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Ask Slashdot: What Is a Reasonable Way To Deter Piracy? 687

An anonymous reader writes "I'm an indie developer about to release a small ($5 — $10 range) utility for graphic designers. I'd like to employ at least a basic deterrent to pirates, but with the recent SimCity disaster, I'm wondering: what is a reasonable way to deter piracy without ruining things for legitimate users? A simple serial number? Online activation? Encrypted binaries? Please share your thoughts."
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Ask Slashdot: What Is a Reasonable Way To Deter Piracy?

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  • life-long updates (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:21PM (#43228593)

    You could choose to provide life-long updates for those that buy the tool. At least that made me pay for several programs.

    • by newcastlejon ( 1483695 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:26PM (#43228675)

      Hear hear. You get vastly more with the carrot than an easily-circumvented stick.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MagPulse ( 316 )
        Along these lines, make the program available in an App Store []. This makes it easier for paying customers. It's tiring when I want to buy a program to have to do some background research on payment processors to see if a developer chose one that is trustworthy. But Apple already has my credit info, buying is easy and safe.
      • by stephanruby ( 542433 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @08:05PM (#43229911)

        The guy is asking the wrong question. He should be asking questions like "How can I maximize profits?" or "How can people find out about my utility?" not "What is a reasonable way to deter piracy?". One doesn't necessarily follow from the other.

        In any case, coming back to his original question. Perhaps his utility could help his customers deter the piracy of the graphics they create with it (may be some kind of self-signing/watermarking/registration system for their own graphics). A customer who tries to protect his own assets will probably not want to try doing it with a pirated copy of the software. It would be too high a risk that whoever pirated that software also crippled/modified the functionality that would deter piracy of the images as well.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Just remember that this is a graphics utility for graphics designers... and if they're graphics designers, they've already got Adobe CS with a bunch of plugins (many plugins possibly pirated).

          Don't worry about piracy for the non-professionals; if they like/use your tool, that gives you mindshare. What you really want to be asking is "what will get graphics designers to lay down $5 to $10 for my product when they've already got CS?" When you've answered that question, piracy is no longer an issue (you want

      • You get vastly more with the carrot than an easily-circumvented stick.

        How did that go over with your girlfriend/wife?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        I would have thought tackling pirates could be best handled by placing trained security personal on targeted ships in the affected zones, argh me hearty.

        When it comes to copyright infringement, your content you choose, your customer will then make a choice. The most important thing is to make very, very clear your system to the customer and do not put the customers equipment at risk, nor force changes of use upon the customer.

        The best method is to reward validated registered users in some manner. Obvio

    • by mrmeval ( 662166 ) <<mrmeval> <at> <>> on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:34PM (#43228819) Journal

      Whose life? ;)

      I can't see someone supporting a game for more than a year or so unless they have a revenue stream from downloadable content.

      An OS I can see security updates being a requirement for a decade.

      Some software packages dealing with finance will most likely need update and I don't expect those to be free.

      The simplest mentioned is check the serial on a new install which I won't fuss with bypassing. Let me play it without the serial with either level or time restriction for a game. Let me do enough with other programs to get an idea how they work.

      And as always, Don't Suck.

      • by devent ( 1627873 )

        Which is really sad in my opinion. There are many games that could benefit from life long updates. Updating the engine, offer new content, new maps, new anything game related. I would gladly pay every year to get my favourite game updated with new content.

        I don't really understand the current model. You develop for 4 years a game, and then you are expected to make a profit in the first weeks. Why not develop a game for 2 years and offer continued updates and new content for subscribers? Why that kind of bus

    • Re:life-long updates (Score:5, Interesting)

      by realityimpaired ( 1668397 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:56PM (#43229147)

      Most amusing (and effective) DRM I ever saw was actually a fairly loose and easily broken copy protection scheme... the program could detect when it had been "cracked" but still gave full functionality to the cracked version... just with some interesting bugs that only appeared late game on the cracked version. It was a game, and deliberately corrupted the load of certain textures on pirated version so the game was still playable, but had quality degradation. Is it possible you could do something like that with the utility?

      The reality is that some people are going to pirate it, even if you only charge $0.05 for a copy. They're going to do it because they can. The best DRM schemes take that into mind, and give them something they can pirate while still making it worth actually paying for the product for those who want to. In the case of the game, for example, you could give it away for free, but only with low quality textures and low bitrate audio samples... if you pay for the game, you can download and install the hi res packs and get a better gameplay experience. If you have the bandwidth to spare, you could tag those hi res packs with a unique watermark and have the software check activation servers for the hi res packs on, say, a weekly basis... if you find them on a pirate site, you can nuke the activation for that particular hi res pack, leaving a functional game that defaults back to the low res textures for pirate users.

