The Witness Is Being Pirated a Lot, Dev Says

"I don't like DRM."

546 Comments
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The Witness, the next game from Braid creator Jonathan Blow, is suffering from widespread piracy on PC that's so problematic that it could impact developer Thekla's ability to make another game. That's according Blow, who spoke about piracy and DRM in a series of tweets recently.

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"It seems The Witness is the #1 game on a certain popular torrent site," Blow said without naming the specific site. "Unfortunately, this will not help us afford to make another game! :("

Someone suggested to Blow that The Witness' $40 price tag might have led people to pirate it. However, Blow said Braid, which cost $15 at launch, was pirated "just as heavily." Another person said if Blow had released a demo for The Witness, piracy levels might have been lower.

Blow didn't agree. "False," Blow said. "Braid had a demo, was still pirated like crazy."

It is unclear what form of DRM The Witness is using, if any at all, but it's not Denuvo. That protection system is used in games like Rise of the Tomb Raider and Just Cause 3--and it could make it into Blow's next game.

"That might happen on the next game, I don't know!" Blow said. "I don't like DRM because I think people should have the freedom to own things."

The upside to people pirating The Witness is that the game will reach more people, Blow said, though there are of course downsides as well.

For more on The Witness, check out GameSpot's review and some other recent news stories below.

GameSpot may get a commission from retail offers.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

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Kinren1

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I bought the game on steam and refunded it because its a game I don't have the time to sit down and be frustrated over. Realized that after the first 45 minutes. However, I can still play it because its still on my machine, but I don't. There is literally no protection on the game. Maybe protect your game better, maybe make some puzzles not work if the game is pirated and put a pirate flags everywhere?

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blackeagle84

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this dev is just whining because his game is lame and can't sell for peanuts.

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ArchoNils2

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Pretty sure most of those pirates just wanted to watch how bad of an headache the game gives you :P

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DGriffy

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This is a very interesting comments thread. Rather reminds me of a couple arguing about which brands of bread to buy in a supermarket. The intensity of the argument rather suggests there is a sublimated argument underneath fuelling the tension.

There are quite a few different position but two of the larger ones seem to be:

1) A group of staunchly anti-'piracy' folk, I'll call them Piracy Deontologists, who are absolutely against any piracy at all.

and

2) A group of people not specifically 'pro-piracy', at least not openly, but who question the idea that it is damaging. I'll call them Piracy Consequentialists.

What underlies a lot of the conflict seems to be a different model of the way of viewing morality. The first group seems to be largely individualist, operating under the belief that people are free and rational individuals who make choices based on rational self interest, or conscious consideration of reasonable arguments. This lends itself to the belief that the law must be obeyed because it is the only restraint on that self-interest. A way of skewing self-interest with legal penalties towards a more collectively useful action.

The second group seems to largely view people as making choices framed by context. Morality here is based in the consequences of the act rather than being an inherent attribute of the act itself. This lends itself to the view that people engage in 'piracy' because of the context of the decision e.g. the game is too expensive, or they don't have the spare cash to spend on games anyway, or because of issues of access, or caution, etc.. Piracy might still be immoral under this system, it just needs evidence of harm enough to be perceived as significant by the Consequentialist in question.

So this could be framed as a moral argument between Deontologists and Consequentialists. There is a problem with this framing though. While the Deontological argument is quite easy there isn't actually enough data for a full Consequentialist argument. We don't actually have any idea at all how many copies of a game represent a lost sale. It is pretty easy to prove it isn't all of them, but it seems reasonable to suppose that some of them will be. A Deontological argument only really requires that the potential for lost sales be real, which it is (and a belief that this constitutes harm).

The moral framing could also be scaled down to a more specific question: 'What is the proper role of the Law?' Is it to facilitate civil interaction, or to guide the morality of the community?

But, even given the adequate nature of the Deontological argument, the existence of a strong Consequentialist contingent in the face of the arguments incompleteness suggests something remains unconvincing in the Deontological argument. In turn, this suggests a flaw in the entire framing (partly because all Deontological arguments are at their core Consequentialist arguments with moral attribution of consequence deferred to the act itself. Flaws in the Consequentialist arguments are flaws in the Deontological arguments).

