Counterpoint: As Denuvo Lauds Its Weeks-Long Control, 20 Year Old Game Still Selling Due To Its Modding Community

from the you-mod-bro? dept

I’ve covered the saga of Denuvo DRM regularly as of late. The once-vaunted anti-piracy tool, thought to be the end of video game piracy altogether, has instead had its protection window reduced to somewhere between a week and some weeks. Despite the headwinds of reality, the folks behind Denuvo have bravely soldiered on, proclaiming the tool still useful for protecting the ever-important early-release window of new video games.

And that’s where I think a counterpoint needs to be made. The idea that the most important time in the sales cycle for a new video game is its initial release is almost gospel within the industry. And it’s not without its logic, I suppose. Many, many games experience the vast majority of their sales upon initial release. But what if that wasn’t the case? And what if by simply embracing the gaming community and releasing control over the product, instead of trying to cling to it with tactics like DRM, the sales cycle for a game became so long that it changed the math?

What if more games were like Quake, in other words. And I mean the original Quake, released by id Software some twenty years ago. The game has continued to sell throughout these past two decades, but is going through something of a comeback recently. Why? Well, it’s because the modding community that has developed around the game has kept it fresh and relevant.

Quake mapping is consistent, organized and unrelenting. Quake’s community has mostly rallied around a singular download hub for nearly every level, and there’s even a handy launcher that downloads, installs and runs them all for you. Quake map packs tend to be once-a-month events, and they’re of indisputable quality, unshackled by the hardware and engine limits of the 90s.

You can pick Quake up from GOG or Steam, but the GOG version works out slightly cheaper since it includes both official expansions—Scourge of Armagon and Dissolution Of Eternity—which are sold separately on the Steam release.

Keep in mind that it’s been twenty years since the game’s first release and the modding community has stepped in to make sure that it’s still being sold today. Interest is running high as fans have reinvigorated the game through their own creativity, updated the graphics to drag it into modernity, and generated interest through sharing levels and graphic designs. All of this happening outside of the control of id Software, which instead gets to sit back and simply cash the checks all this interest is writing for them. Exactly how valuable was the early release window of Quake to id Software?

Still valuable, I am sure, but the math simply can’t be the same as the likes of Denuvo claim, what with a cycle alive and well after two decades. Giving up control made that possible, whereas the use of control tools like DRM, especially DRM that relies on 3rd party check-in servers that won’t be around forever, actively work against that possibility. It seems to me that any game developer looking to make money should be clear on which of these business philosophies it ought to embrace.

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Comments on “Counterpoint: As Denuvo Lauds Its Weeks-Long Control, 20 Year Old Game Still Selling Due To Its Modding Community”

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25 Comments
My_Name_Here says:

You can always find exceptional examples and use them to try to make a case. It’s just not particularly honest.

Quake is exceptional. How many thousands of unprotected, no DRM games have been released in the last 20 years and totally, utterly, and completely disappeared?

Quake is exceptional for any number of reasons. One of those reasons is because Id Software (intentionally or unintentionally) wrote their software in a manner that allowed for user generated add ins, levels, and game play modes. DRM or no DRM wouldn’t matter as long as that functionality was supported and continued to be supported in the underlying code. That making a level for Quake is relatively easy, that the rendering engine was very powerful for it’s time and could render almost any graphic you gave it was important for building a community.

Of course, you would also have to consider the implications of sites like Bluesnews on Quake in it’s early days as well.

DRM or no DRM is one potential aspect, but it’s not the real reason Quake has lasted this long. It’s all about the game, silly!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Consider external server though. If quake required you to authenticate with servers to make sure you truly owned the game, id, or whoever was behind the DRM, would be required to keep those servers up and running. That’s the biggest block to a games longevity is the potential for a game to disappear because the company does.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Yeah, but...

… that only works for devs that don’t treat their customers like criminals and don’t infect their games with DRM, making any modifications that require breaking DRM also an act of breaking the law.

Where’s the success stories highlighting companies that treat their customers like crap and respond to any attempt to mod their games as a personal affront and deserving of nothing less than a full on legal assault?

Shouldn’t companies be rewarded and lauded for acting like bullies, rather than all the focus being on companies that respect their customers? Seems unfair and unbalanced to me, that’s for sure.

Anonymous Coward says:

You can pretty much say the same thing about the Elder Scrolls games, too (Morrowind, Oblivion, & Skyrim – not the money-grab that’s ESO). All three have their dedicated modding communities and they still arg… debate over which one was “the best” release -personally, it’s Skyrim 😉

Anyway, point is, they are still extremely popular games years after their releases with only minimal DRM on release and that was easily removed. They could have just as easily had none, but I believe ZeniMax balked at that, and still sold just as heavily despite not having draconian DRM.

Games with solid communities don’t really *need* DRM, the communities will sell it for you with outstanding extensions in directions the devs may not have even thought of.

That said, it’s also true that the average gamer doesn’t give two… about DRM and will happily toss money at the worst offenders of consumer hostile business practices like Ubisoft over and over again. WHen you have customers like that, it’s no wonder the CEO of Ubisoft is contemptuous of his customers.

Agammamon says:

X-Com got a remake and the remake a sequel – all because its still being played 20+ years later.

People are still playing Morrowind. They’re still playing Jagged Alliance 2, Doom, etc. And they’re still people buying those games today.

