Punch Club had one of the more unique release structures we've seen with a Twitch Plays event leading up to and hitting the release of the game. It gained a title that would have for many people fell under the radar a lot of notice and has helped it sell pretty well for publisher TinyBuild, having racked up over 300k sales on PC and Mobile devices.
However, as the title hints there is a dark side to TinyBuild's most successful title, as it is also their most pirated title. By putting in a small tracking code, TinyBuild was able to tell which copies were pirated on the various platforms and which were purchased. One caveat here on the numbers: key resellers, even ones with fraudulent transactions, are counted in the total sales and not piracy. While TinyBuild counts them as piracy internally, there is no real way to put a number on how many copies are sold illegally on the grey market via stolen credit cards or other matters.
Punch Club was up on torrents within hours and that would continue throughout its mobile release as well. The general break down for it is as follows:
- PC - 1,137,000 copies pirated
- Mobile (according to Tinybuild 90% of mobile pirating is Android) - 514,000
- Total Copies Pirated: Over 1.641 million
What this means is that there is overall a 5 to 1 piracy ratio in effect roughly. Every time they've sold a copy somewhere at least 5 people have pirated. Thankfully for us, Tinybuild provided some more breakdowns, so we can tell that while PC users are the most prolific piraters in gross, Android users are more likely to do so by rate.
- For every sale on PC there are 4 pirates
- For every Android sale there are 12 pirates
- For every iOS sale there are 2 pirates
It paints a bleak picture and explains why many companies turn to draconian DRM policies like Square Enix has done with the latest Hitman title. That's not to say TinyBuild is planning on implementing anything similar. Their blog post on the topic indicates they are highly concerned with the way DRM impacts paying customers, but that they, like others, are looking for other ways to mitigate their risks in some way. For them, they stated they believe they should have had cross-save for mobile/PC enabled at launch to help convert buyers on one platform to buyers on the other. For other titles what they need to do is going to be dependent on what they are doing and how to do so in a way that isn't intrusive on paying customers.
But that's not the end is it? I mean we mentioned Punch Club had an unusual launch. Did that impact things?
Well that was one of several things that I wondered about when reading, and I reached out to TinyBuild about it. What they were able to tell me is that the rate of piracy they are seeing with Punch Club is similar to what they see with other titles, only magnified far more with it being such a success. So it appears the large amount of viewers they got on Twitch and all the write ups about the phenomenon that become Twitch Plays Punch Club were not statistically significant to this matter. Another question was if the game being cheaper on mobile devices compared to the PC platform may have impacted that, and they stated to the best of their knowledge they don't know of any title that has happened with. While less definitive, the fact that it also matches ratios probably confirms that most of the users who are likely to pirate in that case were looking for a reason to pirate.
What is also interesting is that regions for piracy were well defined. Brazil, Russia, and China were the top pirating locations, especially once the game was localized into Portuguese, which led to a big spike in piracy. On the day that they localized it into Portuguese, it was pirated over 11,000 times in Brazil while under 400 people bought it. The countries that had the highest buying to piracy rate that day were Germany, followed by the United States and France.
While China doesn't care about localization for piracy, it is clear that Brazil heavily does with it being only a medium or smaller partner in piracy before the localization to being one of if not the biggest pirates after.
While there's a lot to digest here and observe, I do want to state one thing here: that not all pirates would be buyers. Some may have become buyers in that case, and some pirates who did buy wouldn't have bought the game. Clearly, though, any number that are, are in the minority with this number of titles going around the net in general, and it is one of the problems that companies face right now. Given their conclusion that it is worth it to translate into German and French, one wonders if in the future they will translate into Portuguese, which while Brazil did sell copies, it also led to a significant uptick in piracy and support requirements.
What are your thoughts on this situation? Do you think there is anything TinyBuild could have done? Share your thoughts in the comments below!