Todd Hollenshead: PC Makers Like Piracy. Secretly.

He looks just Dave Mustaine here, or so I think right now.

Browsing Quarter-to-three, I discover that Tom “Tom Bramwell” Bramwell’s interview with John Carmack and Todd Hollenshead has caused a little internet drama, picked up by 1UP. To paraphrase, Hollenshead argued that PC manufacturers secretly like that there’s piracy on the PCs, as it’s something which makes people buy PCs. After all, unlike console manufacturers, they don’t make any more profit if people actually buy games or not.

Which left Jim and I a little bewildered on a couple of points.

The first one is… well, yeah. Thinking back to school, when people were buying Amigas there was a knowledge that one of the advantages of the format was that while it may cost more, owning one meant your money on games went further. You bought what you could and pirated the rest. This is an obvious boon to the consumer. Equally clearly, since PC manufacturers aren’t stupid, they’re aware of the reasons people buy a gaming PC, so they’re aware of this. If you did a cold analysis of the numbers, I suspect the optimum level of profit for PC manufacturers would be one where there was just enough piracy to still count as an attractive thing, but insufficient to make the market unsustainable.

The second one is… well, why? As in, why are you saying this, Mr Hollenshead? For example: “I think that if you went in and could see what’s going on in their minds, though they may never say that stuff and I’m not saying there’s some conspiracy or something like that – but I think the thing is they realise that trading content, copyrighted or not, is an expected benefit of owning a computer.” If he’s aware of the fact they’d never actually say it, why is he? How does it profit him to state something that’s clearly true when all that stating that truth will do is get on the PC manufacturers back? As Jim puts it, what does he actually want them to do? “Please Download Responsibly” stickers on every new PC? About the only answer which makes sense is that as a long-term PC developer he’s just being really pissed off – which, to be fair, I suspect happens to almost every PC-developer given time.


  1. Chris Evans says:

    Yeah it confused me, confused me so much I just filed it under my ‘ignore, crazy devs talking shit after smoking too much skunk again’ category.

    I just made that category up =[

  2. Tarn says:

    I suspect he wants anti-piracy measures to be implemented at the hardware level, rather than just at the software level. That’s the only conclusion that can really be drawn from what he’s saying.

    Which, I have to say, is a rather terrifying thought.

  3. subedii says:

    Well I for one wholly support a complete lock down of the PC format. Who needs things like community mappers and modders, right id?

  4. Stefan says:

    Surely nobody would buy hardware with built in anti-piracy measures though… Or would they? Will PC hardware become as standardised and unmodifiable as that used in Macs?

  5. subedii says:

    I sincerely hope not.

    Granted I would like to see some standardisation of the format, but making PC’s all uniform monoliths would pretty much defeat the point of having one. The PC is shaped by the user and what they want to put it to work as. If I want to turn a work Mac into a gaming Mac I’d be better off buying a new machine (and even then, Mac’s capable of gaming are poorly priced).

  6. Rook says:

    I think the rather obvious reason is probably because the level of piracy is pushing past the point at which PC gaming is sustainable and developers are the first to see this.

  7. phuzz says:

    I think perhaps ‘crazy devs talking shit after smoking too much’ should become a new tag…

    Isn’t the technology there with TPM modules in PCs to lock particular copy of a game to a particular motherboard already? Of course that would have two problems, it would break for some people and the pirates would find a way to bypass it as well.

  8. James G says:

    One of the main reasons I’m a PC gamer is due to the lack of content control, and I don’t have a single pirated game in my collection. Anti-piracy methods at the hardware level would risk cutting into some of this, and would certainly disrupt legally dodgy but morally okay practices such as NO-CD cracks. It is absence of this PC freedom on the consoles which feels so restrictive to me, and means that I am one of the few saps who brought an R4 card for my DS solely with the intention of running home-brew.

