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The Dark Side of Digital Distribution 270

An anonymous reader writes "Game journalist Stuart Campbell has written an incisive piece on how the digital distribution model users have grown to know and love over the past several years still has some major problems that go beyond even the DRM dilemma. He provides an example of an app developer using very shady update techniques to screw over people who have legitimately purchased their app. Touch Racing Nitro, a retro racing game, launched to moderate success. After tinkering with price points to get the game to show up on the top download charts, the developers finally made it free for a period of four months. 'Then the sting came along. About a week ago (at time of writing), the game received an "update," which came with just four words of description – "Now Touch Racing Free!" As the game was already free, users could have been forgiven for thinking this wasn't much of a change. But in fact, the app thousands of them had paid up to £5 for had effectively just been stolen. Two of the game's three racing modes were now locked away behind IAP paywalls, and the entire game was disfigured with ruinous in-game advertising, which required yet another payment to remove.'"
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The Dark Side of Digital Distribution

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 24, 2012 @02:10PM (#39150125)

    So what s the DRM dilemma? Whether to just not buy DRM products or whether to burn down the houses of those who make them?

  • by alen ( 225700 ) on Friday February 24, 2012 @02:10PM (#39150131)

    come to the cloud, updates are free, automatic and easy

    • by sqlrob ( 173498 )

      You mean like that update to the NYT in the cloud...

      Or the Gannett one. Yup, free all right.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by GaratNW ( 978516 )
      This is purely developer/publisher fault. Perhaps Apple and Google should put more in place to prevent this sort of thing, but the correct, and customer friendly route, to changing something like this, create a new version. Now you have Touch Racing Nitro, and Touch Racing Nitro+. Already bought the first? Awesome. Enjoy and have fun. It's no longer available for sale, but if you bought it, its yours. Play TRN+ for free, and here's all these IAP things, such as paying to remove advertising. If those various
  • Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Friday February 24, 2012 @02:11PM (#39150141) Journal

    I guess there might be a case for misrepresentation, though I'll wager the licensing agreement allows the company to do whatever they like.

    The real solution here is, of course, not to pay these guys. Don't play their stupid game. If their stunt loses them customers, they're not likely to try it again.

  • yeah, I know, I'm stupid for bringing this up, but it's exactly what Sony did with OtherOS, you paid for certain functionalities but the seller changes it's mind and screws you over..

    What the developer did in this case seems illegal to me from a consumerlaw standpoint.. But these things are stuff why I rather just have the old physical discs/carts..
  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Friday February 24, 2012 @02:13PM (#39150181) Homepage Journal

    There was something on Slashdot a few years ago about people buying a service, then having to pay more to disable advertising.

    I'd dump them without a second through. Cut your losses and move one.

    I'd probably warn others as well as prospective future clients, by going to /. and other sites and writing about the craptivation of the game.

    • by Guppy06 ( 410832 ) on Friday February 24, 2012 @02:37PM (#39150511)

      There was something on Slashdot a few years ago about people buying a service,

      Cable/DSS television.

      then having to pay more to disable advertising

      Premium channels.

    • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Friday February 24, 2012 @02:51PM (#39150689) Journal

      The trick is to do it gradually. You don't make people pay to remove advertising immediately. You give them a useful product, then a bit later you introduce a small, easy to ignore, amount of advertising. Then you give them the option of paying to turn it off. It's easy to ignore, so most people won't bother. You also add some new (minor, easy-to-implement) features or, better yet, a security fix, at the same time, so people will want to get the update. Then you increase the number of ads. Now people are locked into your app or, at the very least, used to using it. Now they'll pay to remove the ads. Repeat and you've got a revenue stream.

      This is a small variation of the business model of a lot of proprietary software where you pay for 'major updates' which include features like 'not crashing on launch when you run it on the new version of the OS' or 'not corrupting your documents'.

      I've come across this behaviour so many times that I now have a standard reaction: find the open source program that's closest to the proprietary one and give them a donation equal to the cost of the upgrade. The problem is that other people are willing to continue to pay companies that have screwed them over in the past.

  • by MetalliQaZ ( 539913 ) on Friday February 24, 2012 @02:13PM (#39150191)

    In response to the underhanded update, users take to the ratings system with a vengeance and downmod the developer into oblivion. Thus, the app ecosystem sees shady behavior as 'damage' and 'routes' around it.

    • by TheSpoom ( 715771 ) <> on Friday February 24, 2012 @02:23PM (#39150331) Homepage Journal

      Poor ratings do not help those who have already paid for the shadily-updated app.

    • by ackthpt ( 218170 )

      In response to the underhanded update, users take to the ratings system with a vengeance and downmod the developer into oblivion. Thus, the app ecosystem sees shady behavior as 'damage' and 'routes' around it.

      And thus customers become wiser. Slightly poorer, by five quid, but wiser.

    • by forkfail ( 228161 ) on Friday February 24, 2012 @03:43PM (#39151277)

      And then the company rebrands, rinses and repeats with the next app.

