The Publishers vs. The Pirates, Part 2

By Shamus Posted Thursday Mar 6, 2008

Filed under: Video Games 122 comments

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.


From The Archives:

122 thoughts on “The Publishers vs. The Pirates, Part 2

  1. Gahaz says:

    *Looks around at others and slowly starts to clap*

    1. 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, but I found the image density called for to do the thread was much more then 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. 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.

  53. 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.

  54. 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.

  55. Matt P says:

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

  56. 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.

  57. 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.

  58. 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.

  59. 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?

  60. J1nxter says:

    You said it, i have nothing to add

  61. 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.

  62. 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.

  63. 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.

  64. Zaxares says:

    Fantastic breakdown of the big steps that need to be taken to address piracy, Shamus. You deserve a round of applause. :)

  65. Wilson says:

    All good points. I think steam is an excellent way of dealing with piracy (because of regular updates etc), the only negative point is that you do need broadband, but that should become more common.
    I think adding more content over time through updates is a compelling reason to buy a game, because as you’ve said crackers don’t always stick around that long. Plus, everyone loves new free content!

    Also, Stardock have an excellent policy as far as copy protection goes.

  66. Wilson says:

    All good points. I think steam is an excellent way of dealing with piracy (because of regular updates etc), the only negative point is that you do need broadband, but that should become more common.
    I think adding more content over time through updates is a compelling reason to buy a game, because as you’ve said crackers don’t always stick around that long. Plus, everyone loves new free content!

    Also, Stardock have an excellent policy as far as copy protection goes, and they’re pretty close to the community as well.

    Edit: Oops, sorry about double post…

  67. Grue says:

    I’m disappointed that everyone seems to take the stance that “CEOs are decision-makers are idiots”. Do people really believe that many execs with lots to gain from a successful game will really just make decisions so stupid that any random guy on the internet who has played one game can do better?

    For instance, Shamus basically suggests that the game industry remove DRM and offer more extras (demo, contact with developers, extra levels, etc.). That’s a decent suggestion, but will it pay off?

    It’s pretty silly that the main argument is “it can’t do worse”. If 90% of games are currently pirated, and dropping DRM makes 92% of games pirated then that’s 20% worse. And offering extra content after the fact, that could just be a waste of resources.

    Usually in these posts everyone says how they don’t pirate, and I’m sure Shamus doesn’t. Well guess what, that means that you are totally out of touch with the problem. The execs who actually deal with this as their business almost certainly know more (and have more at stake) than the posters here.

    “Write about what you know.” The posters here know games (especially roleplaying games :)). They have spent hundreds/thousands of hours playing and studying games. Are the posters here students of the sociology of pirating? Have they spent hundreds of hours in the pirating community, observing people’s behavior and getting to know the ecosystem? Probably not.

    Everyone here is part of the same small niche that is totally divorced from the problem, and that’s why everyone is falling into groupthink.

  68. Zincorium says:

    Yeah, you’re pretty much right on the money here. Speaking as someone who has never pirated a game (I’ve downloaded hacked versions, but only if I’ve bought the game and just can’t find the CD), it would be really, really nice to be treated like a legitimate user by companies.

    I know Steam is almost verboten around here, but I think the real advantage it has over any other possible DRM is that it’s just plain easy. No CD key attached to the case or the manual, no rootkits installed, you just pull up the program itself and run the game. I think of all the schemes people are coming out with, something that’s out in the open like that is a better way to start.

    And correct me if I’m wrong, but steam doesn’t seem like it can be cracked nearly as easily as most of the rest.

  69. Woo! Go Shamus! Awesome post!

    Everyone I know has strict principles and never pirates, but the Neverwinter Nights crew seems to be doing pretty well with releasing little bits of extra content as their game goes on. You could also copy something they did with NwN2 and offer a “pre-register” version that comes with some extra bells and whistles. Not only is the game ON YOUR DOORSTEP the day it comes out, but you get some extra cool stuff inside. Then, after a couple of months have passed, they can let the people that didn’t pre-register download the bonus content as an add-on.

  70. Daosus says:

    Company execs tend to have a high turnover rate, and therefore tend to be focused in the short term. Many of Shamus’ suggestions are focused on improving the community in the long term. If everyone expects that the next game out of Studio X will be DRM-free and will have reliable updates for X number of months into the future, they are more likely to buy. Yes, it might mean that you spend more money on those updates, but that only matters if it’s not made up for by increased sales. Right now, no one is even trying this route.

