Middle-Class Piracy in the Software Industry, take 2

To recap, I’ve written lately about middle-class piracy and how it affects the software industry. My friend, the pirate, a really nice guy who’s kind of lazy, is a prime example. He could buy stuff but often doesn’t because DRM and badly-done copy protections make it more convenient for him to just be a thief.

Last time I was in the middle of the software industry’s situation. As promised, here’s the present situation as I (and my friend, the pirate) see it:

Present-day customer fuckery

Today’s copy protections are just as shitty as those I described last time. I personally won’t buy anything that has copy protection, because of the way they do things – just look at the problems surrounding Starforce. Other issues with copy protections are playability on newer systems. I own Lord of the Realms 2, but I cannot play it without a crack. Same with Need For Speed: High Stakes. Same with countless others. The hardware they were written for is nothing like today’s hardware, so they just freak out on me. Makes it easier to just pirate the software that I legally own at this point.

Worse still are the idiot developers like Iron Lore Entertainment who abuse the hell out of copy protection and then bitch when it bites them in the ass:

One guy went so far as to say he’d bought the retail game and it was having the exact same crashes, so it must be the game itself. This was one of the most vocal detractors, and we got into it a little bit. He swore up and down that he’d done everything above-board, installed it on a clean machine, updated everything, still getting the same crashes. It was our fault, we were stupid, our programmers didn’t know how to make games – some other guy asked “do they code with their feet?”. About a week later, he realized that he’d forgotten to re-install his BIOS update after he wiped the machine. He fixed that, all his crashes went away. At least he was man enough to admit it.

Wow, it’s a customer’s fault that your shitty protection caused crashing without explanation because of a lack of BIOS updating? (Also, how does wiping a machine cause a need to reinstall a BIOS update?)

Iron Lore made their copy protection break in many ways to try and stop piracy. End result:

  • Legitimate users with a system that isn’t happy with copy protection crashed for no obvious reason, and Iron Lore apparently treated them like shit when they (very appropriately) complained.
  • Pirates ignored this game. Sorry, but it wasn’t big enough to get hit with a ton of piracy – most piracy was due to curiosity, not people saying to themselves, “MAN I GOTS TA HAVE THIS SHIZ-NIT!” I know a lot of pirates, at least in an online capacity (yes, as I said, I have no real friends), and none of them were interested in yet another D2 clone.

And now for something completely the same

The sad truth is that Iron Lore isn’t unusual. Their methods for copy protection have been done in many ways since software was first being protected. They used well-known methodologies based on the belief that security can only be obtained by assuming any little anomaly is the customer trying to steal from you. Bury your copy protections deep in the code. Make calls to check validity in every place you can. Don’t let the user know it’s a copy-protection-related crash.

So Iron Lore and other software developers actually suffer. They are stupid enough to pay for software protection systems that aren’t 100% stable. They are gullible enough to think it’ll stop piracy. They are arrogant enough to believe the customer is to blame for their problems in a game that was never interesting to begin with. That’s right! If your game doesn’t suck, you won’t go under, regardless of piracy… read on.

The good news?

Yes, there is good news in the software industry. It is Stardock. Steam is a very close second, only losing points due to the default requirement of an internet connection. But both companies avoid copy protection in a traditional sense. Stardock in particular has always been strongly against copy protection, a trait that my friend, the pirate, has valued greatly — not because he can easily steal, but because he sees a lot of value in buying their games. He never has to worry about a bad copy protection. He gets software very fast after purchase. They update the hell out of their games with new features, not just bug fixes. They update regularly, making piracy annoying – new update comes out, wait for it to be posted on some warez site, download it, find out it’s actually the German version, rinse and repeat. Or just buy the games online for and instant download, and get all that stuff with no hassles. Just perfect for those middle-class pirates.

And Stardock’s sales? Damned good. Galactic Civilizations 2 has been better than budget by a pretty good amount (I believe Brad said sales for GC2 and the Dark Avatar expansion fully funded the Twilight expansion so they didn’t have to worry about Twilight’s budget at all). Sins of a Solar Empire, published by Stardock, sold over 200,000 units in its first month. With no copy protection. Piracy has some impact, but clearly it is not the sole force in success of a game. Stardock knows this and says, “meh” to copy protection.

End result:

  • Legitimate users get a great experience, “instant” downloads (depending on connection speed, mind you), optional CD shipped (at least, Stardock does this with a lot of their stuff – not sure about Steam), and NO worries about yet another badly implemented copy protection system.
  • Pirates have it good, too, no doubt about it. But for some reason, they haven’t totally destroyed Stardock. Makes me wonder if maybe the anti-piracy vocalists are exaggerating just a little tiny bit…?

For people who don’t get it about copy protection being the debbil

It is. Copy protection was invented by Satan in an effort to get people to pirate shit:

  • Copy protection is not cheap. To get copy protection on a game is to increase the cost to the consumer by a not-insignificant amount!
  • No software is bug-free without an unlimited budget (such as building real-time military software, where money doesn’t matter when it comes to precision and reliability). Copy protection is no different.

Put those two together – you increase costs to your consumer and decrease stability. DO THE MATH, SIRS. Stardock gets it – it’s just not worth the hassle. Piracy will happen with all but the best copy protections, and the “best” are often the least stable. Let the pirates be assholes, you can’t stop that. So long as your legitimate customers see a lot of value in the purchase, they will make the purchase. GC2 and Sins are both excellent examples of this. Both have very good sales figures, and no copy protection. None.

My friend, the pirate, has bought maybe 15-20 games over the last 5 years. 4 of them are from Stardock. Another 7 or so were bought off of Steam. One was store-bought (impulse-buy) and still has not been opened. (“I will play it soon. I just don’t want to deal with the DVDs….”)

Stay tuned!

Next time I’ll discuss the movie and TV aspects of piracy, including the very exciting topics of Netflix and hulu.com.

4 Replies to “Middle-Class Piracy in the Software Industry, take 2”

  1. That anti-piracy rant was posted by a THQ Creative Director, not Iron Lore. If you’re going to start shitting on people, at least get your facts straight first.

  2. Hmm, fair enough, I guess I didn’t understand Fitch’s position. Guess I still don’t….

    But it’s still clear that (a) somebody made the decision to put copy protection into the game (Titan Quest) that caused it to randomly crash for legitimate users, and (b) Michael Fitch made a very stupid argument in support of that decision.

    Maybe Iron Lore didn’t want such insane anti-piracy tricks, so maybe those devs aren’t to blame any more than the poor saps who ruined Heroes of Might and Magic IV due to 3DO’s idiotic pressures to release on time no matter what (now there’s a game that should have been pirated exclusively – but that’s a totally separate topic). If that’s the case, I apologize to the Iron Lore developers.

    But my point is exactly the same either way – anti-piracy measures that ruin legitimate customers’ experiences are never a good thing, and piracy doesn’t do near as much damage to small companies as Fitch claims.

  3. No problem. I’ve spoken to a few ILE employees before – they’re good people, which is why I’m so ticked off by people attributing Fitch’s claims to them.

    I agree with you completely btw. Blaming piracy for a company’s demise is just foolish.

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