What Works Better: DRM? Or Just Being Nice To Pirates?

What Works Better: DRM? Or Just Being Nice To Pirates?

Earlier this week, Hotline Miami released and very quickly became the indie flavour of the minute. Then the story emerged that the game’s maker went into the forums at The Pirate Bay, home of, well, pirates, and provided technical support to people who were, technically, stealing the game.

Naturally, Jonatan Soderstrom reaped some goodwill for this stance. It’s an extremely sympathetic position in which to find yourself, large-size developer or small. For starters, you haven’t done anything wrong, someone is taking your hard work and refusing to pay for it. Two, you get major props from pirate sympathizers, some of whom may actually act on the principle of paying for a game if they play a pirated version and like it. Three, you’re not punishing the anti-piracy contingent, who may loathe the practice, but loathe DRM even more.

Soderstrom is by no means the first one to discover this. McPixel‘s creator was the latest high profile case of a developer embracing piracy and picking up an enormous PR boost for it — and even more: sales from the pirates themselves. After McPixel showed up on The Pirate Bay, Mikolaj ‘Sos’ Kaminski said “no biggie,” on Reddit, expanded on that with some enlightened views of piracy, and tossed in some free codes for the game. The Pirate Bay responded by, wait for it, holding an event where they asked people to actually pay money for a video game (after downloading the full version anyway).

It’s an almost unassailable position to be in (and, argumentatively, shows the power of not considering yourself a victim). Gamers love it because, technically, they’re sacrificing sales not to inconvenience legitimate customers. Pirates love it because they don’t consider it a lost sale. I’m not sure big publishers or their lobbyists love it, but anyone who comes out to rip an indie developer over his policies on his own product is going to look like a corporate dick of the first magnitude.

So what do you think? Is this an effective strategy for all? An effective strategy for some? Is it Stockholm Syndrome with digital hostages? In the past, the cynic in me would dismiss it as a shrewd PR move. (Though Gabe Newell at Valve proffered a compelling argument about why it’s a service issue.)

Whether this policy of engagement actually works on its own is one issue. But I think it’s clear it works better than DRM. If you can find anyone applauding that, let me know. But the contrast is clear; instead of trying to recover a lost sale, they’re trying to make up for it with new ones, and keep legitimate customers happy.


  • Lets look at diablo 3 as an example of a drm. They made there entire game around a drm and look at it now… Horrible pay to play bullshit…

    • Look I agreed that D3s DRM mostly to justify the real money auction house is bullshit; but its not really a pay to win game; I have a max level character that can farm any act of inferno and have never used the money AH…

  • I think decent region pricing would work better than both personally. Or bring back the days of demos being more common for games.
    As it is way too many of these supposed AAA titles come out that end up being way below average. And certainly not worth the $70+ that we are being charged.

      • +1

        Demos are an awesome idea, I believe they’d greatly cut down the rate of piracy – with so many retailers and digital distributors not offering refunds of games, some gamers aren’t willing to part with the big bucks asked for a lot of games without first trying them – but they can’t do that when there’s no demo, so they’re forced to pirate it.

        Of course, demos also mean that the publisher wouldn’t be able to palm off shovelware so easily – but they should decide if they want that, or to reduce piracy, and increase quality of games. Not a difficult call IMO, but it seems to be a tough decision for publishers to not fuck over their paying customers.

        • Yeah – the other thing is that I’ll often wait till a game is $5 because I’m not sure if I’ll like it. I pre-ordered Kingdoms of Amalur (at full price) on the back of the demo they released.

        • In the days of tapes on magazines. Piracy. In the days of cd’s on magazines. Piracy. In the days of free demos available online. Piracy. In the days of free hour long trials on ps plus. Piracy. In the days of yore. Piracy with cannons. Unfortunately thieves have always been around and they will continue to justify their actions with retarded rhetoric. Personally I read reviews when deciding to hand over money for goods – be it a game, a phone or a car.

        • I support the idea of demos, and most of what you’re saying. I just wished to take exception to the phrase “forced to pirate”. They’re not forced to pirate, only to make a tough decision with less information. Certainly not an ideal situation, and one that developers or publishers could and should correct with a demo or at least some really solid product information. People like to kid themselves into thinking they have “no choice” but to pirate, but there’s always the choice to just not buy it.

