I have a story here about a major publisher who willingly delayed the release of a game until it was good and ready.
The stereotype is that publishers are driven by schedules and release dates, and will brook no delay from indolent developers. They would rather ship the thing unfinished and allow customers to climb on the naked scaffolding of the half-finished game rather than wait for it to be fully erected and allow the mortar to dry. PC Gamers engage in a form of Russian Roulette when they make a purchase, never sure if their non-returnable selection will be actual entertainment or merely an invitation to participate in an ersatz beta. The latter is the very opposite of entertainment – it takes hours that would normally be alloted to entertainment and instead sinks them into the long tedium of coaxing buggy software into doing what it should. Files are re-installed, patches are applied, saved games are corrupted, drivers are fiddled with, and in the end, many hours are spent in a state of non-entertainment. The fact that publishers are not hunted down and killed like dogs for this business is enduring proof that videogames don’t turn us into unthinking killbots. If you tried selling other products that were broken out of the box and non-returnable, the return desk at Wal-Mart would need to be be encased in bullet-proof glass.
But like I said, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes a major publisher is willing to delay a release. In this case, the publisher is Atari, and the thing they’re willing to wait for is the new DRM scheme. From the announcement:
Atari has been working closely with Obsidian and Ossian to try to integrate the new system with NWN2 and MoW specifically. Although we wanted the security modifications to go out with Update 1.12, it simply was not ready in time so we unfortunately had no choice but to push it into Update 1.13.
I realize that many of you are anxious to get your hands on Mysteries of Westgate, and I know from firsthand experience that it is a fantastic adventure. MoW has been ready to ship for a while now and we are close to finalizing the new security system that will ensure that it has its proper day in the sun. In the meantime, we are working hard to keep cool information about the game coming.
When gamers discover the game they just bought is buggy and unfinished, they usually respond to this treatment through the only channel available to them: They complain loudly in forums which are read and moderated by contractors who were hired by people who work for a guy who sometimes gets to meet with the representative for the guy responsible for the premature release of the game in the first place. There are so many layers of insulation between the white-hot rage of the fans and the decision makers that forums serve as a sort of soundproof vault where people are directed to go and voice their grievances. At some point PR might get involved in an attempt to calm the enraged masses, lest they hurt themselves in their ineffectual frenzy. The contrition expressed is directly proportional to the bad press they receive, which is to say: Faint and momentary.
So I’m not really surprised that publishers keep doing it. What I am surprised is that Atari is willing to lose money in an effort to harden an expansion pack against the digital cutlasses of internet pirates. Losing money? Wasn’t that the problem you were trying to solve in the first place?
I’m very curious what this new system is and what sort of hassles and obligations it will place on legit users. I wonder how many of them will know what they’re getting into when the 1.13 update goes live. This could be innocuous from the user’s standpoint – maybe this is just a system of sending exe checksums to other users in a multiplayer game, thus relegating the pirates to the single-player experience. But something like that is just as easily cracked as a CD check. And I don’t imagine they would be ready to delay a game for several months for such a band-aid fix.
I have no more proof than my own well-cultivated cynicism, but for now I’m assuming the new system (which they plan to incorporate into all future titles, yikes) is going to be just like the last fifty copy restriction systems: A system which creates headaches for legitimate users, prohibits fair use, but which will be quickly and easily obliterated by kids sailing under the jolly roger. It will be yet another system of punishing all the wrong people.
I’m eager to be proven wrong.
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55 thoughts on “Publisher Priorities”
My hope is that this is an attempt to replace the current protection scheme (the same “rootkit” one Bioshock uses) with a less invasive one, due to the controversy over it, as an attempt to appease fans and detractors.
I think that might actually be worth the delay, if that’s the case.
I’m willing to bet that whatever the new copy protection is, it’ll be beaten within three weeks and the delay will have gained them [delay time + 3 weeks] before an illegal download is available, at the cost of [delay time] to legitimate users.
“I think that might actually be worth the delay, if that's the case.”
