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Default Scars of War - Alternative to DRM

March 2nd, 2009, 06:48
Gareth in his always readable SoW Blog has not so much laid into the use of DRM's, but offered an alternative model to prevent game piracy. Check it out here and offer an opinion. Here's a small section for your reading pleasure:
This other direction that I’m talking about is to treat game development not as selling a product but as providing an entertainment service. You don’t just develop a game and drop it in peoples laps. You continually interact with and serve your customers, growing the value of the thing they have paid for. It’s this concept which makes people willing to keep paying for MMOs, if you ask me. A continuous stream of “new stuff” keeps pulling people back in and paying those fees every month.
Not only does it draw in customers, a service is a lot harder/time consuming for pirates to emulate. They’d have to sit there and doggedly crack/distribute each and every update you put out. While some may keep it up for a while, the nature of these hacker kids works in your favor. Most hacker groups are jostling for prestige. Their focus and attention is mainly on the big name titles, the new and shiny. The group who cracks Mass Effect 2 the week it comes out gets more kudos than the guys who crack the 45th small update to some game that came out a year ago, yes? In all likelihood I think that after a while they’d just not be paying attention anymore. Even if they were, the pirated copies on torrent sites would get outdated. Some might have a few of the updates, others might have a few more, but people looking for the latest version of your game would have a harder time sifting through the old stuff for it. And all the while there is the temptation to just go to your site, pay the price and get all the updates easily. The balance shifts and the draw of convenience now favors the developer instead of the pirates.
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March 2nd, 2009, 06:48
Not only does it draw in customers, a service is a lot harder/time consuming for pirates to emulate. They’d have to sit there and doggedly crack/distribute each and every update you put out. While some may keep it up for a while, the nature of these hacker kids works in your favor. Most hacker groups are jostling for prestige. Their focus and attention is mainly on the big name titles, the new and shiny. The group who cracks Mass Effect 2 the week it comes out gets more kudos than the guys who crack the 45th small update to some game that came out a year ago, yes? In all likelihood I think that after a while they’d just not be paying attention anymore. Even if they were, the pirated copies on torrent sites would get outdated. Some might have a few of the updates, others might have a few more, but people looking for the latest version of your game would have a harder time sifting through the old stuff for it. And all the while there is the temptation to just go to your site, pay the price and get all the updates easily. The balance shifts and the draw of convenience now favors the developer instead of the pirates.
False logic. In fact, this is the situation with anime fansubbing, and it shows the reality to be exactly opposite. Attention *is* the currency of the land in this circumstance, but breaking a work into a bunch of little chunks- such as a TV series- encourages rather than dissuades. If someone can have the free illegal copy on the net within 24 hours, that's a win. Quality doesn't matter, all that matters is the content in a usable state. (Some types of poor quality can even elevate you in the community's eyes, but that's another rant…) Next weeks' episode is another win the same way, and again the week after that. If you keep on like this you get a rep for being the best group doing the series, and then people just keep on coming. It's like the difference between a Super Bowl win and a blockbuster season- with one you get big props immediately, but the other gets you constant attention and praise for as long as you can keep it up. And when you can't keep it up, there's some other team waiting to pick up where you left off. Eventually, you do lose interest and move on to something else- but that only happens when the fans get tired of the series, by which point there's typically little money to be made anymore.

It's a non-starter.
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March 2nd, 2009, 07:43
This sounds pretty like much like the approach Stardock Entertainment already use. They appear to be happy with the results so it must work for them. So it must be a good idea.

On the otherhand the current draconian methods of enforcing DRM (like forcing me to connect to the net to be granted one of five activations….and then not activating anyway due to server issues or whatever) are dumb imo.

