Filesharing... What to do?

edited May 2007 in Story Games
Ok, so over in this thread we discuss our general feelings and experiences regarding RPG piracy. We don't know wether filesharing is good or bad for sales in general and it's very likely this will stay so forever.

What this thread is for: list and discuss techniques and sales models designers and/or hardcore fans of a game can use to either increase interest in the game using filesharing (hopefully ending in one or two sales) or making filesharing a non-existing problem.

Basically I want to know what your not so secret plans/ideas are for using filesharing. Let's take advantage of the technology we have available!

Posting demos on high traffic warez sites
There is a number of torrent sites that let you post your own torrents for others to download. What you need is high upload bandwidth and at least two or three days of continuous availability for upload. A committed fan can solve this if the designer has no opportunity to upload.
Questions: Will this actually lead to people wanting to buy the game or to look harder for an illegal version? Where to post, where not to post?

Bimonthly/Semi-annually posting of all new story games' demos on torrent sites
This is the same as before with a community effort. All the games that came out recently have a demo/no-layout version in one torrent. Needs only one committed member to take care of high upload bandwidth and availability. Less known/popular games can benefit from this hugely.
Questions: How much work does this need? Whom to include, whom to exclude? (I'd say exclude noone, but this would be the choice of the one person who organises this and thus lead to some tension when excluding a game for any reason - quality of work for example.)

PDF version gets paid only once by a community effort. First, the PDF is not available to anyone. When the target value gets collected, the PDF is free. Let's say I decide that I want 500 dollars from my PDF sales, the community collects the 500, I get paid, I release the PDF for everyone to download for free and try to get it into as many hands as I can. This will hopefully result in more donation/printed sell.
Questions: How to define the target value? Does the availability of the legal free PDF reduce the ammount of people who buy the book in print? ("Oh, I downloaded the pdf of this game but it's illegal, let's buy it in print!" doesn't work anymore. The PDF is legal.) Does the game get scanned and pirated before the target value is reached?

Ransomware with print sales combo
This is a ransomware type where a part of the print copies price gets reckoned in the collected ammount. I've got the 500 dollars target value game and say every print sale raises the collected ammount by 2 dollars. That would mean at 250 sold books, the PDF is available for free download even if noone paid a cent to get the electronic version.
Questions: By how much do I raise the print copies price in this version? Do I offer another option where the collected ammount isn't raised by the sale?

I'd very much like to discuss techniques and sales models even if they're based only on assumptions. Please consider adding questions to your ideas!


  • Adam,

    I am confused by your ransomware idea. Do you mean that I would have to pay X towards a pool and then when a bunch of other people pay X, then we all get access to the pdf? What happens during the time between me paying X and when the pool limited is reached? What if the pool limit is never reached?
  • Don't release a PDF

    I don't offer a PDF of Polaris, except in extreme circumstances. As a side-effect of this, it seems that my game is much less pirated, if at all (apparently it's like bigfoot: two people swear that they saw it, once, but there's nothing verifiable.)


    Make it clear, in the text, that you're one guy doing this as a labor of love, and not a big company.

  • edited May 2007
    Posted By: orklordI am confused by your ransomware idea. Do you mean that I would have to pay X towards a pool and then when a bunch of other people pay X, then we all get access to the pdf? What happens during the time between me paying X and when the pool limited is reached? What if the pool limit is never reached?
    This model has been utilized by Greg Stolze for a number of games. He posted the basic premise of a game, and then waited for people to donate money. When he met his goal, he released the game for free. I believe he has always met his goal ahead of schedule. [edit] Look below for some links regarding Greg's experience with the ransom model. [/edit]

    Now, I have to admit I'm still not convinced of the viability of this model. Greg "charges" very little for his games. I believe thus far he's charged $500-$1000. That's no where near the amount I've made from The Mountain Witch. I would never release a game for so little. But if I ransomed a design for something near what I made for tMW (a few thousand dollars), it's questionable if people would still pay.

    Now, some sort of ransom + hardcopy sales might work, I don't know.

    [edit] Sorry, my search link didn't work earlier. Here are those links:

    Meatbot Massacre and the Ransom Model
    The Ransom Model Worked.
    Indie Games hit National Public Radio
    The Ransom Model is on NPR and Spaaace!
    The Ransom Model Strikes Again
    Ransom Analysis... in Spaaace!
    Gamers Kidnap President -- for Charity
    Greg Stolze's Refreshing '06 Hubris
    REIGN's release model: A ransom/hard copy hybrid
    Ransom Method: Follow the Money
  • Posted By: Adam KleizerPosting demos on high traffic warez sites
    The problems I can see with this are as follows:

    1) Look at the Torrents page of, say, Demonoid. You get a listing of all the torrents which have been posted, starting with the most recent. Scroll down and look at older stuff and you'll see that there are a lot of torrents which nobody ever downloads. That is, they sit there being offered on the posters PC and nobody ever downloads them. This is either because nobody wants the content or that there are a dozen or so other torrents available with the same content and more seeds. So there's a real chance that your torrent will just get lost in the noise, nobody will pick it up and it'll basically never reach the critical mass required to keep the torrent alive. Essentially, unless you're offering juicy content, nobody pays attention to your torrent.