Um, why not rip out the copy protection altogether? It would still make the Christmas release (MAKE money), not be mass-pirated before Christmas (few loses to the money made in the prior step), cost them less (SAVE money). Piracy of the title will remain virtually unchanged, and they end up spending less and making more.
Um… ? Yeah, what Shamus said.
Also, as Shamus has pointed out well, is that this is the same company that WOULDN’T wait for real reasons. I don’t understand the idiocy. :-(
Edit: “3 weeks”?!? You’re an optimist. The vast majority of DRM schemes are defeated before they are even officially released. “at the cost of [delay time] to legitimate users.” No, at the cost of MISSING A CHRISTMAS RELEASE, which is just unbelievably stupid.
Given how crowded the Christmas release schedule was, taking the time to polish their game would have made sense.
Taking the time to polish their DRM instead of just sending it out over steam or Stardock seems silly.
Interesting that they’re holding back because of the DRM system, rather than because of gameplay issues. I do wonder what their new DRM system has.
This (the “wait-until-it’s-ready”, not the “wait-until-we’ve-got-better-DRM”) is one of the reasons I like the console world: patching a console game is very hard (doable on the current generation, but only just), if not impossible (all previous consoles). This means that the developers do have to fully test their game, because they don’t get a second chance with any bugs. There’s very few major bugs I’ve experienced or heard of in console games, compared to some PC games where you have to install multiple patches and carefully adjust the settings to get them to run.
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Since they’re taking the time to polish their DRM, are they also taking the time to make sure the game itself is polished, or is that going to be a bug ridden mess because it wasn’t worth concentrating on, even though they had the extra time while the DRM is polished?
As an interesting, contextual aside, Atari is in danger of being dropped by NASDAQ as it’s stock value has dropped below $15/share. In an attempt to delay this action, Atari announced that it was in talks with Infogrames concerning a possible purchase.
What. The hell.
That’s just plain weird. And lame.
Curiously, though, that thread you linked isn’t locked, but it only has two replies, and they aren’t exactly fuming.
Richard: Considering the outstanding job Obsidian did on Mask of the Betrayer (the other NWN2 expansion, which was really a phenomenal RPG experience for me), I think there’s a good chance that MoW will actually be very nicely polished when it comes out. Not that I’m enjoying waiting…
Color my cynical. I guarantee the man-hours made available by this delayed release are not, in a large part, going to additional testing and debugging. There’s probably some of that, but the team has almost certainly been put on other projects. They’re not going to compound a time-value loss with piles of additional man-hour expenses.
When they release a solid, functioning game with a reasonable DRM I’ll be impressed.
As will all the pirates, soon enough.
(Note: I’m not a pirate, I use GameTZ, but idiocy like this really makes me want to stick it to the idiot game companies)
It frustrates me to no end how one-sided the DRM “debate” is. I want the DRM-loving publishers to respond directly to one of these articles that Shamus and many others have written about their loathsome practices.
What do they see as the benefits of DRM? What is the business case for its use? Are they aware of just how unpopular it has become and just how many problems it causes? How do they feel about companies like Stardock that have eschewed the practice and are still doing just fine?
Anyone know of an interview/debate like this that has been put down on the interweb somewhere? I’d love to read it.
Aaarrgh! This is making me angry! Delaying a game for a DRM system, are they out of their minds? RAAAAGE!
Oh look, Shamus is complaining about Neverwinter Nights 2 again. Imagine that. While I hate opressive DRM as much as anyone (still haven’t played Bioshock), we don’t even know what the scheme is yet. Besides, what do you suppose the MoW developers are doing while waiting for the new DRM to be ready? Sitting on their hands? I doubt it. Odds are they’re finishing the game, something they might not have done otherwise.
