Answering the LGP DRM questions

By Michael Simms (CEO and head of Development)
Friday, February 27th, 2009

Our new DRM system has probably generated as much debate as anything we have ever done. So, I thought that I should try and dispel some of the myths and rumours that have been going about, and give you some of the positive aspects of the system.

The first and most important issue I would like to address is that no, you do NOT require internet access to install or to play the games, you do not need a disc in your drive, and you do not need to enter in your key or password every time you play. These are all myths. You need to enter a key and password (and optionally your email address) when you install the game, and that is it. You do not need to worry about it again.

Our system uses a policy of ‘Innocent until proven guilty’ which means that you can ALWAYS play your game, unless the system knows for a fact that there is a reason you shouldn’t. This is the opposite to most DRM systems, which assume you do not have the right to, unless you prove you can.

Unfortunately, no system is foolproof, and, yes there is a small chance that a legitimate user could be locked out of their game, but the chance is rather low. It would require that the user lose their key AND to have not set an email address for their game, and are trying to reinstall it. Just forgetting your password is not enough to lose you access to the game, unless you did not set an email address.

We acknowledge that some users dislike ANY DRM, and you know what, so do we, but we have little choice when we have proved that more copies are pirated of our games than purchased. As a small company, we do not do DRM to try and rip people off, we add it because it is going to help keep us in business.

However bear in mind that this DRM works in your favour too. As well as the obvious, helps us keep making games, it also allows us to provide a method to allow you the customer to exert your rights as granted by the LGP license. When you buy any game from any company, you buy a license to install and use the software. The box and disc is just a delivery system. If you lose your copy of a Windows game, good luck getting it replaced for free (or for the cost of time and materials to send you a replacement at the most). But the thing is, you should. We fully believe that as you bought a license, then you have the right to play the game for as long as that license is valid. This is why, using our DRM system, we have now completed a new system that will allow users to get a new downloadable version of any game they have legitimately purchased. So if you lose all of your games somehow, the DRM’d ones will actually be MORE replaceable than the non-DRM’d ones, as they are the ones you can prove you have a license for.

Unlike other DRM systems that pretty much prevent you from selling on your license, the LGP system is set up to allow you to do so. In fact we have devised a system at which allows the seller of a game to transfer their license safely to a new owner, and for a potential buyer to check that a game they are being offered has a valid license key. This means that our DRM offers security for players that they are buying a real game that is playable, rather than with other DRM systems where you can buy a game on Ebay, and find out when it arrives it has a locked out key and the company that licenses the game will not unlock it.

We think that our system provides us with a bit of security, but it also gives you, the customer, benefits that counterbalance the fact we had to add in the DRM in the first place. It is thanks to the discussions we had with the community that we took out the requirement to be online when yiou register, and the requirement to be online when you start the game.

When all is said and done, we tried for years to stop people copying our games by asking nicely and appealing to peoples better natures. That didn’t work, and so we are left with DRM.


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30 Responses to “Answering the LGP DRM questions”

  1. RK says:

    And yet there has been no evidence put forward, that I am aware of, that the introduction of DRM has actually reduced piracy in any market. DRM seems to me to be the knee-jerk reaction of an industry which doesn’t understand the demands (or capabilities) of its target market. I’m kinda disappointed that LGP has fallen into a similar mindset (though at least LGP isn’t claiming that every pirated copy is a lost sale!).
    If you accept that piracy can never by truly eliminated, I believe a better way of reducing its impact was shown by the data recently released by Valve. That is; lower prices mean significantly more sales (who’da thunk?), and greater overall revenue!

    This is my greatest criticism against LGP actually (which you’ve almost certainly heard a hundred times already). LGP sells years-old games (often even when newly released, due to your business model) for just-released prices, which then never seem to change over time. A copy of X3 for Windows, as one example, I can get for £6 - *six* pounds sterling! Is the Linux version really so much better, that it’s worth *five times* as much?

