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. Irish Al says:

    monobrow! monobrow! monobrow!

  2. cullnean says:

    teh reason for “evil” software protection.

    devs want to protect their work, but buy the cheapest method which can not ever be configured for every possiblehardware config, there for some people will have trouble when said anti-piracy software kicks up a fuss at their new cd drive.

    this is not ideal but understandable when people want to protect their hard work.

    i also understand that we as user’s should not be expected to trawl websites to see if our new gear is accepted by the various portection software.

    i only hope that we as a fairly new industry figure something out.

  3. Sam says:

    @cullnean: Yes, we understand that.
    However, there are several issues with that position.
    Firstly – what do you mean by “protect their work”? It appears that what you actually mean is “control precisely who uses their work” – have effective copyright enforcement – which is something different to the wider concept of “protection”.
    Secondly, you speak as if “all” devs want to “protect” their work in this way. This is manifestly not true, as not only does freeware exist, but open-source freeware exists (and, indeed, in some cases is better than the closed-source payware that it competes with).
    Thirdly, you automatically assume that people have the *right* to protect their work, and that this is reasonable. While this is generally accepted, the existence of the open-source lobby (as distinct from open-source as a community) suggests that some feel that this right should be limited or curtailed to some degree. To be fair to id, here, they have always open-sourced their game engines after a certain period of time, as Carmack does believe in something like a “limited” period of copyright on works, apparently.
    Fourthly, there’s the matter of degree – you’ve admitted that the devs may “buy the cheapest method”. Great, so this means that you’re implicitly accepting that it is okay for a dev to value their copyright over the rights of the individual customers – remember that when Sony tried to install rootkits on people’s computers to stop them copying CDs, everyone agreed that this wasn’t “understandable” but was, in fact, borderline criminal.
    Fifthly, there’s a assumption of criminality that some object to. By installing onerous DRM, devs are implictly saying “if we didn’t stick this on then none of you scum would bother buying it”, at least from the point of view of some of their potential clients. This is, partly, at the crux of a lot of the complaints about the stuff – most people who buy software would probably still buy it even if there was no protection at all (didn’t the PopCap games experiment suggest that “really awesome copyprotection” only got about 1 in a 1000 of the copiers to buy it? That, conversely, implies that a minority of people are “opportunistic” copiers.), so you’re not really doing much but making yourself look bad.
    Sixthly, accepting your points, there’s no excuse for not doing “value-added copyprotection” nowadays – Steam gives people additional value for having it manage (and protect) the software they buy on it, via the community resources, the Steam Achievements, and the ability to reinstall/download any game it believes you own. While people complain about Steam, it also has a lot of customers who support it, which is much better than any other DRM solution is doing. Or, look at MMOs, where the most important “copyrighted” bits are server-side and an essential part of the game. Or DEFCON, which has an effective server-based copyprotection scheme, which Introversion are smart enough to use to lure those who’ve pirated the game into buying it.
    There’s no excuse for devs complaining about how they’re “only trying to protect their product” with shoddy DRM solutions when there are now so many shining examples of how to do it right, if you want to.

    (And, it is worth noting that, on my lovely open-source, free, non-Windows computer, the only commercial thing I’ve bothered to get working in it is… Steam. Because it’s actually worth it.)

  4. cullnean says:

    my ignorance of of the suject dictates that i blow a rasberry at you and disgarded any well thought out statement.

    (And, it is worth noting that, on my lovely open-source, FREE, non-Windows computer, the only commercial thing I’ve bothered to get working in it is… Steam. Because it’s actually worth it.)

    where did you get a free computer?

  5. Himself says:

    As far as i’m concerned the only way to actually make me start buying games is to offer some benefits that i can’t get using the pirated version. Co-op modes, free content, updates, live community etc- these things will pretty much make some sence. And there’s no point in wasting time and money on implementing new anti-piracy methods since any kind of protection gets cracked the day the game is released.

  6. Paul Moloney says:

    “As far as i’m concerned the only way to actually make me start buying games is to offer some benefits that i can’t get using the pirated version. Co-op modes, free content, updates, live community etc- these things will pretty much make some sence. ”

    Yes, because obviously noone has ever pirated games with these options. *sarcasm* Presumably you don’t buy games at all then? Or

  7. cullnean says:


    this is the part i cant get my head round, you admit to stealing, what eles would you steal? and if you get caught i asume you will happily pay the fine or do the time?