      For the utility described, maybe limit the number of objects it can save in a render, for example (assuming that's what the software is), or limit the quality of JPEG it can save to 30% if it's saving images, or apply a watermark to work created with a pirated copy? If it's something people will use to interoperate with other users, maybe have it tag files created on a pirated copy with a randomly generated hash that's stored on the client PC, so that the files can be opened on that system but won't open on another computer? Or even just tweak it with artificial slowdowns in the code so that it's usable when it's pirated, but nowhere near as efficient to work with.

      The possibilties are endless, once you accept that you won't stop people from pirating it, and start thinking of ways to fuck with pirates instead.

      • by Stormy Dragon ( 800799 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @07:01PM (#43229209) Homepage

        On a similar note, I once saw a utility that, if unregistered, would let you use everything in it, the only catch being that all of the fonts in the tool switched to Comic Sans.

      • Re:life-long updates (Score:4, Informative)

        by Marxist Hacker 42 ( 638312 ) * <> on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @07:05PM (#43229243) Homepage Journal

        That reminds me of an early 1980s copy protection scheme I heard about- signing the (magnetic floppy) disk with a ball point pen before formatting, then using a special cataloging program to record and analyze bad sectors at bootup.

        Worked well until hard drives came into play, but a sector copy program that ignored bad sector warnings could accurately defeat it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by hh10k ( 725277 )

        Most amusing (and effective) DRM I ever saw was actually a fairly loose and easily broken copy protection scheme

        I did this with my game. The code that checked the cd-key was easily bypassed, but that code also fixed a critical bug that happened on level 10. It was funny that we had people coming to our support forum asking for help, and we could easily call them out as pirates!

        We actually manage to convince one of them to buy the game properly.

        • Spyro the Dragon had something similar in it. If you used a copied disc you could only get half way through the game :)

      • by Kaenneth ( 82978 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @08:09PM (#43229951) Homepage Journal

        If you cripple the product in ways that could be mistaken for a bug, then they will think your products are shit, and never buy them even after they get a real job and move out of their parent house.

      • > The reality is that some people are going to pirate it, even if you only charge $0.05 for a copy. They're going to do it because they can.
        Correct. To add to that: No matter what kind of copy protection / DRM you use, people WILL crack it.

        I used to crack games in the '80s because it was fun -- plus one got to learn assembly language as a bonus. It was NEVER about "Sticking it to The Man", but about learning. i.e. The best way to motivate a geek is to tell him he can't do something.

        Instead of wasting

      • Re:life-long updates (Score:4, Interesting)

        by TheSeatOfMyPants ( 2645007 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @10:13PM (#43230723) Journal

        The most amusing I saw renamed all objects to "oink!" and had NPC speech replaced with altered versions of famous quotes ("honor thy father and thy hoe, babycakes") if the player couldn't answer a few questions based on information in the printed manual correctly after two tries. That was in Ultima VII: Serpent Isle -- I always wondered just how the development team got the idea for that.

        Oh, ouch... I just looked it up on Wikipedia [], and found a nasty copy-protection approach used in one of the early games -- the floppy disk for Atari version of Ultima IV had an unformatted track the game was programmed to look for, and if it was absent, the the player's party would be slaughtered during every battle. Worse, the German distributor didn't know about the unformatted track, so all of the copies they sold had impossible-to-win battles.

      • Reminds me of the copy protection on Spyro: Year of the Dragon []. It was a layered system, where the first layer was easy to crack, but each time you cracked a layer, another layer cropped up that introduced bugs at some arbitrary point in the game. Fix one bug, you end up introducing another. It was eventually cracked in a rather ingenious way, but it took much longer than any other game at the time.
    • Re:life-long updates (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @10:33PM (#43230847) Homepage Journal []

      Jim Baen sold books, rather than software. But his views are pertinent to any digital distributor. Anyone who bothers to ask slashdot about digital rights has obviously given things some semi-serious thought. Include Jim's ideas in your thinking.

      First few paragraphs of that page follow:

      Baen Books is now making available — for free — a number of its titles in electronic format. We're calling it the Baen Free Library. Anyone who wishes can read these titles online — no conditions, no strings attached. (Later we may ask for an extremely simple, name & email only, registration. ) Or, if you prefer, you can download the books in one of several formats. Again, with no conditions or strings attached. (URLs to sites which offer the readers for these format are also listed. )

      Why are we doing this? Well, for two reasons.