  9. EyeMessiah says:

    Some American think-tanks have discussed the possibility of getting a requirement for hardware level anti-piracy (and other dmca type stuff) written into the law that regulates hardware manufacturers.

    Now that is scary!

  10. Max Cairnduff says:


    I’d suggest that’s because developers insist on putting in anti-piracy measures so draconian that legitimate purchasers actually receive a worse experience than pirates.

    Stardock treat their customers with respect, and sell like hotcakes. The chaps behind Bioshock by contrast had a system where as a purchaser (which I am) I receive a flawed version of the game compared to that obtained by a pirate.

    Fundamentally, you can’t combat piracy by giving legitimate users an inferior version of your game to that the pirates have access to. I think some developers need to take that on board. There are games I haven’t bought because the legitimate versions of them contained anti-piracy protections I was unhappy to have on my computer (I didn’t pirate them though, I just played other games).

    And that’s not even getting into the question of whether pirated versions represent actual lost sales.

  11. Turin Turambar says:

    Well nothing new. He could have said that the sky is blue.
    One of the reasons people (read: normal people, not geeks) buy computers is the piracy: free movies, tv, music, games, etc. If piracy was impossible, the sales of hardware wouldn’t be as strong. Therefore, hardware makes are secretly happy of piracy, it helps to “foment” the pc. At least in the short run, let’s see in the long run…

  12. Sam says:

    I still think it’s terribly ironic that this is the CEO of id software – the company that made its first millions by selling things on a shareware model – complaining about the lack of hardware-level piracy restriction.
    Because, as we all know, everyone pays the requested price for shareware…

  13. James says:

    And the Piracy comment thread bomb is incoming in 3…. 2…. 1….

  14. Al3xand3r says:

    Eh, surely they only made their profits from the people who did pay though. Also, since when does shareware mean unprotected? If anything, shareware has built in DRM, since it requires a purchase to unlock the full thing, otherwise it’s basically a demo. Surely you don’t think he’s suggesting to make DRM that locks out demos, trials, and all sorts of such offers? He’s not. Of course, shareware gets pirated as much as anything else but that’s irrelevant really.

  15. subedii says:

    “Incoming”? It’s already here, surely.

  16. James says:

    Indeed. It arrived as I was typing, which is oddly fitting.

  17. PetitPiteux says:

    >”Short of some industry wide agreement, which seems unlikely, I don’t see it happening”

    What if the market was monopolized by one unique OS which could kind of dictate its law? Hardware is nothing without proper software…

    But I think hardware lost when power went IBM->microsoft, and software is loosing now that it goes microsoft->google. So perhaps the true threat is something around network neutrality?

  18. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    Well, it’s been said before. You can’t pirate a graphics card.

    But hardware DRM… yeesh. Wish there were more Stardocks in the world.

    The only thing keeping me going in my bit of not-pirating-things is this: Pride. Pride in being a legit customer. There’s no strictly pragmatic reason for me not to pirate. Piracy saves money, and in most cases the user has a more convenient play experience. In some infamous cases, pirated materials are safer than the legitimate product. (We all remember Starforce.)

    The only thing keeping my string of legit purchases going is Pride. Devs and publishers shouldn’t take that and turn it into shame.

  19. araczynski says:

    anti-piracy on the hardware level? please, it doesn’t work for the consoles, where there’s a single spec per console, and it sure as heck won’t work on the pc where it can be a free for all sometimes in terms of functionality specs.

    the only thing that has so far more or less worked on the console is PS3’s use of blueray discs for gaming. the sheer size of the images, price of burners, and the price of the media all but make it a waste of time pirating anything from the ps3.

    granted that will only work for so long, anyway, what are we talking about? or yeah, pc makers liking software piracy… i guess that means about as much as car manufacturers liking gas thieves because they get to sell them a car to steal gas for?

    kinda remotely related i suppose, and just about as meaninful of a correlation.

  20. Max Cairnduff says:

    PetitPiteux, we’re already in that world with Windows aren’t we?

