Pirate with an Ubisoft logo patch. Base pirate image from http://www.videogamesblogger.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/pirate-artwork.jpg marked as free to modify

Some gaming commenters are up in arms over the nature of Ubisoft’s CEO’s pretty bold claim of 93-95% for his company’s games. Indeed, on its face that number sounds more than just a little on the high side.

Recurring BitShift readers remember the MadFinger Games 80% piracy rate claim for Dead Trigger (and maybe you heard their 90% piracy rate for Shadowgun). As I had explained during that fiasco, the piracy we might typically envision is an American college student downloading cracked versions of the $60 game on a whim and playing it for weeks on end. But that is flawed, because the bulk of PC software piracy is actually happening in countries that are less developed and more corrupt. I pointed to Armenia in this chart, because it has the highest rate and is known for a very corrupt government and banking system. 

So, intrepid link-clickers, what precisely is the PC software piracy rate of the country with the highest rate of piracy? Why, it’s 93%. If those numbers are to be believed, then it would seem that Ubisoft’s CEO, Yves Guillemot (am I the only one who knows how to spell Guillemot because of the old graphics card brand?), is actually only referring to those types of countries when he mentions this high of a piracy rate. Because if he included the other countries, all things being equal, the number would be much, much lower than 90%. In fact, the weighted average on that chart of international software piracy puts it at 59.9%. That’s because countries such as the United States, which has the lowest piracy rate at 20%, bring the average down quite a bit (33 percentage points).

So, is Guillemot including all countries in this statement? Well, it would seem not, since in the same interview, just before the most famous sound bite, he singles out only certain countries:

"We want to develop the PC market quite a lot and F2P is really the way to do it. The advantage of F2P is that we can get revenue from countries where we couldn’t previously - places where our products were played but not bought. Now with F2P we gain revenue, which helps brands last longer.

"It’s a way to get closer to your customers, to make sure you have a revenue. On PC it’s only around five to seven per cent of the players who pay for F2P, but normally on PC it’s only about five to seven per cent who pay anyway, the rest is pirated. It’s around a 93-95 per cent piracy rate, so it ends up at about the same percentage. The revenue we get from the people who play is more long term, so we can continue to bring content.¬†

93% Software Piracy is a Real Thing… in Armenia

So, Guillemot’s statement about 93% actually matches quite a bit with the piracy rate in Armenia. Whether the number holds true for Ubisoft specifically is still not known. It may be based upon their company’s specific data or it could be off of these countries’ averages. But the intent here is that certain countries will pirate more, and that is almost certainly true. Therefore, Ubisoft wants to find ways to monetize the high-piracy countries. That is the context of his statements, and it’s getting buried in the furor over the 95% piracy rate allegations.

I don’t fully understand how his F2P model lets them charge people where the games were “played but not bought.” This may be a discrepancy from what I’ve read about the banking systems and what Ubisoft believes they can do. Somehow those 7% are paying for software, so it’s not impossible to do. I don’t mind F2P games in theory, if they are done right. Most of them are not. Time will tell if they are successful.

The real problem with Ubi’s response to piracy is that they are simultaneously doing nothing to bolster the community towards their side. My I-don’t-make-my-living-from-games stance has been that your support of the game for the sake of your actual customers (and pirates aren’t customers, remember?) builds the mutual trust bridge between you (the developer) and your audience.

Valve manages to build good will regardless of the pseudo-DRM that Steam carries (which isn’t impenetrable, either) because they have the world’s most incredible post-release game support. I think precisely zero people were mad when Team Fortress 2 went free-to-play after a couple of years of being a $20 retail product. Why? Because it surpassed its initial value many times over. ¬†Contrast that to Dead Trigger, which was $0.99 but went free-to-play in less than a month.

So, instead of punishing the people who are willing to legally buy your games by adding in incredibly restrictive DRM that does nothing or by delaying the PC release for multiple months after consoles, how about finding new, exciting ways to serve your customers? How about being the company that finds innovative ways to make it actually pleasurable to be a customer?

What have you done for me lately, Ubisoft?

Source: gamesindustry.biz