  • by alen ( 225700 ) on Friday February 24, 2012 @02:13PM (#39150197)

    i noticed it a while ago that the price points were way to low to be sustainable. Not only were they low, but users expected unlimited updates for their $.99 game. and not just bug fixes, but new functionality. it worked for a while as the iOS installed base exploded but as growth slows down expect the return to version numbers.

    it already started with "HD" versions of games and apps. separate iphone and ipad versions. sure you can run the iphone version on the ipad but it looks like crap.

    next is the return to version numbers

    cool racing game
    next year is version 2 with new features and new IAP
    and a new version every year and dropping compatibility with new iOS versions after a year or so

    • Versioning is oldschool back during the boxed days of software. The downside of such versioning is the buyer has to wonder if it's the "right time" to buy said software or if they should hold off, not unlike hardware itself.

      Most software should just do away with that, and offer updates for a set period of time from purchase, 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, etc. That eliminates best time to purchase, gives everyone the same fair deal, and provides the developer with steady income too.

      If I were Apple, I would of

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Overzeetop ( 214511 )

      HD was Steve Jobs fault. He was afraid that nobody would design an app for his 1024x768 screen when they had just redesigned the app for the iPhone's 960x640 screen. So what does he do? He locks out the 960x640 versions on the iPad, forcing a pixel doubled 480x320 screen even when the higher resolution version existed.

      I wanted to throw a chair at him for that bit of assholishness.

      • by Have Blue ( 616 ) on Friday February 24, 2012 @04:15PM (#39151685) Homepage
        That's not at all what happened. At the time the iPad was released, iPhone screens were all 480x320. The 960x640 phone came later (and, in the usual Apple fashion, not revealed to developers until that time).

        Also, the store supports and encourages "universal" apps- a single purchase/single binary that works natively on both devices, and has done so since the iPad launched.
    • Users don't necessarily require new features or functionality, just that existing features and functionality not be removed.
  • Oh yeah. Delete the app. If you don't like it post change, don't use it. I mean I think it's a foolish move but it's their game. You are just buying a license to it.

    • You're buying a license to a particular feature set and level of functionality. I have no doubt that the people who actually paid money have a legal case if the update took away substantial features and functionality.

      • Nope. You really should spend some time reading EULAs you effectively sign away most of those rights.

      • You're buying a license to a particular feature set and level of functionality. I have no doubt that the people who actually paid money have a legal case if the update took away substantial features and functionality.

        Sony already won that in court when some people sued over the removal of the ability to boot linux.

    • Yup. Sucks if you paid $5 for it, but better to cut your losses than to support a sleazy racket like this. Oh, and be sure to leave some informative comment on the game in the app store.
    • If you don't see the moral and ethical problem here, you are part of the increasing number of ethically stunted and morally retarded people with whom the rest of us have to share the world. Please don't hesitate to refrain from reproducing.

  • by Cinder6 ( 894572 ) on Friday February 24, 2012 @02:15PM (#39150215)

    A couple years back (or maybe just a year), an "update" came out for WipEout HD on the PS3. The game cost $15 to buy, but the update added video advertisements to the loading screens of each race. Aside from being annoying, they drastically increased load times in order to force you to actually watch the ad. While not as bad as actually crippling the game as in this case, that event really soured me to the concept of digital distribution.

    Really, the only company I trust with digital distribution these days is GOG, who don't use DRM in any of their games. Yeah, they pulled that weird "shutdown" stunt a while back, but to my mind it only proved their value--nobody was unable to play their games during the outage (except for those few people who hadn't gotten around to downloading them yet).

    • by sqlrob ( 173498 )

      Really, the only company I trust with digital distribution these days is GOG, who don't use DRM in any of their games

      While looking at the details of some of the recent sales and additions, I found out that at least some of the games do []

      • I found out that at least some of the games do

        This looks like a technical issue in how the game functions, not necessarily a DRM limitation.

        It seems like a lot more work to rewrite a game-server protocol than to just hand out free keys to everyone and use the existing system. I guess that isn't the idea solution, but look how good the DVD DRM was after DeCSS came out. If we all have the keys, is it really that restrictive of a DRM system?

        • by sqlrob ( 173498 )

          It's still dependent on them.

          The real fix, without rewriting the protocol, would be to bundle the keygen with the main download. No master ship for key requests.

      • by ConceptJunkie ( 24823 ) on Friday February 24, 2012 @02:41PM (#39150583) Homepage Journal provides such good value, I have even repurchased games from them that I already own, because I know they have been properly updated, configured or bundled with DOSBox so that they run on modern Windows versions (and often Linux too) with absolutely zero hassle.

        • by sqlrob ( 173498 )

          I've done the same. Finding this (first in NWN in the sale, then the America Conquest release, I don't know where else) has destroyed some of my good will towards them.

          I wish they either said no to the original publisher or bundled the keygen with the downloads.

