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Why we don't use DRM

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Level 9 Extraplanar Programmer
Alignment: Chaotic good
Location: Toronto
Posted on September 22, 2009 at 4:25 am

This post is about Digital Rights Management, or DRM; that annoying technology that some companies like to use to control how you're allowed to access your games, music, or movies. With video games, this usually takes one of the following forms:

* Requiring that the game disc is in your computer while you play.
* Requiring that the computer is connected to the Internet to play.
* Limiting the number of times that you are allowed to install your game on a computer.

Here at Longbow, we're all avid gamers, and we don't like DRM. If you've been following the various DRM scandals and names like StarForce or the Sony rootkit are familiar to you, then what I'm saying isn't very controversial. There have been many people – gamers and developers alike – who have already spoken out against DRM, but it remains an important issue. The market is still flush with games that are laden with DRM, so it's nice to know where a developer stands on DRM.

What the supporters of DRM have to say
The supporters of DRM cite piracy as their justification for forcing their customers to jump through these hoops, but time and time again new games are released and then cracked in less than a week. Even some of the best copy protection ever created only lasted two months before being cracked. But that brings us to an important distinction between the way we sell games and the way the big-name publishers sell games: we sell games digitally.

The big-name publishers primarily sell through stores like GameStop and Walmart. Brick-and-mortar stores, as they're called in the business. In this environment, when your game stops selling in large quantities, they take it off the shelves. Because of this, the big-name publishers sell 30-50 percent of all of their games within the first two months after release. The supporters of DRM say they don't mind that their DRM is cracked within two months, as long as it protects this vital period of sales.

Well, that doesn't apply to us. Since we sell our games digitally, we continue to sell games well beyond those first two months. And since we're independent and we don't have a large marketing budget, we depend largely on word-of-mouth to make sales, so we don't see a large sales spike immediately after release. We're very much in this for the long-haul.

So even if we supported DRM, it wouldn't protect us very well anyway.

Piracy vs the legitimate customer
Okay, so that was me being nice to the DRM supporters and giving their side of the story. Now let's get to the name-calling.

First, let's compare how a pirate gets his games compared to the way legitimate customers gets their games. Here's what a pirate does:

* He goes to a website that hosts pirated games and searches for the game he wants.
* He downloads the game, for free.
* He installs it.
* If necessary, he also installs a crack to strip out the DRM. This step is often already performed by the people who package pirated games.

Now, here's what a legitimate customer goes through:

* He goes to a physical store.
* He buys the game he wants – provided it's in stock – for around $60.
* He goes home and installs it.

At first blush, these two processes seem to be comparable, at least when it comes to convenience. The legitimate method might even seem more desirable, if not for the price and the trip to the store. After all, you get a physical copy out of the deal, along with a manual and anything else that may entail.

But then we get to the hassles the customer has after installing his game, and these are innumerable. Every time he wants to play the game he bought, he has to dig out the game disc and put it in his computer. If he wants to install the game on a second computer – let's say he wants to install it on his laptop so he can play when he's not at home – then he needs to tote the game CD around with him wherever he goes.

Of course, if he was unlikely enough to buy a game that requires Internet access, then he won't be able to play it when he's away from home anyway. And if he was unlucky enough to buy a game with install limits, then once he installs the game three times, he'll never be able to install it on a new computer, even if he still has the original disc. His only recourse then is to call customer support, wait on hold for a while, and cross his fingers that they're feeling nice. That's assuming, of course, that the company never shuts down or gets bought out, an event which seems to happen about once a month in the games industry.

And if he was really unlucky and he bought a game with StarForce, his computer might be subject to all sorts of invasive effects, from degraded CD-ROM performance, to breaking his CD-ROM drive, to having his computer automatically reboot every time StarForce sees something happen on his computer that it thinks is suspicious. If you've ever seen a virus-scanner give a false-positive before, then this should really worry you. And worst of all, all of this could happen even when he's not playing any games.

The pirate, on the other hand, suffers none of these burdens. Piracy isn't just cheaper, and it's not just easier to get, but it's often a better product. And that DRM which was supposed to stop the pirates? They don't even see it. In the end, DRM does nothing but inconvenience legitimate customers.

I don't think that's right. If a customer is willing to pay us for our product, then there's no way we should be allowing thieves to get better service than our legitimate customers. That's why we don't have any installation limits, we don't require our customers to be connected to the Internet, and you're allowed to back up your game in whatever way you want. We don't even mind if you install our games on multiple computers; all we ask is that you limit it to computers that you own.

