Coding Horror: My Software Is Being Pirated

December 27, 2008. If you're at all familiar with computer history, you might have heard of Bill Gates' famous 1976 letter to the Homebrew Computer Club. The letter was written to address rampant piracy of Bill's earliest product, Altair BASIC, which was being passed around quite freely by hobbyists in paper tape form, without any sort of payment to Microsoft (or, as it was then called, Micro-Soft).


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December 27, 2008
If you're at all familiar with computer history, you might have heard of Bill Gates' famous 1976 letter to the Homebrew Computer Club. The letter was written to address rampant piracy of Bill's earliest product, Altair BASIC, which was being passed around quite freely by hobbyists in paper tape form, without any sort of payment to Microsoft (or, as it was then called, Micro-Soft).
Bill was understandably upset about this state of affairs.
It's an interesting figure: less than 10% of the "users" had actually purchased a copy; the other 90% had pirated it. Let's compare that statistic with a blog comment left November 12th by one of the authors of the critically acclaimed indie game World of Goo:
last we checked the piracy rate was about 90%.
32 years later, and we've ended up back exactly where we started. That's not exactly a resounding affirmation of the human spirit, or anything.
That 90% piracy figure was later substantiated in a blog post:
First, and most importantly, how we came up with this number: the game allows players to have their high scores reported to our server (it's an optional checkbox). We record each score and the IP from which it came. We divided the total number of sales we had from all sources by the total number of unique IPs in our database, and came up with about 0.1. That's how we came up with 90%.
It's just an estimate though... there are factors that we couldn't account for that would make the actual piracy rate lower than our estimate:
some people install the game on more than one machine
most people have dynamic IP addresses that change from time to time
There are also factors that would make the actual piracy rate higher than our estimate:
more than one installation behind the same router/firewall (would be common in an office environment)
not everyone opts to have their scores submitted
For simplicity's sake, we just assumed those would balance out. So take the 90% as a rough estimate.
What makes this particularly depressing is that that World of Goo is not a game that deserves to be pirated. Not just because it's easily one of the best games of 2008 (and it really is -- please try the demo for Windows or Mac).
The crushing piracy rate is especially painful in this case because World of Goo was handcrafted by a tiny 2 man independent programming shop. Even a cursory 10 minute session is more than enough to demonstrate that this is a game built with love, not another commercial product extruded from the bowels of some faceless Activision-EA corporate game franchise sweatshop. Nor is this an exorbitantly priced bit of Adobe software that costs hundreds or thousands of dollars; it's a measly twenty bucks! Fifteen, if you count the fact that it's on sale right now via Steam. Oh, and did I mention that the developers explicitly chose to avoid any form of onerous copy protection?
Doesn't matter. 90% piracy rate. Just like Altair BASIC. And every other game.
Now, I'm no saint. I essentially grew up as a hardcore Apple // scene pirate, resolutely avoiding those public service announcements not to copy that floppy. I have a deep and personal understanding of the fact that not every person who pirates the software would ultimately buy it anyway. I was just a kid; I barely had money enough to have a computer at all. This is why the BSA's hypothetical piracy loss claims are more fantasy than anything else. Piracy is a natural state of affairs for users with lots of time and no money.
But it doesn't stay that way. Now that I'm older, I have money -- and a taste for software. I buy software all the time. I urge other people to buy software all the time. I've worked for companies that buy hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of software. I've even gone so far as proposing a Support Your Favorite Small Software Vendor Day, and I still try to live up to that goal. I have a budget set aside to buy some bit of software from a small development shop, each and every month. As programmers, we of all people should appreciate the message Bill Gates outlined in his original 1976 letter better than anyone else: buying software supports programmers.
But let me be absolutely crystal clear about one thing: as a programmer, if you write software and charge money for it, your software will be pirated. Guaranteed. Consider this recent example from the Joel on Software forums:
My software is being pirated.
I have contacted with the forum where is the post with the crack and with the business that he requested (I called him) this crack. But they do not seem to want to collaborate. What I do?
How I can prevent future actions like this?
Now, the users can download a demo limited by days from my website and others' websites. I'm using Quick License Manager....
Short of ..
selling custom hardware that is required to run your software, like the Playstation 3 or Wii
writing a completely server-side application like World of Warcraft or Mint
.. you have no recourse. Software piracy is a fact of life, and there's very little you can do about it. The more DRM and anti-piracy devices you pile on, the more likely you are to harm and alienate your paying customers. Use a common third party protection system and it'll probably be cracked along with all the other customers of that system. Nobody wants to leave the front door to their house open, of course, but you should err on the side of simple protection whenever possible. Bear in mind that a certain percentage of the audience simply can't be reached; they'll never pay for your software at any price. Don't penalize the honest people to punish the incorrigible. As my friend Nathan Bowers so aptly noted:
Every time DRM prevents legitimate playback, a pirate gets his wings.
In fact, the most effective anti-piracy software development strategy is the simplest one of all:
Have a great freaking product.
Charge a fair price for it.
(Or, more radically, choose an open source business model where piracy is no longer a problem but a benefit -- the world's most efficient and viral software distribution network. But that's a topic for a very different blog post.)
Now, it's up to you to prove me right and revive my waning belief in the essential goodness of the human spirit by buying a copy of World of Goo, ideally directly from the developers.
Or you could, y'know, pirate it like everyone else.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
I couldn't agree more with you (and I write and sell software myself). Perhaps it's a human tendency not only to get something for free if you can, but also (on the other side) to endlessly fret about being ripped off or having stuff stolen.
