Angry Birds Dev Spins Piracy as Growing Fanbase

Marshall Honorof

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Angry Birds Dev Spins Piracy as Growing Fanbase


According to Rovio Mobile, even those who pirate Angry Birds merchandise can add to the brand's value.

It's almost impossible to say something uncontroversial about the piracy of videogames. Is it theft or copyright infringement? Is it morally permissible or reprehensible? Is piracy an act of laziness, malice, or rebellion? Game developers, in general, are not happy about people enjoying their products without paying, but there's always an exception that proves the rule. Rovio Mobile, the company behind a little-known underground game called Angry Birds, isn't thrilled about pirates, but acknowledges that piracy doesn't have to be a complete loss. Rovio believes that even though it will lose money through pirated games and goods, any new Angry Birds fan is a welcome one who may be willing to pay up in the future.

"We could learn a lot from the music industry, and the rather terrible ways the music industry has tried to combat piracy," says Mikael Hed, Rovio's CEO. "[We learned] to stop treating the customers as users, and start treating them as fans." Since the game is available for free on a number of platforms, fans may wonder where piracy enters into the mix; after all, pirating an already-free game seems counterintuitive. Hed explains that Angry Birds suffers more from unauthorized merchandise, especially in Asia. Instead of trying to alienate customers with pirated apps or merchandise, or pursue them in court (which Hed describes as "futile"), Rovio has decided to embrace them. "If we lose that fanbase, our business is done, but if we can grow that fanbase, our business will grow."

There's no question that unauthorized merchandise and apps are costing Rovio money right now, but Hed seems to be taking the long view. "Piracy may not be a bad thing: it can get us more business at the end of the day." Of course, Angry Birds is more popular and profitable than a number of world religions at this point, so unlike many developers, Rovio can afford to withstand some piracy in the present to expand its fanbase for the future.

Source: The Guardian [http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/appsblog/2012/jan/30/angry-birds-music-midem]

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Feb 13, 2008
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Marshall Honorof said:
There's no question that unauthorized merchandise and apps are costing Rovio money right now,
Perhaps there is. A question I mean.

Having been out in the bits of the world where copyright is something laughed at (You can pick up a pair of Levie's jeans as cheaply as a normal pair), there's very few people that have the money to buy the real things.

If the copyrights weren't there, they simply couldn't buy them.

That's not so much of a problem here, but in this area it's more a choice of status. If you beat Maddening Avians, that's not got the same punch...and Angry Birds has demos on most platforms anyway.

Are there people who pirate the game outright? Sure. Would these same people buy it if they couldn't pirate it? I'm gonna go out on a limb (natch) and say "Very unlikely".

So are the unauthorised copies losing them money? No...it's just not making them any money.

Whether it would or not? No-one's bothered to find out. But I'm guessing most of us know a pirate somewhere...would he?

If that's the case - maybe that's more of the way forward. Reward the legitimate customer, rather than attack the entire base - because that's more likely to hit the legitimate customer rather than the pirate.

For example:

Modern Warfare - Pirated copies give you an uzi, Legitimate copies give you a M16 when you register, Always On gives you a silencer.

That way you're rewarding the gamer for allowing you to check the legitimacy. And it also leaves a nice tracking point for the pirate. Running round with a silenced M16 and you can't be pinged from the main server? Oh dear...account banned - so sad.

Yeah, there's bound to be problems to start with - but with one serverside trace and a consumerside trace, it's going to be more hassle than it's worth to set up a dummy everytime you want to play it.

Equally, you're not banning pirates from the game, you're just making it harder for them. Which immediately gives crecedence against them.

Bit more carrot, bit less stick. Lot happier consumers.
 

Therumancer

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Nov 28, 2007
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Hmmm, well I think the guys at Spiderweb Software made a more contreversial statement when they basically said they had no problem with someone who couldn't afford their product choosing to pirate it. Of course they also said that wasn't going to be a usual state of affairs... or something roughly to that effect.

When the issue is a game that is popular enough to have merchandising to be knocked off, I'm not sure if you can consider it undergroud. What's more we're not really talking about piracy anymore when that's the issue but a whole differant, but seemingly related, issue of knock offs and patent violations. Stealing something that only exists as an idea or a bit of code is one thing, but stealing an actual tangible product is another. When they are producing stuffed angry birds or whatever, that's a whole differant issue, especially if they put the "Angry Birds" name on them and take direct credit for someone else's work. Money is also being made from that, where with piracy, the pirates are usually not making anything off of it and actually assuming a cost in terms of time and effort themselves, which is one of the things that makes it contreversial.

