View Full Version : Copy protection & piracy

11-16-2007, 12:16 PM
Another indie developer (Cliff from Positech Games (http://cliffski.blogspot.com/2007/11/copy-protection.html)) mentioned why he is adding copy protection to his next game. Unfortunately, he is right in his reasoning about why he feels he needs to. :( He has decided to add online validation to his next game, which we don't do, but I can understand why he is adding it.

There are a lot of excuses and justifications about piracy, but it does hurt the industry as a whole, the companies that make games, and especially the individuals that make those games. Cliff is correct, in my opinion, that this is one of the big reasons why many developers are moving to consoles and why many games are going MMO only.

People can justify piracy all they want, but by stealing a copy of a game or by making it available to download they are doing a lot of damage. What most people focus on is the lost revenue from piracy, which is very true, but there are a lot of other repercussions.

Every copy stolen of a particular game makes it less likely that the industry will make another game of that type. The industry is very focused on number of sales and revenue. Piracy numbers do not show up in their market research (at least not in a positive way), so every pirated game is a vote against that game. So in the long run pirating a game that you actually like is kind of dumb.

The specific developer and publisher that made the game is going to be even more effected. They are less likely to make more games of that type or property or even at all. Without enough sales most companies definitely won't make sequels and will eventually go out of business.

Piracy also forces developers and publishers to add in copy protection schemes and is forcing more and more games to consoles and MMOs. I'm seeing copy protection mentioned more and more in contracts with publishers and portals. I've also been in countless meetings and discussions about leaving the PC business or moving to something more like a MMO style business because of piracy. As a primarily PC gamer, this makes me very sad.

For small indie companies, piracy is even worse (not that it is ever a good thing). A pirate is not stealing from a big faceless retail chain, publisher, or large developer. Pirates are stealing directly from individuals that made cool games and it is hard enough to survive as an indie without people stealing from them.

I won't say how I know, but I know at least a few people have tried to pirate Depths of Peril. I don't think there are many people that have tried, but it is still frustrating. In our case there really is no reason to pirate the game, except to get something for free instead of paying for it (that's generally called stealing btw). Anyways, Depths of Peril has a demo that is a very fast download, the demo lets you play as long as you want and even has all 4 classes, the game is pretty cheap at $29.99 compared to most games, we have a 30 day money back guarantee, and the game actually does some unique things.

Personally, I would much rather not add copy protection to our games. It's an extra step I have to do for every build of our games. It's another thing that can cause problems for our customers, which in turn causes support issues that I have to resolve. It's also another expense that I have to pay for. Unfortunately, currently it boils down to a necessary evil. :(

11-17-2007, 08:48 AM
I dearly hope you don't have to create copy protection for Depths of Peril (or any other games) as well. Personally, though, I'm unconvinced that copy protection really has a positive net impact on reducing piracy, or even of ensuring better sales numbers. Admittedly, I am a purchaser of Galactic Civilizations II and am heavily influenced by Stardock Games' (specifically Brad Wardell, the CEO) attitudes and policies (http://draginol.joeuser.com/index.asp?aid=209) toward copy protection. If copy protection doesn't actually increase piracy, I'm unconvinced at best that all, or even a large fraction, of the people who pirate a given game would have bought it at full retail price, if only the copy protection was more stringent. I don't feel like I as a paying consumer should be penalized with draconian copy protection because of the people who don't want to pay for the game. That makes me less likely to want to buy more games from that company in the future.

To be clear: I'm not justifying piracy or claiming that it doesn't hurt developers, publishers, or the industry as a whole. I'm simply unconvinced that stricter forms of copy protection is the best (or only) alternative to abandoning PC game development wholesale.

Delilah Rehm
11-17-2007, 11:05 AM
It's about balancing protection against the customer's good will, and after finding that balance, hoping there's still enough money in it for creating games to be a viable business. If we can't pay the bills... that would be the end.