    The same goes for the community building aspects of Shamus’ suggestions. Building a community takes money, and doesn’t bring in people for the short term. Over the long term, however, the measures might help reduce piracy and help build a community of fans for Studio X, instead of “the next big shooter.”

    Shamus hit the nail on the head when he wrote that this is a social problem, not a technology one. Lets be honest here, many of the people here are likely tech geeks. We know what will be cracked and what won’t. Dehumanizing your machine in the name of efficiency means you might put out the game a little faster, but it has been taken to such an extreme that adding a little bit of extra cost can give a great marginal benefit.

    And people really are less likely to steal from what they view as “the Man” who is out to screw them. I can’t even fault them for not seeing the relatively poor programmers who have families to support, because the whole structure as a whole tells each customer, “we’re watching you. We don’t trust you, we think you might be a terrible person.”

    The best way to explain the whole idea behind Shamus’ post is, I think, to point out that community trust and good will are assets in and of themselves. They can be cultivated to increase sales, or they can be squandered to create mistrust.

  71. Daemian_Lucifer says:


    I'm disappointed that everyone seems to take the stance that “CEOs are decision-makers are idiots”. Do people really believe that many execs with lots to gain from a successful game will really just make decisions so stupid that any random guy on the internet who has played one game can do better?

    Did you even read the comments?The numerous examples of stardock on this site alone?The comparison(s) between civ and bioshock?Or do you believe that stardock and firaxis are just as inexperienced as we here in doing bussiness and had a stroke of luck?What about valve and steam?Or are they just as inexperienced as the two above?

    For instance, Shamus basically suggests that the game industry remove DRM and offer more extras (demo, contact with developers, extra levels, etc.). That's a decent suggestion, but will it pay off?

    Heres a bit of an old example(cca 2 years):When ubisoft was making HoMM5 they wanted to ship it with starforce.But this news caused such an outcry from the fans and numerous emails,letters,blogs,etc saying that they wont buy a game with such an intrusive DRM.Ubisoft dropped starforce and went for securom(the older one,much less of a hassle than the one used in bioshock).And it paid off.I myself know that just this move brought them (at least) 5000 dollars.Now how much money did 2k lose just because of sticking with intrusive DRM which brought them lots of bad rep?Again,just I know of at least 50 people that decided not to buy it simply because of the DRM,which is at least 2500 dollars.

    It's pretty silly that the main argument is “it can't do worse”. If 90% of games are currently pirated, and dropping DRM makes 92% of games pirated then that's 20% worse. And offering extra content after the fact, that could just be a waste of resources.

    And what about the money they save for not purechasing/developing that dropped DRM?Besides,examples I mentioned earlier are speaking against your speculations.

    Usually in these posts everyone says how they don't pirate, and I'm sure Shamus doesn't. Well guess what, that means that you are totally out of touch with the problem. The execs who actually deal with this as their business almost certainly know more (and have more at stake) than the posters here.

    “Write about what you know.” The posters here know games (especially roleplaying games :)). They have spent hundreds/thousands of hours playing and studying games. Are the posters here students of the sociology of pirating? Have they spent hundreds of hours in the pirating community, observing people's behavior and getting to know the ecosystem? Probably not.

    I must be reading the wrong site then,since in all of the recent discussions about piracy,at least half of the posters either admited they pirated(some more,some less),or know people that pirate often.And tell me,who has better numbers:A CEO of a company based in a country with very strict anti-piracy laws or a guy that(untill three years ago) bought pirated games regulary because he lives in a country that didnt have any such laws whatsoever(me,that is)?Even public institutions here had pirated software.So yes,I did spend hundreds(thousands actually)of hours in a pirate heavy comunity.

  72. Deoxy says:

    Do people really believe that many execs with lots to gain from a successful game will really just make decisions so stupid that any random guy on the internet who has played one game can do better?

    Emphatically YES. This is the overwhelming opinion of workers in regard to most CEOs. Go read Dilbert a bit, and remember that much of his source material is examples sent in by readers (which he tries to make worse, but sometimes fails – I’ve actually experienced stuff WORSE than what’s in Dilbert on a couple of occasions, and it’s supposed to be “over-the-top” to be funny).

