What Works Better: DRM? Or Just Being Nice to Pirates?

Earlier this week, Hotline Miami released and very quickly became the indie flavor of the minute. Then the story emerged that the game's maker went into the forums at The Pirate Bay, home of, well, pirates, and provided technical support to people who were, technically, stealing the game.

Naturally, Jonatan Soderstrom reaped some goodwill for this stance. It's an extremely sympathetic position in which to find yourself, large-size developer or small. For starters, you haven't done anything wrong, someone is taking your hard work and refusing to pay for it. Two, you get major props from pirate sympathizers, some of whom may actually act on the principle of paying for a game if they play a pirated version and like it. Three, you're not punishing the anti-piracy contingent, who may loathe the practice, but loathe DRM even more.

Soderstrom is by no means the first one to discover this. McPixel's creator was the latest high profile case of a developer embracing piracy and picking up an enormous PR boost for it—and even more: sales from the pirates themselves. After McPixel showed up on The Pirate Bay, Mikolaj 'Sos' Kaminski said "no biggie," on Reddit, expanded on that with some enlightened views of piracy, and tossed in some free codes for the game. The Pirate Bay responded by, wait for it, holding an event where they asked people to actually pay money for a video game (after downloading the full version anyway). [Update: Here's another example, from the creator of Mark of the Ninja, in an interview on Thursday.]

It's an almost unassailable position to be in (and, argumentatively, shows the power of not considering yourself a victim). Gamers love it because, technically, they're sacrificing sales not to inconvenience legitimate customers. Pirates love it because they don't consider it a lost sale. I'm not sure big publishers or their lobbyists love it, but anyone who comes out to rip an indie developer over his policies on his own product is going to look like a corporate dick of the first magnitude.

So what do you think? Is this an effective strategy for all? An effective strategy for some? Is it Stockholm Syndrome with digital hostages? In the past, the cynic in me would dismiss it as a shrewd PR move. (Though Gabe Newell at Valve proffered a compelling argument about why it's a service issue.)

Whether this policy of engagement actually works on its own is one issue. But I think it's clear it works better than DRM. If you can find anyone applauding that, let me know. But the contrast is clear; instead of trying to recover a lost sale, they're trying to make up for it with new ones, and keep legitimate customers happy.