      The first is what you might call a "matter of principle." This all started as a byproduct of an online "virtual brawl" I got into with a number of people, some of them professional SF authors, over the issue of online piracy of copyrighted works and what to do about it.

      There was a school of thought, which seemed to be picking up steam, that the way to handle the problem was with handcuffs and brass knucks. Enforcement! Regulation! New regulations! Tighter regulations! All out for the campaign against piracy! No quarter! Build more prisons! Harsher sentences!

      Alles in ordnung!

      I, ah, disagreed. Rather vociferously and belligerently, in fact. And I can be a vociferous and belligerent fellow. My own opinion, summarized briefly, is as follows:

      1. Online piracy — while it is definitely illegal and immoral — is, as a practical problem, nothing more than (at most) a nuisance. We're talking brats stealing chewing gum, here, not the Barbary Pirates.

      2. Losses any author suffers from piracy are almost certainly offset by the additional publicity which, in practice, any kind of free copies of a book usually engender. Whatever the moral difference, which certainly exists, the practical effect of online piracy is no different from that of any existing method by which readers may obtain books for free or at reduced cost: public libraries, friends borrowing and loaning each other books, used book stores, promotional copies, etc.

      3. Any cure which relies on tighter regulation of the market — especially the kind of extreme measures being advocated by some people — is far worse than the disease. As a widespread phenomenon rather than a nuisance, piracy occurs when artificial restrictions in the market jack up prices beyond what people think are reasonable. The "regulation-enforcement-more regulation" strategy is a bottomless pit which continually recreates (on a larger scale) the problem it supposedly solves. And that commercial effect is often compounded by the more general damage done to social and political freedom.

      In the course of this debate, I mentioned it to my publisher Jim Baen. He more or less virtually snorted and expressed the opinion that if one of his authors — how about you, Eric? — were willing to put up a book for free online that the resulting publicity would more than offset any losses the author might suffer.

      The minute he made the proposal, I realized he was right. After all, Dave Weber's On Basilisk Station has been available for free as a "loss leader" for Baen's for-pay experiment "Webscriptions" for months now. And — hey, whaddaya know? — over that time it's become Baen's most popular backlist title in paper!

      And so I volunteered my first novel, Mother of Demons, to prove the case. And the next day Mother of Demons went up online, offered to the public for free.

      Sure enough, within a day, I received at least half a dozen messages (some posted in public forums, others by private email) from people who told me that, based on hearing about the episode a

  • by Neuroelectronic ( 643221 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:21PM (#43228601)

    The biggest thing you should worry about is not customers ripping off your product, but shovelware firms rebadging your product and stealing your market with their superior ability to reach the customer.

  • by longk ( 2637033 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:22PM (#43228613)

    Serial number. "Call home" only on new install to check the serial.

    • by greenfruitsalad ( 2008354 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:46PM (#43228999)

      I find the kind of drm Packtpub do with their ebooks more acceptable. i.e.: make sure the application displays the buyer's name and address somewhere at all times. That way, the users themselves will protect the application from getting into the wrong hands. And if it gets onto the internets, you know who leaked it.

      I do understand this means more work for you (recompile a part of your app for every single customer) but it is also a lot less trouble for the user (not having to mess around with registrations, serials, etc).

    • by scdeimos ( 632778 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:54PM (#43229117)

      This, plus if you're intending to limit the number of concurrent installs for your product *also* allow for a given install to be DE-registered:

      1. provide a de-register menu/setting using the same "call home" service - people periodically upgrade or replace their machines, or
      2. using a web interface on your site to delete a registration - sometimes machines crash and can't be restored from backups.
    • Too obtrusive (Score:4, Interesting)

      by pavon ( 30274 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:59PM (#43229195)

      I have no problem paying for software that is useful, especially if it reasonably priced. However, there have been many times where I needed to get a job done and was hindered in doing so because of the hoops I had to jump through to get software activated on an offline machine, or didn't have access to the serial number at the time. This has burned me enough that I won't buy any software that requires activation, and am even leery of simple serial number activation.

