Distribution Pirating indiegames!

Nahual

Member
Hello everyone!

I know a lot of us worry about working hard and spending years after years developing our indie games and finally be able to release it either on steam or other platforms via the internet.

But again, does anybody really know how to protect their games from being pirated? I've asked a few indie developers that have successfully released their games to the public and they didn't have an answer.

Which makes me wonder, is it even possible for a indie game developer to avoid years of hard work being wasted by having their games pirated.

Any thoughts?
 

Bingdom

Googledom
I don't think there is much you can do. Even AAA titles struggle to prevent this.

One way to help prevent this is to have an online database of all valid accounts, which the user will have to login into before they can access the game.
Even if you do this, hackers will always find a way to break that method and you'll just be ruining the experience for the more innocent people.
 

MishMash

Member
There was a discussion similar to this in the "Game Design, Development And Publishing" section.

Basically, the general consensus from most people was that it's not really worth putting too many anti-piracy measures in place. Piracy is an issue, and it would suck, however you don't want to negatively impact the experience for your paying users by having things like DRM. At the end of the day, I don't personally see piracy to be a huge issue with indie games. For a few reasons:

  • If your game is popular enough to be pirated, then you have probably already successfully marketed your game quite well. If the game is good, then you will likely still have people who do pay fairly for the game.
  • Well, when you have a pool of millions of customers, and millions of games to choose from, the people who are pirating your game probably wouldn't have bought it anyway, so I don't think they are "lost" customers. If anything, them pirating your game over another might actually help your game indirectly.

  • Piracy isn't as much of an issue unless you are selling 100,000s+ of copies of your game. The reason it is a real issue for AAA games is firstly, they cost a lot of money, so the loss of a single sale is more significant. Secondly, with bigger games that genuinly need to reach large sales figures to break-even (I believe Assassins creed Unity needed to sell 4,000,000 or so copies to actually turn a profit), given that this number is so high, and the game is high profile, losing customers is a bigger deal.

  • I still tend to find that a good percentage of players are reasonable. For most of my friends who play games, very few people actually actively pirate games. I have one friend who does pirate games, but he claims that if he enjoys the game, he does then go and buy it. (I disagree with this logic, but equally, he states that for quite a few games, he would never have even considered buying them if it weren't for playing the game, which you could argue means that the piracy does in some cases net sales that wouldn't have existed before.)

  • Certain Indie developers have actually intentionally released and maintained a pirated version of their game themselves. Primarily because they have accepted that people may go and pirate their game, and they would rather anyone who does play it experience the proper version of the game rather than a buggy/hacked version which could potentially be unreliable or contain viruses etc; Whilst no one should go out of their way to make it easy for people to find their game, this isn't an awful idea.

  • Preventing piracy is a bit of a battle. I thought I had written a reasonable DRM system for one of my older games a few years ago. Primarily, this game was an online game, so it made sense to have a logic. However, a friend wrote a completely spoof server and a program which re-directed webtraffic from my domain to his, which allowed a fully supported version of the game, running on independent servers (using an alternative login system) to work. As Bingdom said, there are a lot of great hackers out there, and they will eventually find a way to get around means you have. You should always do a few quick things to stop them, but at the end of the day, they will get in.

  • You might be at the mercy of the distribution platforms you use anyway. Whilst steam is generally pretty good, there's still not all that much to stop people account-sharing, which is technically a form of piracy. Sure, it does limit their playability, but even if you had good security, things like that can still happen.
So my conclusion is, don't worry about it. It's very unlikely that people would specifically target your game, and equally, it's unlikely that piracy rates would be that high, unless your game was already popular, in which case you don't need to care that much, as you will likely have already made more money than you needed from the project, and you can rest comfortably knowing that people actually want to try your game :p!
 

Genetix

Member
Their was an article on ARSTechnica last week showing that pirating may actually have a positive effect on game sales overall... Sounds kind of crazy, but worth looking into. If your game is popular enough to get pirated that is a good thing in many ways - and could end up helping spread the word of mouth among users. It depends on each situation of course, but ultimately I don't think pirating is something you should be overly concerned with at the moment.
 