Dudes, if you are making a decent amount from your software/game, don't cripple it or penalize the honest user in a vain attempt to stop a few people from getting it for free. It's the honest users you should care about. The pirates can get stuffed - quite often they aren't serious users anyway, but just stealing the product to demonstrate that they can.
Great game. Just downloaded it from the torrents... why on earth would anyone pay for a game?
Do you people feel guilty when you walk past a street busker and enjoy the music without paying for it?
Someone mentioned that people pirate software because they don't think it's worth its price. Problem is, those people are used to getting their software for free, so there's really no way to compete. Free will always be cheaper. I know, I've been there too,. Well, the empty floppies and tapes did cost a few bucks, even back then...
I think the moral dilemma is that if a physical item is too expensive I *have* to chose an alternative item, or not get it at all (or save up), since stealing a physical item would be more illegal than to pirate software to most people. With software there's always the free alternative, so you don't really have to boycott the price/packaging by choosing a cheaper competitor. You can just use the *best* one without paying.
In the end I follow Jeff's advice and pay for the software I use. Commercial and Shareware. The fact that people have paid for my software over the years has given more than 300 people their jobs and income.
And to counter the open-source debate. Not all software requires maintenance or support that one could charge for, and developers need their wages just like everyone else. And not all software is simple enough that it can be assembled in one's spare time, as Shareware.
My Dad used to tell me that everyone has their price. Obviously for people like Wally, the price of their integrity is only $20.
I can undertand stealing food if you're hungry but stealing a *game* ?
Could someone please post a link where I can get a free copy?
Jeff, great article! Regardless of what some comments said - it is an interesting and valuable read (especially for developers/designers/publishers)
Just a thought: I think that it is not possible to discuss piracy and bundle applications like Adobe Suite , etc with the general usage (i.e., games) applications in the same argument.
Apps like Adobe Photoshop, Apple's Final Cut Studio, and alike are Pro Tools and designed for professionals that make money with the help of these apps. The cost of these applications is bargain for any professional using them. I, for example, never met any pro graphic or video designer who would question Photoshop's $699 or Final Cut Studio's $1,299 price tag. Within a few days of usage these applications become free and paid for. And I believe this would be applicable to majority of pro-tools used by pro-users.
I completely agree with comment by Bruce Bullis (above) that amount of innovations, engineering hours, rd, etc that went into designing such tools are simply so staggering that their prices are bargain to say the list! Should applications like such be protected - I do believe that they should. A pro-user, would be OK (I think) with what ever licensing/activation process company would through at him/her. Should such process be as painless as possible - of course! But it is a very fine line between strong protection and licensing and one-click-and-go activation process. Having used quite a lot of pro-tools myself - I have not found even one application that would force me into an unbearable activation process.
Also, one thing to keep in mind: usually licensing and activation processes have very very short life cycle. The process initiated at some point of app installation and usually never needs to be re-done again. Of course I am talking about pro-user where workstations are not being changed in a weekly bases and apps do not require to be reinstalled over and over...
General usage apps (especially games) - well... there is a different story. Of course, game developers (I do believe) should protect and license their intellectual property as well. At the end of the day this is their bread-and-butter. However, different rules, approaches, etc should probably be applied to their product as their user-base quite different from the pro-users using pro-tools.
I do not want the following to sound like a shameless plug (mentioning here to illustrate the point). I have not met a single software company that designs and sells commercial software and would not care about implementing licensing and protection into their application. I work for jProdctivity, a company that develops and sells licensing toolkit called Protection! This toolkit is designed for software developers/publishers that would like to add licensing and protection into their application. I had numerous situations where in talking to our customers (current or perspective) we are trying to calm down their urge to protect their application so tight that their paying customers will suffer.
The bottom line: Developers/Publishers need to protect their software. Their licensing plan needs to minimize casual soft piracy and prevent people from passing their software around to friends, family, and coworkers. And it needs to lock out the serious piracy that involves running key generators and passing around stolen unlock codes. Even if developer offer a free application, it is worthwhile to license its use. Licensing freeware lets such developer keep track of users, and build a valuable house list that can be used to offer upgrades to the paid versions of software.
Software licensing and protection are not just ideas to consider as someday/maybe tasks. Protecting your software is crucial to protecting your income stream.
Assuming the other 90% had pirated Altair BASIC is incorrect.
First, the Altair came with 256 bytes of RAM (yes, *bytes*, not KB or MB). It was typical to add RAM in increments of 1/4 KB or 1KB at that time. Most users did not have the 4KB minimum required to run BASIC.
(For youngsters who are used to 3MB Hello, world programs, I am *NOT* making this up.)
Second, it was common to program the Altair in assembly -- many didn't even care about BASIC.
Third, there was at least one competing BASIC at that time, called SCELBAL.
Fourth, while club members did, in some cases, receive pirated paper tapes of Bill's BASIC that were handed out, many of those never owned an Altair and could not run it, and thus would never have been in the market for it (there were already many other microcomputers available at the time of the letter, most incompatible with Altairs).
Last, but not least, a lot of the earliest Altair purchasers never got the machine to work. The numerous ones built from kits were particularly problematic.
It's also worth noting that Bill was greatly exaggerating the incidence of piracy. Users at that time were scattered all over the country, and had no way of sharing software, or even finding one another. While it's true that some club members shared freely, there were very few clubs, representing a small fraction of the total users. Bill was whining, pure and simple. IMHO, it was this early perceived slight that justified in Bill's mind the unethical robber-baron tactics he used the rest of his career, to amass billions.
I was an Altair user, and I used Bill's BASIC, purchased legitimately. I've followed Bill's exploits from the very beginning. I admired him then; now I think he's spawn of the devil.
Maybe they're charging too much for the game?
