Games and DRM: Introversion’s Thoughts

By Alec Meer on November 23rd, 2007 at 12:15 pm.

In case you didn’t spot Introversion Software’s Chris Delay kindly popping in on one of our stories to share his own feelings on copy protection and the retail versus online distribution dilemma, you should head over to Introversion’s site and read the full version of his post. Detailed insight straight from the horse’s mouth, taking a remarkably honest middleground between the Piracy Is Killing Games and DRM Is Killing Games camps, and offering up some potential solutions to the pirate problem:

Developers need to shift their view of piracy and digital distribution, as much with games as with film, music, tv, or any form of content. We can’t complain that people copy our games, then go home and comfort ourselves by watching series 2 of the West Wing on DivX. Any stance that criminalises the majority of our customer base (10 out of every 11 Uplink players, for example) should be ringing alarm bells in our ears. We need to rename “pirate users” to “customers who’ve yet to be convinced”, and consider the pirate copies that will INEVITABLY appear as extended demos of our games. Then we need to offer something more when they upgrade to the full legitimate game.

Again, read the rest here. Cheers for your thoughts, Chris.

And here’s a picture of Darwinia (or rather its upcoming multiplayer semi-sequel Multiwinia – which has recently picked up the endearing tagline ‘Survival of the flattest’), because frankly I never get tired of pictures of Darwinia:

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31 Comments »

  1. The_B says:

    I can’t wait for Darwinia.

    On a related to the actual point note, something I’ve never quite understood is the whole “I never would have bought it anyway” argument. I don’t really get why that equates into: “But I will have it for free”. I mean, if you have no intention to buy it, perhaps because the game doesn’t interest you or whatever, why does that mean you have to play it?

    Then again then we get into the debate of whether digital content is a ‘real’ tangible thing, as it were.

  2. Spenceroo says:

    Great post by Chris Delay. Coulnd’t have said it better. But just on a nitpicky sidenote: there are freeshards for nearly every MMORPG I know of, even WoW. So technically you are able to multiplay on sort of public servers with a cracked version.

    so long,
    HW

  3. Jim Rossignol says:

    I’m pretty sure Blizzard stamped out the WoW free shards.

  4. I_still_love_Okami says:

    To call my room’s decoration spartan would be a major understatement. The only touch of color on the walls is a Darwinia poster. Got it together with my copy of the game.

    I’ll tell you a little story about Introversion customer loyalty. I ordered Darwinia in their online store and choose the payPal option. The moment I’d placed my order, I was allowed to download and install Darwinia. I hadn’t even transerred the money to my payPal account. A few days later my hardcopy of Darwinia arrived by mail, I still hadn’t transferred any money.

    I immediately felt guilty and sent them the money. Darwinia is a great game and I tore through it in a couple of days.

    Eventhough I understand the need of developers to protect their games they often go to far. The automatic registration process at the end of the Bioshock installation didn’t work as planned and I had to contect the Securom customer support. They sent me the activation key the next day, but it still meant I couldn’t play the game the evening I’d bought it.

    As a pc gamer I’m used to encountering all kinds of problems with games I buy and I’m getting the feeling, that companies just take for granted the amount of bullshit we put up with in order to play their games.

    I’ll buy Multivina as sure as hell once it’s done.

    Bioshock2? Probably. But I’m gonna buy it for the X360…

  5. Spenceroo says:

    This is made of pure off topic again, but:
    “I’m pretty sure Blizzard stamped out the WoW free shards.”

    Interestingly enough they haven’t. There are still a plenty of them online. The only publisher which really took drastic action against private servers was NCsoft in the case of Lineage2.

  6. Cigol says:

    Great post. Both Introversion and the guys at Stardock (et al) have progressive outlooks which fit my purchasing model. It’s just a shame that the bigger developers/publishers have no such desire to take my cash.

    People who pirate games are no longer ‘thieves’ but the general public and the sooner this is realised the better. I used to think I was unique when I was downloading or receiving games/applications through the post but these days I’m so behind the curve (against people I’d call computer illiterate) it’s unbelievable.

    Bioshock2? Probably. But I’m gonna buy it for the X360…

    Well the steam version of Bioshock had no problems that I’m aware of – so that’s certainly an option.

  7. Jan-Tore Berghei says:

    Just wanted to applaud this excellent point:

    “Also, why does debating piracy always bring out the worst in people? It’s like everyone has to take such a hard line. In the UK there in an advert that plays before every movie you see in the cinema – in giant letters it proclaims “Would you steal a ladies purse? Would you steal a DVD from a shop? PIRACY IS THEFT!” Well i’m sorry, it’s isn’t, piracy is Copyright Infrigement. In earlier versions of the advert it actually used to say “PIRACY FUNDS TERRORISM”. If you’re going to argue a case, you need to at least be rational about it.”

    Bravo, sir!

  8. Theory says:

    Just wanted to applaud this excellent point:

    Would you still be applauding it if his example had been one from the other camp?