Any time a publisher decides to give the devs more time rather than excreting a half-finished product to meet the Christmas buying season I feel like the gamers win. Yes, the reasons given are abhorent, and I look forward to seeing the day-0 cracks, but choosing to post hate on a delayal notice for a game you probably aren’t going to bother playing anyway seems a little un-called for
I find it extremely unlikely that the devs are continuing to work on the game. They said that the game was completed last year, which means that a “gold” release candidate was completed within the planned development budget that meets whatever “acceptable” level of testing is required by Atari management. The bits have been sitting around untouched since then and the devs have either been released (contractors) or are working on the next project.
The development budget has been spent and Atari has decided to delay realization of the investment until the DRM system can be “perfected” and applied to the release distributable. They are simply hoping (probably incorrectly) that the new DRM will delay the pirates long enough for them see a high enough ROI to compensate for the delay in release. They probably weren't too concerned about missing the Christmas shopping orgy because this is an expansion and they figure they already have their built-in audience. There's probably somebody at Atari who has put together a graph showing the loss of NWN2 fans over time since last expansion vs the expect return on the DRM. There's a point where the two lines cross and they really won't care about getting the expansion out until that time.
Thomas: You apparently never played Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic or KOTOR 2 on your X-box. The list of bugs and glitches that render the game impossible to complete is myriad and the list of bugs and glitches that render the game no fun whatsoever or reduce the fun levels is as long as my arm. It was one of those times I wished I had bought the PC releases so that maybe some patches would eventually come out to fix my broken games.
Have you got any idea how annoying it is to be 4/5 through a game and accidentally trigger one of the bugs that ruins any chance of successfully completing the last fifth of the story because you didn’t want to spoil the game by following a walk-through that alerted you to the many steps you had to take and what to do in what order to avoid the accidental landmines of things like “the Zalbar army bug” and “the galaxy droid bug” and “the invisible character bug” and on and on.
Too bad it didn’t have great DRM to protect me from the game. There are days when I think the DRM schemes that make a game unplayable might not be such a bad idea. Then I wouldn’t have to hate the developers as often.
i’m told a checksum is hard to fake, and if valve tries to do a checksum encryption, they could have steam update the list of vaild checksums every shipment, so that if the pirates generate one not in use, every game would reject it, and if they copied a checksum, they’d be at risk of multiplayer saying, “duplicate checksum,” and disconnecting them in the pregame, but without steam this can’t really be done.
actually, i can’t see why Valve can’t do the same thing with CD keys.
Barron: You’re not supposed to take it personally. The fact that I care nothing for the game is irrelevant: The values being demonstrated here are still grotesque and worthy of derision.
If you’re on the MOW team I can forgive you the defensive stance. Otherwise… what’s it to ya?
I wonder what the publisher’s reaction would be if they release that copy protection sheme that takes one year or something and then it get’s cracked within a week.
“A new record!” probably covers it.
I wonder what the publisher's reaction would be if they release that copy protection sheme that takes one year or something and then it get's cracked within a week.
“Alright gang: You remember how fast it was broken last time, so this time, we have to work even harder.
I don’t work in software, so I won’t get into the DRM debate, but I do work in program management in a different industry. It seems to me that if you’re going to delay a product implementing a risky new technology, this NWN expansion is the ideal place to try it out. Face it — it’s an expansion, for a game that has been out a while and had problems when it released. It probably won’t be a huge moneymaker to begin with. Where would you prefer to pilot your new technology — in a throwaway expansion for an existing game with a declining fan base, or in your brand-new mega-release that you’re banking an entire quarter or year’s earnings on? I’d vote to throw the expansion under the bus so I don’t screw up the big release. If the pilot works, the big release gets the technology; if it flops you’ve contained the damage.
Phlux: There’s a bit of a discussion in the anti securom thread, where the resident mod argues a bit from the corporate viewpoint.
Actually.. I heard some talk that this new DRM was going to allow for an official No-CD patch. If that’s the case.. it sounds like they aren’t protecting the game as much as the premium content??
For Atari, letting a game wait until after a cramped Christmas schedule isn’t surprising. They’re already hemmoraging money, they might as well get their releases out when they’re noticed.
It’s even worse than noted above. They’re no longer being warned of delisting, they have gotten a delisting notice from Nasdaq and are now appealing.
