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The Publishers vs. The Pirates, Part 2

By Shamus
on Thursday Mar 6, 2008
Filed under:
Video Games


Maybe you thought this was just going to be a two part rant, but this time around I have some real, practical advice on combating software piracy. But first:

I am always grateful when publishers remain steadfast in their support for the untamed, savage jungle that is the PC. Twenty years of Darwinian attrition has made it clear that this is not the platform for the meek. If you’re not sucked dry by warez leeches, you’ll most likely be devoured by something far larger and higher up on the foodchain. If you manage to avoid being consumed, there is always the chance that your efforts will be found wanting, and natural selection will cull your team in favor of something that is smarter, lives longer, or is better at replicating itself.

It is also true that at any moment you may simply exit the jungle and take up residence in the greener pastures named Nintendo, Sony, and (strangely enough) Microsoft. Places where there is enough for everyone and you earn a living by farming money. So if you stick with the PC, you have my thanks.

But if you’re set on staying in the PC realm then you need to be at peace with the idea that anyone who wants to play your game without paying you is going to be able to do so. In PC gaming, there has never been an unbreakable DRM scheme. Not once, ever. Most DRM systems have a lifespan measured in days. A small handful might live a fortnight. No matter how convoluted the system you devise, it just takes one guy to wedge it open and let everyone else through.

Michael Fitch can rant against the people who rip off his company, and he’s justified in doing so. While people argue about the degree to which damage has been done, the fact that damage has been incurred is manifest. But as I said last time, piracy is a social problem, not a technological one. The solution is therefore going to be social in nature, not a new DRM scheme. You can’t convert all of the pirates into customers, but – as Fitch noted – you don’t need to:

So, if 90% of your audience is stealing your game, even if you got a little bit more, say 10% of that audience to change their ways and pony up, what’s the difference in income? Just about double. That’s right, double. That’s easily the difference between commercial failure and success. That’s definitely the difference between doing okay and founding a lasting franchise. Even if you cut that down to 1% – 1 out of every hundred people who are pirating the game – who would actually buy the game, that’s still a 10% increase in revenue. Again, that’s big enough to make the difference between breaking even and making a profit.

So the goal here should not be eliminating piracy, which is absurd and impossible. Instead, work on converting as many of those pirates into customers. Here are five ways to get people to pay for your stuff. Again, these are social changes – this has nothing to do with building a better DRM system. As a bonus, a lot of these things are free.

(Note that I’m going to offer advice for Developers and Publishers interchangeably. I know they aren’t. I trust everyone is smart enough to see how this advice applies to their part of the process without becoming confused. At any rate, publishers wield most of the power in the Dev / Pub relationship, so the process needs to begin with them.)

1. Make sure the pirates can’t offer a superior product

This one is obvious, which makes it even more infuriating that most publishers are incapable of grasping it. Your wonderful DRM scheme for which you paid so much money is going to be outlived by the average Drosophilidae. Your (legit) users are going to be faced with online activation, CD checks, and typing in serial numbers the size of nuclear launch codes. A pirate is going to click “install” and get on with the gaming, already.

I realize what a profound bore it is to hammer away at this appallingly obvious fact, but it’s less of a bore than that thrice-cursed dialog that gets in my face telling me to type in a huge string of mixed letters and numbers like some kind of king-hell CAPTCHA before I’m allowed to play. Knock it off already.

2. Get closer to the community

My antipathy towards 2kGames should be appallingly apparent to anyone who has read this site for more than a few days. They are crooks and liars, which deprives them of any high ground they might have against the pirates. The two deserve each other. When people leave comments about how they pirated BioShock, I react in the same way I might towards a guy who mugs spammers. I’m certainly not going to have any empathy for the supposed victim.

But if someone told me they were going to pirate Frayed Knights, I’d be damned angry. Jay Barnson is a great guy and I’ve followed his site since before he even began work on the game. I’m emotionally invested in his efforts, and I’d like to see him succeed. (He’s also never treated me like a thief.) Sure, it would be nice if everyone freely embraced a strict moral code; a planet of courteous and genteel paladins operating on the honor system with unwavering certainty. You can sit in your cubicle and imagine that bright shining fantasy world, or you can operate on this plane of existence and realize that the only way people are going to care about piracy is if they care about you. You need your audience to stop viewing you as a company and start seeing you as enthusiastic gamers with a passion for what you do.

Have a development blog. (Or just a personal one.) Give personal interviews, not just to the big publishers but to the podcasters and bloggers. Put your face where gamers can see it, so they will know who they’re stealing from if they choose to go that route. Get in the forums and interact with your customers. (Forums should always be a conduit between your developers and them, not a layer of insulation.)

Whenever you need someone to interact with the public, use developers instead of marketing guys so that fans can feel a personal connection with the people who made the game. You want them to walk away from the exchange excited. A fan is likely to brag to her friends, “I met the guy who designed Alyx in Half-Life 2!” If they meet with the Senior Vice-Executive Marketing Consultant Advisor from division 4? Not so much.

