7 Ways To Stop Piracy Without DRM

7 Ways To Stop Piracy Without DRM

Piracy’s a fact of life. As a defence against having their intellectual properties swiped, cracked and traded online like so many baseball cards, a lot of companies have turned to Digital Rights Management, a move that seldom does more than temporarily slow pirates and enrage paying customers. Fortunately, there’s a growing number of non-DRM related options out there for developers and software vendors to explore that’ll stymy piracy while respect the rights of their paying users. Let’s give ’em a try.

Bake in Deterrents


Instead of being insidious, why not be hilarious when it comes to defending your wares from piracy? That’s what Serious Sam 3 developer Croteam did when faced with the problem of how to discourage the piracy of their creation without saddling their legitimate users with the frustrations that can stem from a healthy dose of DRM. Instead of crippling illegally obtained copies of the game, Croteam opted to make Serious Sam 3 a miserable experience for pirates by inserting an indestructible pink scorpion hellbent on destroying them into the mix. No matter where the players runs or tries to hide, the game’s hilariously powerful enforcer tracks them down and kills them, making it impossible to play the first-person shooter in peace.

Provide Higher Levels of Support & Quality Control


Rage, Fallout New Vegas, Skyrim and Battlefield 3 all have one thing in common: They were all a hot, glitchy mess when they were launched. A lot of pirates justify their pillaging of digital goods by saying that they refuse to pay for a product that doesn’t perform as it was intended to. While release schedules and industry pressures will always be a factor that decides upon when a piece of software made available to consumers, software developers would do well to consider adopting Blizzard’s “it’s done when it’s done” mentality and sit on their products until they’re able to vouch for their performance. If that’s not possible, then employing a robust system for error reporting and resolution is a must: After all, no one wants to pay for something that’s broken right out of the box, and if they do, they want to know what can be done to fix it as quickly as possible.



In an effort to quell the second-hand sale of their software, a growing number of developers have been offering consumers premium downloadable content perks tied to a single-use code. The Catwoman missions in Batman Arkham Asylum and the cross-game weapons and armour offered by Electronic Arts in a number of the games from their catalogue over the past few years are great examples of this. We’re betting gamers would like to see more of this sort of thing — with tastier options than a few cosmetic items for our in-game characters. By routinely doling out fresh in game content to paying customers, development houses would be providing consumers with a compelling reason to pay for their wares. It might not stop piracy dead in its tracks, but it’d definitely boost sales.

Standardise International/Regional Releases


There’s plenty of excellent reasons to stagger the release of a new piece of software on an international scale: Doing so keeps servers from melting into pools of unusable silicon and preserves the sanity of help desk agents, if only for a little while. That said, if a game’s not available in Australia, even though the Americans have had it for a week, you know that someone, somewhere is going to be pirating that bad boy. By giving consumers what they want simultaneously on an international level, developers could strike another reason for illegally downloading an application from the the litany of excuses pirates have been employing for years.

Lower the Cost of Digitally Distributed Software


Placing a software product in a physical marketplace is a costly undertaking, matter how you cut it. Product production, art and marketing, shipping-they all cost a goodly sum of dollars that wind up getting factored into the retail cost of a piece of boxed software, thus forcing consumers to decide between buying groceries for the rest of the month or investing in a new application. For some reason — let’s call it crazed avarice — digitally distributed iterations of the same software often costs the same as their boxed up, marked-up cousins. Were software developers to dramatically lower the price of their digitally distributed wares, it’d be an uphill slog for pirates to complain about the market value cost of what they’re swiping. Sure, lower prices for digitally distributed wares means a less robust bottom line, but some cash is better than none, and where piracy is concerned, no cash gleaned from the sweat of your programer’s brows is likely exactly what you’ll wind up with.

Make an Effort to Actively Engage Your Community


Friends don’t steal from friends. Friends have your back. Whenever possible, you want your customers to be your friends. It doesn’t pay to get locked into an adversarial relationship with the people responsible for giving you money. Developers would do well to get to know and understand the concerns of their market. Insomuch as it’s possible, uncover the reasons why your market base feels compelled to pirate your products and do your best to address them. Listen to your customer’s frustrations and concerns, and whenever possible, provide them with the help they need and deserve. As the old adage suggests: respect earns respect. While you might not be able to obliterate the piracy of your products entirely, a modicum of concern for your customers could help to reduce it.

