Jacobson: DRM is here to stay

Sports Interactive head says piracy forced Football Manager 12 to be Steam exclusive

Sports Interactive studio director Miles Jacobson claims that DRM measures are an inevitable part of the future of gaming.

In an interview with Eurogamer, Jacobson explained that escalating piracy was behind Sports Interactive's decision to make Steam a necessary part of playing Football Manager 2012.

According to the company's last "properly accurate" statistics, for every person that bought Football Manager 2009 four people acquired it illegally. Jacobson admitted that precise stats for subsequent iterations didn't exist, but confirmed that, "the numbers of people downloading torrents from public sites rose massively for both Football Manager 10 and Football Manager 11."

Whether Steam is effective in preventing post-release piracy remains to be seen, but Jacobson praised Valve's digital distribution platform for limiting "day-zero and pre-launch" piracy. He also acknowledged that pirated versions can't be directly translated to legal sales.

"Not everyone who pirates games would buy them if they couldn't pirate them - they'd just do without it," he said. "But there are a small percentage who would go out and buy it if they couldn't get it for free."

Jacobson claimed he would "love" to have no DRM in Sports Interactive's games, but made it clear that to expect it to happen would be naïve.

"I'd also love to not have to have locks on my home, or a burglar alarm, or locks on my car. How good would a life without keys be? I'd also love to have no insurance, either at home, or at the studio. Or a security guard at the office."

"The unfortunate reality is that as long as there are dishonest people in the world, you will need locks, and you'll need insurance. As long as there are people out there who want to pirate, there will be a need for DRM."

"Even with freemium games, people cheat and try and find ways to steal others coins, as per recent court cases. It's very sad, but it's the world we live in."

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Latest comments (12)

Jeff Wayne Technical Architect 10 years ago
I find Steam fine personally since it has the option to go offline etc. The community aspect of it also with friends across completely different games on the same platform is great. This sort of DRM I, as an avid gamer, can live with. The type that is toxic is the type that pushes paying gamers into piracy just to be able to play their game without it choking due to 'always-on' servers being 'always-off'!

An interesting article from Rice University ( believes removal of DRM can lead to piracy reduction. It's not that unbelievable when you see the many paying gamers that are forced into piracy just to get an unborked game. :-)
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Daniel Vardy Studying HND IT, De Montfort University10 years ago
People do not care about DRM when it is done right (f.e. Steam). It is the absolutely stupid forms of DRM which people complain about and then wait to pirate the game which doesn't have DRM. Gamers want a DRM which does not interfere with how they play the game. The recent news about the STALKER 2 always-online-streaming DRM seems to me counter-productive and the only people to benefit from the game will be the pirates who needn't worry about it.

Most DRM is also a cause of piracy, not a solution.
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Nick McCrea Gentleman, Pocket Starship10 years ago
I have to admit I'm kind of amazed when people speak with such certainty regarding the detrimental effects of DRM, because it seems to me that the people with the best metrics to judge (i.e. publishers), the people in full posession of sales figures, with the data to PROVE one way or another that DRM helps sales or otherwise, are, in general, backing DRM as a sales-preserving or improving tactic.

Granted, it can be argued that there are perhaps reputational or customer retention downsides, but, again, if it's so obviously erroneous to include stricter-than-steam DRM, why do publishers do it?

What information do you posess that they don't?
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 10 years ago
Publishers seem certain too (about the benefits of DRM), but they don't have to live with it. As a consumer, it's galling to know that not only is the DRM you're forced to live with aggravating and occasionally game-breaking (NWN2's Securom implementation, for instance), but the people whom it's supposed to stop aren't actually stopped. They may be slowed down, but there are very few games out there that actually haven't been cracked (whether the DRM is Ubisoft's, Steam's, or Securom's).

