Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.
CD based copy protection and other pains
Published on October 1, 2003 By Draginol In PC Gaming

I recently wrote about this topic here. But I wanted to write a more succinct version of it since some people thought I was advocating something akin to Internet Product Activation to thwart piracy.

Let me first Bottom line this: CD based copy protection does more harm than good.

Let me then add: There is no magic bullet that will stop piracy. Game developers need to quit trying to solve piracy via some sort of mechanism and instead design a policy that discourages piracy. Game developers/publishers need to approach piracy in a more realistic way. As a result, there are two basic groups of pirates.

Group A: The kiddies who warez everything. CD Copy protection means nothing to them. They have the game before it even hits the stores.

Group B: Potential buyers who are really more interested in convenience. The price of the game isn't as big a deal to them as convenience.

It's group B that our industry needs to focus more on rather than alienating and inconveniencing our customers by trying to thwart group A. Sure, it ticks me off that people steal stuff I've worked for years making. But we have to be realistic about this, it doesn't do anyone any good to inconvenience customers. In fact, anedotal evidence seems to imply that the more we inconvenience customers, the more we turn them into group B.

Let me explain:
Joe Gamer buys a game that requires the CD to be in the drive. But his 3 year old takes the CD and loses it. Joe Gamer ends up going onto Google or whatever and pretty soon finds not just a way to play that game without a CD but now finds out how to get the "latest games" not just for free but more convenient than ever through the world of peer networks and warez. As a result, as future games come out, Joe Gamer must now balance "doing the right thing" (which typically means driving up to the store, paying money to be inconvenienced by copy protection) and loading up a program and just getting the game, for free, quickly and painlessly.

That's why I think CD based copy protections are a bad idea. I think they create pirates and aren't terribly effective anyway. They're supposed to keep the honest "honest" but I propose a better way.

NOT Internet activation. Instead, game developers adopt a policy that has been very successful in the non-game software market -- after release updates.

PC games often come out buggy, get one patch, and then are largely abandoned. It's really hard to feel sympathy for game developers who treat their customers that way. Instead of doing that, release frequent updates to the game for users. For free. Have them go through a secure network so that only registered purchasing users can get the update but make it as convenient as you can.

By doing this, you create a bigger incentive to be a customer than to be a pirate. It becomes increasingly inconvenient to have the latest/greatest version of the game via the warez route than the legitimate route.

This is what we've been doing with Galactic Civilizations since it's release. You can buy it at the store or directly at and either way be able to download the full game electronically along with regular free updates. It has no copy protection on the CD at all. You can install it on your laptop and main PC. We "fight" piracy by releasing regular, meaningful updates that are much easier to get legitimately than through warez channels. We've found a lot of people who initially pirated GalCiv end up buying it as a result. And sales of the game have been quite good. Sell-in at retail world wide is in the six digit range so it's not a matter of "small scale" solutions here.

So how do game developers do this? Just set aside a relatively small amount of the development budget to implement user suggested features. One or two developers, part time, for 8 to 12 month after release can make a big difference. Is GalCiv pirated? Sure. But it's not nearly as easily available via warez channels (we do monitor this stuff) as other games of similar retail sales levels.

There's no magic bullet to stop piracy. Game companies need to realize that. Instead, the goal should be to reduce piracy as much as possible and rather than relying on some mechanism, they should focus on a *policy* that focuses on making it more tempting to be a customer than to be a pirate.

on Oct 01, 2003
Eloquently put. As a subscriber since 1999, I'm a huge fan of Stardock and its method of distributing software. As a customer, you make it so easy for me to get the software I subscribe to. The ease of use, and frequent updates keeps me coming back often. Also, since I feel like a valued customer I have no problems ponying up the annual fee for your products. In fact, it also encourages me to purchase more software from your company as it becomes available. I'm surprised that other companies aren't following your strong lead. You guys have it straight and hopefully others in the industry will follow your lead.
on Oct 01, 2003
I think that your stance on piracy is one of the two reasons I think Stardock is great. The other one is the software you develop I know that when I buy something from your company, I'm not just buying a bunch of bits, but I also know a community is being built around the program or game, and that matters a lot to make it worthwhile.
on Oct 01, 2003
I agree with your article tremendously...

CD Copy protections do little to stop piracy because there isnt a game that hasnt been "cracked" to remove it. Coupled with that and the inherent inconvience caused by CD Copy Protection (installing a 3CD 1.6GB after install game and still having to load the cd, not to use the game just to boot it) forces users to go into illegal network space as you stated.

You put it exactly how it should be. Theres no silver bullet to stop any form of theft. The best way to fight back is to make people enjoy their software. If a person see's (as you stated) that after they end their bug ridden game its a coaster in the drawer why shouldnt they pirate it? When they see constant updates that keep them playing it makes them enjoy being a customer and when a pirate sees the constant updates he/she cant get they end up buying the game, everybody wins. That even turns piracy into an unofficial form of advertisement since people that would never have baught the game have played it fell in love and were shown being a customer isnt bad or inconvient.