11-17-2007, 11:22 AM
I own GalCiv 1 and 2 and am familiar with Brad's thoughts on copy protection. :) They still use a serial number though, so even they are still using copy protection. This is basically the same level of copy protection we are using. Just having a key is pretty minor, but I would rather not even have that.

You're right that copy protection sucks and the stricker it is, the worse it gets for the customer.

I just wish that instead of everyone getting upset at the developers that everyone would get more upset at the actual piracy. If we as actual paying gamers would be more hostile towards piracy and more vocal about how it is essentially stealing, then more and more of the people that casually pirate games would stop. I personally think that many of the people that casually pirate games basically think it is all right because they don't know any better. If there was actual peer pressure that it was wrong and harms the industry, they would learn.

11-19-2007, 09:19 PM
I agree that the more aggressive forms of copy protection on commercial games especially have the effect of disadvantaging legitimate customers to the point of being a negative marketing feature. The Starforce fiasco especially is a good example of this. The developers of X3:Reunion eventually bowed to pressure from fan groups to remove disk based protection from that excellent title (it was Starforce, by the way), and to my knowlege the move had no effect on sales one way or the other. I think, to put it bluntly, people who are going to buy games will buy them, and people who are not going to buy them will continue to aquire them in other ways. The addition of copy protection seems not to change this fact at all. It may give the developers a little grace period before the hackers find a way to circumvent the protection, but it will still happen. (Nadeo's Trackmania is a good example of this).

In my opinion, the best way to tackle piracy of indie games in particular, is to create great downloadable demos with lots of content and no time limits. DoP does this very well indeed. I was driven to buy the game on the strength of the demo alone. Active fan interaction on the forums, and ongoing support of an already great game make me happy that I have chipped in what is really a pittance for such a great game. I have actively distributed the demo to family and friends hoping that the sales will remain strong.

Having said that, I should point out that I would have no objection to an online activation based copy protection scheme on DoP, and I have the feeling that most legitimate users would probably agree with me. If the game was popular enough though, the system would be circumvented in time. The challenge is to make people want to pay to support the developers - and personalised service and good web support (as many indie developers do so well, including Soldak) can only help to build that bond between developer and customer.

I will admit to regularly using no-cd/dvd cracks to circumvent annoying disk based copy protection on nearly all my purchased games that require it. I spend about $30-$50 on games (for the PC exclusively) per month. I do split my time equally between the better commercial offerings and indies.

11-20-2007, 11:07 AM
Don't worry I have no intention of adding online validation to Depths of Peril. I just understand the thought process of why other developers go that route. As much as possible, I would much rather spend time making our games better, than adding more forms of copy protection.

Personally, I have no problem with people cracking their own purchased copies. As long as it doesn't get distributed in any way of course.

11-20-2007, 11:35 AM
Personally, I have no problem with people cracking their own purchased copies. As long as it doesn't get distributed in any way of course.

Yep, I agree with you 100%

But the fact of the matter is that illegal copies of games and hacked executables ARE distributed to the detriment of the developers. This is really closely linked to my argument that devs need to make it a priority to find innovative ways to make the end user want to pay for the products as opposed to spending resources on imposing and then enforcing copyright (almost impossible on the budget of most indies I know of). The music/film industry is facing the same kinds of challenges at the moment, and I alluded to this in my previous post; it is my opinion that indie software developers have a unique advantage over big commercial entities to leverage a personal service and after sales support into unit sales.

I mean stealing from Warner Brothers or EA is one thing, but stealing from (purely as an example) Steven Peeler of Soldak Entertainment? Many will argue the truism that stealing is stealing, but I'll wager that my argument holds water.


11-21-2007, 02:36 AM
Oddly, I'm more at ease with a CD-in-the-drive check than online activation (though obviously that doesn't work with a digital download in the first place.) As long as the online validation is more or less a one-shot deal, though, that would probably be all right. What I'm uncomfortable with, though, is having the means to activate the product I've purchased placed beyond my control. If I lose my game CD, for instance, or misplace the CD key that came with the manual, fine, my bad, I can't blame anyone else. But, and this is especially a concern with independent developers, I think, what happens three years from now when I get a new computer, need to reinstall Depths of Peril (as a hypothetical example) and Soldak Entertainment is out of business?

