Game Developers Can Beat Piracy By Copying Their Actual Competition

from the if-we've-said-it-once-we've-said-it-a-thousand-times dept

Drew points us to a CNN commentary piece from Scott Steinberg, a video game consultant, who suggests that video game piracy can be good for the game industry. Steinberg goes over several examples of game piracy and the corresponding complaints from game developers who are alarmed by the growing availability of DRM workarounds. But instead of agreeing with the calls for more and more protection from illegal downloads and the use of ever more draconian copy protection measures, Steinberg points out the opportunity that is available:

For game creators, lowering costs and making titles widely available may actually be the solution to stamping out piracy.

As we’ve mentioned here a few times before, participating in the arms race of creating ever more sophisticated annoying copy protection only damages the user experience and doesn’t provide value to gamers at all. Developers can, however, offer alternatives to piracy — more attractive options — such that consumers won’t even look for pirated games. By adopting some of the tactics of piracy and allowing gamers to freely download and share games, developers can build up the value of their games that can’t be easily copied. Steinberg makes the same conclusion:

By making games more readily accessible, faster to skim and easier to pass along to friends, game makers may actually be doing more to combat piracy than any lawsuit or fancy technical countermeasure ever could.

If only the game industry would see it the same way…

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Comments on “Game Developers Can Beat Piracy By Copying Their Actual Competition”

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IronM@sk (profile) says:

Re: Steam

But even then you can’t really call it DRM, as Steam has always been a service. A good one. The benefit associated with having to run Steam to play those games is that you get automatic updates to your games and a decent set of community based features on top of that.

The problem many developers/game providers face is a complete disconnect from their community. That is just bad for business. Any business.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Steam Features

I actually can.

1) Convenience – you can download your games as many times on your account as you need from any computer.

2) Dedicated servers – If you like a game, buy a server and build your own form of game as you want to play it. Also, you can customize it to any degree you want.

3) Free games – Alien Swarm is one of a myriad of free or cheaply reduced games available on Steam

4) Discounts – There’s quite a lot of games that you can buy for half off or even 75% off, keeping Steam in the green along with their partners

5) Achievements – This one is kind of interesting. There’s at least one story that this helped one developer to raise up to $250,000 in one day when they were about to shutter their doors. It’s not just on Steam but it is important in showing to others the type of games and dedication you have to them.

chris (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Steam Features

steam’s DRM is the best around, in terms of what you get for your frustration, but it’s still annoying.

i have made heavy use of the download feature, but it’s kind of a double edged sword:

you can download all your games, but i have something like 20gb of steam games, so downloading them is a multi-day affair.

also, even if you have installed them from DVD first (which i did, after waiting almost a week for everything to download,) they have to patch/validate which can be a day long affair. double click an icon for a game you haven’t played in a few months, it most likely won’t start right away due to patching and validation.

i discovered this after two PC rebuilds, one i downloaded everything online and had to wait almost 5 days to play the games i wanted to play, the other i loaded from DVDs and still had to wait a couple of days to play with patches and other nonsense. then i moved, and my gaming machine sat in storage for a few months and when i finally powered it up, i had to download months of patches and re-validate which left me locked out of my games for another day or two.

in steam’s defense, you run into this problem with most MMO’s, and even XBOX live games as well.

Jim says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Steam Features

Don’t forget:

VAC – Valve’s anti-cheat system

Community support – You get a Steam profile, you can link up with friends or groups/servers you play with very easily. Easy for server owners to broadcast community events for their server.

Cloud Storage – Very easy for developers to have all your saved games/progress/etc saved “in the cloud”. Love this feature as whenever I buy a new PC I no longer need to worry about backing up all my game files anymore.

The list goes on really. They keep adding to it too, it’s a great platform for gamers.

Jimmy Langford says:

Re: Re:

People automatically make the (incorrect) assumption that Steam is some sort of budget/bargain-basement service where publishers throw their games once they’ve finished with “real sales” at physical retail stores. As I mentioned further down, 57% of all PC game purchases are now made on online distribution services. As for relying on cheap prices, of course it helps, but you’ll noticed the top selling game on Steam right now is Civilization V, and it weighs in at a hefty AUD$79.99. I see “Battlefield: Bad Company 2” is also on the top 10 after 6 months at AUD$69.99.

The point is online game distribution isn’t some pokey novelty anymore. It’s big business!

Lutomes (profile) says:

Types of pirates

Businesses would do themselves a world of good if they tried to look into the reason people are pirating.

There are essentially 3 types of pirates:

1. Those that will pirate no matter what and will never buy.
2. Those that can’t afford what you are selling, or don’t like the price.
3. Those that don’t like your method of selling, or some other qualities of the product.