Companies are always so worried that their people will say something that makes them look like a jackass, and thus they prefer to tell everyone to keep quiet. But this just means that your enterprise is seen not as a collection of individuals, but as a whole. A huge, emotionless corporate monolith, a gestalt entity that communicates in doublespeak and frequently acts – ironically enough – like a jackass. Every team has a couple of people who love to talk about what they do and get reactions to their work. You just need to give them license to speak without clearing everything through marketing and legal first. The individual mistakes they make in these interactions will be more than offset by the giant mistakes you’re not making on the corporate level. (Ignore this advice if you employ John Romero.)

People might steal from strangers without regrets, but only a sociopath would steal from a friend. Be their friend, and they will line up buy your game. Some will even flame and shun the pirates on your behalf. These people want to love you. Stop treating them like lepers.

3. Offer a demo

Given the capricious nature of PC software, lots of gamers want to make sure a game is going to run on their particular setup before sinking $60 of non-recoverable money into it. I see lots of people who pirate a game “just to try it out”. We all know how that’s going to go. They get into the game, hours become days, and pretty soon they’ve had a blast, beaten the game, but never got around to buying it.

Don’t turn curious customers into pirates by denying them a way to try the game before putting their money at risk. Don’t give them an excuse to download a BitTorrent client and figure out how it all works. Make sure that the only people who turn to that stuff are people who are intent on stealing. Remember that P2P file sharing feeds on itself. The more people doing it, the easier it is to find files and the faster they download. The more people you can turn legit, the fewer seeds there will be, the harder files will be to find, and the slower they will download. Get the inertia going in the right direction.

4. Entice them with valuable updates

Game crackers seem to be quite competitive and release-driven. They brag about having the best games first. They pride themselves on “delivering” hot titles everyone is anxious to play. They’re also not real big on hanging around and “supporting” their crack for a months-old game when there are newer, hotter titles demanding their particular brand of mischievous attention.

Improve the game over time. If you make it so that registered users can just get the goods via an easy 1-click update, and pirates have to wade around for the right BitTorrent for the right language / release version, you’ve gone a long way towards rewarding customers and punishing pirates, instead of the other way around.

5. Clean House

Where are all of these pre-release versions coming from? When a game shows up on BitTorrent days or weeks before hitting the shelves, you can’t blame the internet. These people are pirates, not ninjas. They’re not sneaking in and swiping your gold master from amidst the laser tripwires, robotic sentry guns, and teams of heavily-armed roaming guards you no doubt have protecting the thing. Someone who works for you or with whom you have a business relationship is out there putting your goods on the internet. How is it you’re willing to make your customers bend over backwards to use your product via invasive DRM, but you can’t seem to take a few basic steps to find the person or organization who is stabbing you in the back?

There are a lot of ways of dealing with this sort of thing, and I hardly need to belabor them here. Just (secretly) marking various releases with a few identifying numbers will let you know where the executable came from once you see it in the wild, which will go a long way to plugging those leaks. If the review copy you sent to GamePunkz Magazine shows up on the net, you at least have enough information to act. Maybe not enough to drag them into court, but maybe next time they will have to wait until after release day to get their copy.

You should at least be able to make it so that the hackers have to buy one copy of your game before they can put it on the net. Once again, this means paying customers get it first, and pirates get it second.

Changing the way you interact with customers is not easy, but it has to be better than pursuing the epic failure of SecuROM and its many cousins. The very worst that could happen is that it won’t work, which would make these ideas every bit as effective as current anti-piracy measures – with the added benefit that they’re probably a lot cheaper.

If the suggested numbers behind piracy are even half true, then a little progress should go a long way to boosting profits and making PC development a less dicey proposition.

Comments (122)

1 2

  1. Gahaz says:

    *Looks around at others and slowly starts to clap*

    • Luingar says:

      *joins the applause

      I am a pirate.

      Here are the games i’ve actually purchased, or intend to purchase soon

      L4D2 (due to multiplayer[method 1])
      Half-life 2 (due to sheer awsomeness[method 2])
      half-life 1 (to use aged mods o awsome[method 2, mod community])
      TF2 (method 1, multiplayer only)
      Age of empires 3 (due to method 3 and one.)

      Ubisoft, EA games, pay attention to this article. it is pure truth. No matter how secure you make your DRM, someone, somewhere will crack it.
      it will probably take a day. it might take a week. it will maybe take a month… but sure enough, a download will be available. and people will download it. the longest a game went uncracked was some 250 something days. That’s less than a year.

      If you want people to buy your software, then the most complicated DRM you want to put in your game is a license key, which should be a max of 12 alphanumerical characters. that’s more than enough to guarantee that every person on earth has a copy, and still have only used a fraction of a percent of the possible keys. THATS MORE THAN ENOUGH.

      for christs sake. starcraft, which is STILL a very popular game, had a serial that was ALL NUMBERS!
      more importantly, the encoding algorithm so so simple, 1234567890 repeated til you filled the field was a valid code!
      you could type in random numbers, and then just change the last digit, and within a maximum of 9 tries, it would work!

      and how many copies did it sell? DRM doesn’t matter. it doesnt.