    Why is this? Well, look at the way CEO compensation is structured: it rewards ultra-short-term thinking (as in “this quarter’s performance”), but it really punishes nothing (when you fire an executive, it always seems to involve giving them a lot of money, as in 7-9 digits in dollars). The incentives are completely and utterly screwed up.

    In fact, the fastest way to earn money as an executive is to get canned as often as possible (yes, literally, and yes, I’m using literally correctly). In the long term, this may become problematic, as it become harder to get a job, but when you can make several years’ worth of CEO salary in one year before that becomes a problem, well, who cares about later? How to do this? Take a job, get canned, they have to pay out your contract (2-3 years, most likely). Lather, rinse, repeat. If you can manage to get canned from three 3-year contracts in one year, congrats, you’ve just received 9 years’ salary in one year. Considering the salary levels we’re talking about, that’s probably over $100million.

  73. xbolt says:

    *Joins in the applause*

    A great post, but useless unless the game developers/publishers see it. Get those emails sending!

  74. Phlux says:

    Regarding piracy on consoles: It has existed since they started coming on disks instead of cartridges.

    I will admit to owning a huge collection of pirated PS1 games when I was a poor high school student. I also owned a handful of pirated dreamcast titles.

    My PS1 had to have a mod chip to play these games, though, which ultimately ruined my PS1 after a short lifespan. My dreamcast needed a boot disk in order to bypass the copy protection, and since dreamcast games came on GD-ROMS, the full game usually wouldn’t fit on one disk, so they often cut out the music or something to make it fit on a CD-R.

    The X-Box needed a mod chip, and then someone figured out a way to load games without one. But ultimately to play pirated games you had to install a new OS on your box which made it impossible to play on Live for most games.

    What I’m getting at is that while these methods worked and allowed for some amount of piracy, it was universally easier to just pay money for the games, and the product was typically superior that way.

    Also, Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo etc… can and will brick your machine with firmware updates if you mod them. Also you usually can’t play online with modded games. A lot of people will say they don’t care about this, but consoles are true online gaming platforms now, so this is increasingly problematic for pirates.

  75. Dana says:

    I think that all of your points are excellent, Shamus. However, the weak assumption in it is that people are rational. For the most part, they really don’t seem to be.

    I used to make money gambling (counting cards and the like), and I saw first-hand that casinos seemed to be willing to spend WAY more money STOPPING card counters than it was ever likely to lose to them. Nobody likes anyone to “get the better of them”, and corporations (and their CEOs) are no exception.

    So I predict that even if you did get these suggestions to the right people, they would be promptly ignored by most (if not all) just because of sheer human bloody-mindedness. Adopting your suggestions would mean admitting defeat in their “war on pirates”, and no one wants to have to do that. ;)

  76. MrMessiah says:

    This is about the most intelligent thing I’ve ever read on the subject of piracy

  77. Ingvar says:

    Guy @ 16:

    No, from 21-6 Productions (via Garage Games).

  78. Laurel Raven says:

    Dunno if it will help, but figure it couldn’t hurt…thought this one was worth signing up for digg just so I could add an extra point to the digg count.

    Maybe I will get flamed for this, but I’m okay with that…I actually like Steam, since all it does is ask you to sign up, and then pay for the games you want, and I can do it all online from anywhere I can get on the internet. Doesn’t feel like I’m assumed to be stealing when using it, either.

  79. kanthalion says:

    With all these people telling pirating (sp?) stories, I thought I’d chime in that my very first pc game was a cracked version of ultima IV, I don’t remember who cracked it, but I do remember that back then most of the cracked games had fun splash screens proudly declaring who cracked it.

  80. kanthalion says:

    In the interest of being more on-topic, had I known beforehand that with a purchased copy I wouldn’t have had to work out all the spells by trial and error, I probably would have worked a bit harder on my dad to get him to buy it for me (the cloth map was way cool too.) This leads me into the point that I think-for pretty much any media, not just video games-people would be willing to shell out premium prices for games/movies/cds with cool permium stuff that you can’t get with a pirated copy, or even a lower price point downloaded copy.

  81. Grue says:

    Daemian: If you lived in a country “with no such laws whatsoever” then you weren’t a pirate at all. You were a simple law-abiding citizen.