I am NOT a big fan of piracy as I've said before (I won't rehash my entire position again at the moment), but it's a far lesser issue than say someone stealing a garmet pattern for say Levis Jeans, and then producing them, and putting the Levi Strauss name on them, and probably leaving Levi Jeans company holding the bag and taking the blame if something goes wrong with them (which will happen with substandard knock offs). Or perhaps more noticible, people analyzing drugs like Viagra, mass producing them, and then selling them for trillions upon trillions of dollars internationally. Angry birds merchandise is the same issue, even if the numbers involved aren't the same.

Under the circumstances it seems to me like the Angry Birds guys are being unusually nice about this, but at the same time Angry Birds hasn't been around *that* long with it's products. I'd imagine they have yet to say be sued by the parents of a dead toddler who died when a substandard product came apart and they choked on it or whatever... a product they didn't manufacture, didn't meet the safety standards outlined for a US product, and yet had their name and trademarks all over it as part of the counterfeiting. When they face a problem like that (and given enough time it will doubtlessly happen) I suspect they will be a LOT less laid back about it.
 

scorptatious

The Resident Team ICO Fanboy
May 14, 2009
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Rovio is being rather optimistic about this. I hope this doesn't bite them in the arse later on.

Although why would you pirate Angry Birds of all things? It's only a dollar. :p
 

Viridian

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Jan 25, 2012
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In b4 "piracy isn't theft".

But yeah, Angry Birds is either free or cheap enough for the average hobo. I'd rather just buy it than pirate it.
 

Burst6

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Can't you get angry birds for free legally though? I downloaded it off the android market and it just has a few advertisements tacked on it. Or is that not the full game? I never got far enough to find out.
 

evilneko

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I was introduced to several indie games thanks to pirates. I bought a few of them. I would never have even heard of the games had I not had a friend who happily torrents things before buying. The most obscure title was Space Empires 4. I remember several years ago, my friend saying, "let's try this game," and we sat down to play a multiplayer game of it. I later bought it and its sequel, and an RPG-ish/Elite-like spinoff game.

Does all piracy generate a 300% increase in sales for the developer? Heck no, but it can happen. Do sales generated because of piracy outweigh losses? That's pretty much impossible to answer. So, this Hed guy at Rovio is just looking at the benefit and potential benefit that he can see, and deciding it's worth the loss that he can't see, and not worth the expense of pursuing that loss.

In short...

Don't worry when they pirate your shit. Worry when they don't.

Burst6 said:
Can't you get angry birds for free legally though? I downloaded it off the android market and it just has a few advertisements tacked on it. Or is that not the full game? I never got far enough to find out.
Well if you'd read the summary....
 

Artemicion

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Dec 7, 2009
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He's not the only developer with more neutral feelings toward piracy - Notch has openly stated [http://uk.pc.ign.com/articles/121/1216416p1.html] that he doesn't seem to mind pirating of Minecraft.
Last year (I swear there was an article here on the escapist but the search feature eludes me) he said it wasn't a total loss either. A pirated copy still has the potential to turn into a purchase, and if someone is watching someone play a pirated copy, there's a chance they may go out and buy the game, too.

Indie devs are such nice, real people.
 

Monkeyman O'Brien

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Jan 27, 2012
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Is it theft or copyright infringement?
Its neither.


Anyway its just good to hear someone actually decide to look on the bright side instead of wasting their time bitching and moaning about something they will never fix.
 

shintakie10

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I'll never understand the argument that piracy costs developers money. If someone pirates a game, the developer loses nothin in that process. There are no physical copies involved that they have to replace. There's no key that needs to be created in its place. The only way the developer "loses" money when it comes to piracy is if they equate every single pirated game as someone who would have bought the game legitimately if they didn't pirate it which is a retarded view.

Slightly more on topic. Props to Rovio for that viewpoint. The more people that stop thinkin of piracy as somethin that should be squashed like the bugs they are and is willin to do it by fuckin over their legitimate consumers the better.
 

evilneko

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shintakie10 said:
I'll never understand the argument that piracy costs developers money. If someone pirates a game, the developer loses nothin in that process. There are no physical copies involved that they have to replace. There's no key that needs to be created in its place. The only way the developer "loses" money when it comes to piracy is if they equate every single pirated game as someone who would have bought the game legitimately if they didn't pirate it which is a retarded view.