  • I wonder what the (pirate bay) download history of Mr. Soderstrom looks like? I think I would find that interesting.

    • Yes, we should also check his family history as well to see if we can find any other ways to discredit this upstart.

      • I never mentioned discrediting anyone. I was merely wondering IF and WHAT he downloaded. As I said I would find that interesting.

  • Define “better”, I guess. If the aim is to have people on the Internet think you’re a top bloke, then be nice to pirates all you want. (And, I have no doubt, some of that niceness turns into publicity, which turns into sales which potentially you didn’t have before.) But if you’re trying to sell copies of your games, because your company has poured millions of dollars into them and everyone worked their ass off and you’re sick of people taking your games for free instead of spending whatever they’re worth, I don’t think you can argue against DRM. If Ubisoft came out and said “yeah, just pirate Assassin’s Creed 3, we don’t mind”, you can bet that doesn’t end up with them making more money.

    The solution to DRM is simple: if enough people stop downloading games illegally, eventually it’ll be more trouble than it’s worth to implement DRM in your games. Until then, though, I can’t see a better solution.

    • I don’t think this is a valid case for DRM. The thing people always forget in this situation is that pirates don’t deal with DRM – only paying customers and crackers do. It usually takes the crackers all of two days to get around the DRM, and then the pirates have a better product than the one I’m paying money for. The worse the DRM is, the better the cracked version is by comparison. For example, everyone I know who paid for Assassin’s Creed 2 ended up downloading the crack anyway because Ubisoft’s authentication servers are unreliable.

  • The thing that REALLY irks me is how pirates still try to justify piracy, usually as a form of protest against corporations. But then we see indie games like this, and even “nominate your price” games being pirated. Then the excuse turns to “I’m not sure if i’ll like it, so i’ll play it for free first, then maybe i’ll pay for it if it’s any good”. Try using that logic in a restaurant: “Sorry mate, steak was rubbish. Not paying for it.” Or for clothes: “I’m gonna take these shoes, if i like them after i’ve racked up a few hundred km’s, i’;ll pay for them.” Ridiculous.

    Back to the “Piracy as Protest” point: Pirating a game is not a protest. Ask a musician if they’d rather have many people hear their music, but make no money from it, or have no-one hear it and be rich, most of them would choose to be heard. And when you pirate a game, you’ve just proven to the developer/publisher that you actually do want to play their game, so they see their actions as justified. They just think you’re a tightarse. Which you are. If you don’t like a company’s actions, don’t play their game. Being completely ignored is the worst thing that can happen to a product.


    • But the thing is. If I order a steak and its crap or not what I asked for, I can send it back and get a new one. Normally with zero hassle and a lot of appologies.

      I don’t get that service with games. Then again, I also don’t pirate as F2P and the occasionally purchased title keep me contented. <3 Tribes & BF3. =)

      • If it’s not what you asked for, you are entitled to a refund/exchange. If it’s just a crap steak, you aren’t. Restaurants make no guarantee for quality; they can’t be sure that just because one person likes their steak, that everyone will like it. And don’t EB games still have a 7-day return policy? What about the fact you can trade in/sell games you buy and don’t like?

    • The thing that really irks me is how people make unrealistic comparisons. If you could make a copy of a steak to try it without going to the restaurant or without the restaurant even knowing, try a few bites, then decide to go in and give them 50 bucks for it I think it is quite different.

      • Many games have demos available. For the ones that don’t? Simply wait for the reviews. Borrow it from a friend. Hire it from a video store. And don’t EB games have a 7 day return policy?
        Or just don’t play the game. It’s a luxury, not a necessity. You won’t die without it.

        • Diablo 3 scored almost 90 in its reviews and I felt massively burned by paying for that game.

          You also aren’t allowed to return games that bind to a steam account or a battle.net account these days.

          I do do the things that you say, I have completely gone off purchasing any Ubisoft game and I don’t download them either, I just dont like when people create arguments based on piracy being the same as stealing.

          • D3 was trash and not worth half what everyone had to pay for it. Pretty sure EB won’t give you your money back and sure as hell Bliz won’t.

            And no, if you get a bad steak the restaurant does *have* to give you your money back. But they are still required to provide you a decent product.

            Overpriced charcoal is bad for business.