    Network neutrality, interesting, how would that become a threat?

    If the US made it a matter of Federal law that PCs sold in the US had to have anti-piracy measures built in, that would do it, but it would also herald a move to post-PC computing as I suspect any such measures would have a wide range of other adverse side effects on legitimate software developments. We’d soon move on to some other computing paradigm.

    Hey, that’s the first time I’ve got to use paradigm in a proper sentence in years, what a lovely site this is.

    Dorian, Starforce, I was trying to remember that name when I was making my point above. Precisely, malware sold to legitimate purchasers, absurd.

  21. Sucram says:

    Trusted Computing, Piracy!, Dongles, secret plots to sell hardware. Where’s my spade? I need to build my shelter quick.

    On the other hand, maybe Hollenshead just said it because he thought it was a bit odd that people don’t say it, so he kinda wanted to pop the idea out of his cranium. No secret plots to make developers bribe hardware companies and system builders.

  22. cliffski says:

    Pirates don’t always get a superior copy. If you get a cracked copy of my last game, it crashes during the election apparently. All the pirates whine at me for making buggy crappy software, but a few who admit to having tried the pirated version and then bought it say the bug isn’t in the full copy.
    Some Russian kid hex editing a game without source code is not the most stable way to modify a game.

  23. nakke says:

    I actually read the title as “PC game makers like piracy. Secretly”, which I thought was pretty interesting. I wouldn’t really think that’s true either, except maybe for some games.

    Now it’s just somebody rambling the same thing yet again.

  24. Max Cairnduff says:

    I can’t think of any possible justification for pirating a Positech game in any event, so I’m glad to hear those who do get crap versions. Kudos and Rock Legend were both pretty cheap as I recall, and neither had any nasty DRM on them or anything of that sort that I noticed.

    Must download the Democracy 2 demo now I come to think of it.

  25. Sam says:

    @Al3xand3r: Well, sort of. The shareware model always admitted, implictly, that the owner couldn’t be compelled to pay money for the product, especially in the 80s and early 90s when copy-protection for shareware games was close to nonexistent. Doom, and to a lesser extent Quake, both made lots of money by being easily distributed in their shareware form, with additional content being the reward for paying money to id. As the additional content had no protection at all, presumably loads of people got “free Doom” – and yet id made tons of money out of those that did pay.
    This is to the extent that I’ve seen Doom used as an example of how relatively unrestricted copying can be beneficial to your business model – which is why I found it ironic that Mr Hollenshead seemed to be so aggressive on the issue.

    @Max Cairnduff:
    Windows isn’t a total monopoly, as evidenced by the rapidly growing popularity of OSX in the mainstream (as well as the persistent popularity of Linuxish OSs in the geekier side of things), though.

  26. SpielerZwei says:

    I don´t get the point in Hollensheads arguementation:
    What does it matter for the games-industry if his theory is true? Pointless bullshit!
    In my eyes, there´s a more interesting (and believable!) conspiracy-theory involving the games-industry and hardware manufactors: Programmers of pc-games do bad engine-programming on purpose, so that the hardware manufactors can sell new hardware to the pc-gamers every now and then. Look at the consoles. There you have a fixed hardware-setting and the games are getting better and better over the lifespan of the hardware, cause the developers are constantly trying to get more and more out of the given hardware. On the pc you have to buy a new graphics-card every 1-2 years and a new cpu every 3-4 years to play contemporary games. The programmers do not optimize their engines to match the common hardware. Instead you have to buy new hardware to run the sub-optimized engines…
    And if you keep in mind that there is an Nvidia- or ATI-Logo on the intro of nearly every shooter game, this theory is nearly proven.

    (sorry for my bad english, folks. i´m german.)

  27. Sam says:

    SpielerZwei: Unfortunately, your conspiracy theory is harmed somewhat by the reports of the Wine developers on their conversations earlier this year with nVidia (and ATI, I think)’s Windows driver developers. Apparently, they’re a little sick of having to devote about half their drivers to workarounds for terrible coding in computer games… (and they were reportedly amazed that Wine worked so well with so many games, as the Linux drivers don’t have any of those workarounds in them).

