Linux Game Publishing, the company that ports games from Windows to Gnu/Linux, has announced that it is introducing a copy protection system. Naturally this news resulted in quite a bit of speculation, and rumors were flying about how invasive this copy protection will be.
LGP sent out a press release to explain why it was introducing copy protection now after years of avoiding it. Similar to Reflexive’s claims of a 92% rate of piracy, LGP estimate that more people downloaded illegal copies of the games than paid for them. The estimate is based on the number of support requests for a known bug introduced into LGP-seeded copies of games on download sites. While such a practice is controversial, I’m still surprised that people who download illegal copies have the audacity to request support from the company. I wonder how many more people downloaded the games and didn’t request support. I also wonder how many of them concluded that LGP’s offerings were buggy, which is the risk with seeding purposely-bugged downloads to dilute the illegal download offerings. According to CEO Michael Simms, the seeded downloads were meant to dilute the illegal downloads with bad copies, and the requests for support were not expected at all.
Adding copy protection will give us benefits as a company. Firstly, it will allow us to recover some of the lost revenue, by means of additional license sales, either via online vendors or direct through the copy protection system. Secondly, it will allow LGP to show a solid revenue protection system that will increase our credibility as a porting company in the eyes of licensors, allowing us to attempt to obtain higher profile games.
The press release also explains how the online verification system will work. While there seem to be some advantages, including the ability to download the games in case your original CD was damaged, many people will understandably feel put off that the game is trying to phone home. LGP has responded by allowing people with no network connection to continue to play since the game has internal checks, but if you did have a network connection and the system found your copy to be invalid, then you won’t be able to play until you connect to the servers to prove that you should be allowed to play.
It seems that LGP is taking great pains to ensure that the copy protection system won’t cause problems for legitimate customers. Still, now that copy protection has been introduced, there is a difference in value between the legal copy and the illegal copy. Copy protection systems are just software, after all, and software solutions will always be circumvented. If the downloaded copy can be played without the player worrying about connecting to the servers, and if most people are downloading the illegal copies, what’s really changed? The people willing to pay will be inconvenienced, even if only slightly, and the people unwilling to pay will have a superior offering, even if only slightly.
I am not sure how much of a benefit the copy protection system will be to converting more sales, but the idea that LGP can convince developers to port their higher profile games might be the greatest benefit. If EA isn’t dealing with LGP because there is no system in place to prevent copyright infringement, then having some system, even if it only works as badly as EA’s own systems, might convince EA to negotiate. Higher profile games might result in increased sales in general.
What happens if LGP ceases trading
LGP has pledged that should we, for any reason, cease trading, and our keyserver is removed, then we will, using any means possible, provide patches to remove the copy protection from our games, or provide back doors, or other such methods to allow games to be played. All LGP employees have the authority to produce, on their own, and without the order of the company, such patches, should the company be unable to produce them or to request their production, on the event that LGP ceases trading.
I suppose this part should make me feel better, but if a company is going out of business, I’m curious when anyone will find the time or the incentive to provide these patches. Then again, LGP has always had front-facing employees who interact with the community, and if Loki’s demise produced an icculus, perhaps LGP’s will as well. Now, if your illegal copy is already missing the copy protection, you don’t need to worry about LGP’s health as a company. Of course, if you do download the illegal copies, you’re not concerned about rewarding LGP’s work in the first place.
More discussion is taking place on the LGP Copy Protection Mailing List.
I’m surprised that copyright infringement is such a problem with Gnu/Linux users. I would think that they would be the ones who respected and understood copyright better than Windows or Mac users in general. After all, the GPL and similar licenses use copyright to ensure Free and Open Source Software stays that way. I encounter claims that Linux users don’t respect intellectual property, and learning about the extent at which LGP has had to deal with these kinds of people, it makes it very hard to defend the general user.
I still want to believe that most people are honest. In light of the evidence provided by LGP, Reflexive, and others, am I being overly optimistic? I definitely don’t want to turn into the kind of developer who assumes everyone is guilty until proven innocent. They always seem so angry all the time, as if people want to rip them off if given half a chance. That definitely doesn’t seem to be a healthy outlook on life. Still, I suppose we’re finding that if a person has the incentive and the opportunity with little concern for the consequences, it seems more often than not he or she will take the opportunity. And then in a company’s efforts to reduce the opportunity and increase the consequences, the honest customer gets burned.
There has to be a better way.
[tags] indie, gnu/linux, games, copy protection, LGP, Linux games, piracy, copyright, customer service [/tags]