          • Diablo 3 had a free trial. I know because i played it. I didn’t like it, so i didn’t buy it. And as for reviews, you always have to take professional reviewers words with a massive grain of salt; there’s quite often advertising dollars involved. Read what the masses are saying about it.

          • The free trial didn’t exist right off the bat, you had to get a trial key from someone else who had bought it already.

          • I know, that’s how i played it. Considering the amount of people who bought D3, that’s quite a few trial keys laying around. And surely the world won’t end if you don’t buy a game on release day. Wait a week, get opinions, try the trial/demo, THEN work out if’s worth your money. If you’ve paid cash for something without doing proper research, then it’s no-one else’s fault if you feel your money is wasted.

      • Actually it is more akin to stealing the techniques and recipes a CHEF has spent years and thousands of dollars inventing and improving. Some unemployed hobo helps himself to the kitchen – fucks with the food and leaves his faeces everywhere. The unemployed bum – upon being caught says ‘it wast any good anyway’.

    • Your analogy is twisted and warped. Steak and clothes cost money to replicate, software does not. Go to a supermarket and you can see exactly whats happening here, free samples, they cost very little to replicate and go by the honor system of “if you like, you buy”.
      Saying “try get away with that in the real world” is a poor argument that is always blown out of context, as it does happen in the real world. No ones gonna stop you from standing at the free sample both and eating a whole meal worth of samples, they might ask you to stop but they won’t force you. They hope you like it enough to buy the real thing. Just like what happens in piracy. Your example involves ownership of a domain, not ownership of a replicate.

      • So it’s ok to download it because it’s just a replicate? So if replicating is ok, IP theft is excusable then?
        You don’t pay for the code of the game; you pay for the right to play it. I’ll reiterate; gaming is a luxury, not a necessity. You are not entitled to free copies of someone’s game.
        And as for the food sample analogy, store management can actually ask you to leave. A store is private property.

        • So you think that being born into money makes a person more deserving of enjoyment than people who are not?

          Forget what is currently the law for a moment and tell me what you think as a society we should be like. Copying a game is free so don’t say someone who spends all their disposable income but can only buy 3-4 games a year is actually hurting the company if he pirates the ones he cannot afford.

          I buy all my games now but before I had a job I did not and my life would have gone down a much worse path if I didn’t have this hobby. I also would not be a customer right now giving them money if I had not have pirated them when I was 15.

          • So you are saying that if you had not pirated games – you would have been a ‘worse’ person? Dude – you are already a self involved thief spouting ignorant and stupid rhetoric. Doesn’t seem to have worked very well.

          • I specifically said that gaming was my hobby and I had no money at all as a teenager, If I hadn’t had become a gamer I would have been out on the street with more questionable people who I considered “Friends” at the time and didn’t realise until later what they were really like.

            You said I am a thief, I am not, I specifically said I buy all my games and I have gone back and bought almost all the games I enjoyed when I was younger.

            All you contributed was a personal attack.

            Please read it and think for a little bit next time before making your post.

          • No you specifically said – I buy all my games NOW but before I had a job I did not. Which means you are a thief – whether or not you still steal is irrelevant. Now maybe you should think for a while as your logic is flawed. You say your life would have been worse if you did not have a hobby as a kid. A hobby that you needed to steal to support. Thus you needed to steal others IP to avoid hanging out with bad kids. That is retarded in both logic and thought. Rather than using self control or blaming your parents or a discussion of socio economics – you spout this ridiculous tripe. Perhaps instead of stealing you could of read books from the library, hung out with a better class of kid, joined a free local sports team or well anything other than stealing. Further you say – it was only LATER that you found out the kids were bad. So at the time your motivation to avoid the kids was NOT EVEN A THOUGHT. You have retroactively applied this BS argument to justify what you did -i.e. Stealing. Maybe you should think for a little bit before posting BS justifications for theft.

          • I never said that I chose it to avoid hanging out with bad people I am saying it was coincidence, I downloaded it because I couldn’t see a valid reason why I should be deprived simply because I wasn’t born into a wealthy family.

            Your entire argument depends on it being theft which it simply is not, The dictionary does not agree with you and the court does not agree with you.

            You cannot get blood from a stone nobody lost out on anything and if I had not have mentioned it 10 years later not a single person would have known yet you still get up on your high horse and say you are a THIEF to try and get an emotional reaction.