      Nearly all the software on pirate sites has been cracked, so the pirate's version won't require the user to enter a serial number or be calling home on the first install anyway. Even these simple anti-piracy methods hurt the user and not the pirate.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:22PM (#43228615)

    One side wants information to be free, the otherside wants market forcesto prevail. Eitherway you lose as the price will be $0

  • Don't even try (Score:5, Insightful)

    by leromarinvit ( 1462031 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:23PM (#43228627)

    Just don't. The people who want to pirate will, no matter what you do. Any DRM would only inconvenience legitimate customers. Just make it easy to buy your software for people who want to do so, and provide something worthwhile for the money (e.g. answer support questions, respond to bug reports, etc.)

    • Re:Don't even try (Score:5, Interesting)

      by pclminion ( 145572 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:43PM (#43228955)

      Any DRM would only inconvenience legitimate customers.

      As a customer who won't buy DRM-protected stuff, I don't consider the simple act of entering a license key to be DRM... What do you think? As long as the validation of the key happens locally, I don't mind doing this. In a way, it makes the purchase feel a bit more personalized.

      Yeah, I know the license validation can be hacked around. That's not the point, it's kind of like signing your signature to something. I can forge someone else's signature, but I know I'm being dishonest if I do that.

      • Re:Don't even try (Score:4, Interesting)

        by yurtinus ( 1590157 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @08:26PM (#43230099)
        Local validation has a drawback - one user's validation could be spread far and wide. I can see somebody saying "I bought this neat program, here's the install key!" Sort of like locking up your bike but leaving the key in the lock. I suspect submitter is looking just to prevent casual piracy - get those who aren't going to go to Pirate Bay to pay for the product - which is tough to do without keeping some track of the number of installs per key. I personally have no problem with a one-time online activation (with a reasonable grace period), but I understand a lot of people aren't. You could just as easily validate the key before allowing a software update - perhaps a "Validate Online" prompt during install extolling the benefits of your future updates, access to user forums, etc.

        The point here isn't to harass the people installing it on two or three machines - but to find out when a key has been compromised (ie: hundreds of installs). At that point it's up to submitter if he wants to disable the key or simply use it for tracking. Either way, you don't want to demonize the customer - offer them a new key (via email to the original registered address or some similar means).

        Lastly (or firstly and foremostly) - accept that your product *will* be pirated. Accept that it's likely the majority of installations will be pirated. You can't let this get to you - after all, the more people use your software (even pirated), the more exposure you'll have and the more real sales you'll get. You know your software sucks if nobody wants to pirate it. When it comes down to it, if you have a good product which is convenient enough to buy legally, you'll get most of your potential customers to pay for it.
    • by jd2112 ( 1535857 )

      Just don't. The people who want to pirate will, no matter what you do. Any DRM would only inconvenience legitimate customers. Just make it easy to buy your software for people who want to do so, and provide something worthwhile for the money (e.g. answer support questions, respond to bug reports, etc.)

      Don't be an EA. Be more concerned with keeping the people who do pay happy and less concerned with those that don't.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:23PM (#43228629)

    Whatever you do, man, make it easy for people doing reinstalls to preserve the install key. A lot of times we redo a computer for a customer and we can't put back some software because there's no way to get the key. Something like an online system where you enter your e-mail address or something to re-register could be nice in those cases, assuming the worst case that whatever stored the registration was deleted.

    Don't require online connectivity to run once registered though, that's just asking for trouble.

  • by mattventura ( 1408229 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:23PM (#43228631) Homepage
    You can divide people into 3 categories: those that WILL buy it, even if they could pirate it, those that might pirate it or might buy it, and those that will not use it at all if they can't pirate it. The second group of people is going to be the only ones that you might convert from pirates to customers by imposing DRM and that group might be quite small. Don't screw over the first group with overintrusive DRM.
  • Don't (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nitehawk214 ( 222219 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:25PM (#43228657)

    Seriously. Don't. If your program is any good, people will pirate it. Actually even if your program is terrible people will pirate it, just because they can. And they can, no matter what steps you take. However people are vastly more likely to give money to a indie developer. Pirates can be classified people that are either compulsive/hoarder pirates and wouldn't pay for it anyhow, genuinely need your program but cannot afford it, and people that will pay for it after a "trial run" when the realize you are an indie developer and your program is reasonably priced.

