Some Real Talk On Piracy From A Witcher 3 Dev

Marcin Iwiński, co-founder of GOG and development studio CD Projekt Red, has some curious thoughts on how to handle a very thorny subject: Piracy.

Speaking late last month at infoShare 2016, Iwiński dove into great detail regarding how CD Projekt Red gained a "legendary" reputation among customers. As you probably already know, The Witcher 3 had a string of free DLC offerings that earned the company a lot of good will last year. According to Iwiński, that DLC was a key part of CD Projekt Red's strategy to fight piracy with a good product. You can watch the relevant segment in the video above at the 14 minute 39 second mark, though I've transcribed some of it below as well:

We released [The Witcher 3] without any copy protection. So, on day one, you could download the game from GOG, and give it to a friend (enemy as well)... and still we sold near to 10 million units across all 3 platforms. But the piracy factor was irrelevant, because we cannot force people to buy things. We can only convince them to do it. We totally believe in the carrot, not in the stick... I've seen many times, comments [that say] 'Hey, I couldn't afford the game when it was full price, but these guys are so fair, and they were never against us. They were always trying to do good, add a lot of value, give free DLC, give free content, that I bought the game from them when it was mid-price.'
...[In] lower income countries, people just cannot afford a 50 dollar game. So maybe our price-point offering in a certain country wasn't right. For example, we have lower prices in Russia. And there is many cases like that.
We don't like when people steal our product, but we are not going to chase them and put them in prison. But we'll think hard what to make to convince them. And uh, convince them in a very positive way, so that they will buy the product next time, they will be happy with our game, and they will tell their friends not to pirate it.
And funnily enough, the more we proceed this way, the more we see them again on forums and Reddit and whatnot, we see that there is a guy saying 'hey where can I download Witcher 3: Wild Hunt from?' And then there is 10 people bashing them, 'Oh you fucko, do not download the game. These guys are fair, they're the only fair guys in the industry. You should go and buy it.'
And so, I'm not sure if this guy will buy it or find this link, but still, it's a very positive attitude and it's excellent word of mouth.

Pretty admirable attitude, no? It's not often that you see developers speak so frankly about combating piracy, or say that there's not much they can do to stop the practice. A cursory search online reveals that the phenomenon Iwiński describes is indeed real:

Other publishers/studios approach piracy very differently of course: Many triple-A franchises come packaged with some form of DRM. Other developers have a bit more fun with it, and release games that mess with pirates in some way — take for instance Shooting Stars!, a title that mocked players with an unbeatable Daft Punk character. But every so often you have a developer with such heart, that even pirates start considering paying for a good game. Whatever your stance on piracy is, one thing is clear: CD Projekt Red's philosophy sure has worked out for them, at least.


    Game demos, need more of those.

    When games don't have demos, I'm always having to rely on Steam's refund policy. This however, isn't an ideal arrangement as I have to fork out the money to Steam first before I trial.

    So demos are nice, especially when they're not +20GB in size.

      Not gonna happen. It's a way to guarantee the copies sell.

      Company X has made a highly anticipated game but released a demo and the reception was very poor. No one buys it because the game(demo) is terrible.

      Whereas Company Y has made a game that sells millions every year with no demo. People will buy it because it's the next in the franchise, only to learn it's shit.

      Granted with things like Steam's refund policy it's much easier to get your money back now, it's still very likely that the company will receive money.

        Bad examples that assume a poor demo. A good demo will sell a good game. A poor demo is indicative of a poor game.

        Last edited 19/07/16 12:16 pm

          This is true, however you also need to take into account publishers taking up development time by demanding demos be released. This would mean that the developers have to take time and make sure that the demo branch of the game works and is made.

            Agreed. Though I do agree with some of your earlier point. I wonder how much damage the recent Doom "demo" did to sales of the game. I didn't play the demo, but the actual game was pretty bloody awesome. I guess they learned some lessons for the final product, but at what cost?

              The multiplayer was what ruined it. Not a demo in this case.

      I completely agree, demos are super good. In fact that's how I got trials fusion - I downloaded the free demo on uplay and then once I had played a few levels I liked I bought it instantly and already had the game installed. Very convenient. Meanwhile I was already typing in "" before I realised there was a demo available.

      You want to hear about a good demo? The devs for Thea: the Awakening released the entire early-access build of the game for free as its "demo". It's not the best version of the game, missing a lot of content from the full release, but it's still a COMPLETE game. How's that for a demo?