  2. Strangeite says:

    I am not much of a video game player; but, it appears to me that your analysis is excellent. This post should be emailed to the CEO of every major video game publisher.

    If the numbers on piracy are even half of what is reported, the companies need to rethink their strategy. Their bottom line is being directly hit and their current method is not working.

  3. Inane Fedaykin says:

    *joins in on the clapping*

    On another note, the Dawn of War expansion Soulstorm is comming out soon/came out recently and from what I hear it’s sporting a $40 price tag (for an expansion to 4 year old game…) and securom. Oh you better bet I’m gonna pirate that because I am not paying that much for a headache.

  4. yd says:

    You are spot on with everything. I have nothing to add.

  5. Deoxy says:

    Edit: QUICK!!!! Close comments on the Gygax thread!!!!! It’s sitting at “A natural twenty”. You see the point, yes? Ok, back to the normal comment.

    Unfortunately, being logical and RIGHT carries no weight with the people making these decisions.

    But you are at least being logical and right, so be proud of yourself.

    And this is the absolute best of an amazingly good post:

    The very worst that could happen is that it won't work, which would make these ideas every bit as effective as current anti-piracy measures – with the added benefit that they're probably a lot cheaper.

    How any executive could justify the expense of DRM, when that statement is completely and utterly true, based on the industry’s own research (and the common sense of any person on the planet who might still manage to have any) is beyond me.

    (Which is why I’m not an executive, as being able to make such bone-headed decisions is apparently a job requirement, and having a track record of ALL decisions being such is somehow seen as a good thing by hiring committees.)

  6. ws says:

    SecuROM and its ilk are the reason I gave up on PC gaming entirely. The use of Fascist Digital Restrictions Management ™ drives people who would have otherwise bought games out of the market entirely: “I paid good money for this… why am I being treated like crap?”

  7. Ingvar says:

    Amusingly, the last game I purchased did come with an activation code (in fact, the only thing I got as a result of my purchase was an activation code). I could play a few levels, in the demo, then purchase (or not, I guess) a “registered copy”. In fact, all I needed to do was to copy the activation code that arrived by e-mail and paste it into the registration box.

    I have not purchased HL2 or any other new Valve game, specifically because of teh DRM (my Windows box doesn’t have an internet connection, as such, it can talk HTTP and the like through a proxy, but there’s no NAT, no SOCKS or similar, for sound design reasons).

  8. dreamfarer says:

    Spot on, though I do have a couple things to add to point 2:

    2a.) Let your staff talk to your fans but insist on honesty. Nothing will turn a fan who loves into one who hates you faster than lying to them or “jedi”ing with the truth. It’s fine to say “I can’t answer that” or even “I’m not going to tell you”. It’s not the answer fans want to here but it’s at least an honest one.

    2b.) You don’t want the developers to be stuck speaking in soulless Marketing drivel but they also need to maintain some professionalism. Internet trolls may be deserving of scorn and ridicule but if the devs descend to that sort of behavior things just get messy.

  9. MadTinkerer says:

    See, this is why I LIKE Steam games. Sure, I have to have logged onto steam within 24 hours to play any of them, but wifi is getting easier to access for me all the time. For my money:

    Steam gives me infinite backups.

    Steam only ever asked me once for a string of random characters and that’s because I was installing the retail version of the Orange Box (and afterwards everything I bought on Steam, I bought directly).

    I don’t have to worry about DRM or even going out to the store…

    Hey wait! Oops. See, now that last one is a problem. I *want* to support retail PC sales. On the other hand, the way things are now, if Valve didn’t make their games just as convenient to obtain as pirate versions, I don’t know if I would still be playing much PC games at all.

    It’s hard to tell, because for the last six years I got used to not buying PC games because I couldn’t afford to upgrade my hardware. Then I happen to be able to get a new PC and the first (and only via retail) game I buy is the Orange Box. In principle, I do want to support retail PC games. But practical reasons have kept me away.

    Technical and DRM reasons aside, the *variety* of games currently being offered ROYALLY SUCKS compared to how PC gaming used to be. I LIKE RPGs. But I’m not going to shell out for an RPG on the PC that looks EXACTLY like 1) all the others that are also on the shelf 2) several games I already own.

    The PS2(I don’t own a PS3 and won’t even consider it until *maybe* FF13 and/or Disgaea 3) has a huge variety of games, all of which are rapidly getting cheaper by the day because of suckers who prefer to spend hundreds of dollars for a high-def machine that won’t play good games released two years ago. Disgaea 1 & 2 absolutely rock, but they would never EVER be made on the PC because of the combination of 3D and sprites.

    The desire for cutting edge “realistic” graphics is killing us. No one wants to develop a game that has STYLISED graphics, much less unusual gameplay, unless they don’t speak English and/or have a business model that involves giving the game away for free. Battlefield Heroes HAS to be given away. It could not be made in the current climate as an A-budget retail title just because it’s too different from the norm, and we’re talking about a FREAKING WW2 SHOOTER!!!!