  28. Rii says:

    “Why are you saying this, Mr Hollenshead?”

    Because the interviewer asked: “What can PC hardware manufacturers do to make it harder for pirates?”

    Hollenshead correctly noted that this is the wrong question to ask, that a more fundamental issue exists. It doesn’t matter what hardware manufacturers could do because it’s not in their interests to do anything. Question asked, and answered.

  29. Kieron Gillen says:

    It’s more why answer the question in that way. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not.


  30. Rook says:

    I think Stardock actually makes money because they spend less on their games and target a wide variety of machine specs, rather than them being super fantastic sellers, or that their anti-drm stance really resonantes with gamers. I’m sure their games get pirated a lot as well. Whilst I’m sure they sell well, they just don’t hit the million units that other big budget triple A games need to move to make money.

  31. giovanni says:

    It’s a bit like saying that music piracy boosts iPod sales. But iPods also help legal music downloads. But people don’t think that Apple is evil (well yes, for other reasons). At the end of the day hardware makers aren’t really responsible for how people use their products. Ask any firearms maker.

  32. slang says:

    Wow, what a secret he discovered;-)
    Took him quite a while though. After all, piracy was always a major factor in hardware sales…pretty much since the beginning of the 8-bit stoneage. I don’t think the Commodore 64 would have ever sold so well if it wasn’t for the ability to copy software easily.
    What’s next Mr Hollenshead? Arms dealers profiting off wars and criminals? Oh, wait a minute…that wouldn’t go down so well with America, right;-)

  33. Tom says:

    I noticed Asus has started shipping MoBo’s with TPM’s now – ESPECIALLY the enthusiast models… funny that.
    Wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if the next gen of consoles come with them as well.
    Personally I don’t think it’s a bad thing. (I’m crazy like that).
    A non intrusive, hardware based implementation. If your game can’t decrypt itself because you’re using a dodge version nout will happen, simply as that.
    ( link to )

  34. MetalCircus says:

    I hope and pray for the day when people stop referring to one another as the “consumer.”

    We are people for fuck sake.

  35. Max Cairnduff says:

    The historical parallel to draw would be with video recorders and tape to tape decks in the 80s.

    There basically were no legitimate uses to either, people used them for taping stuff off the telly and for copying tapes they’d bought (often into mix tapes).

    The point on Stardock by the way isn’t that an anti-drm stance in itself shifts units, I doubt that very much, the point is you can be a commercial success without going down the hardcore drm route that Bioshock and others pursued. The Stardock games succeed on their merits, what’s interesting is that the lack of drm does not prevent that success.

    Interesting point on the sales numbers for profit though, still, that being said I don’t see the Bioshock solution as ultimately a good one for the industry.

  36. Rii says:

    “It’s more why answer the question in that way. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not.”

    I don’t see a better way of answering the question asked, though. What’s the alternative? A meaningless answer (“hardware manufacturers could implement X technology…”) to a meaningless question? Dismissing the question outright with no reason given?

  37. cullnean says:

    who really cares? oh yeah thats right pirates!

    I as a lawful pc gaming type dont care about anti-piracy features as they dont effect me.

  38. subedii says:

    I as a lawful pc gaming type DO care about anti-piracy features as time and again they’ve inconvenienced me in ways that the pirates NEVER are, and have on more than one occasion wrecked my PC requiring a complete re-format (Helllooooooo Starforce). All whilst devs refuse to listen to reason when I tell them that their DRM does not work and has hindered me in trying to use their product.

  39. Max Cairnduff says:

    I think subedii it’s best taken as a piece of clever satire, which in fairness it may well be.

  40. bluesh says:

    I don’t know why he’s complaining, anyway. I imagine vast numbers of people bought a PC for teh mp3z, and don’t really pirate games because they’re a lot slower to download and more complicated to get working. More potential customers for him.

