DRM for Fun and Profit

DRM stands for Digital Right Management. It’s something game developers care a lot about as it pretty much means “what we are doing to fight piracy.” Usually DRM gets really bad publicity on techie news sites. Generally DRM hurts paying customers as much as it hurts pirates. Sometimes it hurts paying customers more, (i.e. Assassin’s Creed 2, SimCity, and Diablo 3). However I recently found out DRM can be done right.

Game Dev Tycoon
Developer: Greenheart Games
Release Date: April 28, 2013

Before the release of their game the developers released a cracked version of the game to popular torrent sites. The game was identical to the retail version with one difference. In the cracked version video game piracy is a crippling problem. So horrible that it’s impossible to do well in the game. Greenheart Games Blog

Want to know what is most interesting? I have never heard of this game. I probably never would have heard of this game if it wasn’t getting a ton of positive press for it’s clever and ironic treatment of pirates. What an elegant solution! Not only are they teaching pirates a lesson, they are also getting a ton of publicity for style-points. Websites who generally totally hate DRM in any form are giving Greenheart Games big kudos.

Another bonus, pirates actually get to play the game. Instead of having some nasty DRM that shuts people out completely, you can still get a taste for the game before the piracy spiral gets out of hand. Many didn’t even realize this was an anti-piracy measure. They actually asked the dev forums for help overcoming the piracy problem! After being had like that, paying for the game is more like tipping the developers than paying for the product.

Although this game, about video game development, happens to be a perfect medium for this style of “immersive” DRM, Game Dev Tycoon is certainly not the first time DRM has been done well. I am not sure if developers have personally uploaded a cracked version to pirate networks, but they have certainly hidden in-game “problems” to give pirates grief.

Escape Velocity
Developer: Ambrosia
Release Date: 1996

Ambrosia was one of my favorite companies when I was young. These guys go way back to before Apple was even on OS X. They made some awesome classic remakes of Asteroids and Centipede but the big breakout they made was Escape Velocity. It was an open-ended sci-fi space exploration game. It was shareware, which doesn’t really exist anymore. It means you could share and play the game for free for 30 days. When your trial expired (or got tricky with your computer’s clock) the DRM would trigger. A maniacal bounty hunter named Captain Hector would chase and attack your ship! You could run away, but you could never kill him, and he would chase you forever. By this point you had already invested 30 days into this game, and trust me, you pretty much had to pay up and feed the addiction. Ambrosia Blog about Captian Hector

Serious Sam 3
Developer: Croteam
Release Date: November 12, 2012

The “DRM” in Serious Sam was a giant pink mecha-scorpion monster that hunted you just like Captain Hector from Escape Velocity. In this game people actually pirated the game JUST to see the monster. They are plenty of youtube video showcasing people trying to fight this big monster. DRM report from Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

Crysis Warhead
Developer: Crytek Budapest
Release Date: September 18, 2008

Pirates of Crysis Warhead experienced a strange bug. All of their weapons fired chickens instead of bullets! Chickens with really low damage and terrible accuracy. Based on the YouTube videos it looks like the people posting these videos don’t even know why it’s happening. Mostly referring to it as a glitch. Only understanding why when someone in the comments explains why they have been targeting by this “chicken glitch.”

The fight against piracy is an ongoing struggle for game developers. But I think if the companies who are constantly getting bad press take some notes from the companies who are doing it right, like the ones above, DRM won’t be such a hated term. The moral of the story is, it’s just video games. Don’t be such an asshole about it, have some fun.

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