I probably did little but restate what you said ...

Awesome article i hope other companies put this into their plans, its the only real way to fight back.

on Oct 02, 2003
You hit the spot. I'm not a gamer, but I do warez and willingly share my software to close friends mainly M$ OS and software, but also Adobe, and Macromedia applications that I rarely use privately, and therefore would never pay for anyway. However, at work I have need for such apps, and I've had companies that I work for buy licenses, and I’ve trained people to use the software, which translates into even more sold licenses. If I hadn't warezed these programs in the beginning, these later copies would never have been sold.

Initially I did warez because I couldn't afford to buy what I wanted to try out or learn. Lately, however, because I think that M$ policies are so obnoxious I wouldn't dream of paying for any of their software out of sheer principle. Is M$ loosing money. I don't think so. They are using all their might power to counter sue people they are crushing with their might, and to further force people to use whatever they spit out. Before you could install an OS and have it up and running in 15 minutes. Now I have spend at least two hours to get rid of all the crap the schlapp on top, trying to sell you sh*t you don't need, hijacking your home page everytime you do an upgrade, and practicing other extremely annoying behavior. On my personal computer it takes at least two days before I'm close to happy with the result, tinkering with registry settings, shortcuts, profiles, and services.

As my experience grew, my knowledge with these M$ products made me a professional, and now I work with it for a living. I have recommended, sold, and trained hundreds of people to use M$ products, so at the end of the day, M$ is the winner. These people wouldn't have installed or used M$ products if it wasn't for me. They think its too complicated, too expensive, etc. But after I've set it up, they are generally happy. M$ should pay me. If M$ were smart they would give out their software for free to schools and youngsters, and remove the annoying features. But they won't, because they are greedy, and then they whine when people like me aren't supportive of their actions.

Instead I'm a huge fan of shareware and freeware authors, and these are the people I give my money to -- all these little heroes that creates apps that make M$ OS bearable. Recently I started to use MacOS Jaguar, and I don't mind paying for it, because I feel I get my money's worth. Although I love my Windows after I've caged it into how I like it, I would never, ever pay for it. But that's jsut me.
on Oct 03, 2003
wouldnt work, however I agree with your reasoning.

It wouldnt work because the same groups that crack the games today will still be getting the updates and cracking the updates.

"what man can make, man can break"

It may stop the casual pirate as they wont be hitting a lot of p2p any time to soon, so it may help in short term but long term I dont see it working.

however its a good idea, the only real protection I have ever seen work well was Half Lifes WON CD-Key auth, and that was superb, but then the game was also great so people brought it anyway.

Something like a server side auth is the way to go (IMO) allthough it is also a hassle and a pain in the arse for people without the internet...

there are so many possible solutions, but all have there pro's and cons.
on Oct 04, 2003
I do not understand pirates, Stealing is wrong.

That is why with in reason I understand and put up with copy protection.

Need to get people to think of piracy as a crime using laws.
Need to get vendors to think about value.

Until this is done there will always be hackers.
on Oct 28, 2003
hacking is not the word to use - cracking is the word to use. ur right it is stealing, but its also morally wrong (IMHO) to charge the stupid prices they do for software thats out of date within a few months and then u have to pay out another lot. its that kind of attitude that keeps it going. they charge stupid prices because ppl will pay them.
M$ gets they're money from suing and buying out others, and buisness license fee's.

i admitidly used a warez copy of WB and other stardock apps to see if they're any good, and its worth paying for as i now do!! if only other company's wud listen then id happly pay out for some of the other apps i use.
on Nov 11, 2003
Great article and I totally agree. Copy protection turned me into a capable pirate. I had games that I needed the CD in to play and I got tired of digging them out then my cat knocking off the desk and scratching their $70 surface. I figured there must be a way to not need the CD. Sure is....there are lots of great programmes that will make perfect images of very cleverly protected CDs. My CD's are all copied now and safely in a high place away from the cat. I wouldn't know how to get software for free had I not been forced me to look for it. Its a lot easier than I thought. I also don't have a lot of money to spend on games as I'm a student so I stick to maybe 2 or 3 a year. Its a hard decision but its usually based on my past experiences with that company. The Civilization franchise has always been great....I own them all - paid for. They fix whatever tiny bugs they have had quickly and their software is reliable. The same I've found is true of Blizzard. They've treated me well as a customer in that respect and have continued to get my money even though I could steal it. Other companies (Maxis - Simcity 4) won't. You don't have a right to abuse your customers. You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar so they say. Enticing consumers is a lot more effective than forcing them to open their wallets.