            If not for downloading all those years ago these companies would not be getting any money from me today, would you really rather the companies get nothing from me ever rather than having me play years ago a game that I could never have bought?

            I bet you play a Paladin in RPGs.

          • Pirate Pete – you sir are an idiot. Read ALL the responses to your ‘arguments’ by everyone!!!! You are a thief – semantics does not change this. It is intellectual proper theft. You are a thief. I bet you didn’t do very well at school and played a either a truant or halfling thief. Having photocopied the dungeons and dragons rulebook.

          • I understand the law, you need to relax. I just want to know if people think with all the things I have said that it is morally wrong to download something you could never have bought to begin with for personal use.

            I already know what you think. You think I and anyone else who downloaded a game when they were a minor should be branded a criminal for life.

          • “So you think that being born into money makes a person more deserving of enjoyment than people who are not?”
            I have friends who have travelled overseas. I’ve never left the country; i simply don’t have that sort of money. They get to experience things i don’t. It sucks, but that’s just how the world is. People with more money will always have more options, while the rest of us are more limited with our choices. It’s not all bad though. I personally feel that the fewer things i buy, the more i cherish the things i have. And knowing that you’ve worked for something, as opposed to having it given to you, is a hell of a lot more rewarding.

            “Copying a game is free so don’t say someone who spends all their disposable income but can only buy 3-4 games a year is actually hurting the company if he pirates the ones he cannot afford.”
            Copying isn’t a form of theft? So if McDonalds stole the Colonel’s secret recipe, and made EXACT replicas of KFC, it’d be ok? Hey, it’s not like they’re walking into KFC stores and physically stealing all their chicken, right? It’s only an exact copy.
            Probably not the best analogy, but have you at least considered the fact that many people have busted their arses making games? Don’t they deserve to be paid for their work?

          • I do entirely think they deserve to be paid for their work and I personally pay them for their work. I just feel that if a broke youngster can only manage to save enough to buy 2 games a year they aren’t a lost sale if they download the other few games they want to play so they can talk about it with their school friends.

            I also think commercial pirates are scum which is what would be similar to your KFC analogy.

            I know there are also pirates who would rather pirate a game than pay 1 cent for the humble bundle however I just want people to not think so much in black and white.

      • for the record, I never said I agreed with piracy or not, I just didn’t agree with that logic, as i hear it all the time and its paper thin. You white knights are so quick to attack people over something that was never said, and that’s why you’re never taken seriously, I never said it was alright to replicate, I just said it wasn’t stealing.

  • “anyone who comes out to rip an indie developer over his policies on his own product is going to look like a corporate dick of the first magnitude”

    I think it’s worth it in any case on the off chance that this might happen.

  • I think the question is flawed from the beginning, as neither DRM or ‘being nice to pirates’ are effective long-term solutions to the problem. These approaches are, at best, single-product decisions and are not mutually exclusive.

    DRM, when executed poorly, reduces the value and quality of the product to even paying customers. DRM when executed well has little impact. Valve, for example, like to speak against DRM but the Steamworks API and Steam itself implement many features that are really DRM. In either case, piracy will still happen due to the simple fact that it is much easier to find an exploit in an existing system than it is to defend a system from indefinite and undefinable attack.

    ‘Being nice to pirates’ is a far more damaging approach. For a single product or developer, it can be a shrewd and effective marketing decision. If done publicly and intelligently, as seen in the case of Hotline Miami and McPixel, sales can be increased and marketing effectiveness boosted. In the long-term, however, it normalises the problem of piracy further and lends a tacit industry approval to the activity. Afterall, as Owen Good has said, “anyone who comes out to rip an indie developer over his policies on his own product is going to look like a corporate dick”, and that attitude will translate to all anti-piracy positions. If a small indie developer can sacrifice his potential livelihood, the industry are just looking after their profits over their customers.

    The root of the problem is cultural, rather than technical. The problem lies with consumers that feel entitled to possess a product simply because they desire it, and feel entitled to dictate the terms of that ownership, including when and how the product is received. DRM will not counter this cultural force, and ‘being nice’ will only encourage its growth. In the mean-time, delivering quality products world-wide simultaneously and with equitable pricing will reduce the impact of piracy, as advocated by Gabe Newell and others. Failure or inability to do so, however, will never justify piracy.

