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What Developers Can Do About Pirating Games

Piracy is a serious concern for game developers and today's post looks at some of the options available to designers to try and combat piracy.

Ulyana Chernyak, Blogger

December 19, 2014

8 Min Read

In our last post, we spoke about the issues of piracy and the types of people who pirate games. For today we're going to talk about some of the options developers have when it comes to dealing with it.

Simcity 5

Over the years there have been several options made available each with their own pros and cons to keep in mind. And there is also the matter of what to do about pirates that has led to an interesting debate.

Copy Protection and DRM:

As we talked about previously, copy protection was the popular option for most of the 90s and 00s. Software like TAGES, Starforce and Securom proved to be effective in the short run before being cracked by pirates and hackers.

Today their use has been lessening thanks to digital platforms like Steam, Origin and UPlay which are a form of Digital Rights Management or DRM. The reason is that while the software itself is a form of security, the added features like friend's list, sales and cloud saving are popular enough for people to want to use them unlike previous copy protection software.

Steam One of Steam's biggest contribution to the industry was tying games to accounts to help combat piracy.

This makes getting your game onto a digital platform all-the- more useful as the built-in protection comes with the software with no further work or cost from you.

Regardless of whether your game is on a digital platform or not, the use of game keys is an added security measure that is available today.

Game Keys:

Before digital accounts were popularized, the protection for a game was based on the CD or DVD itself as the files themselves were all that were needed to play a game for free.

In today's market, developers can make use of game keys as a form of protection outside of the files themselves. Similar to a digital platform, the game will require authentication to the developer's server and use the game key in order to "unlock" the game files and play the game.

These keys are one time use and become associated to someone's account to allow them to re-download and play the game another time. It's important to have security measures in place if you're going this route on your own site as it is possible for someone to hack into your server and gain access to the online keys.

Greenmangaming Storefronts like Green Man Gaming provide security for developers as opposed to selling directly.

This is why if a developer sells keys outside of a digital platform, they will turn to a store like Humble StoreGreen Man Gaming etc. to handle the selling of the game as they already have security in place.

There is one final method that developers have against piracy and it's one of the more controversial: Fighting back.

Altering Content:

One thing that developers do with game keys and downloadable copies is to restrict or lock several critical files from a user's version of the game until either the server gets a game key or the game is released.

These versions of the game can be cracked but the developer can make it so that it’s literally impossible to play through the game with the pirated copy. A famous example of this would be Batman Arkham Asylum where the developers altered the level design to prevent players from getting past the starting section on a pirated copy.

Having these "special versions" also allows you to "oust" pirates who complain about the pirated altered content on message boards. However there is a major risk to this option and it has to do with making a problem too good.

If you introduce something that cannot be detected as developer intervention, you may scare away people who find problems within your game. An example of this came from the game Titan Quest by Iron Lore.

The developers introduced an anti-pirating measure that would alter and slow the performance of the game down the longer someone would play a pirated copy. However most people assumed that this was due to poor programming by the developers and the negative word of mouth hurt the game's sales.

GameDevTycoon Game Dev Tycoon's anti piracy measure was a way of altering the game for pirates and making it clear that it wasn't a bug or technical issue.

This is why if you want to put something in to combat piracy, it has to be easily seen as such. An example of this came from the title Game Dev Tycoon. Here, all pirated copies would affect the player's virtual company and they would get pop ups saying that they were losing money due to piracy.

And it should go without saying but any anti-pirate measures that you develop should never critically harm or damage someone's computer as that can come back to hurt you for obvious reasons.

For the final topic there is another debatable issue with piracy that developers will have to prepare for -- Providing help to pirates.

Debating Technical Support:

Pirated copies, like legitimate copies, can run into trouble and it's common for pirates to post issues and ask for help just like your customers. This is where the debate comes in about whether or not to help pirates out and there are pros and cons to either choice.

Choosing not to help pirates will be seen as you taking a hard stand against piracy, but this could set yourself up to be targeted more by pirates. And there is also the negative PR of a developer refusing to help someone with a problem.

If you do help pirates with their problems, this can give you some goodwill and may even convince some of them to buy a legit copy of your game. But the downside is that you are further making the pirated copy even more of a better option by fixing issues with it.

There really isn't a clear winner here which is the reason why it is so debatable among game developers.

Protecting your Game:

Game piracy continues to be an issue for developers big and small. This, again, is why digital platforms and stores are so useful to provide protection without the need of further cost on the developer.

Deciding what to do about piracy is dependent on the game developer but it's important to remember what you have at stake whenever being confronted by pirates.

(Reprinted from the Xsolla.com Blog)

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