Why Developers Should Stop Worrying and Learn to Love The Customer

Ahoy Thar!
This isn’t going to be an Angry Internet Man rant. I don’t have the energy to just place a few hundred words of anger on this page. Instead I’m going to brainstorm and try to get to the bottom of this, and of course, I’m going to succeed where the corporations can’t or won’t. I’m going to solve the problems of Piracy and DRM. I’ve got a few ideas on the subject, things that will help combat this vicious cycle that’s just perpetuating both sides. Bear with me and I’m sure something insightful will come at the end of it.

Here is the current state of affairs as I see it; games get pirated. This means, at least in the game publisher’s eyes, that they are losing sales. Which in turn means that they’re not getting the money they feel they are deserved and thus they are taking steps to prevent piracy. DRM is born, and piracy all but ignores it, which means the people to suffer from the draconian measures are the paying customers. If you were to get metaphorical about this, DRM would be the police state rising out of fear of an violent (?) underground movement. The movement isn’t affected, but the civilians are.

The main problem with DRM is that it doesn’t work. Games like Spore which contain some of the most extreme DRM yet seen are pirated the day they are released, and so it does absolutely nothing to even stem the tide of piracy. The result of this, of course, is that the customers are left with a product that is inferior to the pirate’s copy. So, instead of DRM, game publishers need something else to fight back piracy. As I said, this isn’t going to be an angry rant, so hopefully I can write something constructive.

As I see it, there are two ways to avoid piracy. I’m going to use an example for each, as I feel they have, or would have, worked had it not been for certain.. reasons. Just before I start, I’m going to exclusively mark DRM as the draconian install limit/one account only stuff that is most frustrating to customers. Things like cd-keys and disc checks I see as exempt, at least in the broader scope of things.

The first way to avoid piracy is easily the most risky. Basically, you trust your customers. You make a point that you’re giving them a product without any of the draconian measures they’ve had to put up with, and you hope that the people who want to play your game are decent human beings. Yes, your game will still be pirated, but you won’t lose any customers, or even have people boycotting your products because of issues not present in the game. World of Goo is a perfect example of this; it was released with absolutely no DRM, and yet it wasn’t, and hasn’t (to the best of my knowledge) been pirated.

The second, and probably much more sure-fire way to avoid piracy is to make your product rely on interaction with your customers. This sounds a little vague, so I’ll try to explain it a bit. In Spore, for instance, the cleverness of the game revolved around seeing other people’s creations in your game. So you require a cd-key or something so that paying customers can make accounts, then share around the stuff. The pirates get an inferior game out of it, and your paying customers feel their money is justified. While this requires a bit of DRM, I don’t see this as obtrusive or annoying, and it would definitely feel like I’m not being shafted for paying for a product.

Valve is also a good example of this, although I suspect there is a lot more going on behind the scenes of Steam to stop pirates being able to play their games online. Something like Team Fortress 2 and the upcoming Left 4 Dead are entirely reliant on multiplayer, so a pirated copy is all but useless. So again, the paying customer is king.

Of course this doesn’t work for all games, specifically single player titles where user content and interaction is all but impossible. For that, you’ll probably have to rely on the trust factor, or perhaps you can provide something like extra content post release for those who registered their game with you, or some such thing. None of these are utopian, but merely practical. Yes, requiring an internet connection for some of these is annoying, but they are the simplest ways I can see to combat piracy without resorting to crippling your product for no purpose.

So there, my points are laid out, and while I doubt we’ll see it come to fruition, I’d hope that we see more expamples like this come into play, rather than relying on useless and frustrating third party ‘support’ which just makes those who pay for your game get angry.

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About Phill Cameron

I've graduated, had a look at the world, and spat. Now I'm devoting my time to moving from 3/4 of a games journalist to 9/10ths. I figure I can get away with 9/10ths.
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3 Responses to Why Developers Should Stop Worrying and Learn to Love The Customer

  1. Will Rayner says:

    Your argument “World of Goo has no DRM, and it’s fine” falls flat when you hear things like this: http://kotaku.com/5085915/90-of-world-of-goo-installs-are-pirated

  2. xthepoisonedspongex says:

    Perhaps, but do you think for a second that DRM would have prevented even 1% of pirates from getting their hands on the game? 2DBoy don’t think so, and I don’t think so. World of Goo has done startlingly well despite it’s piracy rate, and I think the fact it has no DRM has only helped them get sales. It’s more about the idea than the execution; quite a few people won’t buy something if it has DRM, but will if it doesn’t.

  3. Will Rayner says:

    I guess as a developer myself, it’s hard to just accept the fact that a lot of people will pirate my game.

    I’m very anti-DRM, and will not be including any in my upcoming games. I just wish there were more people out there who would do the right thing.

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