Hyomoto

Member
There have been cases where piracy rates exceed sales. In fact, for popular games without draconian DRM, this is almost expected. It's easy to understand why smaller developers can get frustrated or angry: it's easy to see this at face value, theft.

I think sometimes piracy is actually a form of consumer protection. People who claim to pirate and then buy, well: games cost money, and can be expensive, and generally speaking you are asking someone to take your word that it's totally awesome and worth X dollars. This is why I think it's important to always have a good demo available. During the shareware era of games, before viral marketing is what is now, it was common to purposefully release a downsized version of your game. Not just some throwaway, but a decent chunk of content or even the whole game sans some important features.

At the end of the day a single sale made or lost is probably not what is going to make or break you, you want people to share your game. In the past it was that demo, but now it's livestreams, reviews, tweets or any number of ways. So it's important to demonstrate value. I mean, if they've taken the time to examine your project over every other one you need to make a good impression. You generally only get one look, so make sure that first look is good.

The last thing is this: there are so many games out there. And so many free games. While it's easy for me to say my project is worth X because I put Y time into it, there are free games available that also had Y time put into it. So whether or not it is worth X is subjective to the viewer and that is truly the root of piracy. The question then only becomes: do you think the extra work put into trying to stop piracy could be applied elsewhere to make your game a better value proposition?
 
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11clock

Member
There have been cases where piracy rates exceed sales. In fact, for popular games without draconian DRM, this is almost expected. It's easy to understand why smaller developers can get frustrated or angry: it's easy to see this at face value, theft.

I think sometimes piracy is actually a form of consumer protection. People who claim to pirate and then buy, well: games cost money, and can be expensive, and generally speaking you are asking someone to take your word that it's totally awesome and worth X dollars. This is why I think it's important to always have a good demo available. During the shareware era of games, before viral marketing is what is now, it was common to purposefully release a downsized version of your game. Not just some throwaway, but a decent chunk of content or even the whole game sans some important features.

At the end of the day a single sale made or lost is probably not what is going to make or break you, you want people to share your game. In the past it was that demo, but now it's livestreams, reviews, tweets or any number of ways. So it's important to demonstrate value. I mean, if they've taken the time to examine your project over every other one you need to make a good impression. You generally only get one look, so make sure that first look is good.

The last thing is this: there are so many games out there. And so many free games. While it's easy for me to say my project is worth X because I put Y time into it, there are free games available that also had Y time put into it. So whether or not it is worth X is subjective to the viewer and that is truly the root of piracy. The question then only becomes: do you think the extra work put into trying to stop piracy could be applied elsewhere to make your game a better value proposition?
You are forgetting that there are piraters who do it just because. I knew someone who almost never purchased games ever. You cannot assume that every pirater is doing it because they want to "try it first."
 

Hyomoto

Member
You are forgetting that there are piraters who do it just because. I knew someone who almost never purchased games ever. You cannot assume that every pirater is doing it because they want to "try it first."
Not exactly, as I said, you believe your product is worth X because you put Y into it, but someone else may not agree and that is the root of piracy. The people who pirate generally believe, at some level, that they are entitled to be entertained for free, or at very least should be exempt from having to pay. I'm sure they tailor their mentality, but it boils down to "I don't have to pay". However, upon playing they may come to recognize the value and work that went into your game and possibly purchase. When I was young I pirated software, but eventually became a paid customer once I had the means to do so. That extends to free products that have paid versions. I've used WinRAR and CCleaner for years. They have solid free versions available, so I gladly took the plunge to buy them eventually. Maybe that's my own code of ethics but I'm definitely not the only person to have ever done this.

The point is, putting your best foot forwards and having a solid demo available is probably your best defense against piracy. Not because it prevents your product from being pirated, but because it gives people a way to agree that your product is indeed worth X. Once people start playing a game they like, they are more easily converted into paying customers. The big hurdle is getting people to give it a try.
 