A little bit about cost
Our games are also a lot cheaper than most retail games. $60 is an awful lot to spend on a game, and while we'll never be able to give our games away for free, we think we can make up for some of the sales we lose to piracy by reducing our prices. We feel that if we sell a game for $30 and make twice as many sales (or sell a game for $5 and make twelve times the sales) then there's no reason not to do that. We make just as much profit off of our work, and more people get to see it! If we're lucky, we might even be able to convert some would-be pirates in the process.

In conclusion
We don't like DRM, as gamers or as developers. And as PC developers, we feel that this is one of the factors driving people away from PC gaming. The hassles of DRM are something that you don't usually see on consoles. But the PC has a lot to offer that consoles don't, not the least of which is a platform for indie developers to create games which are free from the financial and political limitations present in developing games for consoles. The PC is too important to lose over something as stupid as DRM.

Let's keep games DRM-free.

Level 8 Human gamer
Alignment: Lawful good
Location: Somewhere
Posted on January 7, 2010 at 1:49 pm

* Requiring that the game disc is in your computer while you play.
* Requiring that the computer is connected to the Internet to play.
* Limiting the number of times that you are allowed to install your game on a computer.


RollerCoaster Tycoon comes to mind here. There is a way to eliminate this DRM legally and that is copying certain files from the CD to the install directory of RollerCoaster Tycoon and editing a registry entry. This doesn't work with the sequels however.

Portal also comes to mind here. Achievements requires Internet access which sucks.

Microsoft Office 2007 I think has this install limit thing.

Level 9 Extraplanar Programmer
Alignment: Chaotic good
Location: Toronto
Posted on January 7, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Nowadays I buy most games digitally; back when I used to buy more CDs, I'd have to go through a ritual of finding a NOCD crack just so I didn't have to fuss with CDs.

The Portal example doesn't really bother me too much, actually. I view that as online content, since it's uploaded to your profile, so I can accept that you need an Internet connection for that to work. Besides, while I certainly appreciate achievements, they're kind of ancillary.

Level 8 Human Highly Trained Frontline: Cyborg Tank Pilot
Alignment: Chaotic good
Location: Standby Mode: At the icy world of glaciers
Posted on January 7, 2010 at 10:37 pm

Nowadays I buy most games digitally; back when I used to buy more CDs, I'd have to go through a ritual of finding a NOCD crack just so I didn't have to fuss with CDs.

The Portal example doesn't really bother me too much, actually. I view that as online content, since it's uploaded to your profile, so I can accept that you need an Internet connection for that to work. Besides, while I certainly appreciate achievements, they're kind of ancillary.


i can agree with you on that

the problem with Cd's is that they are becoming obsolete and i think Cd's and DVDs should be eliminated from games and instead make it only digitally as technology advances we don't use cd's anymore and dvds are limited as much as Cd's compared to capability of hard drives and different types of storage media which proves to be far more successful

part of this problem is dealing with DRM and many other money matters because most large gaming companies care only about money its just like why we haven't made car's more Effeciant by using different fuels and made it a standard why because of the damn money.


but most games nowadays are still produced as cd's and dvd's in the market, its cheaper and easier for them to DRM their shit and they won't stop making games with cd's and dvd's until they can find an alternative that makes enough money to satisfy their greedy souls...

thats one reason why i like tread marks and games like it it isn't always about cash because of that games made like that come out far better as it is made with passion not total greed...

Level 9 Extraplanar Programmer
Alignment: Chaotic good
Location: Toronto
Posted on January 8, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Well, most games companies still make most of their money off of brick-and-mortar sales, but digital distribution is definitely taking off.

Even we still offer an option to buy a CD. Some people like to have it as a backup, and some people buy it because they want to buy a gift for somebody, and it's nice to be able to give something tangible.

Level 8 Human Highly Trained Frontline: Cyborg Tank Pilot
Alignment: Chaotic good
Location: Standby Mode: At the icy world of glaciers
Posted on January 8, 2010 at 11:12 pm

Well, most games companies still make most of their money off of brick-and-mortar sales, but digital distribution is definitely taking off.