    • I agree: the crackers out there will crack, regardless. Further, the petitioner never mentioned to what degree he wanted to stop piracy. What level of piracy is acceptable? 0%? Not possible. At the other extreme, if no one is paying, then, yeah, something's fucked up. I'd guess a decent product might actually see around 5% to 10% piracy, but what are you gonna do? The harder you make it for people to rip you off, the more likely it is you'll piss off your honest customers. How does that help them?
  • by kimgkimg ( 957949 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:26PM (#43228673)
    One-time online activation seems to work pretty well and as an end-user I find this the least objectionable. Issue a unique code to the user and have them enter that into an online form and give them an activation code. Make sure the user can find this unique code/activation again if at some point in time they need to reinstall the product and limit the number of re-installs allowed to some reasonable number.
    • by DMUTPeregrine ( 612791 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @07:11PM (#43229335) Journal
      Make sure the "reasonable number" is unreasonably large if you must limit reinstalls. If the software can only be installed 5 times I probably won't buy it, if it can be installed 128 times I'd have much less of an issue with it. It's a small enough number that it won't be a significant source of piracy (someone will take the effort to crack the activation) and large enough that few people (if any) will run into it in normal use.

      Also tie the activation to updates. Make it so that the legitimate purchasers get something the pirates don't in exchange for their money.
  • KISS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by niado ( 1650369 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:26PM (#43228681)
    The simpler the better. My philosophy on this is that anyone with a moderate amount of determination will pirate your software. This is unlikely to heavily impact your bottom line, and (especially from an indie standpoint) you might not be able to afford the time, energy, and money required to implement a draconian DRM method anyway. Just use serial numbers or something equally mundane and then don't worry about anything beyond that, because you literally can't prevent determined piracy.
    • Re:KISS (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Chuckstar ( 799005 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:35PM (#43228821)

      I agree. Have just enough a hurdle that the honest-but-lazy user doesn't just keep saying to himself "I'll just pay for it later".

      Full disclosure: I've been that honest-but-lazy guy who kept meaning to pay for shareware and then never got around to it (even though I really meant to and wasn't really trying to avoid it).

  • by BenJeremy ( 181303 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:27PM (#43228697)

    Shiver their timbers.

    Seriously though... you will get a variety of answers here on Slashdot, ranging from "open source it and give it all away" to "put in ads and give it away". Charging for things seems to be a sin to some slashdotters.

    I think a CD key, for PC games, strikes a reasonable balance, so long as you have some traceability (online activation is nice). Have you considered Steamworks? You'd have a distribution platform (though it wouldn't limit where you could sell it), and a proven, relatively non-intrusive DRM strategy.

    Of course, Steamworks games get cracked, but you can never really stop determined crackers or pirates. All you want to do is encourage legit buyers to remain legit buyers. Steam is a pretty decent ecosystem for developers and gamers.

  • by Gaygirlie ( 1657131 ) <gaygirlie&hotmail,com> on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:28PM (#43228703) Homepage

    You have seemingly already decided that you're going to implement DRM, so the next question you should ask yourself is: "How much am I willing to inconvenience my paying customers?" Also in similar vein is the question: "How much time am I willing to spend on a protection scheme that will be circumvented anyways?" The problem with DRM is that it doesn't stop dedicated people at all, it merely stops the "let me borrow the CD and I'll install it, too" - crowd, nothing else, and therefore it's waste of both your and your customers' resources to use much time or effort on it.

    A simple install-time-only online activation is probably the best of both worlds as long as you can ensure that your activation servers are always accessible. Anything else is just a losing game.

  • by Todd Knarr ( 15451 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:29PM (#43228719) Homepage

    That's probably the easiest way to deter piracy: price it reasonably for it's job. Most people would rather get it legitimately than pirate it. Make it easy to download without going to shady download sites like CNet (I say shady because there's no way of telling where what they're hosting came from or who put it there, and I do not trust software where I can't trace it's provenance). Hosting downloads from your own domain will help, and leads into the next item: mark each copy you sell. Encode a serial number and buyer identity into each copy, making each one unique to the buyer. Make it clear when they buy that the copy's been stamped with their identity, and do the same on the initial splash screen if any and in the About dialog. This won't be seen by most people as anything particularly objectionable in itself, at the same time it'll make them skittish about just handing it out willy-nilly knowing that if someone they give it to uploads it to a torrent site or something it'll be them clearly identified as the source. It won't stop the hard-code pirates, but then very little will. It won't stop people from installing an extra copy for family. But it should be enough to convince the majority of people to tell their friends to just shell out the $15 for their own copy.

  • ! deterrent (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Spazmania ( 174582 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:29PM (#43228733) Homepage

    Deterrent is the wrong goal. Give up on the folks who choose to steal it. They aren't worth your time or concern. Worry about making it both easy and encouraging for the folks who are inclined to pay you to do so.