JackTurbo

Member
Piracy is a pretty big issue and you'll get massively different opinions on the best way to tackle it (or if it even needs tackling for that matter).

Personally I'm for the opinion of "don't bother".

Piracy can't be stopped. Not even the big AAA companies can tackle it in any truly effective manner. Its a fool's errand to even try.

Most forms of DRM will just sour the experience to paying customers, while pirates will find a way to crack it and share it DRM free. Then you're in the hideous situation of pirates having a better experience of the game than paying customers.

Focus instead on making a great game that is well made and of a high quality and release it for a fair price.

Then hope and pray that your game gets anywhere near popular enough for piracy to be an issue.
I stick by what I said last time this came up.
 

11clock

Member
Not exactly, as I said, you believe your product is worth X because you put Y into it, but someone else may not agree and that is the root of piracy. The people who pirate generally believe, at some level, that they are entitled to be entertained for free, or at very least should be exempt from having to pay. I'm sure they tailor their mentality, but it boils down to "I don't have to pay". However, upon playing they may come to recognize the value and work that went into your game and possibly purchase. When I was young I pirated software, but eventually became a paid customer once I had the means to do so. That extends to free products that have paid versions. I've used WinRAR and CCleaner for years. They have solid free versions available, so I gladly took the plunge to buy them eventually. Maybe that's my own code of ethics but I'm definitely not the only person to have ever done this.

The point is, putting your best foot forwards and having a solid demo available is probably your best defense against piracy. Not because it prevents your product from being pirated, but because it gives people a way to agree that your product is indeed worth X. Once people start playing a game they like, they are more easily converted into paying customers. The big hurdle is getting people to give it a try.
You are missing the point. Some pirates simply don't have moral standards and simply do it because free beats having to pay money, not giving a crap about the actual value. It is these pirates that threaten the economy, by lowering the value of money. A demo will not save you from these kinds of pirates, because regardless of demo they don't want to lose money.

Basically piracy exists because people are self-entitled douchebags who want to be exempt from the gaming economy. Not all of them are goodie two-shoes who only use piracy to get extended demos.
 

Hyomoto

Member
You are missing the point. Some pirates simply don't have moral standards and simply do it because free beats having to pay money, not giving a crap about the actual value. It is these pirates that threaten the economy, by lowering the value of money. A demo will not save you from these kinds of pirates, because regardless of demo they don't want to lose money.

Basically piracy exists because people are self-entitled douchebags who want to be exempt from the gaming economy. Not all of them are goodie two-shoes who only use piracy to get extended demos.
So the first time you misread my posts I clarified. This is the second time you misread my posts. You seriously need to work on your reading comprehension.

"The people who pirate generally believe, at some level, that they are entitled to be entertained for free, or at very least should be exempt from having to pay." and "Not because it prevents your product from being pirated, but because it gives people a way to agree that your product is indeed worth X."

So, clearly I agree that pirates are motivated by not paying. I also agree that a demo doesn't prevent piracy. Between my two posts I've made it pretty clear that a small number of pirates could be converted to paying customers but that it's not really worth focusing on since, as many others have noted, they are not inclined to purchase anyways. Instead, focusing on having a good free demo available can help convert paying customers who might be on the fence since it removes the most important barrier to sales: being able to try before you buy.

However, to remark on your argument (because I actually read your posts), a portion of pirates are simply poor. They aren't maliciously pirating software: they have no money to purchase it with. The ethics of such a situation is a great discussion and doesn't automatically grant an exemption, but is most certainly a more nuanced situation than being "self-entitled douchebags". However, it's a fantastic example of why focusing on piracy isn't a winning formula and why, again, focusing on paying customers is a better recipe. It doesn't guarantee success, but at least you'll have your resources focused on the people who are buying.
 
I think the point is: just focus on making people want to buy your game, (and be able to try it before hand), and then you won't loose practically anything that you wouldn't already to pirates.