Even we still offer an option to buy a CD. Some people like to have it as a backup, and some people buy it because they want to buy a gift for somebody, and it's nice to be able to give something tangible.


yeah definitely

digital distribution is the future of production for most software and games.

the hardware based distribution is pretty damn well obsolete

but however hardware based software or gaming distribution does have many quality's but for the future
digital distribution may not be much of a problem as by than modem's and other slow interent connections
most likely will be used less and everything used for computers will be more advanced without being
produced obsolete like they still are to this day that's why digital distribution has many flaws
and many of these flaws could be fixed


back to the question why isn't this fixed already?



reason? Their greed, its cheaper and makes more money for company's to make parts for computers that last only a year and sell wasteful fuels like gasoline that destroys the environment

along with every other thing our leaders of society really don't give a shit and have excuses it

all relates to money they disparately need to to make back

Because different country's owe money to each other due to wasteful spending and neglect of their power
or corruption the united states is probably the best example




anyways i couldn't agree with you more rick if i were a programmer i would prefer
digital distribution but also offer hardware distribution by request so everyone is satisfied

Level 8 Human gamer
Alignment: Lawful good
Location: Somewhere
Posted on January 9, 2010 at 4:41 pm

The Portal example doesn't really bother me too much, actually. I view that as online content, since it's uploaded to your profile, so I can accept that you need an Internet connection for that to work. Besides, while I certainly appreciate achievements, they're kind of ancillary.

It still sucks though. Why not have the achievements anyway, online of offline. Then when Portal does detect an Internet connection, update the profile.

the problem with Cd's is that they are becoming obsolete and i think Cd's and DVDs should be eliminated from games and instead make it only digitally as technology advances we don't use cd's anymore and dvds are limited as much as Cd's compared to capability of hard drives and different types of storage media which proves to be far more successful

What about blu-ray? If it is anything that can be done like DVDs and CDs, pretty soon we will have blu-ray installation disks just like CDs and DVDs can possibly have on them.

Downloading takes a good hour or so when the game can also be put on a CD or DVD, usually large file sizes close or above 1GB. When you have the CD or DVD, the files are right there.

Level 8 Human Highly Trained Frontline: Cyborg Tank Pilot
Alignment: Chaotic good
Location: Standby Mode: At the icy world of glaciers
Posted on January 9, 2010 at 7:31 pm

The Portal example doesn't really bother me too much, actually. I view that as online content, since it's uploaded to your profile, so I can accept that you need an Internet connection for that to work. Besides, while I certainly appreciate achievements, they're kind of ancillary.

It still sucks though. Why not have the achievements anyway, online of offline. Then when Portal does detect an Internet connection, update the profile.

the problem with Cd's is that they are becoming obsolete and i think Cd's and DVDs should be eliminated from games and instead make it only digitally as technology advances we don't use cd's anymore and dvds are limited as much as Cd's compared to capability of hard drives and different types of storage media which proves to be far more successful

What about blu-ray? If it is anything that can be done like DVDs and CDs, pretty soon we will have blu-ray installation disks just like CDs and DVDs can possibly have on them.

Downloading takes a good hour or so when the game can also be put on a CD or DVD, usually large file sizes close or above 1GB. When you have the CD or DVD, the files are right there.


blu ray isn't a standard nor the best choice and besides blu ray compared to hard drives and other types of media are far more Effeciant and better also blu ray is far more expensive to produce than dvd's or cds and compared to other types of storage media it is the most one of the most expensive and has very little space for storage compared to other types of media which can be a limitation to what you could make now if they improved internet services and completely removed DSL , modems and everything except high speed connections and improved them to much higher rates such as 100 gigabit download rates nobody would have that problem

most people to this day have shitty computers, shitty internet and pretty much everything shitty

why because company's still sell obsolete technology and its cheaper sell that way



i wouldn't be surprised if you had a slow dsl connection with an obsolete computer that uses ide based hard drives that that somebody told you its fast when you bought it but really its just crap


and still like said it would not take you even close to an hour if technology was improved



right now hardware based production as much as digital both have huge flaws but overall digital not counting its flaws is great and better than hardware in many ways

Level 8 Human gamer
Alignment: Lawful good
Location: Somewhere
Posted on January 13, 2010 at 10:36 pm

most people to this day have shitty computers, shitty internet and pretty much everything shitty

Not everyone can afford the most up-to-date technology.

i wouldn't be surprised if you had a slow dsl connection with an obsolete computer that uses ide based hard drives that that somebody told you its fast when you bought it but really its just crap

Wow, you just read me correctly! I have an old computer that uses a DSL connection and IDE cables only. I do have a new laptop just for college and serious gaming.