  8. Sam says:

    Of course, not to continue being pedantic, the correct term is “infringing copyright”. “Stealing” is legally reserved for situations where the process involves depriving someone else of a rightfully owned copy – “copyright infringement” deprives no-one of a copy, and only harms the profits of the producer.
    It is precisely this distinction that lets “himself” cope with his actions in his personal moral universe – it is much easier for someone to rationalise damaging an anonymous “producer”, especially if they are a large corporation, than it is for someone to rationalise depriving an individual of an item.

  9. Max Cairnduff says:

    Cullnean, just curious, how do you get internet access from under that bridge of yours? Is it a wifi hotspot or something?

  10. cullnean says:

    yep wireless hotspot

  11. Mr T says:

    lol at people trying to make excuses for piracy.
    one day you will get burned.
    while he’s comes off as a troll cullnean made his point in a few words which i think is “piracy is bad” where as others seem to think that 300 words of waffle makes them clever.

    I pity the fool who disagrees

  12. alphaxion says:

    I have almost 4tb capacity (not filled) at home.. what’s on it?

    Ignoring the space that the OS and installed software/games take up, it comprises of:

    ISO’s of OS’s that are legal (windows, linux, firewalls, nas boxes and pda upgrades), software and games I store purchased so I don’t need the disks and can speed up installation.
    I have about 10gb to 15gb of pictures from digital cameras, screen caps and things I have drawn.
    I have raw audio and video of podcasts I have produced
    I have a massive list of podcasts that I download and archive
    I have home movies of holidays and random nights out
    I have 14 years worth of freeware apps
    I have 15 years worth of documents
    I have 10 years worth of website archives from sites I’ve written
    I have ripped copies of DVD’s that I legally purchased for the purpose of re-encoding them onto portable media devices where no solution exists.

    I hate burning crap to CD’s and DVD’s when I can have everything in one storage area and accessable at the click of a button and can be organised far better and transferred to new storage devices as time goes by without hunting down a thousand disks to find some have degraded beyond readability.
    Not all data is illicit!

    Also, Trusted Computing is a threat and has been brewing for about a decade now. It’s about far more than piracy since it can lock you out of viewing documents and running certain apps. You couldn’t share data from an unauthorised machine to one that runs the trusted computing platform (wasn’t it known as palladium at one point?).
    It would kill freedom as we know it on computers.

  13. Sam says:

    @MrT: No, some of us seem to think that complex problems in the real world require thought out answers. It isn’t clear that piracy is bad in all cases (even for the producer), and lauding people who are prepared to reduce things to simplistic responses simply encourages more people to not bother thinking about things in the future.
    So, yes, I do disagree, vehemently, with your stance on “simplicity = good”.

  14. cullnean says:

    hmm………. revalation! pirates and hippies use linux

  15. LionsPhil says:

    Well, I suppose pirates might use Linux if the only commercial games they ever wanted to play were Unreal Tournament, Neverwinter Nights (first one only), and a few flavours of Quake.

    And if they didn’t mind spending a week making hardware accelleration work properly under X without system stability going to hell.

    The great thing about being a hippy is that you’re happy with Nethack in a text console.

  16. Himself says:

    Dammit, i’m not making any excuses for piracy, i’m just pointing out that IF the developers will choose the path in question, both them and gamers will be happy. But instead of making these implementations, they put tons of energies into different copy-protection systems that a) get cracked really fast and b) make players suffer from the installation process (see the thread) instead of enjoying the game they’ve just bought. That’s that. Since you can’t shoot all the pirates with the shotgun, this is by far the only way of saving the industry.

  17. dhex says:

    Since you can’t shoot all the pirates with the shotgun

    not until i finish my FPS pirate game: AARRRRGHS of Warrrrrr!

  18. andy says:

    speaking of piracy, what’s up with Steam removing the resale rights (if they still do that) of any game you buy through them after some time?

    I uninstalled their trash a while ago due to this. And this after buying both the Gold and Collector’s editions of HL2.

    If i buy something tangible from someone (i.e. not services), who the fuck are they to tell me i can’t turn around and sell it when i’m done with it whenever I want.

    Do the other guys do the same thing? Direct2Drive and whoever else is in the biz I mean.

    The same should be said of Live/PSN/Wiistore. I suspect sooner or later a class action suit will be brought against all these shits for stepping on consumer rights somewhere along the line.