    2) You run the risk of devaluing your game. If you mark the torrent as DEMO, you make it look less appealing to the people who want something for nothing. I mean, what's the point in "stealing" something you can get for free anyway? If you don't mark it as a DEMO, you'll probably get it removed by the site admins for not being what it says it is, or you'll get snotty comments by people who downloaded it and feel "cheated" that they didn't get the fun game. Alternatively, what might happen is that you make it look like the game is freely available and the free distribution is endorsed by the creator. Which makes some people less likely to buy a legitimate copy.

    I'm not saying that this won't work or that you shouldn't do it. Just bear in mind that:

    a) Your torrent probably won't ever reach the critical mass needed to let you stop seeding it. So you'll need to keep seeding it the whole time you want that torrent to be available,

    b) Most people find torrent by searching. So if you do get any takers for the torrent, the chances are that you'll get them from people who're making an effort to find a game they already know about. I don't think that much "browsing, looking for cool stuff" actually goes on*.
    Bimonthly/Semi-annually posting of all new story games' demos on torrent sites
    For the reasons outlined above, I think this has a much higher chance of success. Don't restrict it though, just put all the current demos and free downloads of all the currently available games you can find. You can restrict it to Storygame or Indie games or whatever, but make sure it's not just the latest stuff. So some guy comes along and has heard of, say, Spirit Of The Century. He searches and finds this torrent which includes all the character sheets and demo versions for that and also 50 other games. Hopefully, his curiosity is piqued by one or two.

    *I could be very wrong about that though
  • edited May 2007
    Sorry I should've linked to some discussions about ransomware. Tim did the job for me.

    Yes, these look like they work most of the time. The "no pdf" technique is the one WotC tries too - they fail utterly because of their popularity though. I wonder when a game reaches the point where no PDF doesn't mean no piracy but bad scans instead.

    Thanks for the links. As for the ransom model, I never really knew why it should be exclusive with no print copies involved. Seems pretty natural to me that one should sell print copies from the moment collecting ransom starts. And I think too that Greg Stolze is working with too small target values, but I don't know how people would react to a ransom of 2000-3000 dollars. I'd say they wouldn't start to collect the money because they don't believe such a goal can be reached. That's a big problem there with the ransom model.

    Getting lost in the crowd is a major concern there. I'd say one should always have at least "RPG" somewhere in the title of the torrent, 'cause that term gets some searches occasionally. I find too that posting a bunch of demos in one pack would have a higher chance of success. It just needs a dedicated person, people publishing demos of their stuff and posting some links to the torrent on roleplaying forums. The more people download stuff, the more chance others get interested in checking it out.
  • Adam: I think that, compared to a clean PDF, scans are a much more desireable pirated-object from a publisher perspective. Scans are bulky and awkward and really hard to navigate. There is real incentive, if you're using a scan, to buy a hard copy to work with. If you're using a clean PDF, particularly for online play, there's zero incentive to pay the publisher except, well, shame.

  • In the music/entertainment world, many companies have started posting "decoys". Basically, you download some song, and find out that the speed is off, or that halfway through the song it cuts out, or that there's lots of static, etc. Decoys get around a lot, as people will download it without checking it too carefully, host it themselves, etc.

    If you have the time, it might be worth looking at creating a decoy.

    I'm thinking an RPG PDF decoy might look like the following:

    1) Even if you have a PDF version of your game, scan it from pages torn out of the book.
    2) Mess with the resolution. Make some pages look "scratchy"
    3) Make sure most pages are at a slight angle, just enough to be annoying.
    4) "Forget" to scan a page here or there. Or an entire set of pages (8-10). Not during chapter starts and stops, but in the middle of random places. Setting, rules, etc. Make sure you don't just pull out the rules section. But, like, every 4th or 8th page of the rules or so.
    5) Make sure that the front and back pages of the 'scan' feature a prominent link to your website.

    In the end, it will scream "This person couldn't scan in this game for shit", or "it's a decoy".

    Either way, when people download it, the ones that give it more than a glance (ie, unlike most downloaders who just keep it on their HD and never glance at it) will notice the problems. But most likely the "no-glance" downloaders have already uploaded the decoy to other places.

    In any case, for someone to then come along afterwards and present a REAL pirate scan/PDF of the product, the decoy will be out there and so prevalent that it will be hard to tell the two apart. And the effort required for the pirate to scan the game, when a 80% complete decoy already exists, will FEEL much weightier than someone scanning for the first time (who probably thinks they are doing a service to the community, a bizarre sense of piratey altruism). And if a NEW scan/torrent is revealed, just do the following:

    1) Take your existing decoy, rename the filename to the exact name of the NEW scan. Reupload everywhere you can. Hilarity ensues.
    2) Take your existing decoy, add three pages or so (to make the file larger: Or inflate the file artificially by other means), rename it "(GAME NAME)_scan_FIXED.pdf" or the like. Re-upload everywhere.

