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Copy Protection DRM

Copy Protection DRM

Postby Chris » Fri Nov 23, 2007 12:48 pm

This blog posting is a response to this article on Rock Paper Shotgun:
http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/?p=627

I feel I need to add a comment or two here, because we've debated this issue quite strongly at Introversion.

First some semi-anecdotal information : there were at least ten times as many pirate copies of Uplink and Darwinia as there were legitimate sales. How do we know? Patches available on our website which only work on the full games have been downloaded more than ten times the sales totals of their games. Now hard-line corporate types will tell you this means they've lost 10 x sales x price million dollars based on this, but thats just nonsense. Would all 10 of those 11 users have ever bought the game? No, of course not. But 1 out of 10 of them might, and that would have doubled our sales and made us very happy devs indeed.

I think there are actually two separate issues under discussion here, and they are getting mixed up. The first issue under debate is the developers right to protect themselves from piracy. The second issue is the low quality of existing DRM solutions. I see a lot of postings of people saying "securROM is shit, it broke my computer, developers need to stop all this DRM that is inneffective and just annoys legitimate customers". Right there, that user has mixed two complex issues into one. This user has a legitimate problem with whatever DRM was in use on his game that doesn't work, but that doesn't mean developers should not protect their games.

There is one form of DRM which is absolutely seamless and has yet to generate any complaints, and has an extremely high success rate. I've yet to hear a single user complain about World Of Warcraft's DRM. People who think it doesn't have any DRM need to rethink their definition - you can probably play a cracked copy of WOW, but not on any public server, and not with any other players. It's the one DRM system that is unbreakable because it's centrally controlled, and it's completely transparent to the players.

Now I would argue that most gamers have no problem at all with the first point - developers protecting their game against piracy. The problem is that gamers want that protection to be absolutely invisible, and most of the local-system DRM is extremely visible, often infuriating. And in the case of single player local games, it definately is a massive waste of time and effort and money - first year Computer Science graduates can tell you that securing some code on a local system is provably impossible.

The entire world of media is undergoing a huge change - data no longer has the value it used to have, and ordinary people have no serious moral issues with copying something rather than paying for it. Radiohead gave away their album for whatever price you wanted and it was still pirated on bittorrent, and the average price paid on the site was just a few pounds. This tells you how much content has devalued in just the last decade in the eyes of customers. Securing your game for 13 days makes sense only in one context - the retail release, in which week one sales essentially determine your overall success. If you don't do so well in the first week (due to pirate versions on bittorrent) your game will be taken from the New Releases / Top Sellers shelf and mixed in with all the other games, and your sales will drop even further. Your marketting spend will be reduced, and interest in your game will die down, and you're in a quick spiral of doom that ends in the bargain bin. I don't see this as an argument for using DRM on single player games though - I see it as a massive argument against relying on Retail Releases of video games. You've got no such sales-spiral problems with Digital Distribution, and all of our games including Uplink from 2001 still sell in good numbers on our site and through channels like Steam. Developers can't site the Russian Roulette that is commercial retail release as a reason to include DRM in their games, and simultaniously expect to be taken seriously by gamers, or other developers.

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 leitimate game. In the case of Defcon, pirate copies appeared on day one permitting 6 player games, but only against the CPU. If you wanted to play against real people then you had to buy, and we controlled that through our central MetaServer - the ONLY effective form of DRM. Same with Guild Wars, World Of Warcraft, etc - you can play pirate copies on your own, but you don't get the full experience. Under this new view of the world, DRM becomes more carrot than stick, offering benefits for customers who pay their money.

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.