Group 1: will still pirate your product even if you offered it for free (Google the Humble Indie Bundle)

Group 2: you can attract in the long tail. They might pirate your game/dvd when it’s full price, but once your $100 game or $30 dvd is on sale (a few years after it was first out) for $10 will happily buy it.

Group 3: you can win over just by giving them what they want.

For years I ONLY pirated PC games firstly because I couldn’t afford them in Highschool, but then because of nasty DRM that was forced onto so many games. I would however buy dozens of console games a year once I started working (still not spending on PC). Sure I could have modded my console or got a DS flash card. But I had the money to buy games, the product was what I wanted so I did. Heck I’ve got dozens of games that I’ve never even played out of a library of 300+.

For PC games what got me back into spending was Steam and Steam having new games, at good prices, free re-downloading and easy access. DRM is there but non invasive. Gog on the other hand is DRM free. And I’ve purchased a small fortune worth of games there. I have even re-purchased games I own for the CONVENIENCE! I’ve got the CD sitting right next to me in my bookshelves – but I’m happy to pay the $10 again just so I don’t have to fiddle with it getting it working.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Types of pirates

There are also those who try before they buy, like a demo. It’s often dismissed as a made-up excuse, but I see a parallel between that and getting a friend’s copy when they’re done with it. I’ve hooked a few people on a game franchise by passing along my purchased copy of a title they wouldn’t have bought for themselves, and they go on to buy sequels or expansion packs.

That’s becoming more difficult to do these days, with the assault on preowned games via DRM, and the difficulties that DRM has caused me in the past having naught to do with passing games along. I don’t buy games with abandon like I used to, I can’t. Impulse purchasing is right out for me anymore, because of DRM issues. Too much mental energy needed.

I don’t pirate. I just no longer buy.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Here’s another strawman argument.

If you actually read anything on this site, please understand:

People will buy games. Even though Modern Warfare 2 was pirated it didn’t stop Activision from making over $1 Billion dollars in revenue.

How about an actual argument that isn’t refuted by numbers such as the suggestion to publishers to work on their price differentiation in other countries? Last I checked the UK still pays $100+ USD for videogames from the US. Or was that Australia, where it makes more sense just to learn how to pirate? Hmmm…

Lutomes (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I don’t know why they have it so backwards here in Australia.

I mean 20 years ago a USD$50 game being sold for A$100 here was acceptable. Limited market, increased distribution costs, increased publishing costs (PAL vs NTSC etc). And the exchange rate was worse.

Now take Steam – it used to be great for getting games, they all used to be just charged at the standard US$ prices. Now they bump the price just for Australian consumers. If I setup a new USA Steam A/c then I would pay ~US$50 still, but if I use my current AU A/c I pay ~US$80.

No extra service only a bumped price so they can artificially maintain “retail” pricing in physical stores.


Re: Crocodile tears.

The way Apple tells it, the race to the bottom isn’t so bad. If you have a large enough built in user base you can deeply discount your software and still make out like a bandit.

Cry all the crocodile tears you want. However, you’re still dealing with a “product” with a zero marginal production cost. You can sell more copies and it will be pure gravy once development costs are recouperated.

It’s Econ 101. Lower your prices and sell dramatically more copies. It’s not 1983 anymore so you’ve got a very large market to exploit.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

The article mentions the PS3 Hack

The article mentions the PS3 Hack as a way to copy the games to a hard drive. I may be misunderstanding the whole point of PS3 JailBreak USB Dongles, but I understand that the reason they came into being is because Sony removed the OtherOS option from their firmware, and as a result, people started working on the jailbreak to allow them to return functionality that Sony removed. The fact that the jailbreak allows copying of games was just something that the USB dongle could do, but it wasn’t the primary purpose of the dongle (which seemed to have more to do with getting the emulator functionality back which was removed by Sony.

The fact that nobody really tried hard to jailbreak the PS3 until after Sony removed the OtherOS functionality seems to back up this observation. I have a slim PS3, so I never had that functionality (and didn’t care about updating my firmware,) but I know friends that got really upset since they used Linux on their PS3, while also playing purchased games and downloaded content online with friends, when Sony took that functionality away. A few of them had to go out and buy slims just to be able to update the firmware to play games while not updating the firmware on their thick machines.

If they take functionality away from my PS3, I’d be pissed to and would look for ways to restore the functionality I paid for that they took away afterwards. I am still waiting for the lawsuits…not sure why no one is suing them (or maybe they are, and I just haven’t been paying attention.)