What if they charged 80% of what they're charging now? Maybe they reverse the piracy rate and make more money.
Business model is probably at fault. Might be better to give away the product and charge for posting scores online. People are only going to pay for the product once but will want to post scores repeatedly.
It doesn't help to discuss the issue by using terms that equate “copyright infringement” with the very real violence and material theft done by pirates. They are entirely different offenses, and to smear the former with the hysterical terminology of Bill Gates's 1976 letter is a huge obstace to discussing the issue.
In fact, the most effective anti-piracy software development strategy is the simplest one of all:
1. Have a great freaking product.
2. Charge a fair price for it.
I'd say it's even simpler only one thing to do, and (even easier) things to *not* do:
1. Sell your wares to customers.
2. Stop trying to treat your customers like criminals.
3. Stop trying to control what people do with what they bought from you.
I just did the first chapter of WOG and I have no idea what you guys are on. It seems a bit like lemmings, and sure it has some nice physics but I feel no compulsion go any further. Are my standards too high?
1) most software/games out there are crap
2) if you use SOFTWARE (not games) for your own education, there is nothing you can't do with open-source/freeware
3) companies should pay for the software they use
4) if your GAME has an estimated gaming experience of under 720 hours (because it doesn't support multiplayer/online/free gaming) there is no sense in paying for it; if the demo you release is 10% of the game, it don't deserve the buy
there are games worth buying; in my experience, only blizzard delivers that, if you cannot match that standard, don't cry
I'd happily buy WoGoo but it comes with this steam product that I am not really keen on. I guess I'll run it in a virtual machine and find out just how awful it is, but from what I hear it's not something I'd recommend to anyone.
One thing I'd add to the above how to play nice is to honour your own fscking contract. If you say free upgrades for life don't then turn round a year later and say we want more of your money so we're weaselling out of it[1]. Especially don't follow it up by closing your user forums when it turns out that users don't like it. BreezeSys sold a lot of copies of other image editors when they pulled that stupid stunt.
I'm a little over games that suck resources for no good reason. If you don't need 3D acceleration, don't write code that demands it. Allow users to turn down the frills and make the game actually work when they do. I have Civ4 and it's a dog even on a fast machine because some idiot decided that scrolling should always be slow (presumably so it looks pretty). As a result it's a very frustrating game to play. I'm back to playing c-evo because it's nice and snappy. Also free (and Stefan doesn't accept donations!)
[1] the freely upgraded product is now legacy and updates are much delayed... my camera is two years old and only recently supported. The upgrade to the pro version was not free and would cost me my lifetime support.
for a free copy type into google world of goo torrent
Remember - It's only stealing if you get caught.
I break the law every day in one way or another. It is the way the system works.
The only way Bill Gates made all his money was by giving his software away for free. The more people that download this game the more popular it will become, then more people will buy it.
I never pay for software for myself but I have walked out of contracts where the clients used pirated software and had no intention of paying for it.
The whole DRM causes piracy argument is crap. DRM is a reaction to piracy. Companies wouldn't wear the engineering cost of adding DRM to a software title, and the decreased user experience if they didn't believe it was necessary.
What do you think happened exactly? A bunch of EA execs were freebasing on designer drugs one day and decided hey, lets make our software harder to install and use, and burn a bunch of engineering time doing it just for shits and giggles and then the next day some white-knight hackers came along to save the world from this horrible inconvenience? Crap. If you're downloading and using software that you didn't pay for but you should have then it's stealing, no matter how you try to justify it. If enough people keep doing it eventually companies will stop making games.
You can grab it from various places, not just Steam. They offer it through their site as well as through Steam, Direct2Drive, Beanstalk, Greenhouse, and Impulse.
I didn't really enjoy the game and certainly not at that price point.
What more reason do you need for Webapps / Software as a Service?
There is another point: If you target your app to teens - most games qualify for this, then you always get some piracy. They don't earn money yet and have enough time to search for cracks/hacks.
When I was young I also didn't pay for all software - this changed when I grew older...
You could read (if you haven't done yet) Brad Wardell (Stardock CEO) stance on games DRM, piracy,... and for example his gamer's bill of rights. A part of it related to DRM and piracy follows:
* Gamers shall have the right to expect that games won’t install hidden drivers or other potentially harmful software without their consent.
* Gamers shall have the right to re-download the latest versions of the games they own at any time.
* Gamers shall have the right to not be treated as potential criminals by developers or publishers.
* Gamers shall have the right to demand that a single-player game not force them to be connected to the Internet every time they wish to play.
* Gamers shall have the right that games which are installed to the hard drive shall not require a CD/DVD to remain in the drive to play.
I am a proud owner of World of Goo on my Wii. It is a fantastic game and it truly deserves those twenty dollars.
But...does those factors really balance out? In my opinion the dynamic ip address factor weights a lot more than the others. I am not really convinced by that estimation.
I'm totally agree with you on the piracy.
For example, I've been using Total Command from the version 4, but only until version 7 that I had my own job and the very first software that I paid for was TC. It's simply because by using a software, I've increased my performance and earned more money. The amount that I paid for the license is much less that what I gained by using it.
As a user, I hate any software with a complicated activation process, especially Windows. Windows activation is always a nightmare for me.
I am a developer, and I always receive requirements from customer to provide the software with the best protection possible, even hardware lock, license dongle, web+phone activation, etc...
That harder the protection, the more interesting it is to crack it. My idea is to always a protection for your software, but with balance:
- You effort to maintain it.
- Additional system requirements caused by the protection.
- Registration easiness.
