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PC Games (Games)

Game Developers Should Ignore Software Pirates 458

wraith808 points out a story about remarks made by the CEO of software and game development company Stardock about sales in the PC game industry. His suggestion to other developers is simple: ignore the software pirates. From Ars Technica: "'So here is the deal: When you develop for a market, you don't go by the user base. You go by the potential customer base. That's what most software companies do. They base what they want to create on the size of the market they're developing for,' Wardell writes on his blog. 'But not PC game developers.' Don't let people who aren't your audience control the titles you make, and ignore piracy. This is much like Trent Reznor's strategy, although the execution is different. Instead of worrying about pirates, just leave the content out in the open. The market Reznor plays to will still buy the music; he's simply stopped worrying about the pirates. He came to the same conclusion: they weren't customers, they might never be customers, so spending money to try to stop them serves no purpose."
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Game Developers Should Ignore Software Pirates

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  • Re:Not really (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mongoose Disciple ( 722373 ) on Friday March 21, 2008 @12:33AM (#22815884)
    These days a lot of the money from games comes from places other than boxed sales. There's add-on content and online play. If you charge $5 a month to play the game, who really cares if the player pirated it or not?

    I think this is what has driven games to online play over the last several years more than anything -- online play as copy protection, or alternately online play as making game piracy mostly pointless. Yes, a lot of people are trying to make the 'next WoW' now, and that's driving a lot of games and dev teams towards online play that probably never should be, but ask yourself, why was there a WoW in the first place?

    Although there were subscription-model MMOish games earlier, I think the success of Blizzard's Battle.net was the first big success story of online play. You could easily find a key generator to 'crack' any of their games... but not so easily to play online on their servers, and for most people, you wanted to. Online play drives sales drives word of mouth drives more sales, and before you know it the laws of gaming thermodynamics have been broken and a perpetual money-printing machine has been created.
  • Re:Bull (Score:3, Interesting)

    by c0d3g33k ( 102699 ) on Friday March 21, 2008 @01:00AM (#22816048)
    Yeah, and it also sucks that you aren't getting any money from me because I won't buy your game due to DRM. Which is the point of TFA. I've been playing PC games since the late 80s and used to buy nearly every game on the shelves (there weren't that many). I don't any more, primarily due to DRM. I'll probably never play Bioshock or lots of other games, not that I care anymore at this point. (No, I don't pirate them - I don't buy and don't play.) And I'm not alone. So did stopping teh evul bootleggars get you enough sales to make up for the ones you lost? Plus some extra to cover the money spend on DRM? If not, or if you broke even, then you wasted your time and money that could have been devoted to getting sales from me. Which, if you did a good job, would have guaranteed you a sale on your next title too. So what did chasing down the bootleggers gain you exactly?

    I *will* buy Sins of a Solar Empire. Not because of the absence of DRM, but because it sounds like a good game that I would want want to buy, and there's no DRM to turn me away. If I like it, StarDock just found themselves a new long-term customer. One that you could have had. So "Bull" right back at you.
  • by p0tat03 ( 985078 ) on Friday March 21, 2008 @01:23AM (#22816184)

    Think about what you're saying for a second. Sure, a tech-savvy kid can easily find cracks and apply them, but such skills are still relatively rare in the marketplace as a whole. Not to mention the fact that if you picked 1000 random people out of game shops around the world and asked them about bnetd, the VAST majority would probably not know what it is!

    I still remember when Counter-Strike got popular... All the kids at school were playing it, and the VAST majority had legal copies - despite being otherwise shameless pirates in every other way. Some enterprising individuals tried to circumvent the protection via key sharing, etc, but in the end all of THEM just went out and bought it for sheer convenience (having WON kick you off for duplicate keys sucks). I have ZERO doubt in my mind that Valve took a fair chunk of piracy out just by using something as simple as a CD key.

    Then there's the other end of the spectrum... Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. It ran random crap in the background that will refuse to run if ANY semblance of a virtual CD driver is present, or certain models of CD drives... Suffice it to say it generated LOADS of false positives and was a pain in the ass. IMHO that game is the TEXTBOOK example of how NOT to implement anti-piracy in your software.