Nuke Them From Orbit (It’s the Only Way to Be Sure)


You’ve tried lowering your prices. You’ve opted to forgo Digital Rights Management measures in favour of introducing downloadable incentives to paying customers and tormenting pirates with a frustrating in-app nemesis. Simultaneously releasing your software across all regions? Been there, done that. Hell, in an attempt to curb pirating, you’ve even gone so far as to drastically reduce the online price of your software. Sadly, none of it has managed to make a dent in your company’s shrinkage you’d been hoping for. At this point, you can keep on keeping on and hope that your non-DRM related anti-piracy measures and hope that they eventually gain traction, or sue the bejeezus out of anything that moves. Sadly, neither solution will be the cure-all you’re looking for. DRM is, well it’s DRM. Hated by the masses and viewed as a challenge by dedicated hackers, it’s only a matter of time until any Digital Rights Management solution is circumvented.

But What About Lawsuits?

As with most legal matters, suing the individuals who pirate your products is more of a marathon than a sprint. Take CD Projekt Red, the development house behind The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings, for example. Since it’s release in 2011, over 4.5 million copies of the PC game were illegally downloaded, putting CD Projekt Red in an ugly fiscal position, to say the least. In response to the rampant piracy they were being subjected to, the Polish development studio tracked down a large number of alleged pirates of the game and demanded they be paid for the the use of the software, or face legal prosecution. Great idea, right? Not so much: In the first few weeks of January, the development house announced that they would be discontinuing their legal crusade against those that would dare to pirate their game, chiefly due to the fact that the only thing that seems to enrage gamers more than DRM is the prospect of a shaky, difficult to support lawsuit based on the art-not science, mind you-of IP tracking.

If there’s a final, definitive solution to online piracy that doesn’t in some way involve Digital Rights Management, it has yet to be found. We can only hope that when such a solution is implemented, it’s one that’s as just to a product’s paying end users as it is to the companies that designed it.

Illustration by Sam Spratt. Check out Sam’s portfolio and become a fan of his Facebook Artist’s Page.


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  • Accept that punishing people who actually pay for your game is not the way to prevent piracy.

    Also encourage people to get their friends to buy a copy via some referral method where the original buyer gets some free dlc if they get a friend to buy a copy (and the friend might even get it at a slightly discounted price!).

    • This top one, right here. You know what I see when I watch a DVD? An anti-piracy ad, minutes of legal warnings (those white on black ones that run at the end of a DVD), and if I’m really unlikely some ads for other crap movies that I don’t want to watch. You know what I see when I torrent a movie? The movie.

      • Word. Word. Wooooorrrrd. Even when I deign to pay for a showing of a movie (usually because I’ve watched a trailer and I’m convinced its worth paying for) I will run the disc through a program to remove all the sh*t and then burn THE ACTUAL F***ING MOVIE to a disc that I can use.

      • Everytime I go to rewatch Arrested Development I get 4min of unskippable ads. And if I’d pirated the show, I would just be able to watch the bloody thing. And it’s funny, because the anti-piracy ad uses pirated music.

      • Yes to Beta’s!

        Halo Reach: Played the Beta – got the game
        Crysis 2: Played the Beta – got the game
        Transformers War for Cybertron: Played the MP demo – got the game
        Splinter Cell Conviction: Played the demo – got the game
        Mass Effect 2: Played the demo – got the game
        Crackdown 2: Played the demo – got the game
        Just Cause 2: Played the demo – got the game
        Enslaved: Played the demo – got the game
        Battlefield 3: Played the beta – got the game

        Doesn’t work for every demo mind you, Rage left me underwhelmed as did Quantum Theory and Darksiders but it’s the best marketing tool they have

        Next big Beta coming out is Ghost Recon should be fun…

  • “A lot of pirates justify their pillaging of digital goods by saying that they refuse to pay for a product that doesn’t perform as it was intended to.”

    Sorry, but that argument is bullshit. If it’s worth playing it’s worth buying. If you reckon it’s so badly broken as to not be worth the money then don’t play it at all, don’t say it’s a bug-ridden POS and then turn around and play it anyway for free. Either wait for it to be patched to whatever level of quality you find acceptable and THEN buy it (by which point you may well find it’s going cheaper anyway), or don’t play it at all. It’s not like there’s a shortage of other games you can play instead.

    • Shall I direct you to Arkahm City on PC? Because of Game for Windows Live, many players have had their save games locked off to them because the game is a buggy mess. Pirates on the other hand don’t have that issue. I know what I’d do in that situation.

