7 Ways to Prevent Piracy

Some people say that piracy cannot be stopped, and while there isn’t a practical solution on how to stop piracy 100%, there are some solutions that can help you at least reduce piracy. My personal opinion is that I would use some pretty good copy protection system and be done with it. But since piracy cannot be completely ignored, here are some ways to deal with it:

[1] Copy protection system

There are copy protection systems which you can use. They vary in features, and one widely used is SoftwarePassport (previously known as Armadillo). These cost something, but they’ll save time, nerves and money in a long run.

Small tip: If you choose to use this kind of anti-piracy options, make sure your copy protection doesn’t annoy customer.

[2] Separate demo and full version

This is another very fine way to copy protect your software: simply create separate versions of your product. Your demo version might contain only 30% of the assets, and when people purchase the full version you can give them the full 100% of the elements. It’s very practical and inexpensive way to copy protect your game.

[3] Online game features or online registration

If you have features that require Internet, you can use online copy protection for your product. One example could be that you wouldn’t send player server list unless user has sent a valid username and password to your game server. That way you couldn’t play the game illegally with others since you wouldn’t get their server information.

[4] Give discounts or lower the product price

I’m not really recommending this – just rather listing this one as a general way that might decrease piracy. I’m not even that convinced this one is really a solid answer to problems of piracy.

Some people say that this might help getting rid of some pirates. The problem with this approach is naturally that when you lower your price, you get less profits per sale. Then the problem continues: lowering your product price doesn’t not necessarily lead to increased sales.

[5] Give your product for free

Some people have done radical moves and are giving their product for free. These guys might use some different tactics (like these) to generate income while providing their product for no cost.

[6] Don’t give away your software source code

This might sound quite basic, but projects with multiple programmers carry a risk of shared source code. While I believe in open development, there is a risk that your source code gets stolen or leaked. If you keep your source code hidden, it means other people cannot get it – but then you face a problem regarding the product progress. I believe in open atmosphere and I focus on getting reliable people in the team, rather than focusing on protecting my code in case somebody isn’t reliable. Working with reliable guys has been better option rather than worrying piracy.

Nevertheless, you might need to consider this to protect your code.

[7] If your product ends up to some warez site, take legal actions

If your product ends up hacked and into some illegal site, contact the internet service provider of the warez site and tell them about the problem (not the warez people, but those who own and manage the servers physically). Since one email might get ignored, it’s useful to discuss about the warez site first in a forum. While 1 email might get ignored, 10 or 100 emails from different indies can help shutting down the illegal site.

I personally don’t ignore pirates, but I also won’t concentrate on fighting against piracy. The roots of the problem isn’t small income (since how the heck those pirates can afford to buy $1000 computers, but cannot spend $20 on some fine games), it’s the attitude.

That’s why I think you should perform some of the necessary elements (like copy protection system), and then focus on building a great service around a great product.

23 thoughts on “7 Ways to Prevent Piracy

  1. anonDeveloper

    Another way to fight piracy is to release massive amounts of disinformation / fake zips and false keywords– false torrent reviews– control google searches. It is very effective in fighting casual piracy. You must do this sort of thing weeks/months before release to get in good with google for web searches and torrent searches.

    Also, I’m surprised at how…ok get ready for this…ball-less game devs are. Piracy for profit is particularly disturbing. If someone is financing yearly vacations by selling memberships to pirate sites or finding some other mechanism to profit off your hard work, fight them tooth and nail. Denial of service attacks/ legal action etc…

  2. This is 3 years old article… so I have slightly different opinion today.

    Basically – you cannot stop piracy.
    But you can stop stopping piracy. And focus on customers.

  3. nice suggestions man
    do u have any sloutions for stop of movie piracy

  4. Franco Fantastic weight of the world on half of a shoulder

    Copy protection systems only piss off your customers in the long run. I can deal with a CD-Key for a game, but when they go to extra lengths ultimately the system will fail, and possibly tell me I haven’t purchased the game when I have or whatever. A good example is some of the music copyright protection programs out there used to install root kits on your machine, which were then exploitable by hackers. Save yourself some money and forego the heavy copyright protection.