The paying customer hates it when their play is interfered with because the developer is adding anti-piracy measures.
 

zendraw

Member
a famous guy said somthing like, you dont lose money from people that wont buy your product in the first place. people arent morons and they know when they pay for a product that they support it. and can you blame them for pirating? modern games are full with bs, fillers, lazyness and business decisions. i dont see piracy affecting minecraft, or other games that people love. a load like no man`s sky is understandable why it failed. and please stop with the 'i put so much effurt in my game'. no1 cares, people wnat to have fun.
 
I work at a large retail place, who shall remain nameless, just because I said so, and to use store theft and returns fraud as an analogy to pirating software, we have shifted our focus away from those few individuals who are trying to rip us off (MAYBE 1% of our customer base), and we are putting it into those customers who are honest, and not punishing them for the "one bad apple that spoils the bunch". It's a much better approach. Obviously, if something is blatantly suspicious, we still act on it, but we're not going to criticize every customer as if they are all thieves and crooks. It's just not worth it, and it makes our honest customers a lot happier.
 

Smiechu

Member
I think that the best way to deal with it is to make some of effort and don't let the game stagnate... launch every often some additional content, new version, add ons... you can use some simple kind of safety thing, a unlocking code distributed by e-mail or anything...
Yes it's very easy to crack, but very often peaple are also very lazy... and looking for crack every time when something new comes, and idea that when that pay for the game they also pay for every additionall content that will come up in the future helps them to give this couple of $$ for your game...
 

NazGhuL

NazTaiL
Questions that pops in my mind:

Is there any game that hasn't been pirated?
Is cheaper game less pirated than big AAA one?
Can pirating can be a kind of marketing?
If you have a free 100 hours. Will you spend it to build a better game or spend it on anti-pirating process?
 

SoVes

Member
maybe you could have the game connected to a server and you can only acces it if your account has a licence attached to it. and only 1 client can play at a time with that licence. It would be much harder to pirate, they would need a acces to the server or find a way to exploit it. it wouldn't fit the indie budget then.
 
I'll also point out, that sometimes you have bought a product, but having a pirated/hacked/modded version is convenient for various reasons, and has no way of affecting the profits at all.

I guess this applies more to licensed modding capability. But if you have modding capability you practically automatically have piracy as an option for people too.

I think it sometimes allows people to make something more, or make something new out of what you made already. And that's not really a bad thing. But this is a gray zone, so I could easily be talked out of this viewpoint.
 

11clock

Member
So the first time you misread my posts I clarified. This is the second time you misread my posts. You seriously need to work on your reading comprehension.

"The people who pirate generally believe, at some level, that they are entitled to be entertained for free, or at very least should be exempt from having to pay." and "Not because it prevents your product from being pirated, but because it gives people a way to agree that your product is indeed worth X."

So, clearly I agree that pirates are motivated by not paying. I also agree that a demo doesn't prevent piracy. Between my two posts I've made it pretty clear that a small number of pirates could be converted to paying customers but that it's not really worth focusing on since, as many others have noted, they are not inclined to purchase anyways. Instead, focusing on having a good free demo available can help convert paying customers who might be on the fence since it removes the most important barrier to sales: being able to try before you buy.

However, to remark on your argument (because I actually read your posts), a portion of pirates are simply poor. They aren't maliciously pirating software: they have no money to purchase it with. The ethics of such a situation is a great discussion and doesn't automatically grant an exemption, but is most certainly a more nuanced situation than being "self-entitled douchebags". However, it's a fantastic example of why focusing on piracy isn't a winning formula and why, again, focusing on paying customers is a better recipe. It doesn't guarantee success, but at least you'll have your resources focused on the people who are buying.
Poor people who are pirating are still being self-entitled. Just because you are poor, does not mean you can ignore monetary value. It is why we still look down on homeless people who steal. Besides, there are legal ways to being a gamer without having to pay much money. When I grew up, my family didn't really do allowance, so I relied on my birthday and Christmas to obtain money (which are both at the very end of the year). When I first started to game on my parents' laptop, I played tons of freeware and flash games to bypass my lack of money, and it was a blast. There are lots of great free games you can find on flash arcade sites and on itch.io (I used the YoYo Games Sandbox, but that isn't an option anymore obviously).
 