Slightly more on topic. Props to Rovio for that viewpoint. The more people that stop thinkin of piracy as somethin that should be squashed like the bugs they are and is willin to do it by fuckin over their legitimate consumers the better.
The only way they lose if by equating every single pirated copy with a lost sale?

How about no. Even if the ratio of people who pirated a game to people who would've bought it if they hadn't pirated it were 100:1, the developer and/or publisher still lost that 1%. The actual percentages are very difficult if not impossible to determine, but it still represents some loss.

That said, anyone with any business sense at all in the software industry expects piracy and accounts for it in their marketing plan. Some fail spectacularly at this, doing and saying things that piss people off and inciting people to pirate--see Ubisoft. Some prefer to not do anything special about it, keep quiet about the problem, assume piracy is just a cost of doing business and go on their merry way--see Bethesda.

And then you have people like Notch, and Rovio, who try to spin piracy into a benefit, and are probably succeeding at it. I would argue however, that they can afford it not because they didn't spend hundreds of thousands on production, but because they didn't spend millions on marketing. To these guys, piracy is free advertising (y'know, like I mentioned in my earlier post).

They're gambling though. Their software directly puts food on their tables. While a Ubisoft developer might lose his job, he probably has well over a year's worth of unemployment benefits coming to him. The indie dev working out of his house? Not so much. That's some powerful motivation to cultivate goodwill.
 

Baldr

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Jan 6, 2010
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Can't afford a Lexus? You don't take for an "extended test drive". You don't BUY IT. Piracy is THEFT. You are DELIBERATELY enjoying someone else's hardwork and not paying for it.

Of course these people like Mikael Hed and Notch can say piracy does not matter to them. They have an extremely successful games. Not every studio is so lucky. Many indie studios have their games pirated at high rates, do to lack of copyright protection such as DRM and the means to protect their IPs in courts. The truth is many studios don't want to really go after the people that download the games, they want to go after the websites that host the pirated file, which is almost impossible.
 

Revolutionary

Pub Club Am Broken
May 30, 2009
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So good to see an attitude towards piracy other than "Ugh...kill it with DRM". Very Refreshing.
 

bkd69

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It's reminiscent of a comment from one Introversion's execs a while back. He pointed out that when your game includes on online matchmaking component, one of the benefits you need to provide to your paying customers is offering as large an opponent pool as possible, so you then have to seriously weigh the value of allowing the pirates into that opponent pool.
 

Wolfram23

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"Exception that proves the rule" is about as retarded as "could care less". Granted, in the latter it's merely a small grammatical error and should be "could not care less". In the former, however, it is simply an absurd comment. Your "rule" would have to have words like "most", "almost", "some", etc in order to be proven by an exception. Otherwise the exception technically disproves the rule.

Stop using that.
 

ph0b0s123

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Marshall Honorof said:
There's no question that unauthorized merchandise and apps are costing Rovio money right now, but Hed seems to be taking the long view.
No doubt about that, the magic question is how much are they losing from piracy, becuase unless it is a decent amount, trying to stop it is point less. If the cost of anti-piracy measures is more than you will get back in extra sales, it is pointless fighting it.
 

rickynumber24

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Feb 25, 2011
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Wolfram01 said:
"Exception that proves the rule" is about as retarded as "could care less". Granted, in the latter it's merely a small grammatical error and should be "could not care less". In the former, however, it is simply an absurd comment. Your "rule" would have to have words like "most", "almost", "some", etc in order to be proven by an exception. Otherwise the exception technically disproves the rule.

Stop using that.
I disagree that it's necessarily bad to say that, although I agree the concept behind the words is mildly ridiculous.

On the other hand, I also think it's a false statement: History seems to have shown that indy devs, as a whole, aren't overly concerned with piracy. In fact, I have a feeling that it probably breaks down pretty consistently along lines of "did they start making or publishing games in the last 10 years?" (Another candidate criterion is market capitalization...) If yes, the people running the organization probably grew up with file sharing and are pretty sanguine it. If no, they freak out.

Edit: It has also occurred to me that possibly the smaller developers can't afford to try to prevent piracy anyway and, therefore, they have gone looking for a silver lining.
 
Aug 1, 2010
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This is fascinating. Truly, truly fascinating.

Neither side of this will admit to even the possibility of being wrong. Both believe that not only is their view right, it is obvious.

EVERY single thread involving Piracy has multiple 15 posts arguments about it.

Hopefully, if enough devs come around, we will be able to stop all this pointlessness.