  9. Jan-Tore Berghei says:

    I think punishing the customers for buying your product is the wrong strategy. Forcing people who bought your movie or series through an anti-piracy propaganda movie every time you put it in the player falls under that category.

    Chris Delay seems like a rational guy, and if he had made an example based in reality “from the other camp”, I am sure I would have applauded it just as much.

  10. Simon Pickstock says:

    Last week Vista crashed and had to be reinstalled. So, when I then reinstalled BioShock, it refused to activate. I had to wait three days for SecuROM to get back to me with a unlock code. That is not acceptable, and if I hadn’t had CoD4 to play, I would have gone looking for a crack, so that I could actually play my legitimate copy.

  11. AbyssUK says:

    I like this guy.. hopefully people/suits will listen to him.

  12. Mark-P says:

    10:1 is a very interesting and depressing statistic, even if it is derived roughly from patch downloads. It’ll never be possible to get precise figures, but it would be good to get some similarly intelligent and meaningful numbers on piracy from big developers and publishers. Do any such reports exist?

    The growing sense of entitlement to free creative content in society is sad and ultimately destructive, and I say this both as a creator and a consumer who has misbehaved in the past with the aforementioned TV shows.

  13. someone says:

    This makes me want to go out and buy all of introversions games, just to support them.

  14. Mo says:

    On a related to the actual point note, something I’ve never quite understood is the whole “I never would have bought it anyway” argument. I don’t really get why that equates into: “But I will have it for free”.

    Agreed. It’s totally a case of “having ones cake and eating it too”. Whenever I read “well, I wasn’t going to buy the game because of x” (where x=it’s too short, no multiplayer, Steam is evil, DRM, etc) I end up yelling, “WELL DON’T DOWNLOAD THE DAMN THING THEN!” at the screen.

    People who pirate games are no longer ‘thieves’ but the general public and the sooner this is realised the better.

    Isn’t that a bit sad though? That the general public doesn’t respect or care about the creative process enough to shell out money to consume it? Creativity (and indeed culture) is dying because of our downloading habits.

    And lets remember that it’s worse for games that any other media. Musicians make money through concerts and radio royalties, TV shows through DVD releases, and movies through cinema releases + DVD releases. When people pirate games, they’re killing the primary (and only) means of income for a developer.

  15. AbyssUK says:

    Creativity (and indeed culture) is dying because of our downloading habits.

    I think you’ll find that big business is killing the creative juices much more than our downloading habits. Our downloading habits should be used to aid the creativity.
    In game ads are a great idea IF the game is released free!

    Jesus I wouldn’t even mind a commercial break in the middle of a game.

  16. bobince says:

    Creativity (and indeed culture) is dying because of our downloading habits.

    Home taping is killing music. The sky is falling.

  17. Tom Lillis says:

    After a fifth cup of coffee, I realized that my “swap my keyboard and mouse for an Xbox controller” logic falters horribly when you get into strategy games and sims where user interface issues above and beyond communication needs crop up. I have played StarCraft with a controller, and I did not like it. But the core of what I was driving at remains the same, I suppose.

    Abyss, I’m wondering what it is that big business is doing, in your view, to kill creativity? Mind you, I’m a copyleft freak as much as the next guy, but if you’re talking about games in particular, I’m curious what practices you’re pointing the finger at. Is it a sense that the big publishers are pumping out nothing but homogeneous crap because they know we’ll buy it, or…?

  18. Mo says:

    Home taping is killing music. The sky is falling.

    But it really never did. There’s a *big* difference.

    You tape something off the radio. A single that the artists wanted to give away. You give it to your friends, family. One song to a dozen or so people. The internet is a different beast. A *full* album is released day-of or before the album hits retail, and is downloaded by thousands of people.

  19. Elyscape says:

    Time for a little personal story. I had no intention of buying Half-Life 2 when it first came out. The gravity gun seemed interesting, though, so I downloaded it. The game I played was so amazing that I ended up buying it.
    Now, I’m not trying to justify myself or anything. Plenty of times I download a game and never buy it (most recent example: Call of Duty 4). However, when I play a game that I enjoy, I do try to purchase it legally, especially if there’s some compelling reason to play it again.

  20. JakethePirate says:

    Yet another reason to like/love/worship Chris Delay.

    Why punish your customers when you can reward them?

    Anybody who does get tired of pictures of Darwinia has no soul. Sometimes I open that game just to look at it.

  21. Muzman says:

    You tape something off the radio. A single that the artists wanted to give away. You give it to your friends, family. One song to a dozen or so people. The internet is a different beast. A *full* album is released day-of or before the album hits retail, and is downloaded by thousands of people.

