When does legitimate protection become draconian control?

Develop Jury: DRM versus piracy

This week’s Jury Servicediscusses whether the industry should implement internet-based DRM techniques to fight piracy.

The question comes shortly after Ubisoft announced its future PC games would implement a controversial ‘always-on’ certification system.

News items discussing the jury can be found here, but you can read all the opinions that we received, in their entirety, below.

(Develop would like to again thank this week’s panel who participated. Jury Service will be back next week with a new question for the industry. If you’re a developer who’d like to take part in future debates, ping an email to rob.crossley@intentmedia.co.uk.)


Develop Jury Service#8

Should developers adopt online technologies to fight piracy?

Adam Green, Managing Director, Assyria Game Studio:
"I think that any reduction in piracy has to be a good thing for the industry. While the “always-on” policy Ubisoft have announced could be argued as too restrictive, the alternative is that the platform continues to be highly prone to piracy; which will reduce budgets for future titles and diminish the quality of future games… Which isn’t good for gamers or developers.

In the case of hardcore gamers, I think you would be hard pressed to find one without a broadband connection. Similarly I believe it is likely the hardcore gamers that have the technical understanding to bit-torrent games.

So in this case I think online-checking of genuine software is the ideal solution in order to reduce piracy for that segment of the market… Especially as games (on the PC especially) are heavily distributed through
digital so in most instances users will need an internet connection just to get a copy of the game anyway.

We are at a really interesting turning point in terms of the “fight against piracy”… The PSP; previously a heavily pirated platform now has the PSP Mini’s download service, and I think it will be intriguing seeing the sales from these download titles in comparison to that of retail PSP games.

As digital distribution begins to take hold and become the distribution method of choice, I think these kind of “online required” measures will become more and more common and are a good way to reduce the rate of

I think perhaps constant checking is a bit too intrusive, however perhaps once every 5 plays that way if the user is on a laptop without internet access it will not impede on their experience, while still ensuring piracy does not damage the industry any further?

Adrian Hirst, Managing Director, Weaseltron
The issue for developers is about keeping the public on our side whilst managing to protect our investment.

Previous draconian attempts at copy protection have only served to outrage our very customers.

Copy protection that makes the cracked copy of the game more appealing to the customer than the genuine one threatens to turn them away from purchasing at all.

The best long-term answer is most likely to lie in providing a genuinely compelling reason to make the purchase – MMOs provide an online service to this effect, but we see ‘free’ downloadable game content with every actual purchase being an increasingly popular model.

Ben Ward, Studio communications manger, Bizarre Creations
I don’t believe that online DRM on it’s own will ever stop piracy – your game will simply have that functionality stripped out by various hacking groups.

The only way that DRM will be accepted by consumers is if it is delivered inside a service which brings tangible, real-world benefits with it.

Steam is the best example in this field – yeah it has DRM, but gamers still use the client because of the auto-patching, no need for discs, built-in community and achievement tracking, etc. Look at iTunes in the music business – as soon as you provide a better service than the pirates, you will win.

Chris Kruger, Founder, Kruger Heavy Industries
I think this kind of technology is ok if it’s really unobtrusive.

As soon as it starts to be annoying I think it does more harm than good. I had issues with Battlefield 2142 and it’s online security system.More often than not it got in the way. Perhaps a system that checks if it can, but if not, then lets the installation be.

If somebody wants to go to great lengths to never attach their system to the internet for the sake of piracy – then so be it; They’re an intractable pirate.

There is a cost – reward tradeoff on this too. We don’t want to increase the cost of security more than we might get back from increased revenue. Cost of security would include the cost of developing and maintaining said online system, as well as the cost of the frustration of our customers, leading to lost sales and poor reputation.

Luke Maskell, Artist, Gusto Games
I’m firmly against Ubisoft’s announcement, I think it’s a huge violation of privacy and is only punishing the legitimate customer; the pirates won’t have to worry about being online as they’ll find a way around pretty sharpish.

All Ubisoft is doing is kicking their customers in the face. If they are going to provide a service that is worse than pirating the game, they are only going to attract more pirates.

All the money they could have spent on this new system they could have just spent on marketing, attracting more customers and reducing the backlash against such invasive DRM projects.

Martyn Brown, Studio Director, Team17
Given piracy is rife on various platforms (PC particularly) then online checks would seem to be the next step really as I don’t think disc-based systems have (ever) proved to be successful other than irritating the user with sometimes draconian measures.

However, if people are to invest in platforms such as the PC, I don’t think they can be blamed for protecting that investment.

I think as long as the solution isn’t too cumbersome or frustrating for the user, then fine. I think for example, it should mean that the user can access that game on any system they install it on, without the need for the media afterwards – I guess a little like how WOW accounts are used as keys.

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