So, pull out maybe. Reach for something more fundamental. Such moral arguments can be a proxy for arguments on psychology, or on the philosophy of personhood. This one specifically seems to be: 'How free are people?'

As mentioned argument 1 is an argument based on the assumption that people are free and rational individuals. They can choose and so can be held responsible for an attribution of morality to their acts, and not just to the consequences of their acts. This demands the belief that while people can be constrained they are by default free. Argument 2 assumes people have reasons and that those reasons are necessarily more complex, and less ultimately knowable, than 'self-interest'. This isn't based on a polar opposite assumption to argument 1) rather on a slight twist. It assumes that people can be more or less free, have more or less agency, depending on context but are fundamentally defined by their unfreedom. One could reasonably add to this a belief that people can know more about the consequences of their acts than they can about the motives for their acts and so can be held responsible for the consequences but not for the act.

The problem for the anti-piracy Deontologists is that these kinds of assumptions lie so deep at the heart of argument that they cannot be effectively argued for, as they pre-exist as the basis of any argument made in favour of them - though they can be modified through processes largely opaque to self-understanding. The basis for assuming them must therefore be irrational, indicating that people are largely defined by pre-/sub-/unconscious irrational motivations rather than by rational consideration of reasonable arguments.

Whatever that might mean for the issue of piracy rather depends on how one interprets and prioritises the consequences Deontological moral systems for the reality of a situation, I suppose.

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DGriffy

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I feel it is rather necessary to point out, for clarity, that in almost all legal systems piracy isn't theft (it is sometimes not even an issue of criminal law at all, but that is a different matter). Theft usually requires depriving the owner/rightful user of the allegedly stolen object for a significant period. That doesn't happen in software piracy. One could call it copyright infringement, because of the unauthorised copying. It could also be argued to be breach of contract because one has undertaken a process to acquire a copy but hasn't paid the authorised vendor for the service of providing that copy. A service they could be argued to have a standing offer of unilateral contract in place for. It is not often theft though. At the very least in many common law nations data can pretty much never be stolen (though if the data is stored on a physical object - like a USB stick or a piece of paper - one can of course be charged with stealing the storage device).

There are circumstances in which copyright infringement and theft coincide depending on the specifics on the legal language of the culture in question but it is by no means simple. Equating copyright infringement and theft rather glosses over the specifics of a complex legal situation to the benefit of very few.

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HermitKiller

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ALL YOU PC PIRATES, SHAME ON YOU!!!!!!!!

We ain't gonna get no sequel because of you.

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SaturatedButter

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Edited By SaturatedButter

@hermitkiller: https://twitter.com/Jonathan_Blow/status/693668528314937344

"we'll be able to make the next game at a comparable budget level (maybe bigger, we'll see!)"

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foreskin666

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all games get pirated a lot, the witness is no exception. also every copy pirated is not a lost sale.

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HermitKiller

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@foreskin666: All thanks to pc pirates :)

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JackTheSparrow

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@foreskin666: And i have never seen a company go down because of pirating. Besides they can always sell the copy i could/would/should have bought to someone else.

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so_hai

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If you don't mind piracy, then you are the best supporter of DRM.

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riotinto876

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Edited By riotinto876

People need to realize that those who pirate games do not count to lost sales/money. Those people would never had bought the game in the first place.

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callsignalpha

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@riotinto876: Has it ever occurred to you that people might be pirating the games so they don't have to pay for it in the first place.That's a potentially lost sale now isn't it ??

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Baconstrip78

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@riotinto876: And you know this how exactly?

On the other hand, if someone owns a pirated version of a game they would be less likely to re-buy the same game even at a deep Steam-sale discount. That's just economic common sense. There are huge libraries of games that I would have never bought at full price but I did end up buying on Steam a year or two later. If I had been playing a pirated copy on day 1 and beat the game 5 times by the time the price is right for me, do you really think I would buy it even for a nickle?

Piracy = lost revenue dollars....period. Any sort of argument to the contrary is just intellectual dishonesty used to justify theft.

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MichaelSosa8

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@Baconstrip78: no it's not, stupid. People who like the games they do actually buy them to support the devs. Others just plain outbnever buy them, so there is hardly any loss of sales. The loss is so abysmally small, it can't really be contributed to games not doing well enough.