    Actually, these days PC ownership is practically 100%, even among people who’d never imagine you can download software for free. So, how could it expand a market that would be totally saturated anyway?

  41. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    @Cliffski: Ah, that’s actually pretty funny. Especially since it sounds like you didn’t intentionally code it that way.

    First time I’ve heard of pirates accidentally duplicating the effects of an anti-piracy crash “bug” by their own negligence.

  42. Sam says:

    Tom: I’m still not clear on how TPMs solve the piracy “problem”, though. Okay, your TPM lets you register “your copy” to a particular hardware/software configuration, but that only lends itself to the most hated version of DRM (the one that stops you from installing your software on more than one machine). In addition, it is clearly vulnerable to OS-level attacks using modified TPM drivers that dummy the requests to some other (presumably software) service – presumably, pirates are not incapable of doing such a thing.

  43. Downloads_Plz says:


    The problem is that many developers try to combat piracy in ways that end up impacting legitimate consumers in a negative way, resulting in the pirated version of the game actually being better or easier to use than the legitimate version.

    Granted I suppose if you never investigate the other side of the fence you’ll never know whether the grass is greener or not.

  44. Subject 706 says:

    I suppose the point of the TPM chip is not to be 100% priate proof, since nothing is. But I’m willing to bet that it will make it massively more difficult for casual pirates, since it moves the protection from the software level to the hardware level, i.e. you’ll need to physically alter your motherboard to play cracked games.

    If it doesn’t inconvenience the user, why not be happy about it? It could be the end of annoying shit like SecuROM.

  45. Paul Moloney says:

    Why does this article have a picture of Fabio at the top?


  46. m. says:


    Nod I heartily concur, and today I felt the cold sting of the DRM barrier to the mirth of a legitimate purchase when I cracked open my freshly delivered copy of Anno 1701 after a bit of a personal bout of nostalgia starting with Settlers 2 Anniversary. Unsigned DRM drivers + Vista 64bit = bad times for poor little Anno. It looks as though I’ll have to crack (presuming there is such a wonderous thing) the game I paid for with my hard-earned cash to play it. Woe, woe betides!

    Having said this, I wouldn’t have considered piracy as an alternative had I known this in advance, I’d have just ensured that I installed aforementioned on my XP partition instead. That said, I shouldn’t have to hop OSs courtesy of any combination of oppressive measures to prevent me from doing things that I want to do.



  47. Azradesh says:

    @ Rook: I have bought two Stardock games so far simply because of their anti-DRM stance, and so have many of my friends. That is how much people hate DRM.

    Turns out they are both great games, so that helps too :)

  48. Theory says:

    It’s more why answer the question in that way. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not.

    So what would you have said? We regularly scoff at politicians dodging questions, so where does that leave us when we criticise a person who goes straight to one’s heart?

  49. SuperNashwan says:

    USB dongles can be made to be extremely hard to crack but retail for less than £30. Common sense might indicate that if a major publisher was really that certain they were losing billions to piracy, we would already have an EAKey in our USB ports.

  50. Azradesh says:

    @ cullnean: You’re an idiot frankly, the one and only set of people NOT affected by anti-piracy measures are the pirates themselves.

    eg: I have the Neverwinter Nights 2 Collectors Edition and I recently wanted to replay it so I put the DVD in my driver and it wouldn’t even read and damn disc! At first I thought the disc had become damaged some how, but there wasn’t even a scratch on it. So I tired it on my slow little old laptop and the disc read fine. So I then took to the net to solve this little problem, it turns out that my new DVD drive was not registered by fucking sercurom and so in my new drive the damn thing won’t even read! (my old drive broke)

    Solution? Download a disc image of the game I paid 40 pounds for, mount the image, install and put in my valid cd-key.

    By the time I’d done all that my urge to play it again was gone. Fuck sercurom!