Thanks for using the term “copy prevention.” I think the only thing that will fix any of this is a return of basic consumer rights like fitness of purpose.
Instead of regulating content, I think the ESRB should turn to regulating whether the software even works, and then put out information on software that doesn’t.
I’m picturing a big red middle finger with the words: “ESRB: Doesn’t f***ing work” underneath it.
SecuROM has had frequent difficulties, right up to DFW. Starforce will destroy equipment under the right circumstances. Safedisc has always had public lists of CD drives it won’t work with, not to mention the version that ships with Windows XP, is a security hole (that’s right, XP ships with a real mode Secdrv.exe, you have to click on “view:show hidden devices” in the Device Manager MMC.)
The only reason that this travesty has gone on so long is because it is games, which is seen as unimportant. In many cases, I see it as stealing money. I’m buying a GAME, not a beta test.
Weeeeell this’ll last all of fifteen minutes once it’s in the wild. The pirates are already rubbing their hands together gleefully.
Also, it’s I am high as a kite” for future reference :)
Wow. I appreciate the effort, but it’s just not worth it. Pirate will crack anything!
Ultimately, any game you play gets to run on a computer that is completely under your control. Any attempt to protect it that does not rely on something NOT under your control is breakable.
“Specially burned DVDs”? No problem – the computer can read them, so therefore so can a pirate.
Rootkits don’t work – and even if they did, it’s like using a nuke to kill a mossie.
About the only scheme that really has a hope is a requirement for network access for online decryption every time you play. If your game is one that innately requires network access (WoW, for example), it’s possible to do that – but you don’t really need to, since that sort of game you can charge a monthly fee and just give the software away. If your game is NOT one that would normally need network access, then the price of protecting your game is to make it unplayable in many situations (like when you’re on an international flight, or taking the train in to work).
I do sympathise to some extent – but as Shamus has shown before, DRM doesn’t work as advertised. It CAN’T work as advertised. No matter what crazy scheme you use to try and protect it, at some point it’s running somewhere that you can’t control – and once that is the case, hacking the game to remove all of your protection is always possible, and typically not overly difficult.
Wow… Just wow… The sheer stupidity here astounds me.
I would just love to see the face of the executive who decided to hold back the game when he founds out about the 0-day crack that surfaced 4 hours after the official release.
this kind of decision making might explain why Atari are at death’s door as a company…
Thomas wrote: “This means that the developers do have to fully test their game, because they don't get a second chance with any bugs.”
The real difference is that console games have to go through an approval process with the console owner. The console owner, knowing that poor game quality was responsible for the complete collapse of Atari in the ’80s, extensively tests the games to make sure they meet a minimum standard of quality.
But memory is short. And now that updates can be pushed to the local console, the console owners are becoming a bit more lax. Better to ship this slightly buggy game now, fix it later, and capitalize on the hype of the title to sell a few more console this month.
For those with a bit of memory, this will sound familiar: It’s the same “logic” PC game companies started embracing in the ’90s. It started with a few “acceptable” bugs and then gradually grew worse and worse until you hit the era of half-gig patches being downloaded on release day.
Re: DRM. It bears repeating that 1% decrease in piracy correlates to a 10% increase in sales. If delaying the pirates by one additional day produces that 1% decrease of people who just can’t wait, then it’s more than worth their while. (Which doesn’t mean that I support virulent DRM, but copy protection isn’t synonymous with DRM. And we don’t know what Atari is planning here.)
Shamus, Atari has a HISTORY of delaying games “to perform additional testing and ensure the best possible quality”! The trouble is – after a several months long delay both Temple of Elemental Evil and Master Of Orion III were still filled with fatal bugs (not just scripting or even memory leaks – those games crashed right to desktop).
I wish Atari finally go bankrupt, so D&D license would go to someone with more honesty & skills. And I’d go to every effort to see this happen (meaning: not ever buying their games).
