Riding the wave
Dylan Fitterer, creator of the IGF crowd-pleaser Audiosurf, self-published his game as well ... almost.
"When Audiosurf started coming closer to release, I ran an open beta. It was sort of an 'unintentionally open' beta - I collected email addresses and emailed everybody that was on the list, saying 'Hey, download it right here, and just keep it to yourself.' But of course, nobody did."
That was in late 2007, months before the IGF catapulted Audiosurf into the spotlight and up to the top of the Steam sales charts - an impressive feat for an indie game. But Fitterer never expected Audiosurf to make it onto the download service in the first place, let alone outsell games like Counter-Strike, The Orange Box and hundreds of other titles.
His decision to sell the game exclusively through Steam was partly a matter of timing - he wanted to make sure that Audiosurf made it to market in time for the IGF, where it was sure to receive plenty of attention. But he also identified with Valve's approach to piracy: "What they're doing [with Steam] is saying, 'Well, if you're a legitimate customer, then you get all this extra stuff.' And to me, that's so clearly the way to do it. You want to make sure that paying customers are the ones having the better experience."
Nonetheless, Steam's built-in DRM didn't make the prospect of people cracking and torrenting his game any less stressful. "When it was first released, my blood pressure was completely through the roof about piracy - it was the thing I focused on for maybe a whole month. But it's just not worth it."
Instead of worrying about it after it's out of your control, Fitterer says, "you need to look at designing your game with piracy in mind." Before Valve had contacted him about publishing Audiosurf, Fitterer says, he was already looking at incorporating some of the same functionality into the game himself. "You build in your own auto-updater, you build in extra features like Audiosurf Radio - anything extra you can add which requires talking to a server."
In other words, when DRM stops being a bitter pill to swallow and starts being a way to access features that you otherwise couldn't, then people are far more likely to pay for your game than torrent it. At least, that's the theory ...
Ninety-two percent, part two
Like Crayon Physics Deluxe, World of Goo won a number of awards at the 2008 IGF long before it was ready for mass consumption. And like Purho, developers Kyle Gabler and Ron Carmel opted to forego DRM for their PC release.
But for Gabler and Carmel, it was less an ideological statement and more a matter of practicality. They briefly flirted with using their own home-grown DRM scheme when they released a preview build of World of Goo to customers that pre-ordered the game. "It was kind of a hassle to write and was definitely a tech support headache," Carmel says. The experience was enough to dissuade them from employing DRM in the retail version of World of Goo.