    Singles weren’t for giving away. Singles were the lifeblood of the industry until Napster scared them to death. Single after single of Britanny Spears et al bought by 12 yr old girls (and then the remixes, the compilations, the album) was the economic backbone of the recording industry. They pretended the economic machinations of radio royalties didn’t exist for generations, happy to let people believe music could be free in the air. When the internet came along and people treated downloading songs like radio, suddenly they wanted us all to know about rights and royalties and how it was stealing yadda yadda, to generations for whom buying a recording was merely a way to conveniently possess air. People didn’t become criminals, the behind the scenes legal and economic structures that the made the recording industry rich became irrelevant and individual consumers were demanded to be morally aware of structures that had only mattered to organisations previously (and the organisations liked it that way). But too late, pandora’s music box is open. Creativity won’t die, neither will music (I don’t really see any shortage of the stuff) and someone will surely find some way to make money out of all of this. (me, I reckon the old radio station system was pretty sensible, only now we’ll have ISPs paying royalties and handling distribution. This could work for games as well.)

  22. Mario Granger says:

    But it just goes to show you how dire a situation game developers are in, for as well reasoned and thoughtful as Delay’s argument is, it still misses an important point:

    So game developers should come up with a central form of DRM that makes purchasing the legitimate copy more desirable. But what about a single player game like BioShock that doesn’t have this option?

    And digital distribution is not an answer to that problem, as a quick search on The Pirate Bay shows that crackers have figured out a way to get Valve’s single player games to *think* they have authenticated at a Steam server, allowing for unencumbered, illegal play.

    So what choice do single player game developers have but to be more aggressive in their DRM systems?

  23. WCAYPAHWAT says:

    I’d steal a purse, or a car, if the mood took me. Lots of other people would/do as well.

    I’m not sure how that ad is meant to work. And god, the music for it is annoying!

  24. bobince says:

    a quick search on The Pirate Bay shows that crackers have figured out a way to get Valve’s single player games to *think* they have authenticated [...] So what choice do single player game developers have but to be more aggressive in their DRM systems?

    Huh? It’s not working, so we have to do more of it?

    Since day one (ie. the 8-bit era), copy protection has comprehensively failed. It has only ever inconvenienced the customer, whilst failing to stop mass bootlegging. I’ve seen lightly-protected products pirated, I’ve seen heavily-protected products pirated, I’ve seen my own products pirated. The only products that get away are the ones no-one’s interested in, that aren’t even worth the time to copy.

    It’s a good opportunity to step back—like Chris in this article, and Stardock, for example—and find alternative ways forward. Because the answer to failing copy protection is not more copy protection.

  25. Mario Granger says:

    bobince: I can understand your point. The main thrust of my comment wasn’t that publishers should go with more aggressive DRM systems, but that Chris Delay’s argument for a centrally based system is completely useless in a single player game.

    I’m all for taking a step back and re-evaluating the entire situation, as the system in place simply isn’t cutting it. But from a technological point of view, what other option is there for developers?

  26. malkav11 says:

    Galactic Civilizations II is largely singleplayer (maybe entirely, I don’t own it so I’m not sure.). There’s no DRM on that. But their update model provides exactly the same sort of incentive to buy it rather than pirate it.

  27. po says:

    Single player being the easy one to crack, maybe it’s time more games had coop as the default mode, with single player as a poor alternative lacking some of the better content.

    Many FPS games already have pitifully short SP campaigns and rely on the MP side. There’s more to MP than just competition.

  28. Darkmoon Interactive Studios says:

    I think Chris makes some very good points, in the end if your product is any good its going to end up cracked, it’s inevitable.
    The problem with tougher and tougher DRM systems is the the challenge of cracking a piece of software is partly why the c racks get made in the first place.

    As an independent game developer I’ve spoken to crackers about why they crack software X over software Y and there are usually 2 main factors – 1) Demand, if a lot of people want to use it then groups are more likely to try and crack it. 2) Challenge, if the DRM is complex and hard/difficult to break then whoever cracks it first gains prestige in the cracking community for breaking/reversing it first.

    Developers need to see downloading for what it is, its a way of advertising your game essentially without cost to you. If your game has been cracked its a good indicator that your game has a fair bit of interest.

    It is undoubted that id (to give one example) has made a very nice amount of money off Quake III down the years, yet the copy protection system was laughable, one of the simplest keycheck algos I’ve ever seen. Did the fact that Q3A was widely pirated hurt id? I’d say quite the opposite, it cemented it as THE pure deathmatch shooter for many people (and infact it remains one of, if not the best pure deathmatch shooter ever made).

    Another example. M$ Windows. If Windows wasn’t so heavily pirated, M$ would never have reached the market dominance they currently enjoy. Its reached the stage where the only OS choice many people will make with their pc is which Windows flavour to get.

    The same goes for Half-Life and many other games.

    Often the first opportunity someone has to play a game is with mates at a small private LAN party. certainly LANs and pirate copys of games opened me up to the Quake series, Halflife, elderscrolls and uplink to name but a few. More importantly I would never have bought ANY of those games if I hadn’t played the pirated versions.

    To cut a long rant short :P So long as the internet remains such a convenient content distribution system there will always be crackers, reversers and warez monkeys out there to pirate our software, the sooner the rest of the industry starts to see things the same way as Introversion the better.

  29. Chis says:

    It still irks me the way Chris (might be) misusing the word “piracy”. Unless he is referring to illegally SOLD copies of his games?

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