Out of curiosity, how does a company delay the ToEE for months and STILL have a game filled with lethal programming glitches?
I do agree that I wish they’d go bankrupt, as I personally hold them co-accountable for the death of Troika and the lack of Arcanum 2, not to mention how badly I wanted to RIP AND TEAR when I found out they’d ‘patched’ ToEE to remove the alternative lifestyles among river pirates…
But how do you do that? That’s arguably worse than what’s going on with 3D Realms and Duke Nukem Whenever.
there’s the link to the current discussion.
Also eager for Shamus to be proven wrong. I’m not holding my breath -,-;
I had NWN2 in my hands yesterday at a shop, and remembered some of the bad stuff I had heard about it, and put it back to the shelf. Lucky me!
And now reading this makes me chuckle. I mean, even some of the bigger music industry companies (the term “music industry” itself being a bad joke for everyone believing in music as art) are now turning away from DRM after realizing its huge failure, and here we see a game company pushing back a release just so they can squeeze in the newest DRM.
This is ridiculous. And dumb. DRM will be looked upon as one of the biggest failures in the field of computers & digital media in the future. Remember “640K of memory should be enough for anybody”? I am talking that kind of historical reference. ;)
How about, “in the future, there will be five computers in the world, each of which may weigh a half-ton.” An IBM CEO said that. I’ve never seen NWN2, but i played NWN and it was okay.
ShadowDragon8685, oh fellow Arcanum 2/Troika mourner, I hail you!
> Out of curiosity, how does a company delay the ToEE for
> months and STILL have a game filled with lethal programming
Maybe because they were implementing some other thing, some publisher-requested feature instead? ;) But, having stated my hatred for Atari, I must confess that I believe that Troika, while a group of very talented game-designers, never found a single good programmer for their projects. Arcanum/ToEE/Bloodlines were all filled with bugs to the brim.
This is so ridiculous and dumb. Even more when you consider how buggy and unfinished the original game was.
I second the wish of Atari going bankrupt so the franchise go to someone more trustworthy.
The game will be cracked in a matter of days, or even hours.
The game will be cracked in a matter of days, or even hours.
Or even NEGATIVE hours – it is not uncommon for the cracked version to be available on the internet before the game is available at the store. If that happens in this case, I’ll be laughing HARD.
no, i’d laugh if the pirated expansion comes out months before the actual release, and atari, HAS to release it, or loose any chance of a profit. hell someone has to have a pre-release copy, just hand it to a friendly neighborhood cracker, to remove current security, so it won’t get traced back to the source.
they get those, at best, when it ships. the media receives reveiw copies when the game is DONE.
Random passing comments…
Ossian has stated that MoW is finished and “paid for”, which I take to mean they have passed the game to Atari and moved on to other things. I doubt they are polishing it – assuming it needs it.
It’s a shame MoW has been held on to but I’d suggest the whole DRM thing is part of the story but also part red herring. There is no official site or product page for MoW, no mention on NWN2.com and only a passing mention on Atari.com. I’d argue they never planned to release it earlier or they’d have a more public presence for it.
Actually, I think they are holding on to it to release it with (or after) the NWN2 Gold pack…maybe they figure they’ll sell more copies of the more expensive pack.
As for the DRM, I have mixed feelings. I appreciate the comments here but MoW will presumably be small, making it particularly easy to torrent and since it’s digital only (apart from the Gold pack), those that prefer a real CD/DVD don’t have that barrier, along with those that like a real manual. Dunno.
Finally, for those wanting Atari to go under…yeah, I get that…but then what? Who do you think is going to pick up the license and respect it, instead of releasing a bunch of D&D-labeled console-only action games? I’m not saying there’s noone but it isn’t obvious to me that a different publisher would actually respect the license.
#41, Nathanael: Reading the history of Atari is interesting in that the brand has gone bankrupt several times and the company has changed hands often since it’s inception in the earliest days of console gaming.
Gawd…dunno why but my comment isn’t showing. Bad html tag in it, maybe…?