DRM is an extremely contentious issue, and I believe it's because many developers have made a total hash of it - installing DRM systems that get in the way, refuse to let you play your game, mess up your computer, even open you up to hackers. I genuinely believe that the DRM issue is solvable for the developers and the customers, in a way which encourages purchases of your game, rather than protecting against copying, and in a way which is essentially invisible to legitimate users. And I don't believe anybody will have a problem with it if we can get those two areas right.
Last edited by Chris on Fri Nov 23, 2007 1:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby prophile » Fri Nov 23, 2007 1:00 pm

Good call.
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Postby martin » Fri Nov 23, 2007 1:16 pm

I've always really liked IVs policy of not requiring a disk in to play your games - as you say that's local copy protection and it's annoying to hunt down the disk if you want to play :P
Surely defcon and Multiwinia are quite easy to centrally control?
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Two points

Postby schoelle » Fri Nov 23, 2007 2:56 pm

Dear Chris, I agree that current game development needs DRM, at least if we are talking about a serious company that makes its revenue by selling games, and not by hidden advertisement or similar techniques. I just would like to add two points:
  • I do not think that the patch download ratio of 10 to 1 really means that the game has been pirated 10 times more often than sold. I very often re-install games, and sometimes I install the same game under different OS on the same machine (which I assume is allowed). But I agree that the numbers are high.
  • The real concern I have with all DRM models is the issue of "cultural heritage". I regard games are part of the culture, like books and pieces of music. Sites like "Home of the underdogs" are an important resource for the history of computer games. Emulators also play a vital role in this effort.

Unfortunately, with a DRM schema that keeps the real content of the game on the server (for example in WoW), things chase to exist once the company has lost interest or goes bancrupt. Interesting games have vanished because of this. A solution would be to declare a some kind of "social contract" in which a company commits itself to release the server software once it has lost interest (or other disasters).
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Postby CameO73 » Fri Nov 23, 2007 3:38 pm

I totally agree! But as long as it's no hindrance, I don't really have a problem with DRM (on the condition that it's not as lethal as the Sony stuff).
That being said, I prefer DRM-less software (one of the reasons I'm turning to open source).
Btw, for a nice parody on the 'piracy is theft'-ad... check this out.

Oh, and thanks very much for Darwinia -- I really love that game (I'm wondering what Multiwinia will turn out to be like)!
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Postby Anach » Fri Nov 23, 2007 4:37 pm

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.


http://forums.introversion.co.uk/introv ... php?t=1046

Having good online multiplayer content or bonus online content will encourage people to buy the game, if they like it. Most the time people are pirating games they wouldnt have bought in the first place. Then there is the flipside of people who buy games because they enjoyed playing the pirated version. Even illegal downloaders are still able to review the game for themselves and offer feedback to others, often adding to the game's community, which is also good for the game.

I have a couple disk racks of games that i've bought, but only after trying a friend's copy first, hiring it from a game rental shop or downloading it. I've bought these games because of the ease of having the proper disk, the ability to play online, the availablility of online content or community, the desire for the manual and simply because I enjoyed it. There have also been times where i've bought the expansion packs for a game that I originally copied from someone else due to not being able to find the game.

I think game companies are laying far too much blame for lack of sales on the pirates shoulders. When they should be looking more at the quality and features of their games. I want to try a game before spend 50-100 dollars to buy it, for much the same reason i test drive a car before I buy it. I also dont want to be worse off in actually owning the game compared to having a pirate version, like I am when it comes to DRM.

DRM often means that the game owners have to install invasive anti-piracy software on their PC, yet the pirated cracked versions do not. So who is that hurting...

Replay is another factor in the decision to buy a game. Even if a game has good single player gameplay and a great story, if it's finished in a few hours with little to no replay value, then it's not going to be something I'd bother with. I know I would have gotten a lot more enjoyment out of Introversion's own Uplink if it had some multiplayer content.

Again a good source of replay value is online multiplayer content, open endedness, game modifications, and and the ability to modify the game easily. Which a lot of games simply do not have.

These modding communities that popup with certain games that allow for easy modification, can keep a game in the market for many years compared to games which are locked down tight.

Of course there will always be someone who isnt going to buy the game, no matter whether they enjoy it or not, possibly due to income, age or location, and those people would still be unlikely to buy it even if it was pirate proof, but in the very least, those people help promote the game and the community along with it. Which in turn helps those who have bought it. So how many of the Uplink modders do you think own the game :P
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Postby djspiewak » Fri Nov 23, 2007 6:19 pm

Personally, I think Defcon got it right. That's a game that's freely downloadable (both legitimately and over bittorrent). Without a key, you can play as a demo user on any server, but there can only be one of you per server and you can't host a server of your own with more than two players. Once you enter the key, you get the full functionality, whether you got the game directly from introversion or otherwise. Oh, and one fun, added bonus, you can use your key on as many computers as you want, just not simultaneously. Genius.