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ECH71

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@michaelsosa8: Not to mention some people pirate games/movies/etc to build up a library that they hardly get a chance to play/watch, because they're too busy hoarding all the pirated stuff out there.

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naryanrobinson

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That's not a lot of pirating, and every copy pirated is not a lost sale.

Also, $40 for a puzzle game?

I don't know what they thought would happen.

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dyketeeth

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Edited By dyketeeth

@naryanrobinson: Since when does genre define price? Shut up.

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MichaelSosa8

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@dyketeeth: shut up retard, don't but in to grown folks talking. Don't come back till your nutts have dropped

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dyketeeth

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@michaelsosa8: Nice argument. Retard.

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naryanrobinson

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Edited By naryanrobinson

@dyketeeth: .

Market audience size defines price. Genre defines audience.

Keep up.

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dyketeeth

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@naryanrobinson: Yeah okay I agree. The main issue is accessibility, and I don't think it's easily accessible to the intended audience, and price does play a large part in that.

Sorry I told you to shut up, I'm an ass.

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naryanrobinson

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Edited By naryanrobinson

@dyketeeth: .

It's alright, take it easy.

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Kunakai

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I'm not seeing what he's seeing. The numbers I'm looking at are relatively low, even for an indie title. Comes across as if he's using the fact to keep the game in the media as long as possible. I certainly wouldn't put it past anyone with his professional history.

That said, if the game really is so popular on piracy sites, and isn't doing well commercially, then I can only assume there's something making potential customers somewhat anxious about buying it (probably the price tag).

Personally, $40 sounds like far too high of a price point for what this game is.

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Baconstrip78

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Edited By Baconstrip78

@Kunakai: Do you also blame women who get raped over the criminals that rape them? Yes, it must be the developers fault that the game is being stolen by theives....

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MichaelSosa8

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@Baconstrip78: if it wasn't for those criminals, you wouldn't have been born. Then again, you are right. It would have been better.

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naryanrobinson

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@Baconstrip78: .

Oh jeez you look so dumb right now.

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Kunakai

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@Baconstrip78: You should really try reading comments before replying, it'd save you from looking like a moron. I didn't blame anything on anyone.

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Baconstrip78

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@Kunakai:

"That said, if the game really is so popular on piracy sites, and isn't doing well commercially, then I can only assume there's something making potential customers somewhat anxious about buying it (probably the price tag)."

I can only assume by the fact the woman wore a short skirt that she was asking to be raped.

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Kunakai

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Edited By Kunakai

@Baconstrip78: I guess you have the right to that opinion...

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SoundMixer

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Edited By SoundMixer

I am going to be flamed for this view. But frankly, I am sick of arguments that merely serve to rationalize, justify, or explain away an immoral act.

The ideals of morality have apparently been utterly decimated in our "modern" society. We increasingly live in a world where "what is right" is simply equivalent to "what I can get away with".

In my opinion, content creators have a moral obligation to do no harm to their consumers. E.g., to not falsely advertise, or bait-and-switch, and to not install viruses or steal information from their customers' computers.

In my opinion, being able to "try before you buy" is not a right consumers have ... it is only a privilege that can be granted by the creator, if they choose to do so. However, they are not obligated to do that if they don't want to.

If a dev / studio feels that their sales will be at risk unless they provide a means to "try first", then fine: they can use a trial/demo/beta/viral-marketing/whatever technique to get the exposure they feel they need in order to achieve the financial results they want. If they don't feel that they need that (e.g., due to reputation, buzz, franchise, favorable review, sunspots, whatever) ... then I believe it is their right, as the content creators, to make that call. The market may respond unfavorably to their decision, whatever it is ... but that is the cost/risk of being in business (i.e., understanding your market and what can and cannot be effectively monetized).

In my view, the only way morality is upheld is if the creator's expressed "fair use" terms, expressed at the time of publication or sale, are not violated. The creator can decide to set a price point that is too high, and the market should respond by not buying it. Their bottom line will be impacted because sales projections will be wrong. Their future ability to create will be compromised.

I believe our moral obligation, as consumers, is to respect the terms established by the content creators. If I don't agree with the terms, then I will not play the game. After all, it is only a game. In the grand scheme of things, isn't it much more important that I act justly and treat my fellow humans with decency and respect ... rather than I get the chance to play a video game?