    So in the end, while I want to buy games for my PC, it really seems like very few people actually want my money. They’re not making games that aren’t just like games I already have, and they’re not even making sequels that I want! Is Dungeon Keeper 3 (for example) really too much to ask for?

    The exception to this, as I mentioned earlier, is Valve. HL1 was, to me, a fun but *seriously* flawed game. HL2 was a big improvement but still had it’s own flaws. HL2ep1, HL2ep2, and Portal, on the other hand(s), were pure unfiltered awesomeness. Then, through Steam, I got some Popcap games, Garry’s Mod, Gish, Audiosurf, various Source multiplayer games (mostly for Garry’s Mod) and a bunch of others.

    I really want to support retail PC games. But unless and until things turn around, I’m sticking to Steam.

  10. Davesnot says:

    *joins in the clapping* .. Right on! Amen brother…

  11. Aaron says:

    I don’t do much in the way of PC gaming other than WoW (and various other Blizzard titles) but I agree with Strangeite. CEOs have forgotten their customer base. Well stated Shamus.

    Edit: Did I miss something? There seems to be a box missing in the info registry below where I enter my “website” …

  12. Freaky Dug says:


    Now we just need the idiots who run these companies to realise these things…

  13. Kleedrac says:

    Rebuttle forthcoming but if I may ask where does this absurd figure of “10% of people playing your game are paying customers” come from?! Also note I am not arguing these methods of cutting down on piracy (they are well thought out and would probably work to some extent) I’ll be refuting your logic as to the problem with piracy and (once again) it’s “cost”

  14. Bogan the Mighty says:

    I love it. I’m also disapponted to here that about the Dawn of War Expansion….Anyway I’d just like to toss out there that for demos when the game is finished they should also release a finished demo. Who is going to get hooked on a game when the demo they played was a half finished version of the final product and almost everything else has been changed. It really shouldn’t hurt to bad to update those things a little sometimes, and not tell you that the actual game will be different then this demo that you spent all night downloading so you could play for five minutes.

  15. Chris says:

    Nice post, Shamus. DRM is why I haven’t bought a new PC game in over a year. In fact, I think the last PC game I actually bought was Star Wars Battlefront II.

    Bioshock seemed like a fun game, but I read about the DRM involved, and didn’t want that on my machine. So, I purchased it for my XBox 360 instead.

    If PC game developers would get past all this DRM stuff, I would willingly come back to PC games. As it stands now, though, the majority of games I wish to play are available on both the PC and 360, and, as such, I will be buying them for the 360, simply so I don’t have to deal with the headache of DRM.

  16. guy says:


    You bought from stardock, right?

    when dealing with the risk of early pirating, run the beta testing in-house on a physically seprate network. you can do everything but test the online service, and no worries about hacking.

    EDIT: @ Kleedrac

    Reflexive proved that 90% of online players were pirates for a certain game

    also, securom one set a 3 mounth record for how long it lasted against piracy

  17. David V.S. says:

    I cannot remember which piece of shareware did this, but something I purchased years ago (FTP Voyager?) inspected the system’s “copy and paste” memory upon booting.

    I could freely download the product and try it N times.

    I could easily pay for it online using a credit card.

    I was sent an e-mail with a big code, which I merely had to highlight and “copy”. Then I started the software and Ta Da! it was registered.

    (I’d combine this with Shamus’s Point #4. It seems a small burden when there’s an update to highlight and “copy” a code from a new e-mail before starting the software. This would also provide the publisher with a non-intrusive measure (valid e-mail addresses) of how many people were still playing their game, which I would prefer to a single-player game wanting to be online to send information to the publisher upon startup.)

  18. Lain says:

    I think, because of my profession, business consultant, I’m more near some CEOs of different branches than most of your readers.

    I never understand this kind of people. They seem to live in their small or big kingdoms (their company).

    In my opinion, with getting the job, they loose their sense of reality. There are “Human Ressources” and “Marketsegments” and the undescribable mass of customers and so on.

    They try to mathematize the reality around them, to be able to calculate it. The thinking of that peaple become more and more abstract. The bigger the company, the more tthey loose their senses.

    And so, at a certain point of company development they forget the human factor. And that one really is an annoying chaosbringer, which mostly destroys the carefully made plans and strategies.

    And then they begin to cry about what bad things happen to them by other people or companies or in the worst case the bad customers.

    The music and the film industry also suffer the same problem, and in my opinion, your propositions also would help them.

    But it is far more easy to sue the bastards, then to questionize the own thinking.

    (Sorry for my business-english, not so much practice)

  19. Angie says:


    People who produce music, movies and e-books should read this too.


  20. folo4 says:

    ..and what’s your stance to people who pirate because there were simply no way to get the game. ( no internet, no local distributor, oh god)

    let’s see….

    1st point is already mostly unused by most developers I know
    2nd point is moot to someone who only plays single-player
    3rd point is IMO, useless
    4th point is useless to the ones who don’t bother about the gameplay and aims for the plot
    5th point is alien to me.