I completely disagree with enforcing hard protection like SafeDisc, DRM stuff that requires lots of money on develop and maintain the technology, lots of time for user support, lots of trouble for user and major victory for crackers.
In contrast, providing user with no information whether their software is licensed or not is not a good idea. A user who is willing to pay for your software may not always remember that he haven't paid. A user who still consider evaluating your software may not notice that he had not paid for it.
For those who really don't want to pay for it, they will never do. No matter how strong the protection is, how complicated the encryption is, your software will be cracked. Even in the best case, they simply doesn't use your software. But you should know that those who are willing to risk their computer by using a cracked version of software is those who really interested in warez, who love warez, who will provide his friends what is the best software for their needs.
Let say a geek want to use your software:
1. The protection is not too hard, still, he doesn't want to pay for it, so he get a crack and use it without a license. Still, you lose nothing. He then tells his friends that your software is excellent, and you have a strong, live advertisement channel without paying for it.
2. the protection is too hard, so he simply doesn't use your software. You gained nothing. He tells his friends that your software is crap, or at best really nice but the registration process is a pain in the ass and of course, he tell his friends to use another not so nice software but doesn't kick their ass. You're having one more anti-fan, who loses nothing to attack you, you're losing customers and your competitors are having a extra advertisement channel which should have been yours if your protection was not so hard.
I think 10% download/buy ratio is actually considered very very good in shareware business. In fact it is unbelievably good. I think even 2-3% is considered very good.
I have been in shareware business for over 10 years and actually I don't mind my software pirated. Of course it would be nice if everyone paid for it but in reality it is better if someome pirates your product instead of one of your competitors... ;) Everyone who is too greedy to accept that his software is pirated should stay out of the business, as anything that will be worth using will have key gens and serials postied in a few days after release.
Glad you recieved my letter. AFTER 32 FRIGGIN YEARS!
As an it professional working in it-security and it-forensic i can say, that there is no real way to protect a software.
You can make it harder using drm, hardware controlled drm, encryption ...
But... There are more people outside which enough time to hack the software and remove the protection as you think.
Each hour you spend in writing protection code for your application is worthless, because they have unlimited time to crack it.
The price for world of goo is more of fair. I still bought it, because i finished the demo. Nice game btw...
But... people don't want to spend money for the work of other people. Why paying 10 Cent, if you can get it somewhere for free?
I for myself choose the solution to pay for everything.
Would you rather have 90% of the copies of your game be pirated, and sell the other 10%; or have 0% piracy, and nobody buying it either?
/ proudly posted from a 100% pirated operating system and browser
If you're downloading and using software that you didn't pay for but you should have then it's stealing
That's a circular argument, because you define the act as something that should not be done — you start by assuming the conclusion.
If you want to claim that something “should” be done, you need to show why. (No, merely pointing at the law is not helpful; the morality of an act is not determined by what the law has to say about it.)
The interesting thing here is that piracy rates seem constant. Both have almost no DRM, and a sample size of two is quite dodgy too. I'd be interested to see what piracy rates are like for well-protected AAA PC games.
I don't agree with you that all software will be pirated. partly because i learnt server-side programming before desktop programming and every app that i'm going to build will be validated/run from the server and hence it can't be pirated. Instead of saying 'your app will absolutely be pirated', i think you should be advocating SaaS instead.
Heh, I bought World of Goo at pre-release stage, and the funny thing is, I haven't played it yet. I do not regret the purchase, though. Sometimes, you have to vote with your wallet.
As a professional programmer, I decided years ago not to pirate software. I make my living at it. Is it really right for me to ask others to pay for my services and then turn around and steal others?
Like Jeff, I donate to software I like. Unlike Jeff, I don't give thousands of dollars away. I'm not that wealthy.
In fact, the most effective anti-piracy software development strategy is the simplest one of all:
3. Use a convenient payment method.
Applicable primarily for online software sales, but if it's fairly priced, I will buy it, but only if the website supports my preferred method of payment, and the process is painless. Some people only use paypal, others only use credit cards, etc. Snail mail payment and software receival is a quick route to having your software pirated. A convenient, painless, payment and delivery process is important when I consider buying a piece of software online.
... writing a completely server-side application like World of Warcraft or Mint
That's not entirely true ... There are several server emulators for World of Warcraft that allow one to host a private server. I would probably deem that as pirating, as you are playing the game against Blizzard's EULA.
World of Goo is really fun, when I saw they had a Mac and Linux versions as well it was a no-brainer, I had to support that. One thing I would recommend the developers is to drop the fixed price as well, let people pay as much as they can and/or think the game is worthy. I think they would be surprised with the amount of 3, 5 bucks transactions showing up, from people that otherwise wouldn't pay anything.
The fallacy here is that the claims of piracy are valid. Not a lot of data to back up their claims. Gates wrote the 90% figure based on what metric, exactly? Isn't that part of the allure of software engineering over code monkeyism: measurable results? Gates claimed 90% piracy, and now it's a truism.
The World of Goo gents claim 90% piracy, throw out a couple But our numbers could be wrong and yet the rest of this article keeps citing that 90% number. Remember kids, if you happened to load World of Goo on your laptop, anytime you happen to connect to a wifi hotspot, you could be contributing to their piracy numbers. Or if you've an ISP that recycles pooled addresses. Gosh, what would happen if you happened to use Tor to anonymize your traffic, wouldn't it be a shame to find out that you're contributing to statistics?
I appreciate the conclusions of the article suggesting high quality for fair prices. And I applaud anyone that's willing to go the open source route.
I do think the article took the wrong path in getting to that conclusion, though.
Can you really buy software? I have always been under the impression that you can only buy a license for its use.