    If you approve of Valve or Steam then you like the DRM-heavy distribution that most posters are complaining about. Perhaps I misread the thread and most people like DRM but just think it’s done incompetently in many cases (this is very possible—implementing DRM as well as Steam is extremely hard).

  82. Matt P says:

    “I'm disappointed that everyone seems to take the stance that “CEOs are decision-makers are idiots”. Do people really believe that many execs with lots to gain from a successful game will really just make decisions so stupid that any random guy on the internet who has played one game can do better?”
    Well I don’t know who “everyone” is but we’ll have a look at this. Yes I do believe that it’s possible some random guy on the internet can make better decisions than the CEO of a company. Because I believe that at the core both of them are simply people so are equally likely to be right or wrong. Moreover, as the CEO of a company you DO have a lot to gain from a successful game. You are in fact the most biased person to be asked about how to effectively combat piracy of your game. Hell, you’re a CEO and thus much more divorced from mainstream gamers than some random guy on the internet.

    “For instance, Shamus basically suggests that the game industry remove DRM and offer more extras (demo, contact with developers, extra levels, etc.). That's a decent suggestion, but will it pay off?

    It's pretty silly that the main argument is “it can't do worse”. If 90% of games are currently pirated, and dropping DRM makes 92% of games pirated then that's 20% worse. And offering extra content after the fact, that could just be a waste of resources.”

    Ummm, ok. It’s a nice theory you have there but so is communism. We’ll talk about this when you’ve got some facts. Until then have a look at the link I posted earlier. While I can’t prove decisively that Sins is seriously under-pirated -considering it’s sales figures- because the developers basically followed most of Shamus’s steps, it’s pretty likely.

    “Usually in these posts everyone says how they don't pirate, and I'm sure Shamus doesn't. Well guess what, that means that you are totally out of touch with the problem. The execs who actually deal with this as their business almost certainly know more (and have more at stake) than the posters here.

    “Write about what you know.” The posters here know games (especially roleplaying games :)). They have spent hundreds/thousands of hours playing and studying games. Are the posters here students of the sociology of pirating? Have they spent hundreds of hours in the pirating community, observing people's behavior and getting to know the ecosystem? Probably not.”

    I’d say the link I posted is a nice mini-study of pirating. Again it seems to come out in favour of the Stardock approach.
    Are you a student of the sociology of pirating? If not then your opinion is just as invalid.

  83. Daemian_Lucifer says:

    I was a law abiding citizen,but the people I bought pirates from were not.They did break another countries laws and were the first target of the police when the laws came into existance.

    And people dont dislike DRM,they dislike intrusive and pain-in-the-ass DRM.

  84. Lee Davis says:

    If companies embraced your suggestions, Shamus, I might buy games. But then, I just finished switching from Linux to Macs, so I guess I’m still not the target market. Sigh. Nobody wants my money for good software, I’ll sink it into pretty hardware.

  85. Felblood says:

    As somebody who hopes to one day own his own PC games development shop, I for one, have taken your wisdom to heart.

    Change is a slow thing, and those who have the wisdom to sell the product will invariable defeat those who have the skill to produce it, until one arises who has both.

    Also, on demos: Every demo or patch you release and every mirror site that agrees to host them are more links in the pirates Google search. And every page of links that don’t have torrents in them in a twinge in the conscience of that pirate.

    I know, because I am a pirate, and I’m not proud of it. I want to support PC developers, but I am a weak, weak man.

    It wouldn’t take that much to tip the scales in favor of the developers, because while they lose the majority of these ethical quandaries, the battles are, I hope and believe, often close.

    I am stealing your games… because I love them.

  86. Captain Fuu the Ninja Pirate says:

    You could use this same plan to help the anime industry.

  87. Mayhem says:

    Just as a final point which may help explain why Blizzard became hugely popular – all of their RTS games allowed the spawning of several copies for use in LAN play.

    This meant that once you bought the game, you could go along to a lan party or whathaveyou and all your friends could play as well. I believe it scaled as well, so while one copy on the network allowed two clones, two gave five or something like that.

    Now although this isn’t useful for internet play, almost every new game I’ve ever tried I first got shown or played from a friend – there is no way I’ll drop the hundred bucks a new game costs on something I’ve never actually tried.