  21. Count_Zero says:

    *Another pair of hands joins the applause.*

    One of my favorite games in the world, Total Extreme Warfare (now Total Extreme Wrestling)*, by Adam Ryland, in it’s most recent incarnations, have set up one of the most obnoxious DRM schemes I have encountered, not because you need to have a rootkit on your system, or need to have the CD in the drive, but you must authenticate the software on their servers every. Single. Time. You want to play. Which means, in turn, you can’t play when you’re offline.

    Yes, Steam does this as well, but Steam has the wonderful feature that if, for some reason or another, you have to re-install the OS, or if you get a different computer, when you log in to Steam, the game will be downloaded again and re-installed again for you, if you want. With TEW, not so much.

    * I tried doing a TEW Let’s Play thread on RPG.net, but I found the image density called for to do the thread was much more then RPG.net could handle – with the 10 images per post limit and all.

  22. Randomscrub says:

    Dude. What’s with that video? *shudder*

  23. Shamus says:

    folo4: I didn’t approach that problem because there isn’t any solution for it, short of moving into those markets, which is a different problem entirely.

  24. Kanthalion says:

    Lazy town, Randomscrub. My son used to watch it when he was younger, funny thing is, I have heard clips from that song elsewhere and never realized it was from that show.

    oh yeah, and *joins in the clapping*
    (I need to figure out how to dig something and also stumble this post to get them out to as many people as possible–perhaps even someone who can do something about it.)

    Okay, stumbled. Now to go to digg and figgure out how to use that too.

  25. Daemian_Lucifer says:

    I want to comment on your number 2 here:

    I dont know how it went with bioshock forums,but I do know how it went(and still goes on)with CivIV forums.The publisher is the same here,but the developer is not.And they not just only listened to their customers about bugs and glitches,but used many of the fans ideas to implement in their expansions,which significantly improved them.

    And a thing more about consoles:As soon as they started coming out on DVDs,there started appearing pirate versions that can be burned on your home DVD burner and chuck into consoles.Now we start having consoles on the net,so how long do you think they are going to last before suffering the same fate as PCs?

  26. Kanthalion says:

    And added to digg.

  27. Phlux says:

    This was excellent analysis. What I hate, though, is the fact that this dialogue is so one-sided. It’s ultimately unsatisfying because nobody will respond with well-reasoned counterpoints.

    I want to hear the CEO of a major game company state their rationale for using DRM and have an open discussion about what they believe the benefit is.

    For the sake of argument I will make two points in the DEFENSE of DRM use by game companies:

    1) While I disagree with its use in general, I truly believe that DRM probably goes unnoticed by 95% or more of legitimate customers. Most people simply do not know it is there, and most of those that do take notice don’t really care.

    2) Forums threads like the ones about the Bioshock DRM represent probably around .01% of all owners. I’ll bet money that the VAST majority of all internet users have NEVER posted on a forum. The ones who did post had to be mad enough to take time to sign up for an account, fetch the confirmation email, register said account and then still be mad enough to post a message. All I’m saying here is that such forum threads have a lot of noise, and not much signal. A certain amount of the population will also sign up for 20 accounts just to post under multiple names to make their problem seem more significant.

    I agree with everything Shamus wrote. I’m just playing Devil’s Advocate because it’s fun, and because one-sided debates are unsatisfying to me.

  28. Shamus says:

    Anyone have the digg link? I can’t find it.

  29. Shamus says:

    Nevermind. I got it. Digg button added above for those of you who’d like to give it a push.

  30. Mr. Son says:


    On your second point:
    Yes, people who are posting angry forum threads are only a small number of the customers who are angry enough to go out of their way to complain, but there is undoubtedly a far larger number of people who are also angry about Bioshock’s DRM, but don’t complain out loud, or only complain to their friends. Either they’re not quite angry enough to do anything, or they don’t think it will do any good, so they just buck up and take it. Lie back and think of England, if you will.

  31. Eltanin says:

    Well, I’ve been a fanatic to Shamus’ cause for a while now, but once again the clarity and succinctness of the article has redoubled my zealotry. One of these days someone important (i.e. not me) is going to listen to you Shamus. Nice writing.

    I do have a technical question. What happened to the video? It’s “no longer available”. What did it show?

  32. Sauron says:

    I said this when Orange Box got released and I’ll say it again: the most effective ways to fight piracy are to reduce the hassle of obtaining the product and to produce content people actually want. I know a lot of people who generally pirate games but who ended up buying Orange Box and (more recently) AudioSurf because they are _quality_ and _worth paying for_. Just sayin’.

  33. Robert says:

    I like your point about cleaning house. You should send that to Hollywood as well. All the crap you read about piracy in China and Canada*, and yet most of the pirated DVDs my niece bought in China** were screener copies, given to Academy members to review before the voting for the Academy Awards.

    *Each are apparently responsible for the majority of pirated DVDs, so between them they total more than 100% of worldwide piracy!

    **The only way to get the movies, because Hollywood hasn’t released much in China.

  34. Eltanin says:

    Re: the video. Thanks for fixing the link. I guess.

    I was utterly horrified yet I could not look away. Kinda like roadkill.

    My brain needs scrubbing now.


  35. Ed says:

    [Stands on desk]
    Oh Captain! My Captain!