  • by aussersterne ( 212916 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:31PM (#43228769) Homepage

    then ask them to do it.

    Many will, if it's valuable to them. Those that won't likely wouldn't have done so anyway.

    There was a recent TED talk, "The Art of Asking," that made an argument along similar lines, though it was more concerned with digital music.

    I pay for stuff I like if I feel that the price is fair. Most others are the same way.

  • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:36PM (#43228833) Homepage Journal

    I worked on a tool to be used by consultants. These people have very sticky fingers. Are issue was how to we prevent consultants taking the software to another firm?

    We compiled a build for each customer with there logo inserted into various places. So when you run a report, no matter what there user entered, the embedded logo would appear on the reports.
    Going to another accounting firm, and then generating reports for your boss with your previous companies logo on it tend to get you frowned upon.

  • Honestly, the best thing to do is look at your business plan and determine the best price - the one that yields the maximum sales for you in the market you are trying to target and the minimum piracy that you are comfortable with. Just realize that piracy will be non-zero as people who want to pirate will no matter what you do - no matter how much or how little you charge. So find the price point that maximizes your potential in the market you are aiming to sell into and don't worry about the rest.

    Unfortunately, you need to do a market study to determine that price - so as always you have to spend money to make (more) money. You may be surprised that what you thought was only a $5-$10 app may be a $50 app; OTOH, it could turn out to be a $1 app too.
  • by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:37PM (#43228861)
    The answer is to make it easier to buy your product then it is to pirate it.

    Price it right, make sure ANYONE can download it (in other words, make sure you have a way of getting money from someone in the US and UK just as easily as you've got a way from a guy in China or India to download your game) and make it easy to find where you can buy it.

    If someone really wants to pirate your software, they will. But make sure that the pirated version isn't a superior version to what you offer.

    But above all else, you want users, its a whole lot better to be known for a game that everyone's heard of and played and 75% of the people didn't buy then it is to be the creator of a game that no one's heard of and played but the few users who did play the game bought it.
  • Read This (Score:4, Informative)

    by rudy_wayne ( 414635 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:41PM (#43228929)

    Read this. Memorize it. It tells you everything you need to know as a developer: []

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:42PM (#43228933)

    I started and worked on a very successful iOS game with over 9,000,000 users (and now over 1m on Android).. In the earlier days, we saw that it's piracy was 3 to 1 (so there were at the time about 3m users per 1m paid).

    We don't care. Every user who doesn't pay but enjoys the game spreads word about the game, which will work well for the sequel or for branded toys. Those who don't pay for it probably weren't going to, at least they've now heard of your brand and your game. Free marketing.

  • by skine ( 1524819 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:42PM (#43228941)

    1) Make a game that's worth buying.
    2) Sell it at a price that people are willing to pay.
    3) Don't make piracy a better experience than buying the real thing.
    4) Give your customers a legitimate way to try the game for free.

    Sure, there are and always will be people who pirate games just because they can. There really isn't a way to stop this.

    The vast majority who do pirate usually fall into one of these categories, though.

    For me, the only reason I've pirated since graduating HS is #3, and even then I have only used pirated versions of games I own, or for games that I legitimately can't find (especially Dreamcast games).

    • The scenario is a little different for games. Professionals don’t sweat the cost of the tools they use to do their jobs, within reason, as they’re either tax writeoffs or billable to a client. Adobe can charge $1300-2600 for individual copies of CS6 because a single freelance gig will more than cover that (unless you’re doing flyers for a local band or something.) $5-10 for a useful tool is nothing. Whereas very few people have the type of job that would allow them to deduct video game pur

  • by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:46PM (#43228993) Journal

    Embrace the Pirates, for they may be your salvation.

    Release two versions, paid and pirate. Call them that, and have fun with it (pirate skin). Give them a reason to "buy" it, something emotional, tied to being a pirate (enhanced pirate skin, which they will pirate too). Tell the pirates you don't want their money, you want a Starbucks Gift Card (or whatever). Tell the Pirates you want them to tell their friends that you embrace their actions, as a means of publicity.

    IF you product, service or whatever is good, then publicity is your friend. Then ask them to pay for it when they use it, just don't nag. Perhaps a reminder every month (30 days) of "hey, you like this app, please consider buying the Pirate version with the all new pirate skin".

    If you fight the pirates, they will route around any attempt to block them. It is a fool's game of whack-a-mole.