    It also provides a strong incentive to get your own copy for while you don’t need one to play multiplayer, if you want to practise your skills…

  88. Chris Arndt says:

    It’s a shame that that TPTB won’t read this because the writing is stupendous.

    “These people are pirates, not ninjas.”


  89. Grue wrote: “If you approve of Valve or Steam then you like the DRM-heavy distribution that most posters are complaining about.”

    Steam is just a way of distributing games. Some of those games will come with overly aggressive DRM (like Bioshock) — but that doesn’t mean Steam is to blame for that (any more than your local game store is to blame for it).

    Valve’s own games can be backed up and played offline. The fact that Valve essentially requires you to purchase the game through their online store (even if you bought it in a box from Best Buy, you’re still basically required to buy it from Steam) is somewhat onerous, but doesn’t really qualify as “DRM heavy”.

  90. Grue says:

    Matt P: I agree my opinion about pirating are worthless, that’s why I didn’t express one. I was merely reacting to all the smugness and self-congratulation, where everyone is feeling superior to the people who actually makes the decisions.

    But after rereading the messages, this place isn’t the monoculture I thought it was—it appears that half the people like DRM (but want it implemented well) and the others doesn’t. Furthermore, there is some disagreement on where to put the balance between company and user: many of you have praised Steam despite Shamus’s calling it an “abomination”.

    So that’s pretty much the situation CEOs are in. They think DRM will help, and they want it implemented well (although frequently they fail to do so), but sometimes they favor approaches that will make many intelligent people furious at them.

  91. Simon says:

    I had a nightmare with the anti piracy measures for “BAttle for middle earth 2”. Pretty so after i had beaten the campign i tried it online, wich meant i had to activate the game online and such. However, i soon forgot my account name, and therefore tried to get it back online, and if i remember correctly i didn’t manage to do so.
    After a while after that, i reinstalled the game for whatever reason, and when i tried to play online, it told me to activate the game online. I had although done this already and couldn’t therefore do so again. When I tried to log in after that it AGAIN told me to register it, resulting in a closed circle making me unable to play it online.

    This is just the kind of shit that makes you think “Oh, fuck the online features, im gonna pirate games from here on”

    One game i love for its simple way to keep pirates outside the official servers are Warcraft 3. You need a correct cd-key to play online, and the cd-key can only be used from one computer simultaniously. you can create an infinite ammounts of accounts etc and install the game on an unlimited number of computers.
    Why does it have to be more complicated then that? I mean isn’t a cd-key enough?

  92. Kel'Thuzad says:

    Wow, lots of comments.

    I have GalCiv 2 and SoaSE, and both are very good, with no copyright protection at all.

    Now, when I installed SoaSE (Sins of a Solar Empire, for those who do not know, great game, RTS with 4x elements, fun space game) It asked me for no serial number or anything. For a few minutes I was looking around, wondering, “where do I put the serial in? Wait, they don’t need it? WOW!” So, they never even asked for it. Which is awesome, I don’t need to keep my serial code or anything, and they offer a free dl if I lose it. On top of that, I don’t even need the disc in to play it! I can transfer it to any of my computers (none of which are “hardcore computers” as in still get a bit of a stutter at lowest), it scales immensley well, and has wonderful customer support.

    I agree with their view: don’t hurt the customer, hurt the pirates. Plain and simple.

  93. Paladin109 says:

    >devil’s advocate

    So…the buggy…no…incomplete…hmmm, okay games these days are actually employing a new copy protection restriction schema? Very clever Mr. Bond…very clever indeed :D
    /devil’s advocate< Seriously though as much as I don't want to be a "Me too!" guy, this says it all.

  94. Bruceongames says:

    I agree with you about getting closer to the community and I was responsible for setting up one of the first publisher community departments at Codemasters. Also I worked a lot at bringing the press and the development staff closer together.
    However you have a huge problem when development staff openly go onto blogs and forums and engage with the game buying public. There are a lot of very agressive knowall fanboys (of all ages) out there. Who will attack, whatever you write. They know better about any game design and will tell the game designer so. They are very difficult to deal with as they have long practice as keyboard warriors so they know every artifice to score points. Not nice people and far from nice for development staff to deal with.

