DRM, You're Doing it Wrong
Before I get started, no, I don’t support piracy. I think its despicable, and those who pirate are doing more harm to the industry (like, I don’t know, giving companies a reason for all this DRM) than good. If you pirate, shame on you.
That out of the way, let’s get started.
I’m primarily a PC gamer. As a PC gamer, I’ve had to deal with quite a bit of crap: troubleshooting vague issues, buying and upgrading hardware without knowing if I really need it, bad ports, no ports, seeing the games I usually play, mainly RPG’s, being “simplified” by developers/publishers for no decent reason, and seeing features that used to be standard with PC games like dedicated servers being cut. But none, NONE of them are worse than DRM. With Capcom’s recent announcement that the Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition will have a restrictions on character selection and save features, then subsequent backing off of these restrictions of fan outrage, and the PSN outage causing other Capcom games to stop working it got me thinking of DRM.
DRM, put simply, is Digital Rights Management. Most use the acronym, DRM, as a noun to mean Copy Protection, which is what I’ll be doing here, since its easier to type. DRM is used by publishers/developers to try and try to protect their games from pirates. These schemes can range from horrible to not that bad, but most fall into the former category. I’ll be explaining how it doesn’t combat piracy, and how it screws over paying customers. Piracy was actually pretty big in the music industry quite a few years ago, but the music industry stopped using it when they found out it didn’t do anything but piss off paying customers.
The main reason DRM is pointless and stupid is because it fails 100% of the time, all the time. At best it’ll stop pirates for a week or so. At worst the game’ll be out on the torrents a few weeks before release. Either way, the end result is the same. Pirates pirate, and paying customers have to deal with stupid, intrusive, and pointless DRM. Before all this crap, things were much simpler. You bought your game, put in a code, and played. You could do that as many times as you wanted, whenever you wanted. Now, you buy a game, ask for permission to install, and then play, though sometimes you’ll have to ask for permission to do that as well, and make an account with the Publisher of the game. Again, pirates don’t have to do this. They just download, install, and play, laughing at all of us for putting up with this bullshit. Probably the most famous example of DRM failing is Spore, which is also the featured image. The game’s essentially synonymous with DRM nowadays. The DRM was so bad, it caused people to mercilessly savage it on Amazon, caused a class action lawsuit, and caused Spore to become the most pirated game of 2008, one of the most pirated ever at the time. This is in direct contrast to, say, Stardock and their philosophy, and it seems to have worked out quite well for them.
On top of DRM being ineffective, it’s also a pointless money sink. Publishers have to pay to license the DRM, pay for the hardware to keep the authentication servers on, pay for maintenance of these servers, pay for support staff to deal with people having issues with the DRM, pay to keep it all active for a long length of time, and possibly pay for a building to house all this stuff. Any money you might wring out of pirates, which I’m willing to bet will be around zero dollars, would just go to supporting this protection system that will end up failing. And again, the only ones who will be the most screwed over are the paying customers.
It’s stupid, hurtful to PC gaming as a whole, pisses off paying customers, most likely pushes some to piracy to escape DRM, and is just a pointless arms race that the Publishers will never win. Every time they come out with a new “unbreakable” system, the pirates/hackers break it, and then Publishers have to come up with another system. Eventually they’ll run out of ideas, and probably just leave, which is saddening since there are better ways to deal with piracy.
Publishers/Developers are treating piracy as a technical issue. It is not. And besides, that’s the hacker’s home turf, so it’s pointless to try and fight them with stuff they crack all the damn time. No, piracy is more of a social and economic issue and must be treated as such. I have a few ideas for Publishers to implement, and the best part is most will cost no money to implement or maintain. I’m mainly referring to Publishers with this, since they’re the ones with the money, but this is to developers as well.
First step is to accept something. If your going to put out a game on the PC, anyone can get it for free, and you won’t be able to do a thing to stop them. You will NEVER erase piracy, but what you can do is try to convert some pirates, and not with DRM.
Don’t let pirates offer a better product
If a pirate doesn’t have to deal with it, a paying customer shouldn’t have to deal with it.
Get the focus off of yourselves, and onto the developers
Point is, get out of the limelight. For trailers and whatnot, show the developer’s logo first instead of your own. Instead of trotting out PR/Marketing people for conventions, send out people from the actual development team. Don’t put your logo on the front of the box and put the developer’s logo there. Let your development teams create an identity to do all of this. Make the general public see the people actually making the game, not the people selling it. People are more likely to sympathize and not steal from people that seem like them, than they are from a salesman. This is related to the next point…
Let developers get close to their fans
Let developers interact with their communities. Let them talk, discuss stuff. Yes they may say things you won’t like, but it’ll make them seem human, and not part of some faceless, monolithic corporation, which is what people see you as now, and as a result see themselves pirating from.