    And where’s my X3 benchmark demo, dag nabbit!?

  2. Kevin says:

    Hmm, this is a DRM system that I actually like. The downside (having to be online when installing) has less impact on me than the upside (being able to reinstall without media). On top of that, with LGP I have no doubts about spyware and other intrusive system-level software that is inflicted on users by EA and colleagues.

    @RK: Well, the price system is quite annoying, but its the same for Mac users (their games are typically even more expensive). This is the price of being in a niche market, I’d say. I’d rather have a game for my platform than no game.

  3. michael says:

    Actually we have proved to a small degree that piracy costs sales. When we found a copy of one of our games on a torrent site, with the torrent site actually loading an image from our server, we changed the image they were loading to one that informed people they were downloading commercial software, and a number of people apologised and paid for a copy.

    Even if it doesn’t, in a way it is still the principle of the matter. Just because someone ‘wouldn’t have bought it anyway’ isn’t an excuse for them to use the game without paying. We’ve spent money and time on making the software and we license it in what is the only way we can based on the terms we receive the source code. The license is valid, and if someone doesn’t like to pay, then don’t play. It is the very same way we adhere to the GPL/LGPL, it is a license chosen by the people that spent theirown time and money making the software, and we adhere to it. We don’t say ‘well we wouldn’t use the software if we had to stick to GPL terms, so therefore we can use it and not stick to the GPL’. The concept of obeying license terms for commercial or open source software is exactly the same. Use it and keep to the license, don’t like the license then don’t use it.

    As for the pricing, yeah we know, we’ve heard it and we understand. The thing is, we charge what a new game costs. The game IS new for Linux. Because of the way we have to license games and port them, we can never release a game before it hits the Windows low-price stage. So, we don’t even try and market to people that have windows as well. If we did, we would fail and go out of business. We aim to supply games to Linux users who just use Linux. For these people, the games are new, and it doesn’t matter it is available on other platforms, or what the price is, it is available as a new product for their platform. This is the same as is done for Mac, playstation, everywhere. About 5 years ago, I noticed Doom 2 was available on the PS2 for about 40 pounds. So long after it was gone even from the bargain bin for the PC.

    We do reduce our prices over time. We do not reduce as fast as windows games because the sales model is different. Windows game sales tend to happen within a few weeks of release and then sales trail off on most games to less than 10% of that level. With Linux games, sales tend to be as high as 50% of release level 2 years later. It is less of a bump, more of a gradual thing. This is why we reduce prices in that same kind of manner.

  4. michael says:

    Yes definitely we have no spyware. The source code to our DRM is available to all our devs, many of whom are the kind of people who would kick me very firmly if I did anything like that! No system-destabilising drivers, no spyware, no evil at all {:-)

  5. Clean3d says:

    Ah, good to hear about the spyware issue. That was actually the only thing I wondered about was the presence of software running all the time or monitoring my system, and to hear that there is no such software is really nice.

    I like the sound of this DRM system! :)

    (…iirc, that’s the first time I’ve ever said something like that)

  6. michael says:

    I think that’s the first time in the history of software that ANYONE said that. I think I need to lie down after reading it! {:-)

  7. RK says:

    My point wasn’t that piracy doesn’t cause lost sales, or that piracy was somehow justifiable, but that DRM hasn’t been shown to reduce piracy to any significant degree.

    If your argument is about reducing piracy, then it seems to me that reducing prices would be a far more effective method than introducing and maintaining a DRM scheme.
    If your argument is about making money, then I refer you again to Valve’s data from their price-reduction experiments on Steam. Steam probably has a larger potential market for any particular game than LGP does, granted. But your own piracy anecdote suggests that there is a larger market for LGP games than is being served by the currently available official deals.

    And on the spyware issue, we only have your word about that. And you are, after all, just another giant faceless megacorporation…

    So in summary: Gief cheep gamez!

    • michael says:

      Sorry yes, you are right, my apologies I got my thoughts tangled up.