Exactly. My ISP changes my IP every 24 hours. If I buy World of Goo and then play it over 15 days, their system will record 15 different IP addresses. That 90% estimate is complete rubbish and should be ignored, not repeated.
One reason (obviously not the only reason) is that the Pirate Bay is so convenient. Imaging a database of all the software in the world, with a simple search interface and and Amazon-like interface (customer reviews and a one-click download) and you're pretty close to the Pirate Bay. No more trawling the net to find little indie developers' websites, almost never any hassle from DRM. There are many people who would be driven to piracy by this convenience alone.
Anyone who thinks 90% is an unrealistic number needs to consider PKZIP and WINZIP. It was easier to find the Holy Grail than to find a purchased copy of either.
Wow. That game is great.
Jesus was first pirate, has to be said.
Just bought World of Goo because of this article. Works great under Wine on Ubuntu 8.10. They are working on a Linux release also, and you get it for free if you buy it from
I cannot believe that we're still faced with DRM, especially with recent controversies.
As this is probably an American-centric Blog most people would not know of this, but during the release of Football Manager 2009 the thousands of people that bought the game could not finish installing it. This year the developers used DRM to lock users' down where the software required the user to use a code provided with his/her game to log onto the DRM server and unlock it.
The problem, naturally, is that Football Manager is a huge game in Europe, and the developers didn't anticipate the amount of people that would either pre-order or purchase it on the day of release. Thanks to this, the DRM server was trashed, the phone lines were clogged and eventually closed and their entire website (even Sega Europe) was dead. After a full day I was lucky enough to find a patch the developers had been torrenting to fix the issues, whilst thousands more casual users either returned their games or kept plugging away for answers for days.
Ironically, those that pirated the game were able to play it two days before those that played it.
Jeff -
You should print the whole letter. It's worth reading.
I kicked myself for accepting a bundle of Microsoft compilers when I bought a Kaypro II circa 1983. I had time to rewrite the disk de-blocking software, but not the compilers. A home system.
You write:
1. Have a great freaking product.
2. Charge a fair price for it.
I'll add a third entry:
3. Make it more convenient to buy than to steal
4. Provide instant gratification
About convenience:
Pirated media is not free to the pirate. He pays with his time. Now you can't compete with the price of time for people who don't work. To most teenagers, time is way less valuable than money. No matter how convenient you make buying your stuff, these people won't give you their money. However, that is not the case for people who have jobs. To people like us, even finding a working torrent file may not be worth the hassle if we can instead open the Amazon MP3 store, type the name of the song we want and click buy.
In many cases, the price doesn't even enter the equation. To me, whether I have ten bucks more or less on my credit card statement at the end of the month simply doesn't matter at all. What matters is whether I spend ten minutes looking for a song, or ten seconds.
Ironically, DRM makes it *less* convenient to buy, thus giving potential customers more incentive to pirate.
About instant gratification:
If possible, allow users to download whatever you're selling. Don't make them wait for the Amazon package to arrive if you can avoid it. Give them a file they can download right after clicking buy, and don't make them pay additionally for the privilege.
As a user of Steam, I wonder if titles released exclusively through that platform are pirated less than other games. Especially the casual and/or under-$20 games. The reason is that Steam is very user-friendly, thereby making the barrier to purchase incredibly low.
If you account the exchange rate on World of Goo, it would cost almost half the minimum wage of my country. If in their figures they count only the target market of their sales (North America/Europe) I wonder how much the piracy estimate would be. My guess is 50%, which still is heck lot high.
It's fine to buy software so long as you demand that the license is GPLv3 or similar, for your own and everyone's sake.
Without piracy theres no successful software. Without successful software theres no money. Without money there's no business.
Piracy is a fact of life in software business. Microsoft, Symantec, Autodesk,..., and the worlds greatest software companies have piracy based business models. So don't worry if your software has been pirated, worry if it don't.
(i'm no english native speaker so excuse my orthography).
Re: Mike
This is ultimately the case: the Bonly/B people who are ever hurt by DRM are the legitimate users.
Piracy isn't right; but screwing over your customers isn't either.
In other news, I do hope that IWorld of Goo/I gets ported to Linux like I keep hearing that it will. Everyone I talk to who has played it really seems to like it.
sep322: I think you hit the nail in the head! Exactly - just search for a title, click download, wait few hours, and have it with no DRM, no system services running all time to protect a software you use once in a week... no registration, no mail confirmation, no spammy newsletters, and you can be sure that the software will function even when evil overlords shut down their DRM system.
Steam? Almost, just remove 90% of its code, remove all the installed services, autoruns, ads, junk code that does *something* all the time in the background, and give me some warranty that my purchased software will run even after Steams shuts down. Less is more, get it, Valve?
I used to pirate a lot of games. These days, I only pirate games I can't buy new.
There are some products I avoid because I can't afford them (Microsoft Office) or don't like their DRM (Spore, although I picked it up over Steam during the current Holiday Sale).
Hmm, my workplace has one of those Home program deals with Microsoft, so I suppose I could get MS Office if I wanted to.
Jeff, just to let you know, I bought the World of Goo after reading this post, and I love it.
The new Prince of Persia game is also free from copy protection. I might buy it. This is quite a surprising move from a company like Ubisoft although writers at Ars Technica [1] suspect that they only did this to watch it being pirated and come up with told you so. I hope they are smarter than that...
Also I actively boycott any game with heavy DRM. Especially when it limits the times I can install it, most of which are EA games like Spore, NFS Undercover and Red Alert 3 (though these games are a bad example since I wouldn't buy them anyway because of the poor quality... so I don't pirate them too).
