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Publishers, not pirates, are the problem on Nintendo 3DS says Epic Mickey designer

Following the news that homebrewers had broken through the Nintendo 3DS’ security, handheld game developers like Renegade Kid’s Jools Watsham (Mutant Mudds, Dementium) said that his studio would abandon the platform if piracy ramped up. Now another notable Nintendo DS and 3DS developer, DreamRift’s Peter Ong, is speaking out about 3DS piracy. The problem with piracy isn’t lost sales, according to Ong. It’s that publishers are so afraid of piracy that they aren’t willing to invest in games people will actually want to buy.

“We definitely found that piracy was a significant factor in our Nintendo DS development efforts,” Ong told Gamasutra in a new interview, “Many publishers even cited the issue of piracy as a specific reason why they decided to back away from our game project, especially with it being an original intellectual property concept.”

“The publishers’ fear was that, in a climate where piracy is commonplace, original games and new mechanics are far less likely to be successful than games based on previously successful mechanics, established licenses, sequels, and sports,” he continues, “[Whether] it’s true that enthusiast/hardcore gamers are more likely to pirate than mainstream gamers, the fact that publishers believe it to be true has a very real, unfortunate, and ugly impact on games.”

Ong’s statements certainly ring true when looking at his output over the past five years, first at EA and later at DreamRift. After failing to make a sales impact with the brilliant Nintendo DS original Henry Hatsworth and the Puzzling Adventure, Ong founded DreamRift and created Monster Tale which was published by Majesco. Since then, though, his only output was Epic Mickey: The Power of Illusion for 3DS, a rushed game based on an existing license. DreamRift was forced to retreat to the safety of established IP rather than make another original, just as Ong said.

It’s also easy to see publishers’ perspective, though. Both of Ong’s Nintendo DS originals are shockingly easy to pirate. As of this writing, both Henry Hatsworth and Monster Tale can be downloaded for nothing after a simple Google search.

The homebrew community, tinkerers and hackers that tinker with commercial electronics in order to get them running unsigned applications, celebrated the new year with news that the Nintendo 3DS had finally been cracked. Nintendo invested significant resources into protecting the 3DS from piracy; that’s the other reason people look to hack Nintendo’s handhelds. Publishers understand that hackers will toy with devices no matter what. There’s no stopping it. That’s no reason to stop funding original projects like DreamRift’s, though. The answer is to sell those games at more affordable rates and through as many distribution channels, retail and digital, as possible.

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