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BrendanH

Pros and cons of copy protection for direct download games

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Apologies if this is in the wrong forum, wasn't sure where to post the question but business seemed as good as anywhere! I've been weighing up the pros and cons of copy protection and various methods of it for our game, and was wondering whether anyone here has any views on the subject. As I see it, people buy games instead of pirating them for 2 main reasons: Morales or incentives. Online games have the best incentive, you have to buy them because copy protection is active all the time and there's no getting around it, whether it's a CD-Key for an FPS or a subscription to an MMO. Offline games usually have the strong incentive of a boxed product, and sometimes the convenience of walking into a shop and picking it up. But what incentives do people have to buy an offline, direct download only game from an independent developer? OK there's free updates which is a plus, and a fast download from our server (but how long does a 200MB torrent really take to download anyway?). But it still seems like we're relying on peoples' morales more than other types of game. And just how much can you actually rely on that? (This is a genuine question!) :) So it would seem some sort of copy protection is necessary, perhaps even more so than with other offline games. But all copy protection is broken, so is it worth even trying to make it secure, at the risk of inconveniencing and potentially alienating some of the morale people who might have otherwise bought the game? I'm still torn between attempting to make something relatively secure that requires online activation based on hardware ID of the machine, and just making something simple and easy to crack so at least people still have to download a cracked version. Might throw in an extra layer too that just brings up a message making people feel guilty about pirating an indy game! Maybe uploading lots of fake cracks to Mininova would annoy a few people into buying it too!

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I'd be interested in knowing the motivations behind people choosing to pirate or not to pirate too, but it's the sort of thing that's incredibly hard to gauge. I'm not that sure that each individual person would be able to give a true opinion of their own motives.

My gut feeling is that most people are basically honest by default however they will be prone to copying games if there's an easy target of opportunity - say if they play their friend's game and he asks they'd like a copy, or if they feel cheated by the company which "justifies" getting a copy of the game. From this perspective I think it's counter-productive to put in extensive copy protection in your game. If you put it something too excessive then at best it's a waste of resources as the serious pirates will crack it away, and at worst it will be a hassle to genuine customers, break their trust in your company and make them more likely to pirate themselves.

I think hardware locking is a decent copy protection system if you can implement it properly and have an easy way for genuine customers to move their game to new machines. Playing the "support the indie card" and appealing to people to not copy your game is good too as long as you don't hammer it too hard. You can also use a payment system that gives people more incentive to be legit, such as offering extra services for registered members.

My final thought though is not to worry too much about pirates. Spend a little bit of time to deal with casual pirating but don't go overboard. If you start worrying too much you'll start seeing every customer as a potential thief and that will harm your customer relations and marketing. At a point it's better to focus on attracting more friendly paying customers than worring about the freeloaders.

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Quote:
Original post by wwwHexAttackCom
If you use incentives try and use positive ones like online player ranking (need a valid code).
I agree with that, and just wanted to throw out an idea you could use.

If your game has official forums, make it so that the registered users who have bought the game (you can verify this, as they pay you directly, so you can always associate 1 forum account with each payment) have a title under their name, something along the lines of "Registered User." Where as everyone else would have a "Demo User" or whatever instead.

This would only work, however, if your game creates a tight community, but it seems like a good idea that's not too hard to implement anyway.

PS. A live example of this being used can be found at www.liveforspeed.net forums.

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Some good points, I think you're all right. There really isn't any point going overboard with copy protection... Like you say, whatever you do gets cracked anyway and just causes bad will and inconvience in the process.

I think the "support the indy developer" combined with regular free updates is the way to go. Galactic Civilizations 2 actually seems to have done quite well partially because it has no copy protection whatsoever, though with a direct download game I think it's still prudent to have at least serial no. level protection.

Like the idea of giving paying customers a special title in the forums, might just do that too.

If anyone's interested, the way we've decided to implement the system overall is to give people a username/password for the website when they register (they get a link to the full version download on our ftp in the "downloads" section once logged in), and an Account ID which they have to enter when they install the game. So basically just a serial no., but it's linked to their account and used for access to online services (updates, and multiplayer once we implement it!). Each Account ID can only have 1 active connection to our server at a time, but other than that we say you can install the game on as many computers as you like.

Should hopefully be enough motivation to buy the game, whilst still promoting good will!

Thanks for the advice.

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