Web screenshot of greenheartgames.com

London - Thousands of light-fingered gamers had a frustrating time this week. They'd downloaded Game Dev Tycoon, a new title from tiny start-up Greenheart Games. It's a SimCity-alike that challenges players to build a games developer and turn it from a minnow to a mighty studio capable of turning out hits like Call of Duty and Assassin's Creed.

Their problem was that they'd downloaded a pirate version of the game from an online forum instead of forking out $7.99 (about R70) for the official version. And no matter how well they managed their assets, their in-game funds dwindled as the new games they created were pirated by unscrupulous crooks. Eventually, their virtual game-development firm went bust. Oh, the irony.

The irony gets even sweeter, and the whole thing very meta, when you discover it was Greenheart Games' founders, brothers Patrick and Daniel Klug, who released this self-defeating pirated version to highlight the challenges developers face.

Game Dev Tycoon is the brothers' first release and it came after nearly two years of development: “Our initial thought was simply, how do we deal with piracy?” Patrick, 30, tells Trending.

“We knew it was inevitable that our game would be pirated… so we decided that it was best to release a cracked version ourselves, since then we could at least control the experience the pirates would have.”

Within 24 hours, it transpired that 93 percent of gamers had opted to download the cracked version, while only 214 honest types bothered to download legally from greenheartgames.com. Patrick then blogged the back story and the tale went viral. The plot thickened as some gamers alleged that Game Dev Tycoon was all too similar to Game Dev Story, a similar type of game released in 2010.

The brothers had expected a high level of illegal downloads but were still shocked that so many people chose not to pay up: “If I had not known to expect such a high percentage of piracy, I would have despaired,” Patrick says.

Game Dev Tycoon isn't the first game to prank the pirates. In 2001, Operation Flashpoint was released with a sneaky addition: if the game was pirated, players' weapons would become less and less accurate. Eventually they'd be slaughtered.

“Piracy is a constant problem that is plaguing big and small developers alike,” says Dr Richard Wilson, of Tiga, the trade body representing UK gaming. “And this stunt really draws attention to how developers are having to adopt new business models to stay ahead of the pirates.”

Patrick says he isn't motivated by profits and in his blog sums up the situation well: “As a gamer I laughed out loud: the IRONY!!! However, as the developer, who spent over a year creating this game and hasn't drawn a salary yet, I wanted to CRY. Surely, for most of these players, the $8 wouldn't hurt them but it makes a huge difference to our future!” - The Independent