  19. nakke says:

    andy: Err what? Customer rights? And what do you mean “after some time”, afaik it’s not possible to sell games you’ve bought on Steam at all.

  20. dhex says:

    The same should be said of Live/PSN/Wiistore. I suspect sooner or later a class action suit will be brought against all these shits for stepping on consumer rights somewhere along the line.

    i’m willing to bet a lot of money the EULA covers all this.

  21. sinister agent says:

    Isn’t the very concept of an EULA settled on somewhat infirm ground, though? You can’t sell someone a TV and then when you get it home force them to agree to never watch ITV in order to switch it on, after all.

  22. dhex says:

    a “thou shalt not transfer” clause seems straightforward. i don’t know how legally sound it is, but i’m sure it’s in there.

  23. Deuteronomy says:

    LionsPhil: Actually Hardware acceleration under X has come a long way. Been playing Penumbra and Quake Wars on Ubuntu, installation was actually pretty easy, and I haven’t really had any issues at all with the games themselves. Playing QW on Linux was especially trippy.

    Which leads me to believe that gaming under Linux could be quite viable.

    As for piracy here’s my 2 cents. There’s no point wasting time and money trying to lock down the PC. The big game studios should just go after the torrent sites. Shut the ones they can down. Upload poisoned versions of their games or DDoS the ones they can’t. If they get personal details on the warez-people send hitmen. Cut off their right hands. A combination of the above would solve piracy.

  24. kadayi says:

    Interesting thread. I can see Todds point. What surprises me is that eleventy hundred posts or so in, so far I haven’t really seen anyone really holding up their hands and boldly proclaiming they are a pirate. In fact quite a few people seem to be earnestly claiming the opposite. Do I pirate things? yes. Do I pirate games? Only the long dead ones (and not often), I’m hoping that GoG will be the cure to my abandonware addiction. With new games If I’m unsure about a purchase, I tend to wait for the reviews to hit, or hold out for a demo, and if the games ok, rather than brilliant I wait until it hits the cheap seats rather than buy it straight away. So what do I pirate? Well with me it’s mainly American TV shows because frankly I can’t be assed to wait 6 months for them to show up here, though as I’m a sucker for commentaries I generally end up buying them on DVD later on if they are good. Music? occasionally, but I have so much legitimate music anyways I’ve kind of given up on collecting more. Software? Yes, but never for commercial use, more for home learning and exploration. Has piracy lead me to buy things I ordinarily wouldn’t have through lack of exposure? Damn straight it has, I’d of never have gotten into BSG, The Wire, Deadwood, Man Men or stumbled across musicians like GSUBE, or Susumu Yokata, or Sigur Ros otherwise.

  25. Eisenhorne says:

    I believe pirates will continue to illegally compromise games regardless of what protection is available. I also think this illegal activity can be greatly reduced by software protection. Not something as intrusive as securom or starforce but another method left to better minds to figure out. I think the goal should be to reduce piracy.

    I believe game publishers like piracy to an extent. I bet numerous games publishers received recognition from a pirated game they would have otherwise not received from a standard release. I think copy protection only hurts the legitimate owners. Take DVD’s as an example. If a pirated movie is played you can go straight to the movie but if a legitimate movie is played you have to watch that stupid (none skippable) anti piracy banner then another government banner (again non skippable). These banners are ONLY for legitimage owners because the pirates take them out. So why have them!! The same goes for piracy.

    If your game is good it will sell. If it sucks then the first thing to blame is piracy. Good game sell and have few pirates because people WANT the game. Although a lot of pirates will also want the game the developer will lose a smaller percentage of profits if the game doesnt suck.

    There seems to be a fine line between piracy for the sake of wanting a game because it cant be afforded and piracy for the sake of piracy. I dont think anyone will see hardware anti piracy due to the customization of the PC. People will avoid the products with the anti piracy because think beyond the gamer. Think about the hundreds of thousands of employees at a company that has private or proprietary information. That company will never allow something inside their network which they cant completely control. So the PC gaming community just isnt enough of a factor for anti piracy hardware to be developed.

    I think piracy is bad and a lot of good companies lose money they definately deserved but companies need to stop ripping off consumers with half baked poorly performing games and make something someone wants and is willing to give a company its due by buying. Take Blizzard for example, Starcraft 2 will be hard to pirate because it connects to battlenet and has to be unique but mainly because it is a great game and people will pay Blizzard and say thank you for entertaining us. Same with Diablo 3.