    Juuso – Game Producer Says:

    February 13th, 2007 at 9:50 pm
    @Toraux: I agree that heavy measures can be annoying (I wrote an example about that, and gave a link in the blog) but a simple way to copy protect your game would be to use of “demo”, and only let customers download the full version. That wouldn’t cause lots of hassle for customers, while being effective way to keep hackers away.

    Arto Says:

    February 13th, 2007 at 10:30 pm
    Three more ways:
    I’d think one reason people pirate games is that they don’t have money to buy ‘em because all their money is spent on keeping the computer up to date, just so that the games would run on those machines. So one way of preventing piratism would be keeping your hardware requirements as low as possible :) Additionally, people who have lower-end computers might be more prone for casual games and don’t want to waste time on searching for a pirated version.
    Another way, concerning primarily downloadable games, is to make the payment easy. I, for one, don’t have a credit card so most of the indie games are therefore unreachable for me. And that goes for anyone under 18 too. So, if possible, offer other methods of payment than credit card.
    And last, but not least, make the game so good players want to support you by buying your games :)

    Ken Paulson Says:

    February 14th, 2007 at 12:07 am
    The problem with #2 is that it’s very easy for someone to get the full version and then just distribute it. A pirate uses a stolen credit card number, buys your game and then has a full version without any copy protection to pass around as much as he likes. I know there are a lot of people who use this method, but I would strongly recommend against it.

    S199 Says:

    February 14th, 2007 at 2:30 am
    hu ??? this article is crap ? isnt it ?

    gh3 Says:

    February 14th, 2007 at 2:33 am
    IMHO, a way to decrease piracy ( in console world ) is to use a system like itunes, or microsoft marketplace, in little words a protection that works in this way:

    you want a game, you have to go register first with the marketplace, with username, password, name, street, etc etc so you can receive your personal invoice of the game you have just buyed.

    ok once you are registered, you can browse the shopping list, and choose the game, when you confirm, the system store in his memory that you have bought the game, pick virtual coins from your account or use your credit card, and then allow you to download the game.

    and each time you want to play you have to had a internet connection available, that confirms that you have bought that game your are starting to play…

    what do you think about this?

    also this way associate games to profile, so if you decide to remove the game from the hd, you can re-download it because you have already payed for it.

    Toraux Says:

    February 14th, 2007 at 2:50 am
    What happens when the publisher goes out of business? I personally don’t like spending money on a game that I can’t play when I want where I want. If the game isn’t an online game then I expect to be able to play without the internet.

    darksky Says:

    February 14th, 2007 at 4:11 am
    This is a joke most people pirate because 90 percent of the games out there are horrible and if the game is actually good most people who pirate then in turn go buy that game
    or people do it just to collect and dont even play the games
    or said items

    Ghost Says:

    February 14th, 2007 at 6:25 am
    Why is everybody up in arms over piracy, anyway? It’s because there’s a belief that every pirated copy equals one less legit copy sold.

    That’s BS.

    The people who pirate your game wouldn’t buy the game to begin with.

    Joonas Says:

    February 14th, 2007 at 11:35 am
    Steam and its like are bound to be the solution in the long run, I think. Am I correct that you still can’t pirate Half-Life 2? Since it also only costs a little and it’s available as an instant download, I’m sure this has boosted its sales a lot.

    With the 360, I think Microsoft have built a system very resistant to piracy. Live is so integral to the whole experience that you just can’t have it if you won’t let your console be scrutinized by Microsoft’s online service.

    Juuso – Game Producer Says:

    February 14th, 2007 at 12:15 pm
    @Ken Paulson: That is a problem, but same problem is also with #1: somebody could simply buy the full version and upload the setup file AND reg key… and pass as much as he likes. Unless #1 doesn’t use online reg checking (#3) or some other methods. In that way it’s not really much different from #1 (unless – as said: you have some sort of online key checker)

    @S199: Could be – what do you think?

