Kickstarter-Funded Game Drops DRM-Free Version It Promised, Then Promises It Again After The Backlash

from the 360-degrees dept

Readers of this site should know by now that, as a general rule, DRM is equal parts dumb and ineffective. What in theory is a way for game publishers to stave off piracy typically instead amounts to a grand digital method for making sure legitimate customers can’t play the games they buy. Now, not all DRM is created equally shitty, of course — one of the more benign forms of DRM is Valve’s Steam platform. Because games purchased on the platform check in with Steam servers for product keys and otherwise encrypts the individual files for the game each user downloads, it’s a form of DRM.

And because DRM is almost always annoying even at its best, there are some gamers who will only buy DRM-free games. Many Kickstarter campaigns for video games, in fact, explicitly state that backers and non-backers will have a DRM-free option for the game available, either through platforms like GOG and HumbleBundle, or directly from the developer. Duke Grabowski, Mighty Swashbuckler! was one such game, with developer Venture Moon Industries promising both a Steam release and a DRM-free release when it collected funds from backers. Then, suddenly, once the company got a publisher on board for the project, it announced that the game would only be available on Steam.

During the campaign, DRM-free copies of Duke Grabowski were promised to backers. Of course, most people expected this promise to be honored. As of yesterday, the publisher the developers have lined up told them this no longer is the case. The whole DRM-free thing has been thrown out the proverbial window and only Steam keys are being offered. Understandably, the comments section on Kickstarter is in an uproar.

The reaction has been almost universally negative, with nearly every commentor speaking out against the decision. Several backers are demanding a refund because they only backed it because DRM-free was promised. Instead of getting militant, a few backers have decided it best to petition the publisher to honor the original promises. One has even written up a template to send toDukeGrabowski@gmail.com.

Well, yes, the reaction from those who have paid for a product, even if it’s a pre-payment in the form of a Kickstarter pledge, will tend to be negative when promised iterations of the game are suddenly yanked away without warning or recourse. Everyone seems to agree that publisher Alliance Digital Media was the one behind the decision, but to the end customer that makes little difference. If a developer promises a DRM-free version of its game to backers, then that developer had damned well better make sure the publisher they select is on board with that as well. Otherwise, it was a promise made without the commitment to keeping it.

As it turns out, this particular story has a happy ending, with the developer announcing on Kickstarter that the DRM-free version of the game has been promised again.

Good news! Alliance has told me that they are planning on releasing a DRM-free version of the game before the end of the year, and that more details will be coming soon. So thank you for your patience and understanding.

Which is, you know, fine, but with Kickstarter becoming a major vehicle for funding the creation of new gaming content, this kind of thing needs to get ironed out now. Because backers aren’t going to keep backing without some level of trust that promises made to slurp their money from them will be kept, preferably without them having to light the torches and dig up their pitchforks.

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Companies: kickstarter, valve, venture moon industries

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Comments on “Kickstarter-Funded Game Drops DRM-Free Version It Promised, Then Promises It Again After The Backlash”

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37 Comments
alkaraki (profile) says:

I keep seeing this claim that “Steam is DRM.”

You may have heard of a little game called The Witcher 3?

Completely DRM free. I downloaded it once and copied the install files over to my laptop without Steam. No problem.

The Steam wiki has a list of several hundred games that are completely DRM free once downloaded.

Odd that tech sites keep getting this so wrong.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“The Steam wiki has a list of several hundred games that are completely DRM free once downloaded.”

But, what’s with the “once downloaded” qualifier? If there’s DRM prior to download, then surely it’s not DRM-free. I think most people wanting to completely avoid DRM would have bought it from GoG rather than messing around copying files after download from Steam.

Also, the presence of a selection of non-DRM games does not negate the fact that Steam uses DRM. To compare again to GoG, if you have to mess around looking at lists ona separate page to work out which games lack DRM, rather than being able to trust that the whole selection is DRM-free, then there’s a valid criticism of the site using DRM.

Nick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Well, if you want to argue it that way, then even GOG is full of DRM, since you have to log into an account in which you have purchased it. Then once you are verified as an owner (a form of DRM similar to logging into a steam account) then you can download the game files.

Once downloaded, you can copy the files to another computer all you want without it preventing you from doing so because of DRM. If it’s simply the act of logging into a system that makes it DRM, then steam is like GOG.

To me, steam is a handy, single place that maintains a list of all digital purchases I have (through them, but I make sure to stick with them so I don’t have to have multiple programs/accounts), allows categorization of files, provides a community to discuss it with others via a forum, and allows quick and easy one-click download/install of any one of my games. The fact they have DRM or not is a minor bit to me, what with the other factors stated above bring to the table.