As a mater of fact, I had something very similar happen just recently. I downloaded a Shareware program, liked it, and paid $27.50 for an activation code to enable all the features. The registration code was only good for two weeks or so, plenty of time for me to activate my software and for it not to be an issue, I thought. Then I had some hard drive problems and had to wipe and reinstall a couple of things, including the Shareware program. The registration code is expired and doesn't work, I've e-mailed the company and haven't gotten a response (the website hasn't been updated since 2002, though their payment system works just fine,) and now I'm out $27.50 to play the full version of a game for just over two weeks. :mad:

So, yeah. Disk-based copy protection is fine to my mind, because I don't have to depend on some third party's financial solvency or goodwill to access my product. Could you imagine the outcry if, say, Valve went bankrupt (sue to, let's say, a major earthquake that swallowed corporate headquarters) and all those games people bought over Steam suddenly didn't work?

11-21-2007, 02:16 PM
As a gamer and a developer I very much agree with this. This is one of the reasons that I'm not very fond of online activation/validation or timed based install keys.

If we actually ever used any of these copy protection methods and Soldak went out of business, one of the last things I would do for the company is a patch that removed the copy protection for our products. Hopefully neither of these things will ever happen though. :)

11-21-2007, 09:38 PM
I have to tell that the problem of online activations is very discussed on most developers forums. And let me share my point of view on that.

From customer's point of view, if I buy something, I want to use it on my computer without any restrictions. For example, if I purchased a game in 1994 for ZX Spectrum and the company who did this game is not exist anymore, I may want to play it again and I have a right to play it. In case of online activations, I can't play it anymore.

I am personally have an examples of programs with online activations which I've bought and can't use anymore after several Windows reinstalls and hardware upgrade. And I have to say that I searched the internet for the cracked version of such programs, because in some cases the developers asked me to fill forms and send faxes and wait for their "approvements". They consider me, a legal customer, as a hacker, and its very frustrating.

There are also many examples when people purchased programs and games that they downloaded from warez websites. And its a state of mind, I guess - if you are ready to steal or not.

To make long story short, there are many "polished" ways for software to force people to buy them instead of using cracks. For example, when I bought Xara Xtreme, I got an access to their online clipart library and tons of free fonts, and this bonus was important to me because it is much more expensive to buy pictures and fonts than to buy Xara Xtreme. In case of games, you can check licenses when customers are trying to:
1. Get updates
2. Download additional content
3. Access the forum for gamers
4. Play online
And I bet there are many more options.

Let me name some examples. X3: Reunion asked for a serial number when you want to access their online forums or download any updates and mods. Warcraft III will not let you play online if you haven't a legal serial number.

If you make some "tasty" content available after the validation, then you may not afraid that somebody will play a hacked copy of the game. They will never buy even if you put a strongest protection. But they may show it to the people who will buy because of additional content.

Its my humble opinion, again :)

11-22-2007, 08:00 AM
The problem is they'll pirate this extra content too!

Anyway adding copy protection is rather useless most of the time since there is no copy protection that has not been broken yet.

However for a indie developer it might not be broken! Since all the hacker groups might fail to notice it... and the guys who want to copy it are not able to break it by themselves.

So maybe just use a very simple one! That is easy for a programmer to hack but hard for the everyday user, and that doesn't give any negative effect to the customer, such as an online installer? ( not online activation ) instead of downloading a file which can be installed,,, the install will be through a server, so that the game file cannot simple be copied between people?

11-26-2007, 10:13 AM
For anyone that read Cliff's first blog about copy protection, he wrote another one here (http://cliffski.blogspot.com/2007/11/kotakoooed.html#links).

There is also a thread over on IndieGamer (http://forums.indiegamer.com/showthread.php?t=12262) about copy protection. This thread also points out Stamp Out Piracy (http://www.stampoutpiracy.com/), which seems to be a small group that are actually actively trying to do something about piracy.