MishMash

Member
maybe you could have the game connected to a server and you can only acces it if your account has a licence attached to it. and only 1 client can play at a time with that licence. It would be much harder to pirate, they would need a acces to the server or find a way to exploit it. it wouldn't fit the indie budget then.
This is a pretty common practise, often also referred to as DRM, however it's often considered anti-consumer. Let's say 5% of the people who play your game have pirated it, you have now affected the playing experience for 95% of players in a somewhat negative manner. Whilst it doesn't affect all players, and some people won't care, it is an inconvenience for some percentage. Lets say 6% of your players are people who don't have constant internet access, you have now lost more players as a simple result of having the system, rather than just letting it get pirated. The exception to this is if you are working on a multiplayer-only game, then it naturally makes sense to have this sort of system in place.

The other thing to consider is that there are some really smart people out there. I wrote a very basic DRM system for one of my older games. Granted, it was literally just a basic login process, where the server sent a key to the game, and this key was used to "unlock" certain variables in order for the game to work. (As the value of this key was embedded into a number of different systems within the game to allow the game to function). Each key was uniquely paired with each users id, using a simple system (so there was no single unique key). It was also based on a randomly generated code for the login session.

My friend reverse engineered this system in two ways, he first created a DLL replacement for one of my own DLLs that hooked additional hidden functionality into the game (for this, he used a modified version of 39dll). He then setup a program which would forward all web traffic to my server to his own. He managed to work out the process I was using for key generation and emulated it on his server. He essentially then matched the login api so the game could interface with his server, thinking it was talking to the main server. As a result, he setup a completely independent network for the game to run on. He managed to do all of that in a few hours, perhaps in even less time than it took me to setup the system in the first place :p Was impressive to see, but it has definitely changed my opinion on piracy. At no point did he ever need to "hack" my server, just emulate it. (Point being, it would take a lot of work and research to create a really robust DRM system, even major online AAA games have the same thing happen to them.)
 

Barvix

Member
My views on piracy might be ... controversial ... for lack of a better term (and my English is horrendous)

My motto is: "Pirate before you buy it" Why? Well, let's say you try a game that looks cool on Youtube and you watched some gameplay of it. You go to your local torrent dealer, get the game, and play it.
If it's not as good as you thought, no harm done - kinda. I mean, you didn't spend $5, $10, $30 or however much money a game just to be disappointed.
If you like it, you might consider buying it or buy it right away to support the developer(s)

Now as an indie, my views are the same. I do get we put lots of work and energy into our craft, but we can't stop piracy. And I know not everyone will like my views or agree with what I'll do for my game(s) once finished.
When my game is done and being sold (assuming I decide to sell it) - rather than someone else upload a torrent filled with viruses by the dozen - I'll just upload it with an included text file basically saying my motto. Why? Because one game can't suit everyone's tastes, and just because gameplay might look okay on a video doesn't mean you'll enjoy it. And if they truly like it, they'll buy it.
You can't stop piracy for anything, especially games. Could I take measures to try and stop it for my own game? Sure, but someone will always find a way around whatever I do - it's a fight we can never win - only postpone the problem for a little bit.

I'm not saying I support piracy 100%
Things like Spotify, Netflix, Hulu, and Steam seem to be good at making it easier for people to have access to movies, music, and games without taking the easy route: piracy. There will still be people who will pirate those things, but some honest people will continue to support creators and artists alike.
I know my motto makes it sound like I fully support or encourage piracy - I don't. In fact, if some games have demos I think there might be less pirated copies of games. Or not, who knows.

I'm actually getting kinda tired now and forget what my main point was ... so yeah, I'm out.
 