    @gh3: Yep… basically that’s another example of point #3 . It’s good, but the problem is if you want to play offline… some customers might get annoyed.

    @darksky: well… if the games are horrible – why pirate them?

    @Ghost: Well, first of all. Not everybody is against piracy (like you, if I’m correct) and not everybody is saying “every pirated copy equals one less legit copy sold.”. There is a simple reason why developers are against piracy: if people could always download all games for free, they wouldn’t buy them. While I don’t agree that every pirated copy equals one less sold, I believe that every pirated copy equals to “chance of losing sale”. And since some people are doing this to feed their families, I think it’s quite good to take some effort to protect against thieves.

    @Joonas: Steam (#3) sure sounds good. My bet is that MicroSoft will end up having pissed off customers if the history repeats… ;)

    shang Says:

    February 14th, 2007 at 12:23 pm
    @Joonas: Regarding HL2. While the protection in HL2 seemed better at first, there was a fully working warez version about a week or two after the game’s release (AFAIK, it involved running a fake Steam server locally).

    I’m very anti-copy protection personally. Even the more user friendly choices are often an inconvenience, and I’m not at all convinced about how effective they really are at increasing sales. If your game is a big enough it, it WILL be cracked with 100% certainty. At that point, I think the first priority is ensuring that the paying customers are not actually getting an inferior product compared to the pirates, like the often do with DRM. Pirated movies don’t have unskippable commercials, pirated games don’t need the CD in the drive when playing etc. This makes the pirated product both free AND better. That’s pretty difficult to beat.

    I’m planning on using the demo/full version method myself. The only bit of DRM is that the full version displays the buyers full name and uses a slight encryption to make it non-trivial to change/remove the name.

    I’m sure that full versions will get warezed if the games gather enough popularity, but I try not to stress about it too much. They would be anyway, with or without DRM.

    Juuso – Game Producer Says:

    February 14th, 2007 at 12:30 pm
    @Shang: Good points. There isn’t one right answer for piracy, but what you say makes sense.

    And I hate those unskippable commercials on DVDs (but I love watching them when I get to decide ;)

    Vic Says:

    February 14th, 2007 at 8:53 pm
    Having some level of software protection is good for deterrence as long as its transparent to the users. Its only small set of people reverse engineering games and larger population need not suffer. I agree with the posted comments that you don’t want to tick users off. Classic examples of going too far with software protection was Sony’s rootkit issue and “Ring 0? monitoring methods.

    Another idea to deter piracy would be to come up with a system that updates the game frequently with added value updates. This system would require users to register and prove authenticity of the games. Like Vista, but voluntary. To pull this off would require new capabilities. For example, how about integrating tools to develop new skins, vehicles, weapons, etc that allow legit users to share and extend their versions. If the update system required the crackers to keep reverse engineering the updates you would think it would discourage the behavior

    Juuso – Game Producer Says:

    February 15th, 2007 at 7:26 am
    Another idea to deter piracy would be to come up with a system that updates the game frequently with added value updates.

    Vic, that sounds really good – and I presume more and more developers are using this method.

    GameProducer.Net » Challenge #10: What Opportunities Piracy Offers? Says:

    March 14th, 2007 at 10:53 pm
    [...] quoted for that statement. The comments and reasons for piracy were quite typical (that were have seen also before). It’s fun to see the “games would need to be cheaper” arguments (and [...]

