Piracy has long been the bane of the games industry – but one enterprising pirate may just have figured out how developers could make money from piracy… by using Bitcoin. And could this have implications for how legitimate game developers make money?
Yesterday the much anticipated Watch Dogs was released and according to some reports the pirated version that showed up on various illegal torrent websites contained a little extra added by the person who pirated it in the first place: a Bitcoin miner.
The way Bitcoin (and other so-called crypto-currencies) work is clever: essentially, your computer will over time slowly generate Bitcoins for you by ‘mining’ them – in other words, putting your processor to work by solving complex maths problems. The more computing power you have, to faster you can mine – and the richer you can get.
So what the pirate (allegedly) did was package in a secret bitcoin miner that had been programmed to send the virtual coins to his or her Bitcoin wallet – so when you play Watch Dogs, your computer is secretly making money for the pirate.
Whilst this obviously isn’t good for Ubisoft, who put in the hard work making the game, you have to admit that it is very clever. And it is also funny to see people who have downloaded the dodgy torrent getting indignant at how the game that they pirated, giving no money to the developers, isn’t quite as it seems.
This ruse though raises a bigger question: has it shown a new way for developers to monetise their games? With all of the talk in gaming communities about how much they hate “free to play” games (where micro-transactions are used for in-game items instead of paying upfront), could Bitcoin mining provide a unique solution?
What if instead of paying £50 for Watch Dogs up front, or £2 for Angry Birds (or whatever), you were able to download the games for free on to your device, with the understanding that it would use your computer (or console) to mine Bitcoins for the developers?
This perhaps isn’t as crazy as it sounds. When the PS3 first launched, Sony made a big deal about how the console could be used for Folding@Home – a medical research app that used connected consoles to process shedloads of raw research data whilst the PS3 was in standby mode. Essentially exactly what I’m proposing – but for altruistic reasons.
There is only one minor flaw in my plan though. People will have to start taking Bitcoin seriously.