[EDIT] Right, then. #41, Nathanael: “I second the wish of Atari going bankrupt so the franchise go to someone more trustworthy.”
Atari, as a brand, has gone bankrupt several times. The company has changed hands quite often since it’s inception in the earliest days of console gaming. Go wiki Atari and read the history…not posting the link again, it seems to break WordPress.
NOTE: ArchU’s first comment was initially flagged by the spam filter for whatever reason. Fixed. Sorry.
> Who do you think is going to pick up the license and respect
> it, instead of releasing a bunch of D&D-labeled
> console-only action games?
No guaranties, but I don’t believe we will see quality of Atari releases any time soon, so… Why not risk a change?
I don’t know the history of NWN2 here (I take it there is a generally negative view?) but MotB is pretty darn good – as good a CRPG as has been released in many years – and I’m told by people in the know that MoW is pretty good, too.
I just can’t see too many publishers even bothering with the sort of sophisticated content that MotB represents. So, why not risk a change? Because someone else might not release “real” CRPGs at all. I suspect Atari’s financial position might force a change at some point, so I guess we’ll see then.
In my book, “big” CRPGs pretty much died with Troika. Let the behemoth die and watch indie-RPG scene flourish when people get REALLY hungry for RPGs :)
This is indicative of Atari’s typical behavior. Two PC games — NWN 2 and Dragonshard — spring to mind as wells of lost potential tarnished after being pushed out the door far too early. The latest incarnation needs to learn that instead of worrying so much about digital protections that simply do not work, they should focus on making good products that people actually want to buy. Effective copy-protection is only in the multiplayer realm, with cd-checks, or maybe even online activations, if handled intelligently. The issue isn’t about stopping every pirate, it’s making just difficult enough to deter the average user from pirating, which doesn’t work at all when you can download a no-CD crack.
The saddest part is the fate of developers, who suffer much more than consumers or publishers — After KotOR II and NWN 2, I won’t touch an Obsidian product with a 10-foot pole unless I’m absolutely certain that it’s not riddled with gameplay flaws and crippling bugs. I’m about about $80 bucks, Atari might lose a developer, but Obsidian will simply perish if they cement a reputation as a developer of flawed, unfinished products, which is truly a pity, since their games would have absolutely wonderful if they’d been given the time complete them.
Pushing games out the door too fast is just criminal.
KotOR2, oft-mentioned, is the most obvious. Taking control of T3-M4 for the prolouge, waking up on the Peragus asteroid station with no idea where you got there… Easily the best in media res game I’ve ever seen.
Then you get off Peragus, and it’s on to Telos, and then to the surface of Telos. You can see the quality starting to degrade some by now, but not a whole lot.
Then you get off the rails, and things become a crap-shoot. Nar Shadda and Onderon’s Iziz do some of the best jobs of being cities in CRPGs that I’ve ever seen, though it’s a pity you get to spend so little time in Iziz. Dantooine feels a bit sparse, but that may simply be because it’s the most expansive area compared to what all is available. That would’ve been a great part of the game to have a vehicle of some sort.
Then you get to Korriban, and it’s little more than a cameo re-appearance of some of a place from the original KotOR 1 (Dantooine’s not much better).
And then you get back on the rails after that, and it’s very much as though you’re missing half or better of the story, because you’re basically guided from encounter to encounter after that, with very little roleplaying.
It might be fine and dandy if you’re playing a Half-Life, but I expect more roleplaying, more time to slow down and smell the roses, and more reward for smelling the roses, than the latter half or so of KotOR 2 delivered unto me.
Three months later and they finally announce it’s a week away. I hope Shamus’ NWN2-rage has calmed down enough that he might pick this up for a review. Every review I’ve read of both the …Westgate and …Betrayer expansions has been giving them Planescape-like praise.
Assuming their lucky 13 update doesn’t add the sort of DRM that activates Shamus’ boycott, I’d like to see what a more critical eye thinks. Besides, it would give him another excuse to to amusingly rant about what the original game SHOULD have been.
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