Obviously such a licensing scheme works really well for games like Defcon and Multiwinia (games which are heavily dependent upon a centralized service), but local-only games like Darwinia, Uplink and Subversion pose more of a challenge. I think the critical mentality to keep in mind when designing the protection system is that the point of sale (of sorts) is no longer the distributor's website. That's not to say that the actual purchase may not be made on a website somewhere, but the purchase and the installation are completely independent. As you say, the key is convincing users to purchase the game, either through increased functionality, or perhaps an "annoy-ware" tactic like the original Escape Velocity (hey, you have to admit that an invincible character attacking you at every turn is pretty effective persuasion).

On a side note, I have purchased every game you guys have put out and would continue to do so, regardless of the availability of cracks. Introversion makes great quality software, and I would support that through donations even if you gave the software away. As long as the licensing isn't insanely inconvenient, I'm sure that most people feel the same way.
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Postby wwarnick » Fri Nov 23, 2007 7:06 pm

Anach wrote:I think game companies are laying far too much blame for lack of sales on the pirates shoulders. When they should be looking more at the quality and features of their games. I want to try a game before spend 50-100 dollars to buy it, for much the same reason i test drive a car before I buy it.

Do all pirates think the same? A portion of the pirating community are cynical and don't have any moral qualms with pirating. They download games to keep rather than as a trial. They don't care about the developers. We've had a few threads that have posted links to cracked IV games, and they weren't saying, "Here's a better demo than IV offers." These same players would've waited the thirteen days to play Bioshock because they don't want to spit out $50. To these people, pirating is as much a principle as an opportunity.

Still others have gotten carried away with piracy. I used to download and burn myself, and I wasn't cynical about it all. I let myself get carried away with the fact that I could have all this expensive stuff for free, and I wasn't "stealing" (in the usual sense, which was enough for me). I stopped because I knew it was wrong. But many don't stop.

I understand that many pirates aren't that way. Others (like yourself) download games to demo them before a purchase. But don't think all pirates are that way.

EDIT: RPS's reply to this blog post.

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Postby KingAl » Fri Nov 23, 2007 8:35 pm

The key point, which I've regurgitated too many times to count, is that the intent of the developer is to maximise sales, not minimise piracy, so inobtrusive DRM, if possible, is obviously ideal - DRM which drives consumers away is clearly daft. I think the approach IV has made in the past - i.e. planting messages drawing pirates' attention to the fact that people are losing money due to piracy - is also a great way to break the mentality of 'casual' pirates. After all, they wouldn't remilitarize the Rhineland...

EDIT: Also, re Radiohead - if IV releases a 40 pound Discbox equivalent, you can count on me buying it :D
/me patiently waits for the 3rd of December
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Postby shinygerbil » Fri Nov 23, 2007 9:04 pm

Anach wrote:I think game companies are laying far too much blame for lack of sales on the pirates shoulders. When they should be looking more at the quality and features of their games. I want to try a game before spend 50-100 dollars to buy it, for much the same reason i test drive a car before I buy it. I also dont want to be worse off in actually owning the game compared to having a pirate version, like I am when it comes to DRM.


When you test drive a car, you don't get to keep it forever. I would love to see pirates actually put time limits in their releases - but then, of course, there would be those who crack the time limit, and so on. So it's a never-ending circle.

Anach wrote:DRM often means that the game owners have to install invasive anti-piracy software on their PC, yet the pirated cracked versions do not. So who is that hurting...


It's hurting all parties. There are people who claim they will not buy the game because of DRM issues - then they are being hurt. This is also hurting the developers, who are losing out on sales. This may not matter so much to a company like EA - but to a company like Introversion it could be lethal.