    I'd say it's pretty obvious you can only try to convince someone to buy the game you made, rather than force them. It's the middle-men that drive (good or bad) attitudes towards that though.

    The most popular shows, movies, songs, and indeed games are all now for the most part tied up in Services with a capital S. That responsibility is (most of the time) willingly given up by the creators themselves. But, it's the most economical way for them to be rewarded for their works.

    Do we really expect the artists we prefer in the modern age and tend to support the most, to know all things about all facets of marketing their creativity? That's on us.

    Big AAA Publisher office:
    "Hey, those Polish guys had NO DRM and they sold like ten million copies in the first week."
    "The hell. You can get those kinds of numbers without paying for DRM?"
    "Well how'd they do it?!"
    "Lemme see... create a really high-quality product with tonnes of support, good community communication and engagement, and avoid anything exploitative."
    "Oh. Well fuck that."

      "... so what do we do to get those numbers then?"
      "Oh well, we complain and bitch and demonise piracy, blaming it for our low sales."
      "Even if low sales are result of our rather substandard product, which is also overpriced, riddled with bugs and draconian DRM?"
      "'Even'? You mean 'especially if'"
      "Alright, but how do we translate all the bitching into money?"
      "Well after tenderising public opinion with our whinging, we can lobby for harsher anti-piracy laws."
      "Hmmm, still not seeing the money."
      "Getting there! With harsher laws we then can try to find some poor schmuck with an indefensible case, then we say that we need to "make an example of him".
      "And we hit him with an absurd millions-of-dollars lawsuit?"

      Last edited 19/07/16 4:19 pm

      Whilst I agree with what you're conveying here, I do have some sympathy for the other studios. This reminds me of when Jimquisition had a thing on Skyrim saying it proved games don't need multiplayer, or DLC or w.e, to sell. My thought is then "OK great, I just need to make one of the greatest and influential games ever made, and certainly the game of the year."

      Maybe not every studio can make Witcher 3. Hell, I remember when W2 came out they had huuuuge problems with that being pirated. The answer can't just be to make Witcher 3 (IMO, the best western RPG I've ever played), or have your product stolen. I realise that there's all the free DLC and so on supporting it that attracts people, and the general attitude of the developers, but this probably isn't a realistic path for a lot of developers.

      I fucking love CD Projekt and how they go about it, but the answer shouldn't be to be like them or get your shit stolen. It's OK for people to not buy your game if they hate you (EA, Activision etc), it's not actually ok for them to then steal your stuff.

      P.S I realise I sound like I'm coming down pretty hard on piracy here, I'm not trying to sound sanctimonious. I've pirated my share of stuff too and DRM is fucking stupid, but in the end it is stealing from people who did work they hope to be paid for. They have a right to try and protect their property, I just wish they'd give up on the shit that clearly hasn't worked.

        Personally, I think that mentality gives too much leeway for developers to make a half-assed effort and get away with it. And you're missing the point of that Jimquisition... You don't have to make a Witcher 3, Skyrim, whatever.

        It's not about needing to develop a multi-million dollar game. All you need is to make a game that isn't buggy as fuck, unfinished or exploitative (microtransactions galore) in some way, and has some entertainment factor for your target audience. All of which can, and has been, accomplished with all sorts of development budgets.

        It's got nothing to do with piracy. It's about the consequences of your quality of work. Do a piss poor job, suffer the consequences of it. Be they piracy, refunds, whatever.

        If you need to 'trap' people into a purchase, small studio or large, then you clearly can't make games worth buying. Basically, you can't do your own job... So why exactly should people keep paying you to do it? That doesn't go on anywhere else in life.

          " So why exactly should people keep paying you to do it?" Perhaps they shouldn't. This doesn't mean they get to steal it though, they should just not buy it.

          I don't really agree with your take on what I was saying with Jimquisition. There are plenty of games that fit that description that have not been successful like skyrim was. My point was that game was truly exceptional (I actually didn't like it, but accept that I am wrong on this), just like Witcher 3 is truly exceptional. I have an artist friend who paints landscapes because they sell well, in my view the Jimquistion episode is like saying: "You don't have to paint Landscapes to sell paintings, just be as talented and inspirational as M.C Escher". That was my issue with it.

          Anyway, I agree with you about shitty dev tactics and half finished games. I was stupid enough to buy Battlefront for example. It just bothers me a bit that often the answer people have is to just take it without paying rather than not taking it at all.

            I was merely saying that piracy is one of the consequences of a developer making half finished, buggy, games, etc. Not that I believe people should be allowed to pirate it because of it.