Too answer your question more directly, though, even publishers don't have empirical data to prove the value of DRM, or the lack thereof. Game sales (and piracy statistics) are based upon the quality of the game. The better the game, the more people are to a) buy it, b) pirate it to see if they like it (the so called "iso demo") and c) pirate it, then buy it (either immediately or when they have spare cash). Thus, in the end, there's no definite way to prove that DRM works or not; all any of us have to go on is the reputational and customer retention consequences of DRM (since the quality of games varies so much) and the "after-market" value of DRM. This latter point is important since if the consumer feels that they're benefiting from a form of DRM, they will happily accede to its inclusion. This will be where Steam succeeds, and Securom fails.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 10th October 2011 1:49pm

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Nick McCrea Gentleman, Pocket Starship10 years ago
I absoltuely agree that Steam as a DRM sytem wins through providing huge value to the customer, I think this is pretty uncontentious. I think we all agree that if there has to be DRM, then hopefully it looks more like Steam and not like SecureRom. DRM fails absolutely when it makes legitimate purchase and ownership more inconvenient than piracy.

I would take issue with the idea that DRM is invalid or pointless if it is cracked. It's valid if it favourably alters the purchase to pirate ratio. It's valid if it remains unbeaten for a couple of weeks after launch and thus preserves week 1 sales. It's not a zero-sum game. Totally preventing piracy is not an achievable goal, nor is it one which any properly informed proponent of DRM would advance, but just as opponents of DRM often (correctly) state that not every pirate is a lost customer, the converse also holds - some pirates ARE potential lost customers, and it seems to me there are people who are not idealogically prepared to accept that.

So whilst I'm absolutely against the kind of Canute-esque folly the music industry has embarked on when it sues individual downloaders and the like, I'm also not averse to the industry trying to find the best way forward that preserves sales while maximising customer convenience.

In a nutshell, Steam is the business. More like Steam, please :)
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Liam Farrell10 years ago
Sadly DRM is needed. However the rise or fall of piracy might just depend on how it's implemented. If it's like steam and you can play offline. Being online all the time just isn't practicle to the majority of gamers. some people are gonna pirate games whatever. But if publishers start using draconian DRM for their games, it's only gonna encourage people to go down the piracy route, just for the option of playing offline. Publishers should be doing more to encourage gamers to go the legal route. Like easing up on rip off DLC and treating people, who bought pre-owned games, like leeches on the industry. Your customers are not the enemy! ...Ok, rant over, sorry

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Liam Farrell on 10th October 2011 6:08pm

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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 10 years ago
Nick - I agree. The DRM/Piracy argument has come a long way, but it's still a black and white issue in the eyes of a fair number of both publishers and casual pirates.

As a related side-issue, publisher's need to understand that the type of DRM being used *has* to be released sooner rather than later, since it has an effect on sales and buying habits. If DRM is to be continued to be used, publishers and developers have to view it as part-and-parcel of the Minimum/Recommended Specs information, not as something that can be glossed over. Consumers *do* care about the DRM, and should be reassured that they can easily play the games that they buy (especially in the case of pre-orders).
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James Prendergast Process Specialist 10 years ago
I have to say.... treat me like a criminal and you get none of my money... or at least a lot less than otherwise. DRM will be the downfall of this industry some day though probably not for at least 5-10 years.
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David Spender Lead Programmer 10 years ago
DRM won't necessarily be the downfall of the industry but it will be the downfall of my game collection, in the end. Games will slowly stop working/activating. Services go offline.
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Let's back up.

The goal of a game developer is to sell more games.

What Steam does really well is make it easy to buy games. This is the same brilliance as iTunes. Make it very easy for legitimate customers to buy your product.

If your DRM solution simply "stops pirates", it buys you little to nothing.

If your DRM solution damages the game for non-playing players, it hurts you. See Titan Quest and others for the dubious history of "clever" DRM solutions.

If your DRM solution hurts your paying customer experience, it costs you customers and future sales (something that is hard to measure).

If it gives an "non-paying customer" a chance to become a paying one... and do so easily, it has value.

The sole value of any anti-piracy solution is the number of additional net sales it delivers.

I've been exploring these issues and alternative anti-piracy strategies at Game Piracy Resource Guide
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Abel Oroz Art Director / Artist 10 years ago
I actually recall reading that the piracy ratio for some games was about 1:10, so if one out of 4 of thei copies is legal, it seems like they've been quite lucky.
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James Prendergast Process Specialist 10 years ago
@Abel. Just remember that when speaking about piracy (in general) there are no solid numbers.
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