What Lucky Frame's Gentlemen! Can Teach Us About Piracy And Game Development

Since I've started writing on the games industry (and in particular since I've started regularly using Steam), my stance on piracy has effectively done a 180. I used to be pretty ambivalent about the whole affair - I mean pirates weren't actually stealing anything. Their acts of piracy didn't actually cost the developer anything. They're not hurting anybody, right? 


As I've said, my opinion has changed. I'm far less accepting of piracy than I once was, particularly where the games industry is concerned. If you're a software pirate, you're doing something that's both immoral and illegal - there's no getting around it, and there's certainly no justifying it (except, perhaps, in a few very rare cases). If you're a software pirate who downloads content from independent developers, there's a special place down below reserved for you.

Seriously. You're a terrible person. It's the truth. 

You're one of the guys being spewed out by that pipe.You're one of the guys being spewed out by that pipe.

As I so often do, it appears I'm going off on a tangent. Today, I'm here to talk about what happens when an independent developer - through a combination of  an unfortunate name choice and poor advertising - has managed to release its most successful game to date...and it's hardly made them a dime. I'm hear to talk about Lucky Frame's Gentlemen! Today, we're going to take a peek into the seedy underbelly of mobile games development; a world plagued by horrible knockoffs and rampant piracy. 

"Without a doubt, Gentlemen! was one of the best-reviewed projects we have ever produced," writes developer Yan Seznec on Gamasutra. "We received a coveted 8/10 on Edge, 4.5 stars on Touch Arcade, and a 9/10 Gold Award on PocketGamer. This was totally brilliant, and we are so proud. It's interesting to think about why we got such great reviews. Obviously it's a game that we're super proud of, and we think it's amazing, but that's not always enough to secure great critical acclaim."

Dapper pigeons can only take you so far.Dapper pigeons can only take you so far.

"So! Great reviews? Check," continues Seznec. "How does this translate into sales? So far we have sold 1,114 copies on iPad, and 144 copies on Android. Whether this is a ‘good' result is up for debate. Certainly, many games are released every day that don't sell anything close to these numbers. We knew very well that we were making a pretty esoteric game, in the sense that it is limited to iPads and tablets bigger than 7 inches and requires two players, so we didn't exactly have high expectations. We also set the price relatively high - starting at $5, and currently on sale for $3."

Okay, you're thinking. So far it seems like this is just a fun, well-reviewed game that simply didn't receieve enough exposure. Seznec admits that the might have something to do with the name - as they Lucky Frame was releasing Gentlemen!, Psy happened to release a new song titled "GENTLEMAN" (or Gangnam Style 2.0). That's not just significant because it presents issues with discovery.

"We quickly learned about the seedy world of games and apps piggybacking on other entertainment media. What a strange time we live in. Also, how depressing that people spend their time making Jetpack Joyride ripoffs using graphics referencing pop songs," Seznec  laments. "So unfortunately, discovery was and remains a major problem." 

That's not the main problem facing Gentlemen!, though. That becomes immediately clear when you look at teh current sales statistics (as of last week) for the title: 144 copies sold, 50,030 copies pirated.  Less than1% of the people who've downloaded their game are playing a legitimate copy.

I suppose it's also not terribly surprising that 95% of that piracy appears to be originating from China (and, to a lesser extent, from Russia). I'm given to understand that China's got a huge problem with copycats and counterfeits, enough so that it's actually starting to adversely impact the country's economy. An entire culture has sprung up around counterfeiting and piracy.

The philosophy even has a name, too.It's known as Shanzaiism. We're getting off track again, though. We're here to look at the impact this has had on Lucky Frame.

Consider for a moment - as unlikely as it seems, if everyone who had pirated Gentlemen! had instead purchased the title, Lucky Frame would have made over two hundred thousand dollars.Instead, the whole studio has barely made $720. Not exactly living wage for close to a year of work, is it? Like it or not, the pirates have effectively taken money straight out of the pockets of Lucky Frame.

Now, there are a few take-aways here (beyond just "piracy is bad!"). First off- and it almost pains me to admit this - if you're releasing a game on a mobile platform, you need to implement some form of DRM (there's no rule that says you can't get creative with it, though).  Discovery is also extremely important - make sure your name isn't too similar to anything else in the store, and definitely do at least a few searches to make sure you don't - like Lucky Frame - end up naming your game in such a way that it appears to be a knockoff.

Last, but certainly not least, if you're developing on Android, make sure your game supports as many devices as possible before pushing it out. The more people who can play it, the likelier it is to succeed (theoretically, anyway). 

Of course, you could always just develop on PC, too. Though there's still a problem with piracy here, it tends to run far less rampant than it does on mobile devices. 

Anyway, that's it for now. I'm going to revisit the concept of piracy in greater depth at a later date. For the time beimg, I've rambled enough - you folks have yourselves a fantastic day.