The issue of whether games should include DRM, especially indie games, has been a popular topic of conversation for several years now – especially since the rise of digital distribution and the increasing accessibility of “free” content. As a member of the hazily defined class of indie game developers, with now two original released games to my name – Jolly Rover (2010) and MacGuffin’s Curse (2012), I’ve been faced with the decision of whether to go DRM free for a few years. My need to make this decision was first spurred by the opportunity earlier this year to include my first game, Jolly Rover, in the Indie Royale Bundle, and more recently from contact with one most recognizable advocates of DRM Free indie games, the Humble Indie Bundle.
I’ve picked up a few Humble Bundles in my time, which isn’t surprising, but what I really love about them was their system, which I felt was clean, easy to use, and gave people just about every payment option they could ask for. So when they contacted me out of the blue last month to ask if I wanted to use their new Humble Bundle widget to distribute Jolly Rover I said “YES! HERE! TAKE MACGUFFIN’S CURSE TOO! AND WHAT ELSE? I HAVE SOME OLD GAMES YOU MIGHT LIKE! HAVE YOU HEARD OF JUST ANOTHER POINT AND CLICK ADVENTURE?” So they took MacGuffin’s Curse too.
Well, it didn’t happen exactly like that. I tried googling around first to find out what this was all about. But it’s not easy to find out a lot of information on this shadowy new Humble Bundle store, which is still in Beta. Initially I got excited that I had been selected as one of the lucky indies to make fat stacks of cash by being in a Humble Indie Bundle, but this was not the case. However the example game they pointed me to was Braid, which is also using the Humble store. And if it’s good enough for Braid, then sign me up!
Initially they only asked for Jolly Rover, and the decision to make this DRM Free had been already made earlier this year when it was part of the highest grossing Indie Royale Bundle to date. Since then Jolly Rover has been DRM Free on Desura, so deciding to distribute it via the Humble Bundle store wasn’t a hard decision. But MacGuffin’s Curse hadn’t even been out a month.
I had been thinking about making MacGuffin’s Curse DRM Free for a while though, even before release. I think the final tipping point was when I was talking to my partner on the project, Ben Kosmina. I was talking about maybe making MacGuffin’s Curse DRM Free, and I asked him if he thought it had been pirated already. “Yeah, it’s pretty much up everywhere already”, he told me, which for me was a little disappointing, because I was distributing the PC and Mac version exclusively through Steam so I thought we’d have a bit of time before this happened, but this didn’t seem the case.
So I thought, “Why should the pirate sites be providing an easier way to get the game than me?” Don’t get me wrong, I love Steam, I’m a Steam fanboy, I want to marry them and have their babies, but I can’t deny there are a lot of people, or a vocal minority, that really hate Steam and hate the people who put their games on there by association, and quite frankly, I’ve been worn down.
My main concern with moving DRM free was not so much piracy, which was inevitable, but a more “casual piracy,” i.e. sharing games around the office, or between friends or family. It just makes it a little easier, and I have no doubt that this is exactly what’s going to happen. But the upside to this is the involuntary marketing, which for a studio my size is probably more important.
I’m not actually that phased by piracy anymore, it’s just another form of marketing, after all. But I wish there were some way to organise a period of exclusivity where the game was not pirated, at least. And anecdotally, people who pirate your game probably wouldn’t have bought it anyway.
Also, I’m guilty of being a pirate myself. As a kid in the 80’s with a hand me down computer and no money outside of birthdays and Christmas, I pirated a lot of games. That is to say, my friends’ older brothers pirated them and I copied them. Many of the games that shaped who I am today were pirated, and since then I have bought some of them several times over as they are re-released on various platforms – but without that link to the past I never would have known about them in the first place, and likely wouldn’t have bought them now.
That’s not waving a flag saying it’s okay though; I don’t advocate the practice, and people who pirate games, like me, should not feel like it’s a legitimate option. There should still be that slight pang of guilt if you’re enjoying something that somebody worked hard on that you didn’t pay for, because you still want them to buy the game when they’re able. But it is going to happen, and people are going to be exposed to the game that maybe might not have. So, cheers – for piracy, and cheers for going DRM Free!
Andrew Goulding is the founder of indie game studio Brawsome. Though Brawsome started in 2008, Andrew has been a professional game developer since 2002, and also spent 2 years developing radar and communications simulation software for the defence force. He founded Brawsome with the express intention of creating original games, with a focus on comedic story based adventure and unique, simple game mechanics that are easily accessible.