But the reason for DRM is that the immediate-post-release period is *absolutely* vital to console games – most of which are, frankly, meant to be played heavily once or twice, and then never touched again until the sequel comes out in two years (except for the mandatory MP component).

Hype cycle to sell new product is way more profitable than long-term sales. I believe the sales numbers for *one* console version of Fallout 4 brought in more money in the first month than all of the PC sales to date for Skyrim.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

For the life of me I could not find any hard numbers to address your last point, so I can’t say if you’re right or not, and how close or not your statement is regarding console vs PC.

As for the ‘DRM protects the opening sales window’ idea, no numbers on that either(not even sure how you could get them), so this is merely opinion, but I don’t really see it having much effect either way, especially on consoles.

Playing a DRM-cracked game on a console is a huge risk, both of the console and the account, and the people who are willing to take that risk aren’t likely to have bought a particular game, ever, meaning it’s not likely to have effected the purchase either way.

If they’re willing to risk console and account, I imagine they’d be perfectly willing to wait a bit for the DRM to be cracked, as if they were going to buy they would have done so in the first place and skipped the whole hassle and risk of modding their consoles.

(Put another way, the ones who pay attention to console DRM in general were likely never to be customers in the first place, so worrying about them isn’t going to accomplish much.)

In more general terms, I’m not aware of anyone who has ever said anything along the lines of ‘Well I wasn’t going to buy the game/ebook/movie/song, but the DRM added enough of a value that I guess I will’, whereas I have seen numerous examples(myself included) who have done the exact opposite, considered buying but decided not to because of the presence of DRM.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You’re working on old data there, friend.
Check out Ubisoft’s sales number on its two year old game series and its focus on “long tail” or “long term” sales (“long tail” used to be the better search term, but Ubisoft happen to own Longtail Studios, which takes a big crap in the middle of relevant search results).
The Division and Rainbow Six: Siege are still both enjoying strong sales months, even years, after their releases and other publishers are starting to sit up and take notice.

Dariusz "Darkhog" G. Jagielski says:

That is precisely the reason...

…why I will put community and creators using my game’s level editor first. I am not interested in denuvo or other DRM. Hell, I won’t even use SteamWorks DRM functionality if I can help it, while still utilizing Steam and Workshop.

Because only strong community can ensure “long tail” of the release. This is simply smart business.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Wow, is Quake still a thing? I actually had no idea.

The one I generally hold up as an exemplar in this discussion is Neverwinter Nights. Published in 2002 (not quite as old as Quake, but 15 years is nothing to sneeze at) and still selling today, because they published a powerful set of mod tools along with the game and actively encouraged the creation of a mod community.

Anonymous Coward says:

All about the budget

When your budget is 70% marketing and 30% development, you know you have to cash in on your steaming pile of crap before anyone actually figures out that it’s a steaming pile of crap… thus the reason the initial marketing window is the key.

Now for a produce like Quake that was probably budgeted with about 95% development and 5% marketing (did I miss all the commercials and waves of adds when Quake first came out, or did they just not exist?), they knew they had a solid product, and the modders and market have confirmed that by still buying the product 20 years later.

Kalean says:

Well, you're not wrong...

…But you’re also not entirely being genuine here.

I agree with the overall argument you’re making: DRM hurts games and gamers in both the short and long run, and there is a much larger income window to be found for games that thrive on open community modding.

But you’re holding up Quake, the pillar of 3d FPS games, as a shining example of what every game could be if they opened themselves up to modding. That’s disingenuous, even if I’d love to believe it.

There have been hundreds of fantastic games with excellent mod support that simply don’t have large communities. Freelancer is one notable example; lots of mod support, lots of modders, just dies off after a little while.

Using one of the gold standards for thriving, moddable games isn’t exactly a fair market indicator for any above-average moddable game. Quake is what you get when everything goes right for twenty years. Freelancer is what you get when everything goes right for five months.

Rekrul says:

The games Thief and Thief II from 1998 and 2000 respectively, still have active modding communities. Fans have continued to write patches and enhancements for them to help get the original games running on newer hardware. You can now buy all the Thief games from GOG, although I think the original releases did have DRM on them. They were always very mod-friendly through. Textures could easily be altered or replaced, it had support for user-created levels and I believe it even shipped with a level editor.

Anonymous Coward says:

Modding obviously keeps games relevant and fresh. It keeps a community engaged. Just look through some of GOG’s catalogue: Neverwinter Nights 1, Neverwinter Nights 2, SimCity 4, SimCity 3000, SimCity 2000, Descent 1, Descent 2, … All over 10 years old, and all active due to modding. That’s just the examples I know for sure. I am sure there are plenty more.

I mention GOG because GOG is (obviously) DRM free. But lack of DRM is not the only thing these games have in common. These games are also not transient. They don’t need online servers, persistent connections and all of that other crap publishers love now. You can still play these games in single player or (where applicable) multiplayer via LAN or IP.

I have a feeling many indie games (e.g. Banished, Terraria, Starbound, Stardew Valley, Prison Architect) will be the same in a decade. No DRM and no restrictions on modding. People will still be playing these many years from now.

Time and technology moves on, but these games are still fully playable. They don’t lock down players and they support players creating new content. People wanting the new content can buy the game to access it. It’s a win for all!

It’s just a shame these obvious benefits are lost due to “aahhh piracy”.

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