            Witcher 3 changed things somewhat... People still pirate it sure, but it's by and large one of the only games I've seen that just about everyone frowns upon people for doing so. Even people who pirate everything else will frown upon people pirating it.

            And that has absolutely got far more to do with the developer simply not being dicks about things, than it does anything else.

            Last edited 20/07/16 1:04 pm

    " lower income countries, people just cannot afford a 50 dollar game."

    Or in the case of Australia, a $110 game.

    I enjoyed Witcher 2 and plan to purchase Witcher 3 soon. The only reasons I haven't purchased it yet is because I do not have time to play it right now and I'm waiting for a complete bundle including DLC to be an affordable price.

    The thing about Witcher games though is that you get your moneys worth. Even if you do pay full price you know you are going to get a good game with a decent amount of game play, and the DLC is generally a new story adding to the game rather than a part of the game that is intentionally missing.

    There will always be those who will pirate regardless but for many it comes down to the value of the game and the cost of the game. Boost prices and provide half a game and no one will buy it. Release a complete game at a decent price and people will happily pay the money.

      Have you been to goodoldgames? its run by the people who made witcher and the prices there are really good, for the witcher series and lots of other games. when they are on sale (happens fairly often) you can get the game + season pass for like $65-70 (pretty sure im remembering right)

      They've announced a GOTY edition that'll do just that, just not the release date. Well worth it, the game and both expansions are incredible.

      Good guy CDPR.

    Sadly some gamers these days and well people in general, are of the opinion that they the consumers have the right to set the prices and standards. if content creators dont match this often fanciful idea the consumers feel like they are justified to pirate. Whether it be a game, Game of Thrones or an album.

    Only thing is these people have it backwards, sure if the suppliers put the price too high they will end up with less sales. But it is still up to the suppliers decide what price balances out the work vs return vs sales. While often with the big suppliers this becomes highly questionable, the prices some gamers think they should play is at the other end of the highly questionably scale.

    CDPR have it mostly right but they can never counter those who pirate because they think they deserve (or have the right) to demand how much access to someone elses creative work is worth, so they steal it instead. They wont pay XX, but because they cant pay X, they end up paying 0 because they wont wait for a sale.

    Last edited 19/07/16 1:27 pm

      That's not entirely true.
      The customer does set the price. If it's too high, they don't buy it.

      What is too high is relative. Usually it depends on the level of content.

      For example take Overwatch. The level of content is actually very low. It's similar in a lot of ways to TF2, but with a few more characters. Expect TF2 is free or $20 or whatever and Overwatch is $70+.
      It's hard to justify. The business models are different of course (single purchase vs freemium/microtransactions/hats etc) but that's only part of it.
      it still comes down to value.
      On one hand, a company can price something and simply ignore the poorer section of the market. Blizzard knows full well that it has enough fans, enough history and had enough interest during the beta to run that sort of price point.
      But I doubt that any other company other than maybe valve could do the same thing with a similar game. Can you imagine paying full AAA price for Counter Strike?

      So now that's content level sorted. The next part to consider is competition.
      Are people going to pay the same or more for your game compared to others? Would you pay $20 more for COD than BF? or vice versa? That's kind of why most AAA games are a similar price.
      On the other hand, smaller and indy games have to compete at a smaller price point. Yes they take less effort and less capital to make, but it all comes back to value. There's some great indy games that provide much better stories and experiences than the single player campaign of BF.

      Next thing you have to consider is local pricing.
      It's not that easy to change $20 in Russia and $60 in the US for the same digital product.
      But you have to because in Russia $60 might be a whole day's salary or worse, and most people can't afford that for a few hours of entertainment. The "value" part becomes incredibly skewed in poorer regions.

      HOWEVER, a given price point doesn't justify piracy. BUT, by the same vein, if someone can't afford it, and would never buy it anyway, then it's not a lost sale and it can't be seen as one.

      GOT is a perfect example.
      It's stupidly difficult and annoying to get legal access to the show because one company has all the rights to it in Australia. Maybe that's changed recently but there's been plenty of very good articles showing how damn hard and expensive it is. Is it any wonder that people will go back to the piracy option.

      You have to remember that price is a tiny part of piracy. Some people will always steal shit, you won't change that.
      Most of the time, piracy is simply the easier and better service. People have shown many times that they want good access to good content.

      The point is not to stop 100% of piracy. That's impossible. The point is to not waste time and money on DRM when you could instead use the same time and effort to make a better product, better community, better service.

      It's exactly what CDPR said - Make a better carrot instead of a better stick.

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