  95. Anonymous says:

    As someone who pre-ordered Civ IV, couldn’t get it to run on my less-than-a-year-old laptop because of graphics fanciness, and ended up waiting a year to play it because I wasn’t shelling out the cash for a new laptop just to game, I can tell you – I will never buy another game without either a demo or a publisher’s guarantee (not a ‘you can return the game’ guarantee, an actual guarantee that means I’m not wasting my time with installs, failures, and fighting with the store over a return) that it will run on my system, i.e. a site I can go to that will give me a success/failure notice. That’s not to say I won’t pirate a piece of software to see if it works, but if I have to go to the trouble of pirating it, it makes it that much less likely that I’ll end up purchasing it later. (I’m not one to routinely pirate software, either – we’ve spent close to three grand on various software packages over the past year and a half, including a $1500 dev package I could have pirated.)

    Bruceongames, the trick with the fanboys is just like with any other troll – DON’T deal with them. Nothing says you have to answer a post from someone who’s obviously trolling.

  96. Oisin says:

    Wow, this article is just fantastic! I strongly agree with what you are saying, most of these producers are making they’re customers put in loads of code and cd checks, but as you said, all the pirates have to do is click install. some times they don’t even have to do that! Fantastic Article, I hope to see more around here.

    EDIT: YES, 101st comment!

  97. Rycon says:

    This is a really good article, Im a pirate and even I agree with this.. lol.

  98. Wolfgir says:

    Have to say that this is a great article! Not so much in ways as to HOW to get rid of pirates as in how to keep paying customars! Good one!

    P.S Came here from link found on Bioware forum regarding Mass Effect DRM schemes. After the ten day bug, activasions for SP game is still draconic! D.S

  99. DKoala says:

    Shamus, I never post comments on blogs due to the more often than not inanity of the posters there, but I’ve been a fan of both DMotR and Chainmail Bikini (RIP).
    This is the best analysis of business practice I’ve read (though admittedly thats not a large pool to choose from)
    I hope you have seriously considered sending this to the companies as many here have suggested. After my hopes of getting Spore were dashed last week (Im refusing to pay €60 worth of probation) I’ve read all I can about the situation. What you suggest here should not be deemed as a rant but a doctrine.

  100. Ravens_Cry says:

    Heres an idea for all the publishers whining about pirates. Bring back tchotchkes for players! It doesn’t have to be part of the copy protection, but just give the players something they can’t download, something they can hold in their hands, and say, ‘I OWN my copy of such and such a game’. I believe a lot of the old Infocom text adventures would give players things, and while we can now take pictures of the ones used for copy protection, it still isn’t the same as holding a ‘mind forever voyaging’ bic pen in your nerdy little hands.
    You don’t want your potential customer’s to be pirates? Give them something a pirate can’t have.

  101. ern says:

    Pfft. Sins of a Solar Empire has been available online since just prior to its release, and I know a number of people who have pirated copies of it. In fact, everyone I know who pirates games has a pirated copy of it.

    It seems unlikely that by removing DRM, you’ll get rid of piracy, or even effect it at all. Pirates will pirate games regardless of DRM. It’s not the DRM that makes them pirate games, it’s the fact that *they want the games for free.*

    Of course, it’s kind of idiotic to argue that DRM is the reason for the death of PC gaming (and yes, it is close to dead at this point). The game quality has been lousy. I’d say that the death throes began when PC versions of games started looking like bad knockoffs of console games (with bad controls, etc).

    As for pirating on consoles (particularly the current generation), it’s virtually nonexistent compared to PC gaming. Sure, you can pirate Xbox games if you want. But virtually no one does it. It’s far more complicated and most people aren’t even aware that it is possible.

  102. Chris Mikaitis says:

    I agree with most of your reasons…. primarily, though, is the demo aspect. I pirate my fair share of games, but realistically only play them for 1-2 hours, realize I don’t like the game (or it’s nothing new), and delete it. The few franchises I am a die hard fan of, I always purchase… like Civilization and the Elder Scrolls series. Another point I would make is to allow for a more varied audience. I purchased Oblivion, but was unable to play it for lack of the shader 2.0 (or something) aspect. I had to download OLDblivion to play it. I could have saved $40.00. My only third point would be to actually make good games. I pirated all the new Sam and Max games at first, then later bought the game (first season compilation) because I enjoyed them so very much. (buying second season in installments currently). Just my 2 cents…