But some people really do love DRM free copies and will fight to the death over it.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Well, if you want to argue it that way, then even GOG is full of DRM, since you have to log into an account in which you have purchased it”

That’s not DRM. I just wondered why he felt the need to qualify the statement with the “once downloaded” phrase. It’s a long time since I used Steam, so I’m not sure what he’s referring to, but I assume the client has DRM since IIRC you need to use it to download anything from Steam. With GoG, you can download directly without additional software if you want.

As for the rest of what you say, yes all of that is cool, but you don’t need DRM to enable any of it. Steam has competitors that allow all of that without the DRM crap. I understand that the DRM is there because Steam have publishers there that insist on DRM, but it’s an issue, especially if you have to go searching to see if a particular title is infected or not.

“But some people really do love DRM free copies and will fight to the death over it.”

I love having non-DRM software, since I know I can still use it at any time no matter what some publisher decides or worrying if some software is spying on me or can stop me using my legally purchased software for no reason.

I won’t “fight to the death”, I just won’t buy substandard games, which by definition DRM-infected ones are.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Unless you purchase software from a bigbox store, then nearly anything online is DRM as it requires a login and password. Steam does have some DRM but I have played several games directly from the executable when I was tweaking or modding games. Or when I wanted to LAN the game between two computers.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

It depends. Always? Not necessarily. But, if you buy something in a physical store and it requires you to go online and log in to be able to use it, that’s DRM.

There’s some leeway here – for example, if you need to install a patch that doesn’t require a login, or the game is multiplayer only, then DRM may not apply. But, if it’s a single player game and you need to log in somewhere just to play it, that’s DRM infected.

Wyrm (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“Unless you purchase software from a bigbox store, then nearly anything online is DRM as it requires a login and password.”

Then again, sometimes buying a boxed game from a physical store didn’t ensure that’s DRM-free.
Some of those boxes actually contain only a Steam key (I got this nasty surprise once), or require that you log in to an online account on the publisher site… Box games are definitely not clear.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“Enjoy Tux Racer.”

Now who’s being ridiculous? Not only does he not indicate he’s a Linux user (it’s possible to use Windows and despise DRM on single player games), but you’d have to have been sleeping for a decade to believe that’s the state of Linux games today. Especially on Steam, who created their own gaming OS for use on a games console, FFS.

Nick (profile) says:

This seems odd to me. I’m glad the “publisher” deigned to get off their high horse to allow the developers to implement some kind of DRM-free version “later”, but it shouldn’t be their choice.

Sure, most publishers won’t like to sell a game that is DRM-free as to them it is another word for “less sales”, but the whole point of kickstarter is that it is supposed to bypass the typical publisher model of game sales. Kickstarter projects are funded with the idea being that the money given to the developers is all they would need to provide the promised assets to all the backers. Anything beyond that (sales of the game from then on through a store or marketplace) is a bonus to the developers.

In fact, if they were to not sell a single copy of the game through a store, it should still be a successful product, as the funds paid for the development and research and production of the product for the backers. To come out after and say they needed a publisher feels like a betrayal.

Zonker says:

Re: Re:

In fact, if they were to not sell a single copy of the game through a store, it should still be a successful product, as the funds paid for the development and research and production of the product for the backers.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes developers will run out of Kickstarter funds during development due to unforeseen complications, exceeding their budget, or taking longer than expected to deliver a polished and finished game, and end up taking a personal loan or finiding additional investors to finish the project. Investors and banks expect their money back with interest, so in those cases sales of the finished product are necessary to break even.

Anonymous Coward says:

This new "promise" is weasel wording

Note that it says “a version” of the game will be available DRM-free. Not that “the game will be available DRM-free”.

Wait and watch. I’ll bet the DRM-free “version” is deliberately crippled to try to strongarm purchasers into buying the DRM-encumbered one. Remember, you’re dealing with people here who were perfectly willing to pull a bait-and-switch on their own supporters AND who were willing to use DRM, always a sign of subhuman filth. They’re not going to be above trying another scam, as long as it’s profitable for them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: This new "promise" is weasel wording

Waiting for the other shoe to drop….

And… “later this year”… this will calm the crowd for now…

I agree, this “version” WILL be limited or crippled. Now that they have a publisher in the ring you KNOW who will be calling the shots. A publishers playbook has been on display for a while.

Jeffry Houser (profile) says:

I requested a refund

I requested a refund as soon as the DRM update came through. They devs were pretty cool and promised to send me a check for the full amount.