  • Re:Bull (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PopCulture ( 536272 ) <PopCulture.hotmail@com> on Friday March 21, 2008 @01:31AM (#22816226)
    "This is a major problem in Asia, particularly China."

    what are your prices in China, and do they factor in the large PPP disparity found between there and Europe and America? Would they really be honest paying customers?
  • Re:Bull (Score:2, Interesting)

    by SiriusStarr ( 1196697 ) <SumStultusSedEsQ ... TBSDom minus bsd> on Friday March 21, 2008 @01:37AM (#22816262)
    This is absolutely not true. I, for one, am anxiously awaiting playing Bioshock. It is supposedly a fabulous game, and I fully intend to purchase it legally. There's just a slight catch, that being Securom. I will go to the store and buy Bioshock the day they release it without their rootkit in it. I will happily pay their $40 for it, but I want it DRM-free. This isn't because I want to do anything they would possibly object to with the game; I don't. It's simply that I don't want to willingly put a rootkit on my computer. Windows is awfully vulnerable as it stands, and I really don't want to open up another potential vulnerability. Not to mention its interference with process explorers.

    I know few will believe me and most will simply say that I obviously don't want the game that much, but oh well... Honestly though, the only thing that has kept me from purchasing the game is the DRM.
  • by Protonk ( 599901 ) on Friday March 21, 2008 @01:40AM (#22816276) Homepage
    I think we agree (or would) on a lot of things. Offering a full featured teaser and charging for the (easy to police for copyright problems) multiplayer is a GREAT solution. That offers copy protection for the customers that want to pay for it in an inobtrusive way. That's what the guy isn't saying. It's not like they would be cool with you ripping them off for the multiplayer (though it is clearly possible). That's their real game.

    He just needs to be clear about it. That isn't zero copy protection. That is smart copy protection designed to make customers happy, not pissed off. I like stardock. I like most shareware game companies. Since I grew up on macs, those are the only companies I knew, because most "real" games didn't get ported (except mist......woo....hoo....). Shareware companies have the right idea about copy protection for THEIR level of game making. If EA produced sins of a solar empire, you might feel less of a twinge about ripping them off. I alwas felt bad about ripping those shareware guys off because their site always made it seem like they were eating cat food and my purchase would help them feed their kids. The feeling of altrusism is hard to replicate.

    They are on the way to the right idea. but they deliberately (because they are pushing their business model as teh awesome) are understating the nature of piracy (queue scary MPAA ghosts and PSA's about how ripping GTA means you fund terrorism). The low level piracy problem is converting those firs few chunks of potential pirates/buyers to buyers. The money still means that most game companies will choose the conventional route for now.
  • Re:Bull (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Erpo ( 237853 ) on Friday March 21, 2008 @01:44AM (#22816298)
    Yes, it sucks that backup copies are collateral damage in this battle. But you tell me a better method for us to guarantee that no wholesale bootlegging will occur, and I'll take it to my superiors.

    I'm totally against copyright/DRM/preventing private copying, and it seems like most people on slashdot feel the same way, but you might actually get some constructive responses to a reasonable question like this. I'm totally willing to think about the problem, and if I come up with the winning solution I won't try to charge you a dime. I'll be happy if you just use it. Please, consider submitting this question as an "Ask Slashdot" for a variety of responses.

    Just to be sure I understand you, you have two goals:

    1. You want to ensure that people who are willing to pay for the game will send their money to the people who actually authored it.
    2. You want to ensure that people who buy discs are receiving quality goods.

    Here are my thoughts:

    1a. Ransom licensing (i.e. only take preorders). Not only does it totally eliminate the freeloader problem, but it ensures that there won't be any profit in making knockoff discs. Ransom licensing would work best for a big company with a solid reputation for making good games. However, this is a big departure from the way games are traditionally financed, and big game developers seem to be quite risk averse/conservative.
    1b. Holograms, maybe? I don't know how good people are at duplicating those.
    1c. Program the game to ask for the retailer's name during registration, and explain why you want to know. Normally I feel that it's my own business how old I am and how many TVs I own, but if you explain your plight to a gamer who honestly wants to send money to the developers, I'm sure he or she would be willing to register and help you check if the disc came from your company.