[1] has a really good (but VERY long) essay on piracy. On page 4, it has a number of sources indicating that the world piracy rate tends to be around 30-60% (a very wide range since it's so hard to measure accurately). World of Goo is somewhat exceptional in the 90% rate.
That last line will get quoted out of context somewhere.
Goodness of the human spirit? Heh. Good one.
I think the best morality to aim for is balance. Not going overboard with copy protection, but not neglecting it. Not going overboard into open source anarchy land, but not going overboard with cheap/expensive pricing either. Finding that 'just right' area is about all you can do.
Nothing against open source, of course. Just some people have to eat I'm afraid.
I take it as a credit to the free world that anything at all can be readily had with only some smarts, and no more. In fact, it is a resounding affirmation of the human spirit that we are not readily intimidated by allegations that their time is always and ultimately worth more than ours. If they want 100%.. equity??.. maybe they should start drilling for oil.
Am I the only one who noticed that the 'factors' Jeff lists are completely backward. Users having a dynamic IP address would make the piracy rate HIGHER and people opting out of submitting there scores would make it LOWER. Come on guys, I thought you programmers were a bit better at math than this.
If you target you product for a target audience with little money, you shouldn't be surprised that people are hesitant to throw out that little money they have. Taking the kids pocket money, that is just mean.
(This comment is oversimplified to make a point)
Some of us believe that developing software is a service, rather than think of software as a manufactured product.
I am a software engineer by trade. I am not paid by my employer per line or per unit or per program or per product. I am on salary to produce software for them, and by the nature of my industry, all source code is part of a contract deliverable.
I understand that this model does not work for independent software developers quite as conveniently, but it was guys like Gates that convinced the world that software was a manufactured good, and coincidentally, it was the windows platform that centered around the ideas like DRM. It was an easy argument for a culture that believed that as long as they wrote something, it would be purchased based on intrinsic value.
Note that shareware did not extend far outside of the microsoft model. MacOS had some. Even Linux saw a bit here and there. But Apple got in the business of We'll give you everything you need., which covered a lot of users in a free-to-use model (yes, plenty of commercial proprietary software there. Probably some piracy, but how to measure it?) and the F/OSS crowd in Linux said Yeah, we've got commercial software too, but chances are good that someone's going to write something that's nearly as good, in some cases better, and give it away. So you'd best think of what you have to offer above and beyond software as the end-all/be-all.
I do not condone copyright infringement, be it media works of art or artifact. But my sympathy doesn't extend to anyone that isn't flexible if the world changes around them.
Adapt or die.
I love games built with love.
It seems like too many are about rehashing success patterns.
A great game is when a unique dream gets unleashed and shared with bazillions of people.
I just don't bother downloading anything that's shareware or demo look for a free alternative instead.
Thanks for the article, it was a good read.
I've seen a lot of these arguments now applied to the record business. I remember when NIN released a series of records DRM free a year or so ago (i think it was called Ghosts?). People were falling over themselves with gushing and praise for the delivery method but the music was not worthy of buying. Some were claiming we should buy the record to reward NIN for being so hip. I heard similar things of Radiohead's internet release.
I think this goes to something deeper. Why should I donate to a political campaign if I can be part of it with out giving? Or a church? Or a shareware?
Speaking of pirating software, not contributing to open-source/free projects that you use and depend on, is just as bad IMO. I encourage anyone that uses Wikipedia (I know I use it daily) to donate.
Maybe I am missing something here but if developers want to make their software pirate proof, why don't they maintain a database of serial numbers. Each one of them can only be used once and the product has to call home to that database of keys to be activated. I guess that would be something similar to when Microsoft implemented the WPA. There has to be a way to make it uncrackable too.
Why NOT shop at Walmart? It's not my job that's been marginalized or sent to China, and look at these low, low prices!
I prefer to pay when I have to spend too much time pirating.
iTunes, Steam, are a great incentive against piracy because I can attach my property to my online profile. Steam provides additional services that I can only access if I have an account.
Paypal helps a lot too, it makes it possible to buy easily in seconds.
World of Warcraft only uses the server to create a multplayer environment and provide on-demand the scripted logic for the high level bosses.
Software authors should check serial/crack sites and re-release a new version often to suppress the available crack/serial.
I just bought World of Goo because it looks super cool, but they're going to see at least 5 different IPs from this one purchase:
1) I just bought this at my in-laws house (that'll be the IP of record)
2) I use Sprint PCS data for my laptop, which of course uses dynamic IPs.
3) My home cable IP (dynamic IP).
4) My office cable account (static IP).
5) I frequent a coffee shop next to my office.
I recognize that my case is maybe on the far side of the curve, but I'm thinking their piracy numbers are REALLY inflated.
Why do you repeat such bogus claims about piracy??
I can't imagine how a programmer could figure two utter unknowns should be assumed to be approximately equal!
Furthermore, there is another category of people who will rack up multiple IP's: Those who travel and have it on a laptop.
If they actually want to learn something about piracy they should have sent some machine signature info.
Furthermore, as others have pointed out a lot of piracy is by those who never would have bought the product anyway--either because they simply don't have the money or because they need to make a little use of something that's not little. (I'm thinking mostly of people who use an expensive package at work and want to make one thing with it at home. Is someone like this going to buy Autocad to make one drawing? Sure, there are cheaper equivalents but if they have learning curves. Given the option, such a person is likely to use a pirate copy of the product they know.)
As far as I'm concerned a pirate copy means nothing unless the person has the money to buy the product and doing so isn't obviously nuts.
If you're downloading and using software that you didn't pay for but you should have then it's stealing
That's a circular argument, because you define the act as something that should not be done — you start by assuming the conclusion.