  103. Ichi says:

    Well, the thing is more and more game developers are going toward drm/online reg of the game. What happens when the support goes away for the game. Im thinking of the system Mass Effect has now and thats just stupid…
    If i buy a game i want to be able to copy it so i can use the copy and save the original. Not have to use the original untill its scratch and then have to go to their site to get the online version of it. Because in the end there wont be anymore online support for the game because game devs just thinks about their new rls’s and they allways will. You usally only see support for games going from 6 months to 1 year. What if i would like to play this game in 5 to 10 years? And the game is all scratched up? what then? Try to get ahold an used scratched version on ebay? That i cant play eiter because someone else have regged their name/email to the cd key?
    What the devs are doing now days will in the end kill the pc gaming all in all.
    Well, sad really.. You buy the game, your then supposed to own it? fysicly? That is think its your game, that you bought.. But apperently no.. ppl dont want to pay around 60-70$ for a game to basicly just “rent” it. Because thats what it is atm.(And yes thats the price for games where i live) And that the reason i think ppl download games because more and more ppl cant get a demo of the game and have to pay alot of cash for a game that usally nowdays isnt even done when its rls’d. I can understand that the companies wants to get money of the product as soon as possible.. but then again.. why then whine when ppl download it to see if its crap allover again?
    Atm theres only 2 game dev companies i trust when it comes to new rls’s due to the rest have just shown that the all they do is puke out totaly crap games. Well, atleast they are for a couple of months.. untill the consumer that bought it have acted as they’r personal beta tester..So they can update the game.. thats just freaking wrong. And thats why we have piracy.
    But the devs dosnt see that and thats why more and more ppl download the games to test em out before they even bother buying the games.
    Ofc you will allways have ppl wanting stuff for free.. thats life but.. there are some ppl like me that like to pay for games i like, but to be able to know if im going to like the game i basicly have to try the games out now days before i buy them because of the lack of respect the companies have to its consumers. And this is what they get usally when they loose the trust in their consumers.
    But then they go on with their whine about loss in income and so on.. wth, why not try to freaking rls a done game next time? Its not the consumers that have turned on you and decided that they would go and start looking in to the piracy part.. its the companies that dosnt know what the consumers want.. and thats 2 simple things;
    #1 A WORKING game that they own, not you…Or rather they buy it to be able to loan it ._.*
    #2 To be able to test the game out before they buy it.. I know alot of companies have problems with this but still.. its an important issue with being able to see if your pc can handle the game, Because most times the Recomended setting are way off.
    Dev’s get back the trust of your consumers by trying to hear what they have to say/watching their actions.

  104. Corylea says:

    GREAT post! Please send a copy to every game executive you know about. Seriously. Maybe they won’t read it, but if even one does, it will have been worth it.

    Mad Tinkerer, play The Witcher — it’s an RPG that isn’t same-old, same-old. It helps that it was made by a Polish developer who’s making their first game, so they didn’t know yet that innovation was “wrong.”

  105. Argiod says:

    My prime reasons for using torrents are:
    a) The game is expensive and I’m not sure it will work on my system…

    b) The game is so old it is no longer available commercially (Final Fantasy 7, for instance)…

    c) The game has an intrusive copy proteciton scheme that makes game play tedious…

    d) The game requires purchace of a new product key if you have to reinstall it more than x times. (Windows Flight Sim X did this to me recently. Due to Windows being buggy and crash prone, my system dies from time to time, forcing me to reinstall it. When I do, it trips a countdown timer that requres getting a new product key to activate the game again. This also happened recently with an install of Windows XP Pro x64 Edition. Now, after the OS itself crashed my system for the umpteenth time, the company wants me to pay $286 for a new product key in order to activate Windows. This is more than twice what I paid for the OEM install in the first place. I consider this to be no less than blackmail on Microsoft’s part. I liken it to buying a new car with an electronic lockout that requires you to pay for a new engine each time you need to make any repair on the vehicle. Ergo, I recently d/l’d a hack that bypasses the activation code and the Genuine Advantage crap. Now I can enjoy the OS I paid for without paying the graft to continue using it. It is especially annoying having to pay for a program after you’ve bought it, when it is due to the program’s inherent lack of stability. Microsoft is notorious for making its customers pay to be beta testers, then charge us even more when the damned thing crashes. If their claims of ‘more reliable, more secure’ are true, then how come they have to issue ‘security patches’ every other day? I think somebody should take them to task for their false advertising claims, along with their monopolistic practices. What I can’t understand is; how do they make more money being monopolistic, while having to shell out millions in legal fees to fend of anti-trust lawsuits? Seems like a case of ‘penny wise and pound foolish’ to me.

