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.
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