It's not a circular argument; it's a statement identifying a particular action -- downloading and using software that you didn't pay for but should have -- as stealing. I didn't write the statement, but I think it's pretty clear that the but you should have part is pointing at the fact that an individual or organization *owns* the software in question. I'd say it's owned *legally* because the government recognizes the creator's right to control the distribution of that software (copyright), and owned *morally* because the creator of the software (or book, song, etc.) must be able to own the products of his own work if he is to survive, let alone live a happy and full life.
complaining about piracy gets you nowhere. like you said, it will happen. this is obviously something that is part of our current culture, and we must accept it; unless you want to concede more rights and let the government control hardware and software.
perhaps people just feel $20, or $15 is too much? what if he had charged $5 instead? he would only have to break the 40% piracy rate to make more money. so the question is, would 30%+ more people buy a game if it was $5? if you think I'm crazy, look up the iPhone fart app (as my basis for cheap or micro charging).
again, whining about piracy gets you? n o w h e r e.
Speaking of pirating software, not contributing to open-source/free projects that you use and depend on, is just as bad IMO. I encourage anyone that uses Wikipedia (I know I use it daily) to donate.
I think there is one fundamental difference: Pirating someone's software breaks the terms that the owner set for use of his software, but using open-source projects without contribution to the author does not.
uh, yeah, just bought on Steam and as far as I can tell it goes against everything you just said in this column.
Exorbitant Adobe software? Bunk. For the amount of honest-to-God innovation and human hours that go into designing, creating, and testing the Suites, the prices they charge are a bargain. In fact, that flippant comment undermines your own argument; Adobe helps people create art that's never before been possible. Surely the tools of one's trade are worth a couple hundred bucks.
Myth: stealing cable is wrong. Fact: Cable companies are large, faceless corporations, which makes it okay. - Homer Simpson
It seems to me that the only real effective way of dealing with piracy is through the use of server side inducements. For example, World of Goo could have restricted it to one name per purchase on their online leaderboards. That would mean, if someone wanted just to play the game for fun, they would be able to pirate it without anyone stopping them but if they wanted their name to be preserved for posterity, they need to pony up the additional money for a license.
Your software is being pirated? Gee, say thanks! Being copied illegally (which is incidentally the right term for this, piracy is something else) means that your software doesn't suck and it's worth copying illegally, and it's getting some free publicity. It also means that in *most* people's minds your software is *not* worth US$20. It's a pretty darn big hint that you should lower what you charge for your software. Get over the whole piracy soap opera already...
This is the reason why some of us have given up on charging for software altogether. I *am* a programmer and I make a living out of it, I charge for programming services, not for programs. You just have to face the hard cold fact that the modern society doesn't see a value in software anymore (if it ever did).
When playing the demo you have the option to submit the score as well (world of goo). I hope they only looked at scores submitted by none demo versions. if there is no way to see that than the must count only the submissions from the levels not found in the demo.
Jeff, at least you were honest about stealing software in the old days. Just how that is supposed to discourage others from piracy is beyond me. It is like the parents who tell war stories about drinking in college or high school and then telling their kids not to drink.
This post might have well not have been written. It is useless except as a vehicle to get people posting here and traffic driven to your website.
Next week we can argue about abortion or religion. It is just as useful...
It's a known fact that without piracy, Windows would have never become popular. Piracy is flattering and indirect way of viral marketing.
Another good example of this is when Sony entered the console market... their Playstation 1 was cracked within no-time and helped gaining Sony's platform popularity and following: people that would also buy the next-gen. Same goes for the xbox. Do you really believe they couldn't have made it more difficult to crack? I think they're made intentionally... crackable. In fact, if you look at the console market, all really hard to crack consoles had a harder time surviving (or completely died).
I used alot of pirated software in the past, but notice now that I'm earning money, that I'm buying more and more from the smaller developers. 500 euro for a MS office is still a rip-off, same goes for Photoshop. If they'd price it 200, I'd happily buy them.
I agree with everyone who posts about excessively annoying DRM and license protection. I recently had to re-install some commercial electronic-lock programming software (It's essentially a front-end to a SQL db for logical access control). It took me two weeks to get the developer to explain how to get the hardware dongle working. I'm relatively certain that I could have found a crack for the software in a matter of minutes, had I not had a need for legit software. Now I have a USB port permanently occupied by a useless dongle. Boo!
For my money, the least end-user-abusive DRM I ever saw was a game called Alone in the Dark circa about 1995. There was a smallish (2 by 2) book with about 100 pages of pale-yellow-ink printed key codes. The codes were too pale to be copied by a photocopier, and even if you got that to work, there were still 100+ pages (duplex) to copy. Each time the game started, it displayed a page number, and required the player to enter the key-code from that page.
Finally, a slight digression, but am I the only one who's sick of seeing those PSAs at the beginning of DVDs warning against piracy? It makes no sense, I paid for the DVD, and if I were to pirate it, I wouldn't sacrifice quality for that Extra PSA, meaning a pirated copy wouldn't include the PSA. Hey MPAA, please don't punish those who buy movies by treating them like pirates!
Now, it's up to you to prove me right and revive my waning belief in the essential goodness of the human spirit by buying a copy of World of Goo.
Or even better, just buy the next program you would have otherwise pirated.
The World Of Goo thing is a publicity stunt - don't make them rich because of it.
Boo fucking hoo.
It's pretty simple, if you pirate, you're a dick. Anyone saying otherwise is simply trying to justify themselves out of being a dick, because THEY can't POSSIBLY be that guy.