    And for those people that pirate apps, do you really think you're all that clever for going to Google and typing "Pirate Bag Android Apps". I really hope you all find hacked versions that steal your identity and money. Pay the damn $1.99 already.

  • Obscurity (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fwarren ( 579763 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:55PM (#43229129) Homepage

    Piracy is a tax on being popular.

    The less popular you are, the less of a tax it is.

    It costs goodwill, it cost money, and it is for the most part not effective. What is effictive is to find a way to make money even with pircacy out there.

    Read some posts at TechDirt. Find out if freeimum, or posting a comment or a product at thepiratebay or something else would work for your business.

    There was an article about a director who made $60,000 last year on a project and spent $30,000 if it trying to deter piracy. She could have doubled her money by doing nothing. That was a case study. []

  • Seed it yourself (Score:4, Interesting)

    by meta-monkey ( 321000 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @07:18PM (#43229401) Journal

    Can you create an ad supported version? If so, create an ad supported version and seed it yourself.

    The people who want to buy the software will come to your site and buy it from you (requires serial #). Those who go to your site and say "$5? F that noise, yo!" (because that's how pirates talk) will go start looking for torrents. Seed the ad-supported version yourself. Make sure it's the most popular torrent for your software. Anybody who decides they'd rather torrent it than pay you gets the ad-supported version and is probably none the wiser that the paid version doesn't have ads.

    Now you get $5-$10 out of the people who were willing to pay for it, and you make some off the ads for the people who weren't.

    Yes, somebody can crack the no-ads paid version and torrent that. Every month or so, look for it. When that happens, either try to out-seed them (so people who don't know the difference download your version) or just release a "patch" and seed that. So the currently cracked version might be 1.5, but you just released 1.6 ("now with more graphicals and improved performances!") and most people are going to download the most recent version. Now you're ahead until they crack 1.6.

    Alternatively, you could also seed it yourself with a message that says "hey buddy, I know you got this off Pirate Bay, but come on, it's $5 and here's a picture of my starving kids. Help me out!" and a link to buy the full version.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @07:26PM (#43229495)

    In business there is no good or evil, there is only money. Don't let yourself fall into the ideology trap that pirates are evil - that's a question for a philosophy class in college or a million arguments on the internet - but all that should matter to you as a businessman is the money.

    The best possible case of DRM is to convert potential pirates into customers. There are lots of not-so-great cases, they generally involve pissing off your paying customers, something that should be avoided at all costs because paying customers who are unhappy will tell the world how unhappy your product has made them and that will discourage any new paying customers.

    So, I am going to suggest that instead of DRM to punish pirates you should look for ways to identify pirates and upsell to them. Give them the carrot instead of the stick, that way you never have to worry about accidentally hitting a paying customer with the stick - worse case is just more carrots.

    One option is to let the software run just fine without a serial number, but after some number of launches without a serial number, like maybe 20, start putting up a click-through start-up screen. On that screen you can nicely point out that they've used the software 20 times now and it is only fair that since they are getting so much value out of it, they should pay for it - remember you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Then give the user three choices:

    1) Enter their serial number
    2) Go to a web page where they can buy a serial number
    3) Click through and use the software anyway

    If someone is inclined to pay this helps them to remember, if they are already a paying customer and they lost their serial number or whatever, this won't stop them from getting their work done and so won't piss them off and if they are a hardcore pirate who will never pay, you still haven't lost anything anyway.

  • by Deffexor ( 230167 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @07:55PM (#43229793)

    I found this answer on SO a couple years ago and flagged it as a favorite because I figured I might need it some day.

    The short version is a lot like what people have already said, have cracked keys be detectable and then decide from there what to do. []

    This guy decided to redirect the users to a website to inform them that they're using a cracked key and that they should really purchase the software.

    His studies seem to indicate that it works well.

  • by 0111 1110 ( 518466 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @09:30PM (#43230563)

    So you want to stop free riders, huh? First of all DRM can work, but only in some situations and some element of luck is involved. Not that the purpose of these techniques is not profit maximization. The purpose is simply to reduce or stop free riders.

    ---The DRM Option---
    1. Code the DRM yourself. Make sure that a cracker at last would require knowledge of assembly language to crack it. Anyone can use a hex editor. At least make sure that your cracker has to be somewhat competent.

    2. Don't advertise the software too much. Try to keep it from getting too popular. As soon as a competent cracker sees it and thinks your software seems useful he's going to put your code on his to_disassemble_list and a crack could be released in just a few days.