    2a. Digital distribution. Either a digital download is bit for bit identical to the original or it isn't. There's no such thing as a file that is pretty much OK today but rotten next week because it was fabricated poorly. If my hard disk or CD-R holding the download fails, that's my fault as a consumer, not your fault as a game developer. For extra brownie points, let me use my serial number to download additional copies of the game installer in case I lose my original.
    2b. As a last resort, publish CDs but don't use any physical-medium-based DRM. If your game discs can be copied using standard, cheap CD-Rs and don't require sophisticated mastering machinery, commercial pirates will be more likely to gravitate to more readily available, more mature duplication techniques that are more likely to produce quality goods. It's not an ideal situation, but it won't reflect as badly on your company because Takamura's Shady CD House is the only company in town who can duplicate Madden 2010 DVDs and all of the discs coming out suffer bit rot after a month.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 21, 2008 @01:44AM (#22816304)

    Actually there's a very valid reason to consider pirates: possible conversion into paying customers. If you provide a reason for someone who has already pirated to buy the game then piracy becomes a sort of free advertising.

    And conversion doesn't have to take place on the same product. That's something that doesn't make business sense for the EAs and Vivendis of the world, but it can help within the context of indie houses.

    I warezed (shame on me!) the first GalCiv back in 2003. It was fun, but pretty unpolished. No crashes, but there were typos everywhere, and once I discovered the AI would sell me gamebreaking technology for cheaper than it would cost me to design it myself, that was that. Still, an interesting game. If I'd played it another week, I'd have bought it.

    But it must have stuck with me, because I'd completely forgotten about it until I read the Wired review of SoaSE this morning. Something about that game sounded familiar... As soon as I found out who was behind SoaSE, I bought it. Sight unseen, demo undownloaded.

    When a large game house does something cool, it's usually an accident, or it's because they bought the talent rather than developing it in-house. (EA, I'm looking at you!)

    But when an indie studio does something cool, it's usually not an accident. I bought Introversion's DEFCON on the strength of its demo... and when I saw they had PC, Mac, and Linux ports, I paid for Darwinia and Uplink sight unseen, and was richly rewarded in each case.

    Same with Stardock. Bought SoaSE sight unseen this morning on the strength of the company's brand -- said strength from a drive-by warezing of a proof-of-concept game five years ago. I didn't buy SoaSE of guilt for warezing GalCiv, I bought it I wanted to see what they'd done over the past five years, and even though it's only been a few hours, I like what I see. I like it a lot.

    I don't know what Stardock will come out with next. But they're now firmly on my radar as a company to watch. Like Introversion, these guys get it. I want more, I'm delighted to pay for it, and I just wish I'd paid more attention (and money!) to them five years ago.

  • Re:Bull (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Protonk ( 599901 ) on Friday March 21, 2008 @01:52AM (#22816342) Homepage
    Fair enough. I forgot the BS rootkit nonsense in bioshock. That's not an example of good copy protection. Let's pretend that bioshock had you log in to a steam style system (with a reasonable provision for a server outage) to install or asked you for a unique CD key? Would that prevent you from buying it? That's a better question.

  • by Bieeanda ( 961632 ) on Friday March 21, 2008 @02:23AM (#22816498)
    There's another wrinkle to ignoring piracy-- the DRM development concerns might take offense at you rebuffing their concerned offers of support, not unlike the 'insurance' offered by neighborhood protection rackets. This is the same outfit that had a pirated torrent of their game posted on the Starforce forums, by a member of the Starforce forum moderation team no less. Officially no harm was meant, but unofficially... come on. Ignoring DRM in favour of adding value post-purchase is the last thing that the copy protection racketeers want.
  • by Protonk ( 599901 ) on Friday March 21, 2008 @02:49AM (#22816632) Homepage
    No, it isn't. Managerial independence to run companies is fundamental in making profits in the long run. And as short sited as investors are, part of the model for stock valuation comes from long run growth prospect versus acceptable risk and alternatives.

    Due diligence is important, but is REALLY important for large individual shareholders. in other words, a large shareholder may be able to press a company into a course of events it might not have done so otherwise, but it will require a lot of pressure. Not only that, it requires time, and time is (presumably) precious for someone who has lots of money.