      As for the spyware issue, if someone notable from the open source community was to offer to look at the code, as a neutral observer, to confirm there is no spyware, I would be happy to let them. Obviously we aren’t going to let just anyone look at it, but someone known and trusted by the community at large, we would agree to that as a way of quietening peoples concerns.

      As for gief cheep gamez - we’re trying! We really are!

  8. palu says:

    First, my respect and appreciation to all at LGP for supporting my chosen platform. I know that it can be a pain and i salute you for sticking it out.

    @RK: Although i do not doubt that they sell more games with lower prices, Valve and Steam DO use copy protection (and on all titles, to the best of my knowledge) and i’d be downright amazed if they managed not to lose sales on their titles if people could get those same games freely (World of Goo, which advertises it’s lack of any DRM scheme, estimates their own piracy rate at 80-90%). LGP has done a great job in crafting a copy protection system that seems palatable and fair, and they have every right to try to protect their business and investments.

    That said, and still with great respect for LGP and its work, i do not own (nor have i pirated, FYI) any of LGP’s games. There are several reasons for this. One such reason is that i just don’t spend that much money on gaming (i currently own no gaming consoles and spend well under 200$ a year on commercial games (which is quite easy to do as a linux gamer >_<)). Another reason is that i’m fairly picky and LGP just hasn’t really hit my particular tastes yet. The third reason is in line with RK’s observation and request: namely, the pricing of LGP’s titles. For example, the demo for “Cold War” was good enough to get me to consider picking it up and got me as far as the LGP website. The 30£ pricetag, however, was more than i was willing to pay for the game. I’m not saying LGP is overcharging for this game, i think they deserve to be paid fairly for the work they do. What i am saying is that the pricetag (an online converter tells me that 30£ is approximately 42.47$, and i can’t help but note that one can get the entire Penumbra series for 35$*) was too high for my own interest in the game (the quality/style of the interstitial movies also put me off slightly, but that is unlikely to be LGP’s fault).

    *I expect that the discrepancy in pricing (in that i consider the Penumbra games to be at least as high quality as “Cold War”) has more to do with LGP’s role as a porter of non-native titles than some devilish desire at LGP to bilk content starved linux users (whom it seems rather to be trying to feed).

    Again, much respect and appreciation to all at LGP, and i wish you great success!

    • Hi,

      Thanks for that {:-)

      We do have a few gaps left to fill in trying to find something for everyone. We are light on first person shooters, no sports games, and we’re just getting our first RPG out of the door. We’re looking out for some RTS games, and some ‘grand strategy’ (things like Civ or Europa Universalis kind of games), so hopefully over the coming years, we should definitely have something for everyone!

      We try and keep our launch prices roughly level with the PC game market. They are in the £35 area right now, and we’re trying to hold it down to around £30 or so as the top line we release at.

  9. joetainment says:

    Already lost me as a customer. I buy games. DRM free games. World of Goo proved you make money selling DRM free games. I paid for it, but never would have got it if there was DRM.

    Music services are already figuring this out. Games companies should too.

    • If we lost you as a customer over this, when the whole impact is that you have to spend 10 seconds entering a code and 5 seconds entering a password, and we, in return, use the system in a way that has a serious advantage back to you, then chances are, we would have lost you as a customer over something else anyway.
      By the way, next time you lose your music collection, if you have paid to download it, good luck in making them give you another copy to download, or if you have CDs and you have an accident involving your CD rack and a large flying object, good luck in getting them to replace the music you lost. It won’t happen.
      With us, because of the DRM system, it will…

      • RK says:

        Surely being able to re-download digital music or games has nothing to do with the application of DRM, it’s just a matter of record-keeping by the retailer?
        “Someone using such-and-such email address (or other credentials) has already bought such-and-such from us; so here’s a new download link/activation key/etc.”
        Certainly this seems to be the case with all the indie/self-published games I’ve come across.