    • But there is a digital distribution company that is trustworthy! Here []; don't forget to donate for their noble work.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by brit74 ( 831798 )
        Piracy is the reason DRM exists. Next time I get burned by DRM, I'm coming to your house and punching you for not supporting the companies who are doing the work. And punching you a second time for suggesting that the pirate bay is part of the solution rather than part of the disease.
        • by amoeba1911 ( 978485 ) on Friday February 24, 2012 @04:02PM (#39151517) Homepage
          Sharing without the copyright holder's consent has existed and will exist regardless of DRM. Humans are social creatures, we like to share stuff. We've had 100 thousand years of sharing knowledge through spoken language and thousands of years of sharing knowledge through written language. Our impressive ability to share is what differentiates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Sharing of knowledge and ideas is an indispensable component of the human success story. The whole idea of "must not share" goes against the very foundation of human nature and is an insult to the roots of our civilization.
        • by Shagg ( 99693 ) on Friday February 24, 2012 @04:07PM (#39151573)

          Piracy is the reason DRM exists.

          You'd have to be pretty foolish to actually believe that. Piracy is the red herring that provides the excuse for them to force DRM on legitimate consumers, but preventing piracy is not what DRM exists for. It's not even very useful for preventing it.

  • by dietdew7 ( 1171613 ) on Friday February 24, 2012 @02:22PM (#39150311)
    It's in the terms of sale from the article that Itunes has a no refund policy. It's also true for Barnes and Noble. I've been reluctant to purchase any apps and now that seems wise whereas before I was just being cheap.
    • When apple removed the google voice apps from itunes I was able to get full refunds for those apps. So they will do refunds.

      When they do a refund, they also screw the developer. The developer eats the full cost of the refund and apple keeps the money they made.

  • Why update? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jimmyswimmy ( 749153 ) on Friday February 24, 2012 @02:23PM (#39150329)

    This is one reason why I rarely update anything on my Android tablet. I have a number of kids' games on there which never had many privileges when I installed them, so there's little security worry (plus it's only connected to my WLAN). What could "Draw by Numbers" possibly need to update to work better? The only "upgrade" I expect is them to remove pictures. My 3 year old is thrilled with the 10 or 20 different things she can draw on there, and that probably is limiting sales.

    I only upgrade OS items now and disable the automatic upgrade checking for everything else. I'm sure I'll hear about why that's bad here. I think years of free and truly beneficial MS updates have confused a lot of us into thinking that an upgrade actually means what the word is defined to mean. Much like "gender" replaced "sex" I think the true meaning of the word "upgrade" is being replaced by something. Something not good.

  • by RealGene ( 1025017 ) on Friday February 24, 2012 @02:25PM (#39150349)
    From the latest version of PocketCloud Remote Free (RDP/VNC client for iPxxx):

    What's New in Version 2.2.134

    We noticed we had mistakenly enabled multiple computer support on a previous release.
    This free version of PocketCloud has always been limited to 1 computer as documented on the app description.
    We apologize for the inconvenience and ask for your understanding.
    We are discounting PocketCloud Pro 40% to ease the migration for our power users who need to access multiple computers.
  • Caveat Emptor (Score:4, Interesting)

    by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Friday February 24, 2012 @03:03PM (#39150843) Journal

    A purchase is an investment in the credibility of the seller.

    There are so many ways a seller can screw over a purchaser, that's why letters of credit were invented.

    If you're purchasing something (effectively) that you have no idea how it works, from someone you don't know, and you give them (by update) the authority to make changes at will...well, to suggest that you are trusting is an understatement.

    We've become so habituated to this model, we've forgotten that in the same way that Darwinism works by death, capitalism works by failure. For people to realize a seller can be identified as unscrupulous, a number of people have to get screwed.

  • Customers dumping products and companies that do things like this is what traditionally kept them in check. The underlying problem seems to be not that merchants have started using these underhanded tactics - that's been something merchants have always tried for centuries - but rather that the customer base accepts it. Gripes perhaps, but predominantly accepts it.

    When is the last time you heard the word "boycott"? Particularly when it comes to digital media, consumption has become so convenient that larg

  • by davidwr ( 791652 ) on Friday February 24, 2012 @03:13PM (#39150955) Homepage Journal

    This is not a technical issue. This is an issue of unfair trade practices.

  • Before updating any program, always check the release notes, and make sure to see others feedback. I bought a game called "Catan" for my iPod Touch that they did something similar to what the app in the article did, except instead of making it free, the update removed the scenario it came with, and made it paid DLC instead. Additionally, they changed the orientation of the game from portrait to landscape, so you have to use both hands to play. I always check to see what has changed before I download any upd
  • And whats the moral?

    There will be always someone trying to screw you no matter what distribution or business model. Well, nothing new here.

    PS This case is interesting in itself but I don't buy the hype, too much generalization.
  • by alienzed ( 732782 )
    The dark side of Touch Racing Nitro. This is the second article on slashdot in two days with a greatly overgeneralized title. Just because one developer is an a$$hole, doesn't mean the whole industry has this evil dark side we need to fear.

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