To fix a problem you need to treat the root cause, not the apply a lowest common denominator quick fix to a symptom, especially when that quick fix also degrades your product for the majority of paying customers who have no intention of doing anything to infringe upon your 'digital rights' anyway. That is just dumb.
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March 2nd, 2009, 08:12
Here's a tip: Online Distribution (and not in the sense of Steam as that's just a giant software dongle)
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March 2nd, 2009, 12:45
Originally Posted by hishadow View Post
Here's a tip: Online Distribution (and not in the sense of Steam as that's just a giant software dongle)
Which has done nothing for music piracy, so why the hope for software?

Lots of content and patches might sound like a good idea, but I don't recall it really working in practise - Starcraft and NWN are two games that have had a huge amount of patching and content added over time, yet as much as these things can be judged I don't think they've been significantly less pirated than other games. Better tools against piracy have been the requirement for a valid online key, and I think at least some sales have been gained by the online components of both the above games. That's what you get from a MMORPG as well, and I'd argue it's this that gets them valid sales, rather than the additional of content/patches.
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March 2nd, 2009, 13:06
I don't know if it helps to actually dissuade pirates - probably not. But building and investing in community relations and continuous updates/maintenance is certainly a good way to add and keep paying customers (especially for a niche indie title like this one) - which has the same net effect.
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March 2nd, 2009, 13:14
Originally Posted by GhanBuriGhan View Post
I don't know if it helps to actually dissuade pirates - probably not. But building and investing in community relations and continuous updates/maintenance is certainly a good way to add and keep paying customers (especially for a niche indie title like this one) - which has the same net effect.
Yes, it's another feature that can make you want to buy a game in the first place, like gameplay, story, graphics, system requirements, polish etc.
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March 2nd, 2009, 15:37
Originally Posted by kalniel View Post
Which has done nothing for music piracy, so why the hope for software?.
At least it makes it easier to obtain a legal copy of the game and help make the game more available (on-demand). I recon it will have no contribution to increased piracy, because piracy distributers will have their own sources anyway.
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March 2nd, 2009, 16:22
Originally Posted by hishadow View Post
I recon it will have no contribution to increased piracy, because piracy distributers will have their own sources anyway.
The lesson from the music industry is that easy access to cheap DRM-free media appears to have co-incided with increased piracy. Verifying that, let alone a causal relationship, is nearly impossible though. I think it did increase digital sales, though at the expense of physical media.
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March 2nd, 2009, 16:27
Originally Posted by kalniel View Post
The lesson from the music industry is that easy access to cheap DRM-free media appears to have co-incided with increased piracy.
Who's the source of that claim?
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March 2nd, 2009, 16:28
Originally Posted by hishadow View Post
Who's the source of that claim?
Was reported in newspapers, tech sites and so on a few weeks ago. I assume it ultimately came from the music industry, hence point about inability to verify. Then again, no-one seems to be independantly showing otherwise.
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March 2nd, 2009, 17:46
Originally Posted by sege View Post
To fix a problem you need to treat the root cause, not the apply a lowest common denominator quick fix to a symptom,
Impossible. The root cause here is "Gamers think they deserve the latest and best games for nothing." Or, more broadly: "People are selfish and will cheerfully break the law to fulfill their desires without hesitation." It's probably not reasonable to expect a video game developer to protect his profits by changing human nature itself.

Really, the solution here is to come up with a DRM system that your customers accept. That's not difficult- Nintendo's "lock-out" chip back in the day was considered acceptable. CD Keys and schemes where you need the CD in the drive were acceptable and functional through much of the 90's- at least until CD burners became readily available. Steam is apparently considered acceptable, since it's account based- you're not paying for the data itself, you're paying for the right to access it. The important thing is that you log in on your account to play, so there's no rigamarole about having too many activations or such nonsense.

This isn't rocket science, people- it used to be a very simple matter to come up with an agreement that all sides were copacetic with. More and more it seems to me that the argument over DRM is not about what's fair and reasonable, but the fact that a small group of spoiled brats refuse to accept any price greater than free.
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March 2nd, 2009, 23:41
You continually interact with and serve your customers, growing the value of the thing they have paid for.
I'm quite surprised someone needed that long to see it.

It's the ancient Shareware concept !