    That initial scan can take an hour or so, admittedly. I suggest listening to some cool music while you work.

  • I know a guy who goes to INSANE lengths to do this kind of anti-piracy work... like an hour a day, every damn day, looking around for pirate versions, uploading crippled files with the same file size and filename as pirate versions, et multiple cetera... some of which probably violates DMCA. I don't think he gets much return on his time investment in terms of protecting his IP... but it makes him feel better.
  • Andy, that's great!

  • I think, to be honest, anyone would be better off just spending the time talking up their game on Teh Intarwub and bribing people to post AP threads.

    I do get a perverse sense of satisfaction about Andy's idea though.
  • I think it usually helps if you ask nicely the original uploaded or the tracker. Something like ''Hey there, I notice you have a copy of my game. It's an indie rpg and the little money I make from it I use to create more nice rpgs so the only thing you achieve by pirating my game is fucking up the indie scene. Can you please remove it? You can place this demo version in it's place instead. Thanks''.

    On the OP, I can help out with the ''monthly edition'' idea. I have a fast connection(100mbit), my PC is on at all times and it would be cool to get involved if anyone thinks this is a good idea.
  • Andy:

    What you need to do is take that bit and make it into a competitive game...
  • I want to use Andy's idea but have the file actually be a few scanned pages of the D&D Monster Manual.
  • Posted By: Joshua BishopRobyI want to use Andy's idea but have the file actually be a few scanned pages of the D&D Monster Manual.
    Well, the only problem there is that if it's BLATANTLY not the product in question, folks will quickly delete it, complain loudly, etc. With a decoy, the user won't know for sure that the file is incomplete until they look closely or actually read it. And once they figure the mistake, it will be harder to tell if it is a problem with the file, the scanner person is a noob who did a shitty job, a problem with the torrent, etc... "Decoy" will not be the first conclusion that people come to.
  • Joshua:
    I think that would be removed from the site if users complain while bad scans usually stay online forever. I'd say it's too much work for little effect but as Vaxalon said, if that makes someone feel better, it's the way to go.
  • edited May 2007
    I think we should discard any notions of stopping or fighting file sharing. Regardless of what we might think about it, it is a reality and there's no stopping it. If the music companies put half the resources into finding a way to benefit from this reality that they do into fighting a war they lost a long time ago, everyone would be better off.

    Right now, the digital rights management folks are in an arms race with pirates, and they are losing badly.

    We do have an advantage that other media enterprises don't have when it comes to piracy though: Unlike music and movies, which will be natively consumed on digital equipment, our content is still best utilized in its analog form.

    Based on anecdotal evidence, the number of people who actually utilize PDFs for a game is very small. It just isn't as easy or convenient as using printed material. And the cost of printing PDFs in a usable form rivals the cost associated with simply buying a book, in most cases.

    I suspect that most people that pirate or otherwise obtain digital copies of RPGs don't even read most of them, let alone use them to play a game (using them in conjunction with a printed copy between play sessions is a different scenario).

    Further, I think people who pirate a PDF and do not subsequently buy a print copy were extremely unlikely to buy a print copy in the absence of the pirated PDF. They are satisfying a curiosity, not stealing what they otherwise would have purchased.

    And even if they are collectors who would have purchased to satisfy their curiosity, buyers who read and collect but don't play are your least desirable customers. In most cases you can afford to lose them.

    Sure, they buy a book, paying for your cost to print it and giving you a few dollars in margin, but that copy is dead afterward. A live copy, one that is getting played, gets talked about. Ideally, each live copy out in the wild will sell an average of two to three more copies through experience and word of mouth.

    A live copy continues to work for you. A dead copy doesn't.

    So we should absolutely seek to find ways to utilize file sharing to our advantage. But until we get to the point where e-book readers make PDFs as useful and desirable as print copies, I don't think we should waste too much effort on stopping file sharing of our PDFs.

    That said, I do remain concerned about the effects of unchecked file sharing on copyrights and trademarks, and whether not seeking to end piracy represents abandonment. But the answer to that is best left to an IP attorney.
  • Awesome post Thor!

    A few years ago I used to play in 3 different RPG groups where many of the players used PDF versions of games they didn't own (no one in the group owned a copy). I either refused to play, bought a copy of my own, or collected money from everyone for a group copy.
  • Ben, I bought a copy of Polarisat Dreamation. I also have a scanned copy I got off a friend of a friend of a friend that got it off a newsgroup. As I mentioned in the other thread I make certain I have a PDF version of nearly every game I own for use during games and as a backup in case of disaster (I had a horrible water incident years ago that makes me paranoid). The question is, then, whether I buy it from the publisher or have to attain it from other means.
  • The only downside to the ransom method I can see is name recognition. Would Greg Stolze's works have sold through the ransom model if he wasn't Greg Stolze? If I was the one developing and publishing Meatbot Massacre using that same method, I doubt it would have ever been released.
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