    3. Don't make the software too good or too useful. Ideally it should not do anything better than other software in its category. it should not be a best-in-class sort of thing. If it seems to be getting too popular introduce some subtle but annoying bugs in the next release.

    ---Bait and Switch---
    With this method you introduce the software initially as freeware but not open source. Build a following. Let people get dependent on it. I'd recommend giving it a full year or two so that people basically think of it as free software.

    Then go commercial. Give as little warning as possible. Quietly remove old versions from your web site beforehand A good time to do this is just before you fix an annoying bug. If you have to, leave a bug unfixed specifically for this purpose. Even introduce one if you have to. Just make sure to add a new feature when you do so.

    At this point introduce the above homemade DRM and try to keep a low profile as noted in the first strategy. The delay between initial release and the implementation of DRM will discourage a large percentage of crackers. It just won't be on their radar anymore since it is old software at this point. Of course if your software has already become too popular then it is still hopeless, but you have to prevent that.

    The basic idea behind these strategies is not to try to defeat the crackers. They are way smarter than you are. Just forget it. The idea is to stay below their radar and make your DRM just hard enough to stop the easy search and replace hex editor attacks.

    Eventually your software may indeed be discovered by a competent cracker and then the game is over. Go work on some new software. Rinse and repeat.

    ---divide and conquer---
    One tip for staying obscure is to break up your software into many smaller applications. Not only does that make more targets for the crackers for the same functionality, but it makes the software less useful which remember is a good thing. You don't need to get every customer in the world. Just enough to make some money. Don't get greedy or you will certainly fail.

    If your software has a menu take a look at the different options and see if you can split them out into different applications.

    ---keep prices low---
    A cracker is less likely to target you if you are only asking $5-$10. I see that this is already your strategy. It is an excellent way to both deter crackers and to deter potential pirates from even bothering to search for a cracked version. Cracking a $1000 application gives way more prestige than cracking a $5 one. Note that this merges quite nicely with the above divide and conquer strategy.

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @09:35PM (#43230583)

    It's something big studios don't get, but some indies got that one right, so you might want to try it too.

    What's the big reason people buy "normal" goods in stores instead of, say, from the back of trucks for a fraction of the price? I mean, you can get a big screen TV for a few 100 instead of a few 1000 bucks, no really. Here it is, don't ask, don't tell. Don't want it? Gee, why could that be?

    Could it be the warranty you get when you buy it in a store? Or the additional goodies that come with it?

    Make sure that people who buy your software get MORE out of it than just the software they'd also get from a pirated copy. When they register their copy, how about gaining access to you for support? Certainly not full time and 24/7, but even knowing that I COULD mail you my problems is a big psychological issue. How about offering that you will hear their suggestions for future versions and the promise of some updates free/cheap when they are implemented? Having the ear of the maker of a tool I enjoy using and feeling my input is valued sure is worth 5 or 10 bucks. And you get free suggestions for improvement of handling for free, too.

    One of the biggest assets for you (and it's amazing how many ignore this): If that tool allows the creation of plugins, offer a place where people can showcase and offer their plugins, or if it is used to create something these people could probably want to publish, offer them a place to do that. Of course only if they are paying customers. Webspace is cheap or even free, what's problematic is to get people to VISIT yours, and you having a customer base for this tool means that you're a hub for your customers when they are trying to reach like minded people.

    YOU are the center of this tool, wherever you make this tool point everyone using this tool WILL know, whether they like to or not.

    Even the ones that didn't pay for it.

    This makes whatever webspace you offer (even if it's merely some sort of linking hub) critical for anyone who wants to publish what this tool creates, unless he has a better platform. It is very unlikely that they do, though.

  • by Cruciform ( 42896 ) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @01:26AM (#43231565) Homepage

    Rather than creating DRM concentrate on creating a community of loyal users. Have an open beta. Reward bug reports with credits.
    Let users suggest new features in a forum. Keep up a dialog.

    DRM is much less effective than perceived value. If the consumer believes your product is worth it they will buy it.
    The ones that don't didn't intend to anyway.

  • by smash ( 1351 ) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @02:25AM (#43231823) Homepage Journal

    Make it easy for me to buy (either in store availability guaranteed, or digital download - the latter is a lot easier to achieve) and PRICE APPROPRIATELY.

    If you still have piracy, they were never going to be customers anyway (i.e., if it was too hard they wouldn't have purchased), but may encourage others to buy, by getting you free publicity.

"The pyramid is opening!" "Which one?" "The one with the ever-widening hole in it!" -- The Firesign Theatre