        • And prey tell what you would do if you had bought such a game and had no way to return it because it’s CD-Key had been used.

          Would you still really abandon it to play something else sacrificing the money you paid for it.

          Or would you jump on the net, Crack that S#!* out of that sonnofab#^% and play it like there was no tomorrow.


          If your new car comes and the steering wheel doesn’t work you don’t go oh well i’ll drive something else. You do everything in your power to get your car to work, if it means going to the dealer and having them replace it or fix it.

          Or going to the dodgy russian down the street and getting him to fix the problem

          • Consumer law in Australia says if it doesn’t work then you get a refund. No ifs no buts.

          • If you’ve already paid for the game then as far as I’m concerned you’re entitled to go right ahead and do what you need to do to get it working.

            I don’t know what the law says, but I don’t consider it piracy if you’ve already bought the game. I was referring to people who do get the pirated version INSTEAD OF buying the game, not in addition to buying it. As the quote from the article said – people who “refuse” to pay for the game, not those who try to do the right thing and get screwed over.

    • Sorry but that argument doesn’t fly with me. I pre-ordered Civ 5 at $90 and it was a buggy POS to the point of making the game unplayable for those of us into the micro-management aspects of the game (you know, the civ fans who have been playing the damn thing since the board game in the 80s). Assuming Civ 6 is on the horizon I will DL first and ask questions later..

  • Nuke them from orbit made my day.

    Well played, Sir. Well played.

    (Although I will not be purchasing your article because I am against prior things you did. You know what I am talking about)

  • Yes for the love of god charge less than boxed retail. It doesn’t help how inflexible the digital prices are either. At launch you can be sure major retailers will be below RRP but it can take ages for Steam et al to drop prices. If people knew that they were all but guaranteed the cheapest price it would be a good start.

  • To beat that long dead horse a little more… offer the games at comparable prices across western countries. If the game is only available to me at a price double what people in comparable western countries can get it, then I’m not going to bother buying it. I don’t use it as justification for piracy, but it is one excuse often thrown out by people who do.

  • I don’t buy or play games that cost more $AUD than $US from steam. It pisses me off to see games for $90AUD and $50US when the Australian dollar is worth more.

    You want my money? Stop trying to rip me off. I bought Skyrim from ozgameshop instead of steam for that very reason.

    That said, the only game I have pirated in years was Skyrim, because I was going crazy waiting for my pre-order to arrive from the UK. 😛 I figured it was ok since I’d already paid for it.

    • I couldn’t agree more – only you’ll find that on Steam, games are in USD for Australia too, so USD$90 for a game thats USD$50 from America.

      There is absolutely no justification for it other than to encourage outsourcing from Australia. Greenman Gaming and OzGameShop get all of my money, until they fix this ridiculous “Australia Tax” as I like to call it, no money shall be spent in a retail store, nor from Steam where the price difference is so much, I’ll have someone gift me a copy from the US or UK instead.

      I keep this handy, for close encounters. http://www.steamprices.com/au/

    • I get the ‘+Australia Tax’ games from steam all the time. Fortunately I have a friend in america who gifts them to me entirely out of the goodness of her heart and absolutely nothing to do with the paypal transfer I did to her account minutes before…

    • Just so you know the prices on steam are all in $US what the exchange rate for AUS to US is at the time doesn’t really come into their pricing decisions.

    • Haha – stuff like that is genius – that’s like that DS Michael Jackson game where if you get the pirated ROM all you hear is vuvuzelas!

  • Baked in deterrents are hilarious. Until whichever underling copy protection is being used kicks in on your legally purchased game.

    If DRM breaks, it’s easy to find help for it online. If you’re trying to play the copy of GTA4 you bought, and are hit with the “anti-pirate” drunk cam (etc), there’s literally no way to get help because the default response is “you must be a pirate”.

  • Bake in Deterrents
    -Essentially useless, will be patched out just the same as any other DRM. Putting in 6 or so of them at different point’s in the game will ensure that the game has to be cracked multiple times if they aren’t all caught at the start. But after a week or so they will all be gone.
    -Also anyone who has run into the DLC not Authorised issue in DA:O on PC. Can attest that games aren’t 100% at actually deciding whether you are legit customer or not which could result in blow back on customers

    Provide Higher Levels of Support & Quality Control
    -Definitely, Developers/Publishers have gotten lazy with the ability to update games after release through steam and the like, no reason to push the release date when they can just fix it post ship in their minds

    -No. The catwoman content is part of the game it should not be a perk. This trend of buying 80% of a game and having to unlock the other 20% is in my mind a reason to pirate. Especially when it comes to weapons. Oh here is a different pre order bonus for every store that isn’t a perk for customers because no matter what it is nearly impossible(short of buying multiple copies to get all the content)
    -And it should never go beyond cosmetics. Generally the ingame bonus’s these items offer tends to turn the game into easy mode(such as the armor in Rage’s bonus, Or The Darkness 2 which seems to have an item that reveals where every collectible is.