If you have anything to say about OSs, I prefer Windows XP. I tried Windows Vista and Windows 7. We all know Windows Vista is garbage. Windows 7 is better than Windows Vista but has it's own problems. Windows XP Microsoft got right.

I like to do a lot of stuff with old technology and the newer technology can't do that. Yes I still use floppy disks! Ever heard of the N64 DexDrive? That requires a serial port most new computers don't have. Most new computers are mostly USB-based. Don't get me wrong I'll still use newer, better technology like USB flash drives.

Level 9 Extraplanar Programmer
Alignment: Chaotic good
Location: Toronto
Posted on January 14, 2010 at 3:01 am

Please, please, no holy wars! There's nothing wrong with BluRay, DSL, Vista (at least, not anymore), affordable computers, or physical distribution (at least, as an option). Hey, options are good!

To get back on topic...
It still sucks though. Why not have the achievements anyway, online of offline. Then when Portal does detect an Internet connection, update the profile.
It's certainly possible. In fact, I believe the Steam copy of Braid does exactly this, although Braid was designed to work with several achievement systems (Steam, XBLA, PSN) so they probably already had to keep a local copy of the achievements anyway.

I'd actually be pretty hard-pressed to attribute Valve's decision here to DRM -- after all, even if Valve made the achievements work like you suggested, pirates still wouldn't be able to upload their stats to their Steam profile, because Steam would be able to tell that they never bought the game!

More likely, this decision was either due to time constraints (it's easier if you only have to store the achievements on the server, and not locally) or as an anti-cheat measure (make sure people aren't hacking their game to fake their achievements).

There's some overlap between anti-cheat measures and DRM, but for the most part anti-cheat measures are put in place to keep the player community happy, and not to keep the bankers happy, so I usually don't have a problem with them. (Occasionally I do have a problem with them -- for instance, if it thinks I'm cheating because I'm playing a game in Linux under a Windows emulator -- but that's a whole different can of worms.)

What about blu-ray? If it is anything that can be done like DVDs and CDs, pretty soon we will have blu-ray installation disks just like CDs and DVDs can possibly have on them.

Downloading takes a good hour or so when the game can also be put on a CD or DVD, usually large file sizes close or above 1GB. When you have the CD or DVD, the files are right there.


There's nothing wrong with BluRay, but I don't think we'll see PC games make the move to BluRay for several years. If my memory serves me right, Myst IV was the first PC game that was released exclusively on DVD, and that was released in September 2004, nearly a decade after the DVD was invented. (Other games were releasd on DVD earlier, but they were also available on CD.) Back when the DVD was invented, most people were still using dial-up; you can rest assured that by the time BluRay becomes standard, Internet speeds will also improve.

Level 8 Human gamer
Alignment: Lawful good
Location: Somewhere
Posted on January 14, 2010 at 3:39 am

Please, please, no holy wars! There's nothing wrong with BluRay, DSL, Vista (at least, not anymore), affordable computers, or physical distribution (at least, as an option). Hey, options are good!

Who said anything about a war? We were just discussing calmly! Yeah, having options are always good. Have too many and it could make your head spin! Too little and you feel like you are being controlled.

Level 4 Human gamer
Alignment: Lawful good
Posted on July 15, 2010 at 5:28 pm

I found the article extremely poignant and refreshing. So refreshing, in fact, that I had to order Hegemony! Congratulations, you got another happy customer on your roster!

Level 9 Extraplanar Programmer
Alignment: Chaotic good
Location: Toronto
Posted on July 16, 2010 at 12:59 am

Thanks!

Level 4 Human gamer
Alignment: Evil
Posted on November 28, 2010 at 10:14 am

There is one point in your argument against DRM that I find somewhat flawed.

You argue that CD/DVD checking is irritating DRM, but I have to ask, when was the last time you played a game on the Playstation or Xbox where you didn't need to get the disk? It seems that since we as PC Gamers have developed DVD cracks we now seem to expect them to almost come as standard.

Yes, maybe console gamers don't have to go though the effort of installations, but unless I am totally mistaken the primary advantage of installations is speed. In the assumption that (with RAID'd) hard drives are by far faster then reading the data of the disk.