        And it may only take 15 seconds to enter the DRM security information, but to quote another comment: “it is still the principle of the matter”…

        • Exactly, but, we’re a publisher. We do not have the purchase details of everyone that buys a game. We sell through many stores and we will not be asking them to send us their customer list! Thats why we tied in the retrieval of disc images to the DRM. We knew we would now have the essential information to know if someone had the right to use the game, so we decided to use it to your advantage as well as ourown.

          As for “the principle of the matter”, yes, I know. That’s why for 7 years, we used no DRM - I HATE DRM!. I’m kind of tired of pumping in vast sums of my personal money into the company as I kept asking nicely for people to not pirate our games, and so, we’re going to go with DRM because it may make a difference in the amount of loss we make on an annual basis. That’s the principle that is guiding me right now. The fact that I’ve given up my house, a very nice high level income job, and a vast majority of my personal savings, trying to keep games on the Linux desktop, and I just don’t feel 15 seconds time is much to ask in return from people. Our entire devteam at LGP, their money is based on sales of the game, and these guys, some of them have devoted years to LGP and getting games to people, and I’d REALLY like, just one year, to say ‘yes, we paid you a wage we can be proud of paying you’ rather than another year of apologising and hoping it gets better next year. They keep with it because like me, they believe in what they are doing, but it isn’t easy sometimes, its downright demoralising.

  10. JP says:

    Michael, this sounds like an opportunity for a good hard look at the impact of DRM. How about publishing some details (or maybe presenting at a conference!) after some time has passed that show what impact your DRM system has had on sales (and profits), either positive or negative?

    • That sounds like a fairly good idea, we already have plans to evaluate this information and I see no reason why we shouldn’t make the information public. Whichever way the facts lie, it would be in our benefit to follow the numbers and to make them public.

      Yeah OK, we will. It wont be for a while, the trends in Linux gaming are slow ones to see, but when we see them, we’ll let people know.

  11. darryl says:

    Michael, I can see you are stuck between a rock and hard place so to speak.

    But I think you are certainly on the right path, I have nothing against DRM for paying for software that costs money to make, support and distribute.

    I dont have a problem with conventional DRM schemes in general, but your argument in regards to being able to recover lost copies or get back games on CD that you lost or destroyed.

    Tells me that is what you should be promoting, sell it as form of security and offline backup. If your HD crashes and you cant find your game CD but you can remember your Email you can recover.

    Thats a strong point.

    A question I get the feeling the games you are selling are games that have allready been on other platforms, so i would assume they are allready written and to run them on linux would require a re-compile mabey some standard DirectX mods for linux. So on that basis most of the hard work has allready been done.
    Affecting sales price.

    But piracy is death to a software manufacture, and saying reducing the price would bring more custom has not really worked for “free software” who’s market penetration seems rather static.

    But good luck and all the best, selling DRM to FOSS is a hard job but i feel you have the abilit to make it work. all the best.

  12. Charles Hixson says:

    I have mixed feelings here. I understand your points…but I need some way to ensure that the system will continue to be as you have described it.

    OTOH, you have mitigated, if not removed, most of the bad features of DRM. And games aren’t tools, so I hold them to a lower standard. Personally I’d have done something like register the CPU id # to a hard disk file during installation, and if either the CPU was changed or the file was garbaged, require the CD to reinstall the game. This does require that the CD be identifiable from copies of itself, however, so perhaps it’s not practical.

  13. PK says:

    This DRM of yours, what difference is there between it and “normal” copy protection? Digital Rights Management is per definition a lot more “draconian” than the description of your version, requiring a connection to a central server in order to let the publisher decide if the user is allowed to run the software or not. Usually also includes some sort of monitoring.