Then again, I don’t understand the beef with jailbreaks and mods anyway, especially considering the fact that I own several XBOXs that Microsoft doesn’t support any more…shouldn’t I be able to do whatever I want with a machine that Microsoft doesn’t care about any more.

David says:

Blizzard had one of the best mechanisms in its earlier days. Its games allowed you to do a spawn installation, where you could essentially let your friends play for free. Even though it did have CD-key based DRM, requiring only one copy of starcraft while my entire group of friends played (we were young’ns without any cash) did way more in terms of long term payout. Since Starcraft, I think I’ve bought and played every single Blizzard game.

Anonymous Coward says:

Xmarks proposed demise - Mike Mike

Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike
Mike Look at this
Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike

Xmark has a problem – and Techdirt can help them.
I think that they are premature in closing – they need to ask their
users how much they would pay.

– can you make this one of your case studies!!!!
But rather than simply report on a case study, you can help make it happen.

>> Why post on Techdirt? Because you have examples of what Xmarks could
do to survive and prosper!

[Feel free to edit as you see fit. Thanks From Anon ]

Mike I love you blog – and all you essays on how to many a living
Selling for ‘Free’
I loved your article:
Tue, Sep 21st 2010 12:36pm

One Working Musician Explains How Pay What You Want Works For Him


I am hoping that you might post regarding Xmarks – I think that Xmarks can take a page from the ideas here.
End of the Road for Xmarks

———– My comment —————

What I think Xmarks is missing, is the option to get people to
tell what they would pay for the service.

Two million users at $1 to $3 dollars a month is
$2 to $6 million a year is that enough to keep it going while they
work out that to do. Sell Tee shirts, bumper stickers … who knows.

(Note: People could pay differing amounts – depending on their
perception of the value or the desirability of the service continuing.
Like funding PBS – you may simply think it is a ‘good thing’.)

Does that keep the business going – while they find the best model.

Perhaps like a good fine restaurant where you enjoy the
food and it is inexpensive. You would pay more if you knew that it would close – because the
cook didn’t know he could / had to charge more. You would pay more as you cannot find as
good a restaurent in the price range, location etc. So if they close you will have to
eat many poor meals as you try new restaurents before you find you you like as well as the
one you currently visit. Xmarks is such a restaurent – but they simple gave away the

So maybe – taking the idea – pay what you want to
used by the music folk – often listed here on

Xmarks can find out if they can still be a success.

Why don’t the Xmrks put up a
blog – where
ask users to say what they would pay.
the reply could be 1 4 7
i.e. I would certainly pay 1 could pay 4 and 7 would be at the high limit.

This would then mean that they could see – a straw poll
if enough people are willind to fund the operation.

Ask the people also, for their ideas – the 2 million users
probably – can say why the like it.

And some will have clever ideas that you didn’t think or
your users thing that us provide a useful service – so
ask them?
How much would you pay?
Any ideas on how we can make this pay, attract others so that we continue?

Note: I don’t work for XMarks. I’m just an interested observer.

Jimmy Langford says:

Well, thankfully some key figures in the industry DO see it that way.

PCGamer recently posted an interesting interview with Gabe Newell – managing director of Valve, regarding (amongst other things) the huge success of their online distribution service “Steam”.

When asked about piracy, Newell states that it’s almost a non-issue for them. Why? Because they have built their service on the idea that making legitimate copies of games more attractive and convenient to obtain than pirated versions will translate to (surprise surprise) more sales and less piracy. Interesting when at the other end of the table you have companies like Ubisoft who employ some of the most draconian DRM ever seen in an attempt to combat piracy, yet at the same time complain bitterly that piracy is ruining them. Honestly, you’d think the penny would’ve dropped by now.

Anyway, you can find the full interview here:

On a related note, 57% of all PC games sales are reportedly now made via online distribution services such as Steam.

Greevar (profile) says:


The industry just continues to show their ignorance to the difference between encouraging payment and forcing payment. If they made what they offer more attractive to buy rather than copy, they’d have nothing to worry about. This mentality that anyone who doesn’t pay for a copy is taking food out of their mouths is disingenuous at best. To claim that they are the less for someone copying their works rather than buying a copy is akin to claiming theft for someone repeating your statements back to you.

A.E. says:


By offering games for free and charging for value, they could make a mint.

Case in point, Dungeons and Dragons Online. They offer the software and the experience for free. They use microtransactions to sell new content to play in the game, options for your account and character and many other things. If people don’t want to buy anything… or don’t see the value… they don’t have to.