    But, hey! This is just my opinion; I could be wrong. After all, Bill Gates didn’t get to be a Billionaire by being totally stupid… and, perhaps I speak out of some deeply rooted sense of jealousy that I didn’t think of it first.

  106. Joe says:


    A. I’ve had the same problem with XP. My asnwer was to call Microsoft and explain myself. And they activated my windows. I’ve done it half a dozen times and each time it takes less than 10 minutes, faster than stealing it.

    B. Microsoft is hardly a bad company. I discovered that as a student, by joining certain student groups, like the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) You get free access to lots of Microsoft Software. Like say.. Full copies of XP, Vista, heck, even Server 2008. All legal and free.

  107. Dielie says:

    I am about to post this article to EA in an E-mail, six times. And then I will send it again and again AND AGAIN UNTIL THEY HaVE NO CHOICE BUT TO PAY ATTENTION.

    I have also added so security features of my own.
    They are:

    put ‘meat loaf’ in the reply

    put I wish to leave the matrix hidden like this in your return message

    put ‘I am not a robot’ on the fifth line of text in your reply’

    P.S: to ern, the strdock devs, who also publish their own games,(good for them) say: there are people who buy games and there are people who don’t. so DRM IS POINTLESS. the people who normally pirate will still pirate it, after the 2 hours it takes to crack the latest DRM, and the people who buy games will buy it.

    CASE STUDY:Demigod
    bundled DRM:none

    120 thousand pirates try to log on, crashs servers.
    If EA did this, they would almost certainly force a DRM infected ‘bug fix’ on everyone. But stardock said:’there are people who buy games nd there are people who don’t’
    Demigod rose to third in the weekly charts, dispite not being released at the start of the week.

  108. CIB says:

    This is a really nice article, I almost completely agree. There are a lot of ways to fight piracy, and taking your customers’ freedom away is definitely not one of them.

    It makes me happy to see so many people agree, since often you get the impression that no one notices that things are going wrong. Maybe most people don’t care or don’t even see a problem, but it’s good that there are at least some people who do care.

    PS: The lazy town pirate song is one of my favourites. Sailing the seas and resisting the regime!

  109. Ben says:

    So, is the logical corollary to number 4 that companies should release their games with debilitating bugs first, and fix them later?

  110. ExOttoyuhr says:

    This is an ancient post, of course, but I’m just now noticing that points 1 and 4 contradict each other. Without DRM — not even serial-number keys, “like some kind of king-hell CAPTCHA” — how are you going to keep pirates from logging in to update servers just like regular users?

  111. Mike Hunt says:

    My suggestion is make it legitimate to bust the front door down of everyone uploading cracked torrents and lets have fair game at solving this issue. They can download our software if I can transform their grey matter into slush with a baseball bat!

    By what I have read and the usual crap about how the publishers have their sales model wrong, how about taking part in a riot and getting a load of stuff for free!

    Shops shouldn’t be selling stuff cause it is wrong.

    The Government needs to look at why we have a sick society and reqalise that things like piracy is at the heart of the issue. A Whole generation has grown up thinking it is ok to take something for nothing and the system is wrong. Rubbish. Get a grip on reality as you are the people who will be around to pick up the pieces in the next generation! PIRACY IS WRONG.

  112. YourMother says:

    Didn’t read, just looks like a long list of boring ranting. Why is this on stumble? sigh…

  113. Alan says:

    I love the irony that 6 years later your links for “smarter” and “lives longer” are both broken. Maybe they would have been to games I didn’t own and would reconsider, earning EA and Blizzard a little bit of money from their backstock. But since I don’t know what they are, it’s unlikely. They’ve even lost the ability to try and pitch me on a newer release in the same line or genre. All because keeping URLs valid indefinitely is apparently too hard. (Okay, I can identify the second because I’m the sort of nerd who likes seeing URLs.)

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