MishMash

Member
My views on piracy might be ... controversial ... for lack of a better term (and my English is horrendous)

My motto is: "Pirate before you buy it" Why? Well, let's say you try a game that looks cool on Youtube and you watched some gameplay of it. You go to your local torrent dealer, get the game, and play it.
If it's not as good as you thought, no harm done - kinda. I mean, you didn't spend $5, $10, $30 or however much money a game just to be disappointed.
If you like it, you might consider buying it or buy it right away to support the developer(s)

Now as an indie, my views are the same. I do get we put lots of work and energy into our craft, but we can't stop piracy. And I know not everyone will like my views or agree with what I'll do for my game(s) once finished.
When my game is done and being sold (assuming I decide to sell it) - rather than someone else upload a torrent filled with viruses by the dozen - I'll just upload it with an included text file basically saying my motto. Why? Because one game can't suit everyone's tastes, and just because gameplay might look okay on a video doesn't mean you'll enjoy it. And if they truly like it, they'll buy it.
You can't stop piracy for anything, especially games. Could I take measures to try and stop it for my own game? Sure, but someone will always find a way around whatever I do - it's a fight we can never win - only postpone the problem for a little bit.

I'm not saying I support piracy 100%
Things like Spotify, Netflix, Hulu, and Steam seem to be good at making it easier for people to have access to movies, music, and games without taking the easy route: piracy. There will still be people who will pirate those things, but some honest people will continue to support creators and artists alike.
I know my motto makes it sound like I fully support or encourage piracy - I don't. In fact, if some games have demos I think there might be less pirated copies of games. Or not, who knows.

I'm actually getting kinda tired now and forget what my main point was ... so yeah, I'm out.
Whilst I have known people who do this, it is a very grey area. What constitutes enjoying a game? Is there a certain amount of time you have to "enjoy" the game for, before you consider it worthwhile? Basically, this comes down to an issue of replayability to an extent. Whilst I agree that games should be fun, and you shouldn't buy games you don't enjoy, I can say there have been quite a few games which I have only played for a few hours, in some case, a very small number of hours, but I still feel the developer deserved my money. Similarly, certain story driven games are quite short, or you may have to get deep into a game to actually be able to appreciate it or enjoy it.

This is often the case with films that have a great twist. You don't really experience it for everything it is until later on. Similarly, certain games may feel "generic" at the start, but unlock new routes to gameplay later on. Granted, you shouldn't have to slave for hours just to be able to enjoy a game, but if you have access to a world of pirated games, having that mindset is going to make you more inclined to only buy games that are instantly gripping. To be honest, I wouldn't have bothered with Fallout if I had only tried it for an hour and had a load of other games I could try as I found the first few hours quite dull, however I got into it later on, once I understood how the game worked.

Another point is that how do you respond to short games that you say enjoyed for 6 hours but had then completed? Do you then go and buy the game, knowing that you'll likely not play it much ever again? I feel this is where holes start to appear in that approach. It's like saying you'll buy a movie if you enjoyed it. If after watching the film you enjoyed it, you aren't just gonna buy it then to not watch it. If its really good, you may go and buy it before a 2nd watch, though I haven't met many people who would buy a film after the fact in order to not watch it, but just to support it.

Whilst this sort of system can work if someone is 100% honest about their experience, it can fall apart very quickly and it tends to fall into a system where the person say enjoys 40% of games (atleast to a worthwhile extent), but only goes and buys 20% of them. I know this is more extreme for AAA games where being disappointed is more brutal, however for Indie games, I think its just cheap not to take a stab at a game, especially if its something you have garnered entertainment from by watching. (I'm not saying you should buy games that you watch, but I'm saying that your 2nd hand experience might be diminished because you watched it first. A good example here for me is Watchdogs. I found the gameplay to be dull, and thus if I was using your "moral" pirating system, I wouldn't have bought the game because I found the story line boring. However, I did still get a fair bit of enjoyment just from running around, enjoying the atmosphere of the game, playing around with the side mechanics, interacting with the world etc; Therefore would that still be considered valid enjoyment, if you only enjoyed part of the game?)

Basically, I feel like this is a poor excuse that people make for themselves to justify stealing..
 
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