    • The difference is, we assume innocent until proven guilty, so you can always play, regardless of internet connection, or anything else. You will only be locked out if it can be proved that you broke the license (we’ve locked out precisely one key that we found online saying ‘here is the key and password, please don’t change them’). Yes, our system connects to a central server, we’ve never denied it, but if it fails to connect, say you have no net connection, then it just does a bit of local validation and carries on, cos it cannot PROVE you broke the rules.
      Yes you can still be locked out if you lose your key or forget your password and you are trying to install the game on a second machine, but then, as long as you set your email address, you can always get these back automatically. The only time you are completely screwed is if you do not set an email address, but then, we have a support email address who will deal with these problems as well as we can to make sure that legit users are always able to use the game.

  14. sgtrock says:

    As long as you can make your DRM scheme fulfill every tenet of the Gamers’ Bill of Rights I’m OK with it. Frankly, though, I wish more companies would follow Stardock’s lead:

    Stardock’s position is that IP holders have the right to do whatever they want with their IP. That doesn’t mean what they do is necessarily a good idea or good business.

    For our games, we will continue the policy of releasing our retail games without any copy protection or DRM on the disc. However, we will require customers who want updates to download them from us and to make sure those updates are meaningful – not just bug fixes but actual improvements based on player feedback.

    • Well, Ive not seem their ‘bill of rights’ before, but looking at it:

      We adhere completely to points: 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7 (with this system), 8, 9

      Point 3 is not relevant, as we are providing a port, we do not have the right to provide changes to the gameplay, we can only make it the same as the original. We do our best to fix any problems that arise, but as a small company making games for the most diverse platform in computing, sometimes we just cannot do it and some customers very occasionally, will just have to ask for their money back.

      Point 10 we exceed as with this system you can transfer the rights to digital-only games, as well as physical games. OK right now we do not have any download-only games but in future we plan to.

      • Patrick says:

        What does “download-only” mean? Does it mean you’ll only offer the game as a digital download, so there’ll be no retail version of that game? Or does it mean you can choose to buy the retail version (plus the right to re-download the game) or a download-only game (so you don’t have to pay any shipping costs)?

        I hope the last option is the right answer. For me a retail version is very important. I only want to pay for a boxed version. I really don’t like digital distribution.

        A wish from me:
        I hope there’ll come some day where games from id Software are published by LGP. I like id Softwares games, but I don’t like I have to buy the Windows version and download their Linux-installer, especially since their games are now published by EA who use a very bad form of DRM. It’d be really nice if RAGE and Wolfenstein would be published by LGP and I could just buy the Linux-version without sponsoring EA and Microsoft.

        • Yeah I meant that we would like to move to a system where you can either a) have a game in a box, b) have it download only, or c) a combination of both. I’d personally never stop doing the boxed versions, cos I just really like getting a physical box with a game in!

          As for the id games, I doubt it will ever happen, but we can always hope!

  15. W. Simmons says:

    So I get the key and password when I purchase? What keeps me from giving key, password and the files to friends?

    • You get the key on the manual, you make up your own password.

      If you were to give the key and password to friends, then they will then have the ability to change the password, and if they do, you are then locked out of your own game as the password stored in your system will be invalid.

      • W. Simmons says:

        I don’t understand it.

        If I can install (enter the key and choose a password) and play the game without needing to be online, how would someone else changing the password matter (my copy would never be aware of that change)? How would someone else even be able to change a password that is only stored locally?

        I think I am just missing something. If this is in a FAQ somewhere, please feel free to simply link me there. :-)

        • Heh, well, we do have a bit of security through obscurity, so I cant go into a lot of detail, but what I can say is that, in broad terms, it tries to verify your key/password is valid each time you start, but that’s where the innocent until proven guilty part comes in. If it cannot connect to the keyserver (which it tries to do in a number of ways), then it assumes you are innocent. This is where our DRM differs, we assume you have the right to play unless it is proved you don’t, whereas most assume you don’t until you prove you do.
          It makes ours less secure, but it means nobody is locked out unless they really deserve it. We’d rather have less security than have a legit player locked out of playing the game.

  16. W. Simmons says:

    Nice, I like that. Reminds me on how id Software does it. Kudos!

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