It's true though that now DVD cracks can be created so fast it stands to reason that there is little purpose the developers should include it but my point still stands.

That said, Dragon Age was the last game I bought on DVD and with Steam almost having all the top titles now I don't think I'll be buying a game that is not sold though Steam for a long while.

Having mentioned Steam, one thing I do wonder is does Steam provide you with DRM to some extent anyway? Therefore, if you only sold your game via Steam (while I know you don't, but if?) you could claim it's DRM free while utilizing Steams?

Still, I'm a Steam fan boy, so there wouldn't be any complaints from me :-)

Back to my (bargain purchase of) Supreme Commander 2!

Level 4 Human Truffle Farmer
Alignment: Good
Location: Australia
Posted on November 30, 2010 at 3:25 am

Gah, steam...I do use it but its hardly from choice.

I did like the article too, I know its been there for a year but only just saw it. Having said that, after reading through the Spyro link you provided I can almost see their (developers) side of the story. If only it wasn't so damn frustrating to legitimate consumers.

I'll make a point of denying my copy of the Phillip game to a friend. Would hate to see your faith in us to be misplaced. Who knows, he might even buy it off you?

Level 4 Human gamer
Alignment: True neutral
Posted on January 11, 2011 at 3:46 am

Well, most games companies still make most of their money off of brick-and-mortar sales, but digital distribution is definitely taking off.

Even we still offer an option to buy a CD. Some people like to have it as a backup, and some people buy it because they want to buy a gift for somebody, and it's nice to be able to give something tangible.


yeah definitely

digital distribution is the future of production for most software and games.

the hardware based distribution is pretty damn well obsolete

but however hardware based software or gaming distribution does have many quality's but for the future
digital distribution may not be much of a problem as by than modem's and other slow interent connections
most likely will be used less and everything used for computers will be more advanced without being
produced obsolete like they still are to this day that's why digital distribution has many flaws
and many of these flaws could be fixed


i couldn't agree with you more i would also prefer digital distribution not just as a programmer but as anybody. the same can be said about pretty much anything brick-and-mortar, be it retail or brick-and-mortar casinos. they are losing in importance, most of the people are gaming online and purchasing online. its where things are headed more and more now days.

Level 4 Human Test Dummy (MK III)
Alignment: Lawful
Location: Middle of Nowhere
Posted on February 21, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Spore is a good example of this (DRM), You get 3 installs and then you can't play so if you install in 2008 when it comes out but then uninstall it to make room for something else thats 1. Then you switch operating systems and reinstall thats 2. you replace the old mother board and then thats 3, after that no more. now you spend an hour and a half on the phone or end up waiting three days to a week for an e-mail just to install it again!!!

Level 3 Human gamer
Alignment: True neutral
Posted on June 14, 2011 at 1:57 am

very nice read. i joined the site solely to post this.

i have been using illegal content all my life the reason being not because i don't want to support the developers but simply because i can't afford to spend 20$ or 10$ on a game (not all people live by standards like Europe or america). also DRM and such methods can never stop piracy or sell more games. most of the people who use illegal content will eventually support the publishers (especially if it's of high quality) if not at first then later when the prices drop.

so i guess the question is if all the good games where selling for around 5$ (or the price affordable at the region) will people buy them instead of pirating them? of course yes we all have a consiounce and want to reward the developers for their hard work.

Level 9 Extraplanar Programmer
Alignment: Chaotic good
Location: Toronto
Posted on June 15, 2011 at 4:40 am

Pricing is a difficult issue. Yes, if you lower the price, you'll sell more copies, but if you lower the price from $20 to $5, you need to sell four times as many copies just to break even. Every single time we've experimented with lowering our prices, we've sold more copies, but made less profit.

As an indie developer, we're always struggling to survive, so as much as we'd like to, we can't lower our prices unless it makes financial sense.

Level 3 Human gamer
Alignment: Lawful
Posted on November 5, 2011 at 9:51 pm

Well im new, got hegemony hoping to upgrade to gold when i get the chance but anyways what your saying is very true I have a slow internet connection and being forced to dowload extras that sometimes can be up to 10GB and then you have to pay if you want to use it when you never wanted to dowload it in the firts place is no good. And at that you cant play your game cuz they lock it and you have to dowload. Anyways good game you guys made and your very correct for once im a happy costumer.