    Roman Buodzwski Says:

    March 16th, 2007 at 7:33 pm
    If you intend to use Software Passport/Armadillo to prevent piracy don’t count on it unless your game is crappy. Armadillo is able to prevent only casual piracy. Core pirates will crack your game same or next day :(

    Conquérir le monde ! Says:

    March 21st, 2007 at 1:00 am
    News…

    Quelques news, pas forcément très fraîches…

    Whirly organise une miniconférence sur Ogre3D ce mardi à Strasbourg. (Français)
    Comment vendre plus de jeux indépendants chez Rampant Coyote. (Anglais)
    Comment créer du contenu procédural pour…

    Lim Says:

    October 18th, 2008 at 11:05 am
    Another way to combat piracy is to a webinstaller rather than a full downloadable setup file. The setup file is basically a shell and contains nothing other than a list of files to download. That way you can disable the essential files anytime. I would say a combination of separate demo and full versions, plus a web installer would work very well.

  5. Another way to combat piracy is to a webinstaller rather than a full downloadable setup file. The setup file is basically a shell and contains nothing other than a list of files to download. That way you can disable the essential files anytime. I would say a combination of separate demo and full versions, plus a web installer would work very well.

  6. News…

    Quelques news, pas forcément très fraîches…

    Whirly organise une miniconférence sur Ogre3D ce mardi à Strasbourg. (Français)
    Comment vendre plus de jeux indépendants chez Rampant Coyote. (Anglais)
    Comment créer du contenu procédural pour…

  7. If you intend to use Software Passport/Armadillo to prevent piracy don’t count on it unless your game is crappy. Armadillo is able to prevent only casual piracy. Core pirates will crack your game same or next day :(

  8. [...] quoted for that statement. The comments and reasons for piracy were quite typical (that were have seen also before). It’s fun to see the “games would need to be cheaper” arguments (and [...]

  9. Another idea to deter piracy would be to come up with a system that updates the game frequently with added value updates.

    Vic, that sounds really good – and I presume more and more developers are using this method.

  10. Having some level of software protection is good for deterrence as long as its transparent to the users. Its only small set of people reverse engineering games and larger population need not suffer. I agree with the posted comments that you don’t want to tick users off. Classic examples of going too far with software protection was Sony’s rootkit issue and “Ring 0″ monitoring methods.

    Another idea to deter piracy would be to come up with a system that updates the game frequently with added value updates. This system would require users to register and prove authenticity of the games. Like Vista, but voluntary. To pull this off would require new capabilities. For example, how about integrating tools to develop new skins, vehicles, weapons, etc that allow legit users to share and extend their versions. If the update system required the crackers to keep reverse engineering the updates you would think it would discourage the behavior

  11. @Shang: Good points. There isn’t one right answer for piracy, but what you say makes sense.

    And I hate those unskippable commercials on DVDs (but I love watching them when I get to decide ;)

  12. @Joonas: Regarding HL2. While the protection in HL2 seemed better at first, there was a fully working warez version about a week or two after the game’s release (AFAIK, it involved running a fake Steam server locally).

    I’m very anti-copy protection personally. Even the more user friendly choices are often an inconvenience, and I’m not at all convinced about how effective they really are at increasing sales. If your game is a big enough it, it WILL be cracked with 100% certainty. At that point, I think the first priority is ensuring that the paying customers are not actually getting an inferior product compared to the pirates, like the often do with DRM. Pirated movies don’t have unskippable commercials, pirated games don’t need the CD in the drive when playing etc. This makes the pirated product both free AND better. That’s pretty difficult to beat.

    I’m planning on using the demo/full version method myself. The only bit of DRM is that the full version displays the buyers full name and uses a slight encryption to make it non-trivial to change/remove the name.

    I’m sure that full versions will get warezed if the games gather enough popularity, but I try not to stress about it too much. They would be anyway, with or without DRM.

  13. @Ken Paulson: That is a problem, but same problem is also with #1: somebody could simply buy the full version and upload the setup file AND reg key… and pass as much as he likes. Unless #1 doesn’t use online reg checking (#3) or some other methods. In that way it’s not really much different from #1 (unless – as said: you have some sort of online key checker)

    @S199: Could be – what do you think?

    @gh3: Yep… basically that’s another example of point #3 . It’s good, but the problem is if you want to play offline… some customers might get annoyed.