News flash to pirates, you are that guy :)
And for simplicity sake, I'm speaking about the person who doesn't spend a dime toward a program that specifically says you have to pay for it, not those who crack their games after they've bought them or re-download because they lost their CD.
Isn't open-source business model a bit like congressional ethics? People talk about it a lot, but I've never seen any such thing.
The problem is not that people are pirating software, it's that the software industry's monetizing model is based on the old one created for physical objects:
Money = Virtual Power
Trade Money for Object X
In order to stop piracy, companies need to adapt to it. As you said, piracy will not stop. So why not adapt, which as humans we have done for eons.
Look at Blizzard with WoW, look at all of the online services running on ad revenue. They are raking in the cash, without the threat of piracy!
These arnt the best answers, but I'm sure there are far better ones yet undiscovered. We need to stop focusing on the stoping piracy and start figuring out ways to remove its need, ways that are good for the user and good for the developer.
Man, this post couldn't have dropped at a more appropriate time in my life. I just release my first for sale piece of software two weeks ago, and it's already been cracked and is making the rounds on the 'tubes.
Part of me is flattered - I'm worthy of being pirated. The rest of me is pissed. This is not something I squirted out over the weekend. This is something that I have labored over for years, and now some turd is out there giving it out for free.
Cybercat hit it right. If you're a pirate, you're a dick.
You wouldn't steal a lawnmower from the John Deere dealership when you need to mow your lawn, would you?
I've found my Firefox extensions (that are on addons.mozilla) on various crack sites. That was amusing.
@Sam: Maybe I am missing something here but if developers want to make their software pirate proof, why don't they maintain a database of serial numbers. Each one of them can only be used once and the product has to call home to that database of keys to be activated.
Simple. You patch the .exe at the assembly level, so that if(server_said_its_legal) turns into if(!server_said_its_legal), or you add a jump at the beginning that skips all the call home code.
This post might have well not have been written. It is useless except as a vehicle to get people posting here and traffic driven to your website.
I'm not so sure - it gave me information about a cool new game I hadn't heard of that I just bought a copy of. So have a few other correspondents above. A small strike for a small software company, I'd say, and an enjoyable game playing session to boot.
People like screaming DRM all around, many of those forget that Steam is also DRM. I like to call Steam as: DRM that works (in favor of users not against them). Yet the whole Steam is also built to suck every last penny of the customers as possible like Jeff said in a previous entry.
Three things:
1. Simple software protection (enter a 20 digit code, lock it against some feature of your computer by an activation process) does work to prevent casual piracy. It doesn't prevent all piracy, but it does prevent most (even when there is some crack program available over bit torrent -- most casual users don't have the time.)
2. The higher the price of the software, the more likely people are to try to crack it.
3. In days past it was true that teenagers had more time than money so they could spend their time cracking. Today however, via sites like and it is possible for them to monetize that time and do something more productive with their lives. That is something that needs to get out there.
Equating copying with piracy is in itself propaganda for the most fundamentalist form of copyright protection and extortion.
I'll support the programmer if the programmer supports me, ie, i'll pay if I get access to and the freedom to use the source code. Otherwise, try choosing a different business model than the one invented by the major corporations that can afford the extortion and intimidation tactics that are needed to support it.
And if you are a tiny 2 man independent programming shop using that business model in the 21st century is just as insane as trying to invade another country with 2 guys and a bb-gun.
There is no fair price for screwing your customers (although the iPhone Apps store's so low you don't care about getting screwed anymore prices come close), unless maybe if you start calling it what it actually is: renting services instead of buying software, the latter being the big stinking lie of the copyright era (which future generations will probably refer to as the second dark ages).
Why not just accept reality? If you want to make money off of applied mathematics, then you better make a product attached to a subscription service.
If I want to buy a car, do I buy a license to the styling or engineering of the car? No, I buy an inefficient piece of metal. Since CDs are worthless, and processing cycles on a server less so, software producers should restyle themselves as a part of the service industry. e.g., subscription providers.
Apple Computer (not the only company) made billions of dollars selling computer hardware. The fact that everyone had access to a giant pirated library of software helped sell more units.
It isn't/wasn't in their interest to develop any sort of strategy to combat pirating as it would only serve to reduce their hardware sales.
I see only two ways to really reduce this problem. Neither is perfect.
1. Utilize private/public encryption key technology at the microprocessor level and have software producers encrypt custom binary images for every package sold.
2. Accept the fact that at current prices people aren't willing (or 90% aren't) to buy your product and reduce your prices AND add value to the sale.
How do you add value? Lots of ways. Regular updates with new features and bug fixes, forum access where customers can talk to the developers. Being responsive to their needs.
Never played Goo World, never will. But what would players enjoy? New Goo worlds, Goo levels, Goo things? Once a month updates to keep peoples interest and keep things from getting stale. Updates that only registered users can download, of course.
In a way we have created a very strange industry. I'm not talking about just software development, but the market as a whole.
The market has decided to punish legal users; you know the ones who actually buy the stuff, with higher fee's to subsidize the people who are stealing the product. But every time they raise prices they drive more people to steal their product.
Then they create advertisements teaching people that you CAN actually steal their stuff. Every time I see a satellite pirating commercial I wonder how many people decided at that moment to go out and buy an illegal unit.
The online guys have it figured out though. You aren’t going to be playing WoW or downloading free stuff from iTunes without being legal…..
@lowrads: when you buy a car, you *are* covering the costs from engineering...
I agree with your stance. I always support small-time programmers like these. I do not pirate from them; I feel a little guilt when it happens. On the other hand, Microsoft or the movie industry simply do not strike up the same amount of guilt: they churn out products like nobody's business, and I therefore do not feel anything as they are copied and pirated.