Back then, small or even tiny Shareware developers could and sometimes did "interact" with the customer in the form that bugs were "killed", and additional features were added - upon customer request !

The big, big, monolithic companies never could do this, so they abandoned this concept altogether - and made us forget it.

Apart from the Indies.

“ Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.“ (E.F.Schumacher, Economist, Source)
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March 3rd, 2009, 02:21
Gareth must read my posts here or at other places. Not to sound like a smarty, but he doesn't quite get it.

He's right about continuous development but wrong about updates. He's right about the need for an on-going relationship between the developer and the customer but wrong about the basis for it.

RPGs are collaborative games but RPG software has always been designed like every other kind of software, in a single version. And that always made perfect sense – up until now. Today it's an online world, something pirates have taken good advantage of, but developers could too.

Piracy exploits how software is created and delivered in single well-marked packages. It’s one complete version. It may get updated or expanded, but it only really ever exists as a single version.

Instead, CRPGs could be created in varieties of versions. They could even be designed modularly, in pieces of versions. Instead of providing them in well-marked packages, those could be parceled out cleverly, using the Internet, and in ways that would not only circumvent piracy, that could intrigue and entertain customers as well.

CRPG developers could get into the business of developing RPG worlds instead of individual games, and they could charge customers for on-going access to it.

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March 3rd, 2009, 02:43
Isn't that what MMO's do?

If God said it, then that settles it!!

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March 3rd, 2009, 03:12
Originally Posted by Corwin View Post
Isn't that what MMO's do?
This would be a single-player approach toward achieving a living game world. It would require subscription pricing, but that's about the end of the similarity. I compared the two while describing an iteration of this idea here.

I can imagine a lot of other ways to go about it, but all involve developing modularly and abandoning the concept of single-version.

Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on. But it don't snow here. It stays pretty green. I'm going to make a lot of money, then I'm going to quit this crazy scene. — [Joni Mitchell]
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March 3rd, 2009, 09:28
While I have voiced similar ideas as squeeks here, I doubt that indie RPG developers are in a position to push that kind of client-server technology forward. I think that has to first happen through mainstream titles. However having add-ons being modular and each module checking the integrity of all others could be an interesting strategy to make a pirates lives more difficult.
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March 3rd, 2009, 12:03
Originally Posted by GhanBuriGhan View Post
While I have voiced similar ideas as squeeks here, I doubt that indie RPG developers are in a position to push that kind of client-server technology forward. I think that has to first happen through mainstream titles. However having add-ons being modular and each module checking the integrity of all others could be an interesting strategy to make a pirates lives more difficult.
It's possible with open-source frameworks (with a non-viral license), but getting people to contribute (and maintain) free source-code isn't always as easy (especially when ppl make money off the non-viral license). Another obstacle is that developers usually want to do these things themselves.
Last edited by hishadow; March 3rd, 2009 at 12:22.
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March 3rd, 2009, 12:33
Originally Posted by Squeek View Post
CRPG developers could get into the business of developing RPG worlds instead of individual games, and they could charge customers for on-going access to it.
Now that I would like to see. In many ways we're so close to a system like that with some products out there as well, I really don't think it would take much to move things over to a first stab at that kind of experience for a fairly minimal cost outlay just to test the demand.

As a first step, why on earth haven't any MMOs tried putting out single player versions of some of their worlds? The engines are there, the art assets are there, the game balancing is there, there's vast worlds already built. Set up some single player spin offs, take chunks of the game world and pull together the most enjoyed dungeons & plot lines, fill the towns & villages with some auto generated people, put in the option to hire mercenaries to tackle some things. THe tidying up needed to tailor it to a single player experience would be such a small proportion of the overall budget and would appeal to a whole new market.