    That is not to say that analysts and mutual fund managers aren't hounding companies to take action, but the OP's suggestion was that action by a company was precluded by shareholder interest, which isn't true in large part.
  • by 91degrees ( 207121 ) on Friday March 21, 2008 @03:52AM (#22816882) Journal
    The people I know who pirate the most also buy the most. They're games junkies. They can't get enough.
  • by zdude255 ( 1013257 ) on Friday March 21, 2008 @03:55AM (#22816896)
    Seriously, Blizzard did this 10 years ago. If you have neat stuff online that pirates can't get to, there's more incentive to buy the game. LAN games aren't effected, (we're not going to buy 8 copies for one LAN party) but there's much incentive to buy, even if you're buying Bnet more than the game. You really can't stop local piracy, but you can require online accounts to require genuine CD keys to create.
  • Well, except (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Friday March 21, 2008 @04:30AM (#22817006)
    They follow their own advice, and it has worked so far. Galactic Civilizations II didn't have any copyprotection. They had a CD key if you wanted to get updates (not that you couldn't copy those as well) but the game had no technical measures to prevent copying. Well, it didn't just sell, it in fact did very well. It sold well enough that a number of retailers ordered a larger second batch (normally your biggest sale is your first batch, the rest are just to replenish inventory). For that matter you can download games you've bought by logging in to their software. However the files you download aren't encrypted or tied to the software in any way, they could be copied to another computer no problem. So they aren't just talking out their ass here.

    Now will it keep working? I don't know, but we'll see. They just launched another game, Sins of a Solar Empire, that is supposedly the same, no copy protection. I can't tell you about it, my copy from Amazon hasn't arrived yet, I'll get it Monday.

    While you are probably right that companies won't do this, that doesn't mean his view is invalid. He isn't sniveling that other people should make no money like him, because in fact they do make money. Also, while Stardock is small compared to many, they aren't a "shareware over the net" company. They sell boxed software in stores. Go in to Target, Sins of a Solar Empire is on shelves right now. Thus he's got some room to talk about how he thinks things should be done.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 21, 2008 @06:35AM (#22817376)
    That only works the first time. Also the hardware is usually sold at a loss while the profit comes from the game titles.
  • by dupont54 ( 857462 ) on Friday March 21, 2008 @06:39AM (#22817392)
    I'm fed up with Stardock attitude. They say they do not use DRM while using, the worst kind of DRM, in my point of view : online activation.
    Sure there is a twist : when you buy the DVD, yes, the game on the disc has no DRM whatsoever. BUT, if you update the game, you are REQUIRED to activate the updated version online. Version 1.0 has no DRM, but version which could fix whatever critical bug must be "activated". And with online activation comes all the usual what-if problems : what if the activation servers are down for whatever reason, what if the activation server denies the authorization because of whatever "reasonable use" rule implemented on it, ...
    Stardock attitude is typical of all the others DRM defenders : trust us, our DRM is not really a DRM, 100% compatible, no problem ever. Like all the other, they do not tell the whole truth...
  • Re:Hmm,,, (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dzfoo ( 772245 ) on Friday March 21, 2008 @06:48AM (#22817420)
    >> There are some things the article leaves out.

    Actually, if you read the article (no, not the one in Ars Technica, but the original opinion piece by Wardell, linked to from there) you'll notice that he indeed covers those topics. His point is not necessarily that piracy is irrelevant, but that it is *not* the absolute reason why games are not sold. He mentions, along with the piracy bit, that designing games for a specific market -- that is, making games that actual buying customers want to play -- is another big factor. And that a profitable market it should be, as opposed to attempting to design a rock-star-cool game to the (probably) mythical uber-gamer who owns a machine with unbelievably souped-up specs, just to get "street-cred" in the magazines and blogs.

    So, those two additional factors that you said create a lot of good will, in Wardell's view, do in fact contribute to the bottom line. And indeed, the Ars Technica article touches slightly on this, though it focuses more on his radical departure from traditional anti-piracy schemes.

    Wardell's point is that the game development industry should act like any other grown-up sector of the general software industry: it should think like a business: to make money, and not like a rock-star: to be cool. As he says at the end of his piece: "I just want to play cool games and make a profit on games that I work on."

  • by Imrik ( 148191 ) on Friday March 21, 2008 @06:50AM (#22817424) Homepage

    they stop people who don't know that first level. that might be a huge fraction, depending on the game audience. I'm not advocating just using CD keys. I personally think that some variant of Steam is preferred because it offers the most chance for authentication with the least intrusion.
    While not bad in theory, I feel compelled to say something in response. I bought Half-Life 2 when it first came out, Steam made me want to pirate it afterwards just so I could play without the hassle and resource consumption.

  • Re:Hmm,,, (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kokuyo ( 549451 ) on Friday March 21, 2008 @07:03AM (#22817460) Journal
    If there was really that much involved in pop-music we wouldn't turn up our noses at it like we do.