  36. Bogan the Mighty says:

    I’ve got to agree with Daemian_Lucifer here about the consoles. All these companies want to jump onto the console bandwagon because you can’t pirate copies. That is as far from the truth as you can get. Most of them are jumping ship to the 360 which can be hacked and pirated just as easy as a computer can along with the original x-box. I actually can’t say I don’t know anyone with an x-box that doesn’t have at least one pirated game. The PS2 was a little bit of a hassle since it doesn’t normally come with a hdd, but it was still relatively easy. I know there are no hacks for the PS3 yet or at least the last time I checked, but you can bet it’ll get done. The Wii might be the safest bet with the consoles I’m just not too sure. Anyway letting the pc market die and all the publishers switching to the consoles are going to kill the video game market as a whole. I personally believe that as long as you have a hdd on something you can do whatever it is you feel like. Pirating might be a little harder to do on consoles at the moment, but if they don’t have pc games to pirate then they’ll just concentrate on the console market and we’ll be here all over again begging for the video game market to not keel over. So again I’m with Shamus because running away from the problem isn’t going to solve it, just make the problem worse where ever it is they run to.

  37. Cat Skyfire says:

    The Demo idea is the best. I’ve bought most of my games after having the chance to play them a bit, and deciding “I want more”. There are some where the demo is enough to say that I won’t want it, but that just saves me frustration, and doesn’t leave me hating a company for making me pay $60 for something I didn’t like. (If a company has another demo, I may try it, if I wasn’t screwed over first, and boom, buy.)

    The two most interesting demo ideas I’ve seen have been the time-based demo (For Diner Dash and the like). They give you long enough to get hooked or to hate it.
    The other was what Robin Hood: Legend of Sherwood did. Their demo wasn’t actually a scenario in the game, but similar. So if you liked how it played out, you weren’t replaying what you’d already tried.

  38. Cadamar says:

    Damn Shamus! Makes me want to start a game company just so I can follow your rules.

  39. Kobyov says:


    This is exactly what needs doing

  40. Jansolo says:


    Another one:

    6.- Adjust prices.

    I’m sure that the 60$ cost tries to compensate for the losses due to piracy.

    But I think 30$ could attract more than the double of customers. Enough as a begining of to make a profit.

    For instance, old games that worths the money are: Jade Empire, Kingths of the old republic II, the Elder scrolls III: morrowind… all of them below 20$

  41. Shawn says:

    Very nice. I do hope some publishers/devs listen. Empower the buying community, dont torture us. (I do occasionally buy a good game)

    but ive got another point:

    Make a game with actual replay value… If your game is a oneshot then youve seen it all… well its not worth 60bucks to a discerning and finicky gamer.

    Heck try supporting a mod community for the longevity of your game.

    The old “thanks for your 60$ suckers” mentality of old is not helping anyone.

    Try the console market… they buy anything.

  42. Droniac says:

    In response to #1:

    No. A pirate is going to generate a CD key and enter it and then apply a crack over his game after the install and pray it works properly. You can say what you want about DRM – and I certainly don’t enjoy it either – but your comparison was way off.

    Otherwise a nice entry and I hope some developers and publishers take notice.

  43. Sarah says:

    Well, Shamus, it’s sort of unfair how right you are.

    At the same time, it might just be that these things make too much sense. Ordinary large business strategies are completely unsuitable for the passionate, personable, communicative, intelligent customer of the gaming community.

    At any rate, have you ever thought about going out for CEO of a video game company? You might try for ridiculously well-paid consultant, at any rate.

  44. Viktor says:


    Also, Gravatars are broken for me, just FYI.

  45. Daemian_Lucifer says:


    Not really.First,entering the key is not always necessary when the game is cracked.Second,if you download a pirate,there are always comments saying if it works or not.Third,if you buy the pirate in some country where piracy is legit,you can even return your copy and choose another one if the one you bought doesnt work(not to mention that in a day or two after you return it,it will become workable).

    EDIT:Yeah,I dont see gravatars either.

  46. Kotenku says:

    Absolute truth. Full support.

  47. Katy says:

    Bravo. Excellent advice. I hope someone is listening.

  48. kdorian says:

    I agree with pretty much everything you said – speaking as a former game buyer.

    Yeah, former. I don’t buy pirate copies and never have (except once, by accident); but after getting burned a couple of times by anti-piracy measures in games I’d legitimately purchased, I stopped buying games except online. After I got burned by anti-piracy measures for online products, I stopped buying almost entirely, with the sole exception of Eschalon Book I (and Book II, whenever it comes out).

    So not only did the companies I used to buy from lose an existing customer, but so did almost everyone else that I might buy from in the future.

  49. Nice article, Shamus. However, I am curious about one point: How would you suggest companies register legitimate buyers of their product (as suggested in #4) if even entering a license code is considered too onerous for the customer (as outlined in #1)?

  50. Jeff says:

    Reflexive proved that 90% of online players were pirates for a certain game

    No, they claimed it, without any sort of evidence or definition.