The latest update leaves me unclear if I’m still getting a refund. It also leaves me unclear if the “Steam” Version is coming out first.

That said; I want to specify DRM on steam is not required. Devs can release DRM free games on Steam. For the most part, my mind associates Steam with a form of DRM, though.

reboog711 (profile) says:

Re: Re: I requested a refund

No; as others have noted in this discussion; games can be released via the Steam digital store without using Steam DRM.

I, personally, don’t understand the difference between them. If you backed the game you’ll see a lot of the comments on the backer update ask whether the Steam version is DRM free.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: I requested a refund

“If you backed the game you’ll see a lot of the comments on the backer update ask whether the Steam version is DRM free.”

If you need to have backed the game to see this information on their Kickstarter page, that’s a big problem for many people. You should have this information upfront before deciding whether or not to put your money there.

reboog711 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I requested a refund

“If you need to have backed the game to see this information on their Kickstarter page, that’s a big problem for many people. You should have this information upfront before deciding whether or not to put your money there.”

I’m not sure I understand your complaint.

People backed the game; and part of that promise was for a DRM Free version. Once the funding period is over; people can no longer back the game–but usually they can purchase it once it is released.

The game devs / publisher later retracted the DRM-free option in a backer only update. I assume you need to be a backer to read the update or the comments on the update.

People–like me–are upset that that we paid for something that had a feature which was retracted.

Anonymous Coward says:

there are some gamers who will only buy DRM-free games

I’m one of them,

Though since game makers are douche bags about disclosing whether they do or don’t, I pretty much dropped gaming entirely because of this. It is a GAME. When I was young I was willing to screw around and fix other peoples busted shit. Now, it is like: “You want me to what? So that you can what? Fuck you.”

Dropping their bullshit actually made it much more practical to shift over to a 100% Linux work environment. Though I have to admit I do have one crusty old windows box that is only used for CAD.

I feel sorry for the game makers. A lot of this has to do with licenses on the underlying engines they use. If the real world worked like the software world, oil cartels would get to dictate what kind of cars got made. Oh, right. They do.

Anonymous Coward says:

Opportunity for Kickstarter to help its pledge-givers here

Kickstarter could, if it chose (and was willing to support the necessary infrastructure), arrange that any game which is promised as “DRM-free” has a pledge level that is explicitly contingent on a DRM-free release, and a definition of what exactly DRM-free means in that context. Backers who pledge for that level, which could have the same dollar level as a non-DRM-free pledge level (or not, depending on developer preference), are then guaranteed that if the game is not DRM-free, they have a no-questions-asked right to void their pledge and receive a full refund (and no game, obviously). This would allow backers to specify upfront, in a way that can be reported in statistics (“$N of our backer pledge money is contingent on DRM-free”), that they will not buy the game if the DRM-free promise is revoked. This could even help the developer, since they could use it in negotiations with a publisher to show that reneging on the DRM-free promise is not just bad for reputation, but demonstrably bad for business because of the dollar amount that could get voided if they renege.

If Kickstarter wanted to get really serious on this, they could even set it up that there is an option, maybe or maybe not enabled-by-default, that if you pledge at a DRM-free tier and the DRM-free promise is revoked, Kickstarter will automatically void the pledge without action from you. People in that bucket should be especially scary to pro-DRM publishers, since it is not just “at-risk” money, but money that is guaranteed to get pulled (and presumably not re-pledged at another level) if they insist on reneging on the DRM-free promise.

Max says:

Hold on...

Oh, this has happened with at least one much higher profile game too, unfortunately sans the “promises it again” part: the latest Carmageddon game was also Kickstarter funded, and it also promised DRM-free access. Then it got released on Steam only, and the developers begun playing dead on Kickstarter – just head over there and read the recent comments on the campaign page if you want a taste of vitriol…

Thad (user link) says:

Which is, you know, fine, but with Kickstarter becoming a major vehicle for funding the creation of new gaming content, this kind of thing needs to get ironed out now. Because backers aren’t going to keep backing without some level of trust that promises made to slurp their money from them will be kept, preferably without them having to light the torches and dig up their pitchforks.

If you think there’s a way to prevent consumers from having serious trust issues with Kickstarter campaigns for game development, I think you’re about two years too late.

I’m no fan of DRM, but as far as Kickstarter users’ concerns, I think it’s low on the list. “Game actually gets made” and “final game resembles what was described in campaign” are the two most important factors; presence of DRM would be a subcategory of the latter.

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