Make pirates see themselves as pirating from people just like them, people who like games and are truly passionate about them, and something tells me quite a bit of pirates will be less likely to hit that “download” button.
Offer valuable updates with an easy-to-use delivery system
Legit users would be able to, say, click something in a launcher to check for updates, and have the game update right there. Easy. Pirates would have to search around for the update, and sift through the downloads full of viruses and whatnot before they find one with the actual content.
Again, your rewarding customers for buying the legit copy.
Release a demo
As a result, a demo is crucial for many to make sure the game works on their particular configuration. The fact that so few devs offer demo’s is just appalling. One of the biggest reasons I hear for pirating is because of a lack of a demo, so release a damn demo already. And not one of those 1.5 gigs for 15 minutes of gameplay demo’s. No, I’m talking about a Crysis 1-sized demo. It wouldn’t even cost that much more to do. You know those preview copies you keep sending to gaming sites? I’d bet that those would make pretty good demo’s.
And if people end up finding out that the game isn’t for them through the demo, then you never lost a sale since they weren’t sure on buying it in the first place. And those who like the demo, will now buy the game instead of just saying they will when they have the pirated copy, then conveniently finding excuses not to buy it.
Recently, a preview build of Deus Ex 3 was leaked. Instead of banning any sort of discussion on it, Eidos actually encouraged discussion on it, and asked for links to people’s thoughts on blogs and stuff. This action seems to have netted them some sales, sales they probably wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. If they would have offered it as a full demo for all platforms, they may get more sales.
If you don’t plan on releasing a demo, then be prepared to accept the fact that people will pirate it to use as a demo, and they most likely won’t find time to buy the game.
Keep an eye on things before launch
For A, it shouldn’t be too hard to find where the leak originated from. Most likely suspects are those who take the games home for take-home testing. Do some investigating to root out who did it.
For B, secretly mark each review copy. For example, insert some identification code for a copy you send to Gamespot(or whoever) into the review copy’s code. A different code for IGN, for Gamespot, and so on. That way when you check the pirated copy, you can see where the leak originated, and do something about it. You might not be able to engage in any legal action, but I think you could deny them “first access” and “exclusive” news. Do that, and I think they’ll fix the problem rather quickly.
For C, well this is a bit harder to do. I’d suggest a variant of the solution for B. Give a different code for a different retailer, and try to get the code to be different by region. A good idea is to take those CD codes, and have a set of numbers be set to a specific region. It would be tedious, but you’ll be able to figure out where the leak is happening, and take the necessary steps to stop future leaks. You may ask why should a store like Wal-Mart care. Well if one of their employees is giving out copies early, and those copies end up on the net, that means less copies being bought from Wal-Mart. So I think they’d be willing to co-operate. Not to mention it’s also against company policy to distribute games before launch, so there’s that as well.
Price by region
Lowering the price would go a long way to boost sales and build goodwill, especially in places where the prices are horribly inflated. To use Australia as an example, the Australian Dollar is VERY close to the US Dollar according to this chart. Essentially, 1 USD = .94 AUD. I’m just going to round up a bit more to make them equal for the purpose of this article. So, why does the average game costs $120 plus one functional kidney in Australia? Or Eastern Europe, where people earn far less than the US, according to this? Expecting people in poorer nations who don’t have the same amount of money to spend to pay as much as US customers do is foolhardy. I’d say you should lower the price of games everywhere, but since game budgets keep rising, I can see why you don’t want to do that. I’d also say that people who can’t afford games should simply go without until they get the money, but life is rarely so gloriously simple. This may be the hardest thing to do, since different nations would have different laws about the distribution/taxation of games. But if you can reduce prices of games overseas, it could go a ways to reducing piracy.
Again, none of these will truly eradicate piracy, but you’ll never be able to do that, so it’s not the goal. The goal is to try to convert as many pirates as you can and stop others from turning into pirates. With things the way they are, it’ll be a long and hard process, but I think it’ll be worth it in the long run.
Remember when Crysis 2 was leaked? Remember how the PC community rallied to show their support for Crytek and vowed to not download the leak and to buy the game? Publishers/developers who truly care about the PC are few and far between, and the number is shrinking. We want to support the few that are left, we really do, but you really need to stop giving us more reasons to hate you. While PC gamers are a really fickle bunch, removing DRM would be a good start at showing support, and I’m sure that all of us would support the move.
And besides, even if none of these work, then they’ll be just as effective as current DRM methods. With the added benefit of being cheaper to implement/maintain, and not pissing off your paying customers.
So it’ll be a net gain no matter what if you ditch DRM for any and/or all of the above solutions.