    Hellgate London’s got this guy called (message board name) Scapes, who was staff at a HGL fansite, and then got hired as by Falgship Studios a “community manager”. Essentially, he not interfaces between FSS and the official forum community. He’s extremely popular, and you can almost feel animosity towards FSS go away when he’s talking, because you get the feeling he’s One Of Us.

    Sure beats 2kGames’ forum policy, eh?

  51. GAZZA says:

    As usual Shamus I’m in 100% agreement with all of your points, and I also second the posters who have noted that consoles aren’t any magic anti-piracy tool for game writers either; as pointed out, the reason it’s comparatively rare to pirate Xbox or Wii games at present is because most people using Bit Torrent and the like are playing games on the PC, so that’s what gets cracked. Eliminate games on the PC and you don’t eliminate gamers; they’ll just start expecting their console games to be available instead, and they will be. Trying to suppress technology to create discs for the Xbox, PS3, or Wii will be futile in probably even the short run, let alone the long run. All of the consoles have mechanisms to remove or work around copy protection; they’re not difficult to find if you’re in to that sort of thing (or if you just want to put Linux on it, or something).

    It may be that the days of million dollar budgets for the graphics and audio teams are numbered, and that we’ll see more smaller games. It’s hard to see that as an entirely bad thing; I’m sure I’m not the only gamer here who LIKES good graphics but could easily name several pretty games that sucked and ugly ones that rocked.

  52. […] the Rings’ comic series, has a two part look at PC game Piracy. Part 1 is here, and part 2 is here. While he discusses Piracy in part one as reaction to another article, it is Part 2 that is more […]

  53. Matt P says:

    This is interesting. A one day snapshot of a very popular torrenting site. Overall it seems to support your theories Shamus, IMO. For example: “While there's more strategic games there, what's also worth noting that the current big game – Sins of A Solar Empire – is absent, despite sitting #2 in the US retail charts. Which you may say is a cute demographic snapshot – though, I'll note, that while relatively few people are downloading it, despite the fact it has no copy protection, it's the second-most seeded torrent – even if no-one's taking, people seem determined to try and distribute it for some reason.” Go Sins!
    Still, if you were to add a 6th step to your guide using this info it would have to be “Don’t make shooters”. Those things get pirated like crazy, possibly just because they’re the biggest genre right now.

  54. ArchU says:

    The most difficult part would seem, to me, getting this kind of suggestion to somebody high enough in the chain of command of a gaming giant – somebody who can make a difference with their decisions (simply, an executive).

    It needs to be taken much deeper than the public face of the company where it would often be filed away (or conveniently lost?) by somebody too afraid of losing their job from the potential restructuring that such processes may, or not, invoke.

  55. ArchU says:

    #53 Matt P.: “Still, if you were to add a 6th step to your guide using this info it would have to be “Don't make shooters”. Those things get pirated like crazy, possibly just because they're the biggest genre right now.”

    Or it could be that they’re pirated like crazy because they’re hot items at LAN parties and not every player comes prepared with a legitimate copy.

  56. Matt P says:

    ArchU: That probably contributes, but it’s hard to argue that FPSes aren’t dominant right now for whatever reason.

  57. Elethiomel says:

    I would like to add one point:
    – Simultaneous worldwide release

    This will ensure that the pirates will not have 4 months to crack and release the game, and thus ensure that everyone in Europe with access to a pirating site won’t have played it before it’s released here.

  58. Facus says:

    Noticed near the top some one mentions their going to pirate Dawn of war soul storm, ya know what… I cant afford the game, its out of my price range because real life costs come first, so im to poor to buy it. But the day will come, when i can walk up to the store counter with some of my hard earned cash, and pay for some one elses hard work.

    Dawn of War Soul Storm, oh yes, she will be mine, yes, she will be mine.

  59. Luke Maciak says:

    As people mentioned above, the companies which are giving up on PC and switching over to consoles thinking this will solve the piracy problem must be living in some fairy tale land.

    I mean, if it is so impossible to pirate console games, how come the torrent site I frequent has 7 classification categories for console games, and only one for PC games? And how come X-box titles are always high on the “most seeded” lists?

    It’s kinda like movie studios jumping onto BluRay because it has more DRM – all the while you can pretty much already download every single BluRay release on torrent sites already. So futile.

    Following Kevin Kelly’s Better than Free column, I would add two more points:

    6. Accessibility and Choice

    Give your customers choice of the way they want to purchase your game. If they don’t want a retail boxed version, sell them an online download directly from your website (and price it appropriately not to undercut your retail sales). This way, your most loyal customers can get the game the instant it goes on sale. To save bandwidth you can simply use bittorrent to handle downloads.

    7. Embodiment

    What happened to the nice manuals and extra stuff in the retail boxes. I remember that back in the day when you bought a game you got an in depth manual and sometimes even some other goodies like game posters, stickers, cheat sheets with useful commands/shortcuts or other fun doodads. Nowadays you get a 6 page pamphlet, half of which is used as advertising space for other games. :(

    These are the things you really can’t download – or rather you can, but paging through a PDF scan of the manual doesn’t even compare to holding the beautifully illustrated thing in your hands.

