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Game maker fights piracy by releasing ‘cracked’ version of its own game

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(Credit: Greenheart Games)

Thwarting piracy is a serious concern for game makers, but one developer came up with an inventive -- and hilarious -- way to teach would-be pirates a thing or two.

Greenheart Games, creators of the simulation Game Dev Tycoon, assumed that their new title would wind up on torrent sites as yet another illegal download. Rather than try to avoid this fate, they instead intentionally uploaded a ‘pirated’ copy of the game to torrent sites just as the legit version (available for Windows, Mac and Linux) was going live on their own storefront.

The two versions of the game are largely identical, tasking players with the management of their own game development studio through creating, developing and selling video games. A few hours into the game, however, those playing the pirated copy will start to have issues; namely, a pop-message pointing out the trouble with game piracy.

"Boss, it seems that while many players play our new game, they steal it by downloading a cracked version rather than buying it legally," the message reads. "If players don’t buy the games they like, we will sooner or later go bankrupt."

Subtle? Not so much, and that was by design.

“Initially we thought about telling them their copy is an illegal copy, but instead we didn’t want to pass up the unique opportunity of holding a mirror in front of them and showing them what piracy can do to game developers,” Klug said in a blog post (link goes to cached version as the developer's site has been having intermittent outages all day).

Eventually players will watch as their in-game studio goes bankrupt, essentially rendering the unpaid version of the game unplayable.

Amazingly, some users of the pirated version actually complained about this on the game’s message boards.

“Why are there so many people that pirate? It ruins me!” moaned one illegal downloader who apparently had his sense of irony surgically removed. “I had like 5m and then people started suddenly pirating everything I made, even if I got really good ratings…not fair.”

Good for a laugh, then…unless you work at Greenheart Games, who found that after just a single day on the market, only 214 people actually paid the $8 for the legal version of the game, compared to over 3,000 who stole the clearly pirated version.

Are those numbers inflated because the developer made it so easy to grab a pirated copy? Perhaps, but it still serves as a chilling reminder of the challenges game makers face every day when releasing digital versions of their games. (By the way, you can buy a legit copy of Game Dev Tycoon right here).

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