    • I think that’s more or less the point though. Being nice to pirates is not necessarily providing a ‘tacit approval’ of piracy but instead simply not being dicks and aggressively attacking them.

      Personally I just don’t understand why any companies would attempt activities that could have obviously damaging potential to the reputation in the eyes of paying customer (I’m not talking about investors here.) I mean as an example we all know there’s a friendly rivalry between Holden and Ford here but what if Ford say came out and said “Seriously fuck Holdens and the people who buy them.” That would be no doubt damaging and even if they believed it, they didn’t have to say it.

      With pirating culture though, it is here to stay. As soon as we switched from a society that had to spend all its money to survive, changed priorities from survival to satisfaction and now we spend all our money to have a good time. Piracy is the cheapest way to have the same fun in the magnitudes as somebody who could afford the same. Happiness now comes from how much we consume and how well we can share experiences with others. I’m sure many here unashamedly download movies and tv shows simply because our regional distributions don’t supply them at a fast enough rate or at a reasonable price. Although they could wait, it is so unfun to be somebody who sits on the side while those who can consume get to openly enjoy it. The entitlement is not just selfishness, but envy: “Not that I’m entitled to have it for free, but that HE is entitled to pay so openly. I cannot pay but refuse to be lesser than HIM.”

  • Demos definitely.

    I’m someone who doesn’t pirate games. Or not since the years of CD burning, However while I think most excuses for why people pirate are generally weak. If there’s some truth to them, more Demos should provide some answer. I know I often buy games on steam after downloading a demo. A lot of people say they can’t trust developers, or they simply download to try out the game. Would as many people have pirated Crysis 2, if they could have downloaded a demo of the first level or two?

    Another key area is make a good product. I have bought plenty of games I have never finished and I don’t really regret those purchases. However when I load up something like the Multiplayer in the latest Medal of Honor Warfighter. It literally makes me angry I bought such a badly designed, not made or optimised for PC at all game. Even though I liked the single player and it didn’t have these issues. The MP is an insult. It even has non working quality options. There’s no different between Ultra and Low for Textures or Meshes ect. I think this tread of shitty ports has a big factor in people not wanting to buy.

    Generally though, yes it’s a culture where people don’t want to pay. End of the day it’s easier to legally buy and download yet people don’t. You need to get over the “I want it now” attitude. Maybe demos can help get them over that itch to an extent. Then if they want it they can wait for a sale.

  • I don’t think DRM should ever be considered as being a better alternative. I bought all of Blizzards games until Diablo 3 and I have never had such a bitter taste left in my mouth or felt like a bigger idiot for giving a company money. I cannot believe that you have to deal with lag in a single player game. You cant even get a refund unless you bought a digital copy. Apart from this though any DRM used is never seen by a pirate and in most cases it gives the pirate a better experience for example they remove GFWL and add in all the various pre order DLCs for you.

    It seems crazy to me that you get rewarded with a better product for not giving them any money. This applies doubly to TV shows.

  • Removing DRM and not haranguing the pirates is like ignoring bullies. If you take away the thing that makes people want to act in defiance or gives them an incentive to spite you, they will be more willing to stop and be amenable to helping you out.

    Of course, there are always going to be people who do it for the thrill of being a rebel or just don’t want to pay for anything, but they’re never going to pay anyway, regardless of how accommodating you are.

  • Its easier for an indie to do this.
    They make 10k sales, they’re stoked. If people pirate the game, its just more coverage. You get even 5% of those pirates to buy the game, you’ve probably just doubled your paying customers.

  • The problem isn’t the DRM it’s how they implement it in way’s that affect the legitimate customers of the product. If you make it difficult or annoying people won’t be willing to pay for it.

    Being nice to pirates on the other hand isn’t something i would honestly think is a good idea, i mean if it was “Ok” to do it then more people would indeed do it. Especially when its the developer helping you play it for free. That’s like if the police started helping you rob the bank.

    Also pirating games is not a stance against DRM, it’s stealing plain and simple. If you wan’t to fight DRM stop buying games or products with DRM that punish the consumer.

    And for those who still want to pirate because its cheaper. Try to at least buy the game if you love it,
    And if you can’t afford it atleast try to buy it if it comes on sale. Got GTA Chinatown wars yesterday for 99c, not even gonna play it but it feels good to finally own it rofl.

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