Not agreeing with the creator's terms does not, in any way, give me the right or the authority to simply sidestep those terms. People can and will do that, yes. But I believe we should all be held to a higher standard (and that we should start by holding each other to that standard as well).

If you will only buy it if you can try it first ... then, unless the creator has given you an "experience it first" avenue, then I assert that you should just decide a game isn't for you and move on, rather than somehow delude yourself into thinking that what you are doing is "ok" (i.e., that you don't have to respect the wishes of the content creator, because you deem them to be unreasonable/unfair/whatever). You cannot have your cake and eat it too. If you are violating the content creator's prescribed distribution or use terms, then you are not acting in a moral manner. Period.

Frankly, in the context of this discussion, I don't care much what is actually "legal" vs. "not legal". The simple fact is: the content in question would not exist without the efforts of the content creator. I believe the content creator should, if they desire to, receive compensation for their efforts. Further, I believe they are entitled to that compensation regardless of whether I, ultimately, enjoyed it or not. If I chose to experience it, for 2 hours ... or 2000 hours, I believe they should receive some compensation for providing me the opportunity to experience it (if that is their goal). Now, whether or not I enjoyed it will definitely influence my future willingness to try something else from them: and that is the risk creators take. They must produce quality experiences if they expect to be able to be in the business of creation for any duration of time.

We are a species that is capable of so much more than getting away with something because the letter of the law might be ambiguous ... or because technology may make it "easy" to do. I personally think it is high time that we started acting like it ... and treat each other, the way we ourselves would want to be treated.

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MichaelSosa8

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Edited By MichaelSosa8

@SoundMixer: if you want to support morality, why don't you work towards stopping wars, corruption, unfair distribution of wealth and poverty. Fok your games, bitch.

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EdwardNygma

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I can't stand how people steal from Devs that are actively against ridiculous DRM garbage. What lowlifes.

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Mithrava

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I'd like to share a little story, no opinion, just fact:

I helped a friend of mine build a new gaming PC. It's a decent one with an i7-4790K and a GTX 970. He really wanted to play MGS V TPP because he has been a fan of the series for so long. He pirated the game the day after his PC was built, saying that if the game was $40 he would have bought it, but it was still new and $60. One week later, MGS V TPP was discounted to $40 but my friend said: "I now already have the game so... not buying it". Even if it was priced at $40 from the start, he probably would've said he'd buy it only for $30.

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ECH71

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Edited By ECH71

@mithrava: Yes, there are very different pirates out there and not every pirate behaves the same way at all times for each and every title.

Some strictly use it as a demo and purchase the game immediately after.

Some play the whole game first to evaluate its worth and pay what they think it deserves (eg. campaign too short, too much focus on multiplayer that they may not be interested in, game development "NO-NO's" such as hard-coding movement keys, etc).

Some play the whole game and always find an excuse to put off buying it, either indefinitely or until it's dirt cheap.

Some just never pay, regardless of whether they like what they've played.

Some just never pay and rarely play the games they've pirated because they have so many pirated games they don't know where to start.

etc. etc.

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sakaiXx

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@mithrava: I agree, I see no point in buying the game when you already have it. Plus pirates are less likely to buy when they are playing the game for the campaign and pays no mind to the online mods. I mean you can finish the game already, why the need to waste money ?

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Godlikan

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There is a thing like kickstarter if you want support crybabies.

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deactivated-58183aaaa31d8

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If you don't like DRM then you can't moan when people pirate!

Either think of a better form of DRM (I'm still all for adding some code that overclocks people's CPU above safe levels for the record) or shut the **** up.

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ECH71

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@dexda: There's no point to moaning either way. DRM-protection is nothing but a delay between release date and the date it's cracked and pirated. Pretty much everything is pirated.

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adamus

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look at all the PC elites trying to defend this so funny. i wouldnt even bother trying to make my game available for PC if i was a developer just to see it pirated by poor scum bags with no jobs.

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ECH71

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@adamus: Yes, the folks with $1000+ gaming rigs are the ones that are poor with no jobs, not the people with $400-500 fixed-spec boxes. Great logic.

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adamus

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@ECH71: did i hit a nerve PC master? and wtf has the price of rigs got to do with it? pretty sure there are people out there with jobs that still pirate i just used it as an insult. get off your high horse.

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