for starters, and I really try to spend at least SOME of my free time doing something constructive like learning things or maintaining my health. I can be a huge movie buff as I am because I also do exercise while I watch.

        I'm perfectly happy for everyone else on the planet to pay full price if they want to. It's my belief that things like this ultimately balance out in the end. If a game is expensive, less people will buy it but they pay more, when the game is cheaper, more people will buy it but pay less, the eventual revenue sits exactly where it ought to be.

    I was downloading the torrent to try it out I do admit, but then I saw the reviews and cancelled it :-(. I don't mean to say it got bad reviews, but I was initially excited for the beautiful world, didn't realize there was nothing in it except puzzles... I generally do this as Steam has already burnt me twice with their refund BS.

      I mean, there's a lot of depth to the puzzles, but you're right. However the core mechanic of Portal is solving puzzles. Each level you have to get to the door. This is very similar, just implemented in a different way. Also trust me, they get more complex than just standing at the board, drawing stuff. Way more complex.

        They should have made you draw lines in The Witness with a gun, instant appeal booster.

        Portal Gun = Amazing
        Portal Pencil = Terrible

    Honestly, $40USD is just too much for me to be interested in the title. I'm not going to pirate it but I'm definitely going to wait for a sale. Probably not willing to pay more than $20USD for it. Same deal with Darkest Dungeon, waiting for it to drop to $10USD before I pick it up. I have too many other things to spend money on for me to be willing to drop so much on video games these days.

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