I also think that something like NWN could do better. So much fan generated content but no coherent framework to pull it all together. I reckon they could have a comparatively cheap monthly subscription for a basic package that had a few main locations with shops & crafters & guild options & an overland map type thing. Then they could have an adventurer's guild type interface to pay on a case by case basis for premium or user generated modules with some kind of scaling system or filter to make sure it's set at appropriate difficulty for the character. The fees for each module could cover a little bit of central team tidying up to ensure a basic quality level along with some profit, contributers of content could earn free access to everything and some share of the profits. There seems to be so much good content out there but all in stand alone chunks, the creation of some kind of consistent framework and ability to build a character and take them through a series of adventures would be wonderful.
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March 3rd, 2009, 14:43
Gareth must read my posts here or at other places. Not to sound like a smarty, but he doesn't quite get it.
Think so? Mmmmm….

Piracy exploits how software is created and delivered in single well-marked packages. It’s one complete version. It may get updated or expanded, but it only really ever exists as a single version.
It's got nothing to do with being a single version. It's got everything to do with the fact that all the game code is sitting and running on an end user's machine, which means it's only a matter of time before it's cracked. MMOs are resistant to this due to critical game logic sitting on server boxes, behind firewalls, preventing pirates from ripping it and distributing it. Hard to crack code you don't have access to. Got nothing to do with how many versions there are.

Instead of providing them in well-marked packages, those could be parceled out cleverly, using the Internet, and in ways that would not only circumvent piracy, that could intrigue and entertain customers as well.
That's not a plan, that's a vague idea with no implementation details, aka a pipedream. You'd need to make it easy for customers to find all the pieces or they'd get frustrated with the incomplete experience. If it's easy for customers to find, it's easy for the pirates to find too. This would not circumvent piracy at all, it might slow it down slightly at best because pirates have to crack all the pieces. And at the cost of making the development many, many times more complex (aka time consuming and expensive). Which means further costs that the game has to recoup from paying customers. And since it's not stopping piracy but it is increasing cost….

CRPG developers could get into the business of developing RPG worlds instead of individual games, and they could charge customers for on-going access to it.
Easier said than done. Modern MMOs are an attempt at this concept and run into the difficulties that such things face.

For example, it sounds great to say "build a world", sounds like limitless adventure, yes? No. The problem is people consume content at speeds that are orders of magnitude faster than developers can produce it. Takes years to make an RPG that people consume in days, weeks. Even if you have all the art and tools and just need to layout the adventure like in NWN, you're looking at weeks and months work for a few hours, days at most. People mod Elder scrolls games, yes, but mostly it just twists the mechanics a bit, adds a quest here and there. 90% of the content is what the pro devs developed over years.

MMOs get around this problem by using grinding mechanics, massive time sinks with an addictive nature to keep people playing for long periods of time. If you build a game with the style of content of a BG2 instead of a slower descendant of Diablos monster whacking hamster wheel, you will run out of content in a handful of weeks or months. People were complaining about the end game in AoC lacking in content a few weeks after it hit stores.

And no, user content will not replace this. Even with systems like NWN or TES, you get a handful of quality and a whole lot of cruft. And nowhere near the critical mass needed to keep large numbers of people satisfied and actually paying fees.

It won't end up being an unlimited version of BG2 etc, it will end up being a sandbox playground ala Second Life.

CRPG developers could get into the business of developing RPG worlds instead of individual games, and they could charge customers for on-going access to it.
You will only be able to charge for access as long as there is interesting content to experience. Which means that users will burn through it then move on. But you still have server costs, staff costs, etc. And all those extra costs to recoup…

Where you've gone wrong Squeek is that you think devs are just unimaginative and thus haven't seen what is so obvious to yourself. It's not that. We also have these flights of fancy, often. We're just more aware of the full ramifications and difficulties of the thing.

So coming back to this :

Gareth must read my posts here or at other places. Not to sound like a smarty, but he doesn't quite get it.
Don't I? Perhaps I get "it" better than you do Squeek, not to sound like a smarty. Did it occur to you that it would take millions of dollars to build the infrastructure and develop the tech you talk about? I am a single guy with a shoe string budget, not a multi-million dollar development house. It would be a massive undertaking for Bioware, never mind me.

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