But personally, I’ve spent MUCH more than a yearly subscription would cost since I’ve started playing. Why? Because it makes for a better experience for me and because I like to enjoy my free time.

Others should learn from this. Stop making annoying DRM that will only get broken… concentrate on improving the experience and creating optionals that will enhance the experience.

hegemon13 says:

Look at mobile gaming

The thing that amazed me when I got my smartphone (not an iPhone, either) was the shockingly low price of quality games. The most expensive game I could find was $10, while most were were around $3-7. We’re not talking about simple mini-games, either. We’re talking about full, 3-D gaming titles in a variety of genres. A 15-20-hour, 3D, Diablo-esque RPG for $4.99. Need for Speed: Undercover, a full, career-based, name-brand racing game with hours of play, smooth 3D, and accelerometer-based steering for $9.99. I was (and am) like a kid in a candy store. A really cheap candy store that I can afford with my allowance.

My point? I know where I can pirate the games for my phone, but why bother? For a low price, I can download the game from anywhere and get updates and support. Heck, I have even purchased titles completely blind without reading a review? Why? For $1-2, it’s disposable. I’ll try it out and delete it if I don’t like it. It’s no more than a movie rental (or less, depending on where you go).

Yet, the developers are still profitable. Ask the developers of Angry Birds how sad they are that their game only sells for $1-2, depending on the platform. At a rate of 60,000 downloads per day, I think they would say, “Not very sad.”

Anonymous Coward says:

I have a great career, I have hobbies outside of gaming/computers, and a loving wife. I also download more content than any 10 pirates I know, and have been doing so for over 20 years. So if I can afford to buy whatever the hell it is I want, why do I bother pirating? It has nothing to do with being easy. I’ve been doing this since the days of dialup BBS’s and have spent weeks either hacking a single protection method, hunting manuals down for the old school ARM (analog rights management, when you had to provide the 8th word on page 17) or just hunting down pieces of a release. It’s not because I’m cheap, rebellious in nature, like getting things for free, etc… It’s simply because there is a lot of crappy content out there and I’m not in the fertilizer business. I don’t want to invest, support, or be a victim of clever marketing. You can’t return the product to the store if you don’t like it, or easily get your money back from the developer/producer. Some games/apps will offer a demo or limited trial, which works well to illustrate some products, and not so well for others. Ultimately for me, if it’s something that has zero replayability, is a console port, or has less then 10 hours of legitimate game time, it will not be worth the price of the electricity I used testing it.

It’s also important to note, that I legally own more content than any 100 people I know. Probably more then most of them combined. I also heavily endorse the products I do enjoy to those 100+ people. If you remove all of the pirating resources (as if that were possible) on the internet, you would simply lose customers as people would then become oblivious to your product. Steam has been a game changer in many respects to my pirating habits. It managers many of my games, it offers aggressive prices (at times), exposes users to new/long lost games, and most of all makes it easy to download/reinstall them at will without using up my storage space. It offers convenience that rivals torrents, newsgroups, ftp’s, etc… It’s the Netflix of PC gaming, and has a RtB.

The problem Hollywood, game developers, music producers, application companies, book publishers, and their organizations really don’t want to admit is that…Piracy helps GOOD products, and helps consumers AVOID bad ones. And with them saturating the market more and more each year, the crappier products just aren’t as profitable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Remember when 'DRM' could break your hardware? That sure made me LOVE those software companies.....

I got started with computers back in the Commodore 64 days, as a youth with not much funding, I had to beg, borrow, and bribe just to get new hardware. Programming in ram and having it disappear when the machine was turned off was annoying, that first tape drive was a blessing (being able to save the hours of programming work), and the first 5 1/4 floppy drive… OMG it’s so fast (compared to tape).

Companies started putting ‘copy protection’ (the early stages of DRM) on the games that basically made the disk drive bang it’s head against the wall repeatedly in an attempt to read something that it wasn’t intended to read. They basically inserted bad sectors on the disk intentionally, then forced the drive to try and read them, which was very BAD for the drives, and caused them to report a specific type of error, which the program then checked for, if it didn’t get the error, the program wouldn’t run. This wasn’t just a few companies, most of them were doing this to some extent (the bigger names just had more errors on the disks which made the drive heads bang a lot more… EA was one of the worst… Adventure Construction Set…. Why o why did you kill my disk drive?)

Having my first $259 disk drive (to a teenager in the early 80’s this was a big investment) basically destroyed intentionally by big name gaming companies just because I wanted to play their games (which I had legally purchased, I hadn’t searched out alternatives yet) was all it took to turn me to the dark side….

Treat your customers like crap, and they will treat your company the same way…. what goes around comes around.

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