When the Real Game is Worse Than the Pirated One …

I’ve long been of the opinion that the best way to stop piracy is to make it more worthwhile to buy the game than to pirate it. Now, in a lot of ways this is hard for any kind of computer software, because it seems that for software the only product you’re selling is the software itself, and pirates can get that easily. The reason that, for example, no one really has to worry about automobile piracy is that reproducing a 2012 Ford Taurus so that it’s actually the same as that car is really, really hard to do. Not so for computer software; all you need is a disk that has copies of all the files and it looks like that’s as good as having an original copy.

Now, I’ve long thought that you can stop some of this by giving people reasons to buy games like really good manuals and bonuses. For example, my copy of “The Witcher 2” came complete with a printed game guide, a bonus DVD and an audio CD. One edition of “Starship Titanic” came with a guide and an audio book of Douglas Adams’ novel of “Starship Titanic”. While some of these things you can copy, too, they do give you a reason to buy it. However, I can see the reasoning behind the idea that it’s too hard to simply make buying the game be worth it more than simply downloading or copying it, and so that the best approach for publishers is to make it harder for the software to be reproduced. And that introduces the notion of DRM.

Now, I’m going to include all types of copy protection under the banner of “DRM”, even though that almost certainly isn’t accurate. So, to me, manual checks and code wheels are DRM just as much as having to be logged on all the time are. And so we can see that this approach to software piracy has been around for quite a long time. Some are less problematic than others. For example, unless you lose your manual or code wheel you aren’t likely to worry too much about having to look something up before starting the game, and leaving the CD in the drive is usually not much of a problem. But a DRM that might cause harm to your machine is a little more problematic, to put it mildly.

But note something that all DRM has in common: presuming that the pirated version is at least a problem- and virus-less copy of the original game, all DRM makes it so that people who actually buy the original game, at the end of the day, have a WORSE product than those who pirated it.

For code wheels and manual checks, people with pirated copies don’t have to remember where their manuals are or do anything to start it. For CD checks, people with pirated copies can file their CD away safely somewhere and be able to run their games for as long as the game is installed on their hard drive. For games that have a limited number of installs, people who have pirated the game can install it as often as they want. For games with invasive DRMs, people with pirated games avoid that risk. For games that require constant internet connections so that they can download the content to you for a single player game, people with pirated copies can play without having to have their internet connection on or, in fact, without having broadband at all. Add in that at least in the past crackers used to also enable cheats, and you end up with the pirated copy being better all around than the original even if you didn’t consider the fact that the pirated copy is free.

As you can see from the above paragraph, DRM has gotten worse over the years, and the gap in quality of product between pirated games and the originals is growing. While it might be hard to make the original product better than pirated copies, it doesn’t seem like a good idea to set out to make it WORSE just to maybe avoid some people copying it.

If DRM did more than just prevent piracy, this wouldn’t be so much of a problem. If DRM made the games better for those who actually buy the game as well as harder to copy, that would be great. While I don’t like Steam myself, it’s a good example of an attempt to do that: it builds the DRM into a system that also provides benefits like automatic patching and the ability to completely redownload any game you’re registered as owning. Valve wants people using Steam to cut down on piracy, but they added functionality to make people want to use Steam. Everyone wins. Ubisoft, on the other hand, is going the opposite route, introducing restrictions without giving any benefit to the people who are actually willing to spend money to play their games.

If someone would be willing to put money down on your game but is tempted to choose the pirated version because your DRM is too annoying, that CAN’T be good for you.

2 Responses to “When the Real Game is Worse Than the Pirated One …”

  1. Crude Says:

    Steam removed even the temptation for me to pirate games. If I’m curious about something but don’t want to spend money, I’ll just wait and know that eventually I can grab it for a cheaper price on Steam.

    The downside is that at this point, I love the service so much that a game being released which is not available on it actually discourages me from buying it, but that’s another story.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      I’ve always been hesitant about Steam because of the issues around connecting to it and patching it and the like, but it’s a system that even Shamus Young accepts and holds up as a way to do DRM right, and it does it by making the system itself so useful that the DRM part is kinda ignored. Doesn’t work for me, but it’s the right kind of idea.

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