  60. Stranger says:

    I like what I read here, it seems sound logic . . . which means nobody in the business realm will listen :P

    The latest game I paid for on PC was “Guild Wars” . . . my computer isn’t technically-improved enough to run much. I do like their trial code approach; you get one trial code per any of the three “campaigns” in the game. Nothing you accrue is lost, nothing is wasted, it waits there for you to purchase the game/code to activate it.

    The games come in a DVD case with stuff. Yes, a paper manual (and a PDF is on the CD/DVD too). A reference card. A map. For an extra $10-15 you can get some in game swag and some more “feelies” if you like that sort of thing.

    The game installs without a CD, by free download. I can’t tell where it stores the data cache . . . or how it runs without big libraries of models/textures/ares . . . but damn if it doesn’t give me a smooth game which only chokes after an Alt-Tab out of it.

    It’s also . . . free from monthly charges. Which is why I play that instead of WoW . . . I kicked EverQuest, I don’t need anything else grabbing my credit card by the balls!

    Before that, I bought Morrowind. I didn’t notice DRM at work there . . . just “CD has to be in to play” mechanics. Anyone know if there WAS DRM involved?

  61. J1nxter says:

    You said it, i have nothing to add

  62. You state that demos are for people to “make sure a game is going to run on their particular setup.” I think that sidesteps the more important reason for demos, which is that people can’t make that investment without knowing what they are buying. When I need to try a game before buying it (via demo or piracy), it’s so I can see if it’s actually a good game, and a 5% demo will show me that infinitely better than all the reviews, or even gameplay videos, in the world. Reviewers never have the same taste in games as me (even if they are sometimes close), but a demo will let me decide if I enjoy playing the game, not just let me check if it runs on my computer.

    I support piracy, not as theft, but as a necessity in the PC game market. I wish I could say all people who pirate a game to try it, and like it, get around to buying it, but unfortunately I can speak only for myself. I can, however, say that if publishers followed your advice, I would have no incentive to pirate at all. If I could try a game before buying it, and once I buy it there would be nothing to crack before it’s usable (as in, I can play offline and with no CD), I would have no need for cracks. I know that a large portion (though not all and perhaps not most) of pirates are motivated by convenience, and not money, so they would also lose their incentive if publishers followed your advice.

    Thanks for an excellent post. It pains me knowing that most publishers won’t listen, but I sure hope some do.

  63. James Pony says:

    I’d just like to point out that Valve doesn’t seem to have too much trouble with piracy. Out of all the people I know (although admittedly they are not many), not one of them is playing an illegal copy of any Half-Life or Source game.

    Updates are released more often than not and you get these updates by doing practically NOTHING AT ALL. Fan or semi-pro sites seem to interview Valve personnel on a relatively regular basis, and apparently the Big Guy himself actually answers e-mails.
    Oh, and the games themselves? Maybe they don’t have graphics to make your computer scream in pain and melt away, but I don’t really want my computer to make horrible noises and smell like burnt electronics. And they still look good. AND where the graphics themselves start to fail, the design and animations of the NPCs for example do not stand out like a needle in the eye – which is where the shiniest and more polished products usually fail, with unnecessarily awkward design and animations.

    The only problem I have with Valve and Steam is the necessity of internet connection, not that it matters too much when I have a broadband connection and play other online games anyway. And I get the patches and updates without hassle.

    What’s bad is that Valve, a company who doesn’t really NEED all the advice Shamus has to offer, is the type of company to listen and take the advice, while they who need it can’t hear you over the sound of how awesome their latest DRM is.

  64. Scourge says:

    I whole heartely agree with Alex Ponebshek, I confess that I also downloaded some games, games that weren’t avaible anywhere else for me (Yeah, I’m looking at you Deus Ex 1) and games which I just wanted to check out. So I downloaded hellgate London and I was amazed and wanted to play it online too, and I also wanted to support it. So I paid 60 bucks for it to get the special uncensored edition (stupid censorship) and I’m ahppy. I can’t run it on full settings or the like but I enjoy it nevertheless. Then there are other games, like hard to be a God. I found a download but first read a review and checked the game out via some screens and the official site and then decided that such an interesting sounding ame should be supported, another 40 bucks, but to my dismay is the game absolute crap.
    The fighting system is not that good, the camera position sucks and makes fighting even harder and the enemies hide several screens of while shooting at you with arrows (lots of fun trying to figure out where the arrows come from).
    I wish I’d ahve downloaded the game for then I’d had saved myself 40 bucks and lots of frustration.

    anotehr game, Restricted area, kinda like a daiblo 2 clone was also very interesting but I ahd to work 2 hours to get it to run, because after applying the 1.09 patch was it not palyable and I needed a no-cd crack, for teh version 1.10 however. Also would I ahve saved some money here if the’d ahve left the copy protection out.

    And as my mom said after i complained to her, I was jsut tied and needed to get it off my soul, ‘I couldn’t ahve figued that out…’ And i guess taht this goes for a lot of game users, not everyone knows how to screw with the various settings in the .ini files or with no-cd cracks, or even where to get them.

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