    It's a sad fact that this 'consumable fashion item' we call pop-music nowadays mostly consists of remixes of old songs (usually just overlayed with some heavy beats) with some production line peroxide blondie 'singing' either the original lyrics or some new stuff. pop-hiphop isn't any better. Take a classic, throw some base drums in and 'rap' about bitches, money and all the luxury items you own.

    And when said blondie doesn't cut it as a singer, use a computer program to make it sound 'good'. Our company had some musicians over at an event. We were all supposed to sing a 'company song' together (you know, motivational crap...). It sounded like someone was torturing a hundred cats and three babies. Then they showed us how they went about it all, a little echo here, a small change of pitch there and voila, it was reduced to merely twenty cats and half a baby.

    Seriously, that is not music. That is the china-produced clothing of music. It is cheap, sold at a hefty price.
  • Re:Hmm,,, (Score:3, Interesting)

    by smchris ( 464899 ) on Friday March 21, 2008 @09:38AM (#22818370)
    Heh, heh. Not to mention that the original Galactic Civilizations was OS/2. Protection through obscurity. It had a pretty benign one-time code recognition to activate.

    Could be worse. Installed Chuck Yeager's Air Combat in a qemu session the other day. I had thankfully forgotten that each boot requires looking up a trivial fact in the manual. Similar to 688 Attack Sub.

  • Re:Hmm,,, (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SoupGuru ( 723634 ) on Friday March 21, 2008 @11:37AM (#22819862)
    I listen to indie bands a lot. Not *because* they're indie but because they are making cool music.

    Compare music with food (not cars, sorry /.ers!). Take your global franchise like Applebees or Olive Garden. Do you know why they're popular? Because they have a decent-ish product, they're consistent, they're everywhere, they're marketed, and their food is engineered to appeal to the broadest cross-section of people as possible. They make sure they don't offend anyone's tastes. If you want Mexican food, do you go to Taco Bell or the taco shop on the corner owned by Mr. and Mrs. Garcia?

    So I listen to more indie stuff because they're going farther out on limbs and taking more chances because they don't care about offending 5% of the market's tastes. I like music that takes risks sometimes and I'll rarely, if ever, find that in top 40 music.
  • by harl ( 84412 ) on Friday March 21, 2008 @11:46AM (#22819988)
    You are completely missing the point.

    There is no diminishing returns. The first penny spent is waste. The premise is that copyright infringers are people who are not going to buy your product. So you ignore them. Copy protection is incapable of increasing sales.

    It is impossible for copy protection to work since the end user has both the key and the lock.

    Copy protection costs money. Spending money on something that doesn't increase sales is the same as burning money. What they're saying is stop burning money on copy protection.

  • by garylian ( 870843 ) on Saturday March 22, 2008 @04:13PM (#22831444)
    The article is essentially correct, copy protection is basically a waste of the game developer's money.

    I'm tired of having to keep a CD/DVD in the drive, as I tend to end up playing several different games each month, or going back to old games. Since I am swapping discs, I sometimes end up leaving one laying on the desk, and it can go unnoticed for a bit. I've had 2 game discs ruined by that, which is admittedly my own fault. But the game was already installed on my HD, so I should have been fine. I wasn't.

    The only copy protection that I've seen be effective against pirates is what I like to call the "zero day release protection" that seems to happen. All games these days are released too soon, with little to no beta testing or Q/A. So, bad bugs are present when the game hits the shelves, and often times the bugs are fatal issues to the game. Without a patch to fix those bugs, the game is basically a demo disc. Unlock the full game by getting the patch that was miraculously available a few days after release, and the game works much better.

    Really, I would much rather have to register my copy of a game so I can patch it, than have to keep the CD/DVD in the drive. Once validated, I'm good.

    It's why I've played so many MMOs over the years. No discs in the drive, the game gets patched all the time, and I get new content frequenly in most of them.

    I was really disappointed with Hellgate:London, as they made you keep the DVD in the drive for solo play, but for multi-player, they didn't need it. Why? Because they wouldn't let you play on a LAN, it had to be on THEIR servers. I found myself playing solo on the multi-plyaer servers so I didn't have to keep a disc in the drive.

    Most copies released on Usenet and through torrents are zero-day releases, so there is no patch available without a valid/registered CD key. Pirates get to play a "demo version" that will crap out within 2 hrs of starting gameplay in most zero-day releases. They get to see if the game is crap, without having to use the real demo that is usually so spit-polished that nothing ever goes wrong. That's the only advantage I can see to pirating a game. You know more than the flawless demo shows you, which is often some of the best of the game.

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"