    @darksky: well… if the games are horrible – why pirate them?

    @Ghost: Well, first of all. Not everybody is against piracy (like you, if I’m correct) and not everybody is saying “every pirated copy equals one less legit copy sold.”. There is a simple reason why developers are against piracy: if people could always download all games for free, they wouldn’t buy them. While I don’t agree that every pirated copy equals one less sold, I believe that every pirated copy equals to “chance of losing sale”. And since some people are doing this to feed their families, I think it’s quite good to take some effort to protect against thieves.

    @Joonas: Steam (#3) sure sounds good. My bet is that MicroSoft will end up having pissed off customers if the history repeats… ;)

  14. Steam and its like are bound to be the solution in the long run, I think. Am I correct that you still can’t pirate Half-Life 2? Since it also only costs a little and it’s available as an instant download, I’m sure this has boosted its sales a lot.

    With the 360, I think Microsoft have built a system very resistant to piracy. Live is so integral to the whole experience that you just can’t have it if you won’t let your console be scrutinized by Microsoft’s online service.

  15. Why is everybody up in arms over piracy, anyway? It’s because there’s a belief that every pirated copy equals one less legit copy sold.

    That’s BS.

    The people who pirate your game wouldn’t buy the game to begin with.

  16. This is a joke most people pirate because 90 percent of the games out there are horrible and if the game is actually good most people who pirate then in turn go buy that game
    or people do it just to collect and dont even play the games
    or said items

  17. What happens when the publisher goes out of business? I personally don’t like spending money on a game that I can’t play when I want where I want. If the game isn’t an online game then I expect to be able to play without the internet.

  18. IMHO, a way to decrease piracy ( in console world ) is to use a system like itunes, or microsoft marketplace, in little words a protection that works in this way:

    you want a game, you have to go register first with the marketplace, with username, password, name, street, etc etc so you can receive your personal invoice of the game you have just buyed.

    ok once you are registered, you can browse the shopping list, and choose the game, when you confirm, the system store in his memory that you have bought the game, pick virtual coins from your account or use your credit card, and then allow you to download the game.

    and each time you want to play you have to had a internet connection available, that confirms that you have bought that game your are starting to play…

    what do you think about this?

    also this way associate games to profile, so if you decide to remove the game from the hd, you can re-download it because you have already payed for it.

  19. hu ??? this article is crap ? isnt it ?

  20. The problem with #2 is that it’s very easy for someone to get the full version and then just distribute it. A pirate uses a stolen credit card number, buys your game and then has a full version without any copy protection to pass around as much as he likes. I know there are a lot of people who use this method, but I would strongly recommend against it.

  21. Three more ways:
    I’d think one reason people pirate games is that they don’t have money to buy ‘em because all their money is spent on keeping the computer up to date, just so that the games would run on those machines. So one way of preventing piratism would be keeping your hardware requirements as low as possible :) Additionally, people who have lower-end computers might be more prone for casual games and don’t want to waste time on searching for a pirated version.
    Another way, concerning primarily downloadable games, is to make the payment easy. I, for one, don’t have a credit card so most of the indie games are therefore unreachable for me. And that goes for anyone under 18 too. So, if possible, offer other methods of payment than credit card.
    And last, but not least, make the game so good players want to support you by buying your games :)

  22. @Toraux: I agree that heavy measures can be annoying (I wrote an example about that, and gave a link in the blog) but a simple way to copy protect your game would be to use of “demo”, and only let customers download the full version. That wouldn’t cause lots of hassle for customers, while being effective way to keep hackers away.

  23. Copy protection systems only piss off your customers in the long run. I can deal with a CD-Key for a game, but when they go to extra lengths ultimately the system will fail, and possibly tell me I haven’t purchased the game when I have or whatever. A good example is some of the music copyright protection programs out there used to install root kits on your machine, which were then exploitable by hackers. Save yourself some money and forego the heavy copyright protection.