Anach wrote:Replay is another factor in the decision to buy a game. Even if a game has good single player gameplay and a great story, if it's finished in a few hours with little to no replay value, then it's not going to be something I'd bother with. I know I would have gotten a lot more enjoyment out of Introversion's own Uplink if it had some multiplayer content.


Nope. Doesn't wash with me. If it's worth completing even once, then it's worth buying. This may be heresy on the Introversion forums, but I've only completed Darwinia once, and I doubt I'm ever going to play it through properly again. But of course I bought it. Bioshock is another one - it just wouldn't be the same, playing it through with foreknowledge of all the twists in the plot. (Maybe just once, so I can appreciate some of the subtleties!) Still, I bought that. The majority of the games sitting on my shelf (and the shelves of most people, I suspect) are single-player games with limited replay value. Rewind a few years, and that's pretty much all that existed.

Anach wrote:Again a good source of replay value is online multiplayer content, open endedness, game modifications, and and the ability to modify the game easily. Which a lot of games simply do not have.


See above. If the games with limited replay value are indeed so awful because of that, then why play them in the first place? And if there is a reason to play them, then surely that's a reason to buy them?

Anach wrote:These modding communities that popup with certain games that allow for easy modification, can keep a game in the market for many years compared to games which are locked down tight.


Can't argue with that. :)

Anach wrote:Of course there will always be someone who isnt going to buy the game, no matter whether they enjoy it or not, possibly due to income, age or location, and those people would still be unlikely to buy it even if it was pirate proof, but in the very least, those people help promote the game and the community along with it. Which in turn helps those who have bought it. So how many of the Uplink modders do you think own the game :P


Most, if not all, of them. :P
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Postby barabanus » Sat Nov 24, 2007 12:07 am

Good point of view, thanks!

You know, Chris, the more I read the blog the more I get inspired by your way of perception. A month ago I even started my own project, though I hadn't thought I would ever start developing of "another yet" game.
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Postby Tunips » Sat Nov 24, 2007 1:27 am

I agree with your point that centralised online DRM is in general invisible and painless to the consumer, and thus a thing to be lauded. But the problem with this is when the company running the central servers goes belly up, as so many of them do. It's one thing to have messy, annoying local DRM, but quite another when the game can simply stop working forever due to matters entirely beyond the gamer's control.
I'm not sure where this sits on the risk/reward spectrum. 'Works perfectly until it fails catastrophically" compared with "Works poorly forever"

Anyhow, I quite agree with your point that the principle of protection of games is a separate matter from the quality of that protection.
I'm just waiting for the technological revolution so that everyone leads a life of leisure and all products are free.
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Postby Pox » Sat Nov 24, 2007 2:02 am

Tunips wrote:I'm just waiting for the technological revolution so that everyone leads a life of leisure and all products are free.


Heh... you'll be waiting a while. I think our current commercial society will be around a while longer than a lifetime.
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Postby Montyphy » Sat Nov 24, 2007 2:19 am

Tunips wrote:I'm just waiting for the technological revolution so that everyone leads a life of leisure and all products are free.


Personally, the thought of becoming food for Morlocks isn't very tempting...
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Postby Shwart!! » Sat Nov 24, 2007 4:17 am

Tunips wrote:I agree with your point that centralised online DRM is in general invisible and painless to the consumer, and thus a thing to be lauded. But the problem with this is when the company running the central servers goes belly up, as so many of them do. It's one thing to have messy, annoying local DRM, but quite another when the game can simply stop working forever due to matters entirely beyond the gamer's control.
I'm not sure where this sits on the risk/reward spectrum. 'Works perfectly until it fails catastrophically" compared with "Works poorly forever"


Annoying, to be sure, but also avoidable.
Look at Westwood Studios, creators of the original Command and Conquer games- up through Renegade. Westwood 'went belly up' long ago, but they turned their servers over to the community, which proceeded to improve functionality far beyond what Westwood had. Renegade, for instance, had a good campaign, but a lot of what kept me playing is the intense online multiplayer. Westwood may be dead, but their community is thriving, and hence the games have outlived the makers.

Fat lot of good it does Westwood... but the customers are happy. :P

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