    Standardise International/Regional Releases
    -Duh, i know the guys who sell bootleg 360/wii games in the markets love it when games get delayed here they apparently make a killing. Personally there is no justification for not releasing everywhere at once. If your servers can’t handle it upgrade them

    Lower the Cost of Digitally Distributed Software
    -Definetly needs to be fixed, especially with the disposition these days for publishers to force digital stores to mark up prices dependent on regions.

    Make an Effort to Actively Engage Your Community
    -Problem is that as much as the developers want to look into this it’s often the publisher umbrella that causes them the most problem. I know people who don’t buy Ubisoft games DRM or not, solely because of Ubisoft’s DRM stance, which hurts the ones that are trying to do right much more.

    Nuke Them From Orbit (It’s the Only Way to Be Sure)
    -Or maybe your product just sucks, not every game will get the sales predictions that were trotted out in front of the shareholders. Not every game deserves the amount of sales they get or conversely don’t get.

    But What About Lawsuits?
    -I’m a magical person i paid for a Witcher 2 collector’s Edition from overseas because my EB told me they weren’t going to service pre-orders for it.
    -Unfortunately this meant a 3 week shipping wait. So i downloaded the game illegally :o.(In part because i don’t have a DVD drive connected in my rig) I count both as a pirate and a customer.

  • Bought battlefield 2142 for mac, brand new and was never able to play because EA tried to charge me for a new CD key. The one that came with my disc was apparently already used, after a few back and forth emails I though f**k it, and that was my last experience with a computer game. Consoles ever since. DRM can die.

  • People really have to stop.quoting that 4.5million copies of the Witcher 2 were pirated. It was a marketing manager with no access to statistics who cased the figure on the assumption all games are pirated three times for every sale. Now its getting quoted as tghe base rate for piracy. WTF?

  • The Humble Indie Bundle games provide a high level of quality control and support, can be extremely low price, are already out all around the world, have perks (see: really bloody cheap, get the steam versions, get previous bundles), don’t sue anyone and engage with the community. Not to mention money goes to charity. But people still pirate those games!

  • I think gamers need to take a step back and play fair when it comes to piracy.
    If developers/publishers had this sort of leverage over us we’d be furious if they used it. So why is it any different for us? I’m constantly hearing complaints about the publishers charging whatever prices they want for games simply because they can get away with it, yet when we flip the tables and pay however much we want (read: nothing) without considering their needs it’s ok because they don’t polish our shoes and jump through every single hoop.

    I get that traditionally the person selling a product has to make the deal good for the person buying, that’s how trading money for goods and services works, but thanks to the massive leaverage piracy gives us we’re not making a deal we’re making demands. ‘Do all this stuff and maybe, if we feel like it, we’ll give you some money when we play the game you spent a lot of time and money creating’.

    Seems like the only fair way for a gamer to approach piracy is to ignore it. No demo? Ask friends, read about it online, watch some videos. Game not living up to your expectations? Complain, take it back. No refund? Hold a grudge against everyone involved forever.
    We’ll get burned from time to time but that’s just how buying stuff goes.

  • I’ve spent a lot of time arguing with pirates about various things, and it’s a rather pointless exercise. What it comes down to is a sense of entitlement. Developers/Publishers can charge what they want, deploy how they want and produce what they want. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. You don’t have some need or right to it.

    Beyond that, there’s only one point I want to address, which is a common misconception regarding digital pricing. As the article pointed out, distributing a physical product is an expensive excericse. Digital distribution is a lot cheaper. At this point it’s easy to disconnect the two and assume digital should be much cheaper. Unfortunately, that’s not how the market works.

    Publishers spend a great deal of money distributing physical products and guess who bears the risk on that investment? The publishers. If they then under-cut their own product through digital means they not only irritate their distributors, but they risk failing to sell all the physical copies and making a huge loss.

  • I hate DRM and all who say “Steam and Origin are ok” with a client/account EULA four pages long that lets them data mine your system to a crawl and only console ported to PC trash.


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