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Indie RPG Veteran: "Being Nice" Prevents Piracy Better Than Draconian DRM

| 12 May 2011 22:14
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Spiderweb Software's method of preventing piracy is to be nice and do the minimum.

Some organizations say piracy is destroying the videogame industry, while others say that over-protective DRM is the real issue. According to an informative blog post by independent RPG veteran Jeff Vogel, founder of Spiderweb Software, the best solution for publishers is to not obsess over piracy and just "be nice" instead.

He gives two examples of poor experiences with his own over-protective methods that were simply wastes of time and money. The first involves the fact that Spiderweb sells both games and hint books. These books started out in physical form, but even after the PDF format and digital delivery methods became big, Vogel stayed with physical booklets simply because of his fear of piracy. He was afraid that digital hint book files would be spread around, hurting his income stream.

However, three years ago Vogel got fed up with the cost and space requirements of the hint books and made a go at PDF downloads. Not only that, but he made the download link easy to find. Spiderweb's hint book sales rate stayed practically the same, making him regret the "monolith" of hint book boxes still in his garage.

The second example is related to DRM in regards to his games themselves. Until recently, Spiderweb's games used a method of unlocking the full version from the demo that Vogel overtly trashes today. The demo would randomly generate a number that had to be sent to Spiderweb, which would allow Spiderweb to send back a registration key. The issue is that the system was overly complicated and confusing, sometimes driving customers, credit card in hand, away from the order page that may not have had the number handy. Vogel says the system was "unprofessional at best, and deranged at worst." People were still cracking his games, but meanwhile Vogel was spending much of his time explaining to honest customers how to buy them too. "Might as well have just made a big pile of money and set it on fire," Vogel adds.

With Spiderweb's latest release, Avadon: The Black Fortress, Vogel decided to just send out a serial number that can be used to register the game across all platforms until the end of time. The result? "Sales of Avadon are the highest of any game we've put out in years," Vogel says. Perhaps those hardcore DRM schemes we've seen elsewhere aren't such a good idea after all?

Vogel's point is that, in his experience, developers and publishers should put the minimum barrier in place so that honest people will need to buy a game, but not also get totally confused about how to do so. His advice is: "Whenever you find yourself starting a sentence with, 'I don't want people to pirate my game, so I am going to ...' you are very close to making a big mistake." Crackers and hackers will crack and hack your game no matter what you do, so why make things harder for paying customers?

Vogel finishes his thought by saying: "In the end, the ability to be nice is one of the best weapons you have." For Vogel, after 17 years in the fairly niche indie RPG business, it might be advice worth listening to.

Source: The Bottom Feeder

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