Linux Game Publishing Announces Copy Protection Scheme

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]

4 comments to Linux Game Publishing Announces Copy Protection Scheme

  • GotGame.com

    Unfortunately, options are limited when it comes to dealing with piracy. Sadly, I think it’s actually necessary for LGP to implement their authentication system.

  • paxton

    My instinct tells me that users of open source software are probably less inclined to pirate commercial software. But this inclination is balanced by the fact that they are more savvy and more *able* to locate that software on the internet. It’s probably a wash at best. Of course, expecting these copy protection schemes to confound linux users is a stretch, but if they can sell that idea to EA, good for them.

    It seems that everyone who makes single player computer games is hurting these days, because of the open nature of the system. The US market is probably heading in the direction of Asia, where computer games are designed as services rather than off the shelf products. Even fundamentally single player games are taking this direction, e.g. spore’s automatic importing of other people’s creations into your game.

    It’s kind of sad that evolution of gaming has to be driven my this market reality, but on the other hand, at least it’s pushing us in a positive direction toward games with greater community participation.

  • >>> 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 think they do not understand that this error because illegal copies of the game

  • ROMELIUS

    I totally support copy protection on the software I buy as long as it doesn’t require an online connection every time I want to run the game. It gives me peace of mind knowing freeloaders will have a lot harder time getting a working pirated version. If they go that route they need to make sure there is a good demo version of the game that performs as well as the registered version, especially considering it cost me $60 US when ordering my game (X2) from LGP and the Windows version only costs $30 US.

    As mentioned, it is also necessary if our community wants to see quality games from other vendors like EA. That’s probably the only reason I still keep a partition with windows on it, just so I can run good games. I know its a lame comparison, but I don’t complain about using ATI’s proprietary drivers if it does what I need it to do and performs better than the open versions. Likewise I don’t care if my software is copy protected if it helps bring other vendors to the board. I say put it to the test and see what comes of it.

    I’m not to sure with some of the exaggerated figures of how much money is lost to piracy. A lot of people, but not everyone, who pirates software wouldn’t have bought the software in the first place and are only taking advantage of being able to get it free.

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