Meat Boy dev: DRM hurts more than piracy

Tommy Refenes bemoans misplaced priorities in light of SimCity launch woes

The troubled launch of EA's SimCity due to its always-online requirement has raised the issue of digital rights management and the effectiveness of anti-piracy measures once again. In a post on his own blog, Super Meat Boy developer Tommy Refenes gave his own take on the subject, arguing that developers' attempts to keep their games from being pirated are hurting themselves first and foremost.

"As a forward thinking developer who exists in the present, I realize and accept that a pirated copy of a digital game does not equate to money being taken out of my pocket," Refenes said. "Team Meat shows no loss in our year-end totals due to piracy and neither should any other developer."

Since any developer who sells games online has a functionally infinite supply of copies, it's impossible to calculate a loss due to theft based on anything but speculation.

"Companies try to combat piracy of their software with DRM but if loss due to pirated software is not calculable to an accurate amount does the implementation of DRM provide a return on investment? It is impossible to say yes to this statement," Refenes said.

"Everyone needs to accept that piracy cannot be stopped and loss prevention is not a concept that can be applied to the digital world."

Tommy Refenes

On the other hand, use of DRM does have more tangible and quantifiable effects. For one, Refenes said he received a refund for SimCity from Origin after running into the game's launch issues. Because EA had that money only to have to hand it back a few days later, Refenes said that loss is entirely quantifiable, and is "much more dangerous than someone stealing your game."

"In the retail world, you could potentially put a return back on the shelf, you could find another customer that wants it, sell it to them and there would be virtually no loss," Refenes said. "In the digital world, because there is no set amount of goods, you gain nothing back (one plus infinity is still infinity). It's only a negative experience. A negative frustrating experience for a customer should be considered more damaging than a torrent of your game."

Refenes said he has first-hand knowledge of that, and cites the Mac version of Super Meat Boy as an example. Refenes said the port was of poor quality, "a broken product that is out in the public," and acknowledged that the game disappointed customers and resulted in a number of refunds. That disappointment is far more damaging to Team Meat's business, Refenes worried, as he doubts many Mac owners will be interested in giving his next game, Mew-genics, a second look when it launches on the platform.

"The reality is the fight against piracy equates to spending time and money combating a loss that cannot be quantified," Refenes concluded. "Everyone needs to accept that piracy cannot be stopped and loss prevention is not a concept that can be applied to the digital world. Developers should focus on their paying customers and stop wasting time and money on non-paying customers. Respect your customers and they may in turn respect your efforts enough to purchase your game instead of pirating it."

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Latest comments (10)

Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd4 years ago
What's that? The sound of logic? It's so rare, and I am very confused. Of course, none of the big publishers will listen. Somehow convincing your shareholders that it makes more sense to focus on rewarding paying consumers than punishing non-paying consumers is an impossible task in this era.
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 4 years ago
"DRM hurts more than piracy"

Yeah I completely agree. It makes people who pirate want to pirate even more. And for those honest consumers that spend money buying everything legal it makes them want to start pirating or not support a product entirely.

Most attempts at DRM have been, draconian (harsh) in nature. It only makes things harder or more challenging for pirates and it punishes the honest consumer. the ones that spend money and support products.

And for the person who spends money it angers and frustrates them and that leads to more piracy. Why the fuck would I spend money on something that does not belong to me? that comes with an end user agreement that no one will ever read or even understand. Now a days you cant even take a game to a friends house to enjoy on his console.

You cant lend or share games with people. people who may have never bought the game unless you did that. This is not bad, its just the way people are.I personally would love to take my games to my parents house to play on weekends but I cant unless I take my entire console with game saves and account info needed to play portions of the game. I mean its not that extreme yet, but an example is my Wii games in which everything is attached to the hardware. I cant move or transfer my WiiWare games and saes to play on another console. Lucky the Wii is very small.

Ive already missed out on a few great games Street Fighter x Tekken (Disc locked content), Diablo III (always online DRM), Simcity (always online DRM), Final Fight and Bionic Commando reArmed 2(Always Online DRM) and Finally Deadspace 3(In game purchases). As great as they are Ill pass on games that look for ways to handcuff you or penny the shit outta you.

Rumor has it next gen games will cost 70$... seriously???? And on top of that they are trying to penny the shit out of you after you bought the game through strategically planned DLC or ingame purchases. So each game ends up costing well over $100. Dont mind DLC after a game is released for a while and fans demand more. Or they shoehorn a mediocre online feature and claim the game needs to always be online? At times I feel Im being taken for a moron.

So when you see these companies make all these attempts to handcuff you and to penny the shit outta you, you suddenly feel like you just wanna pirate the game instead. Even if you had the money, the fact that they are playing so dirty means you dont want to support them. And these measures to punish the pirates dont really do anything to stop them... such as with all the shit involving the HDMI interface and blu-ray codec. How much money did they put into that only to be cracked and hacked by pirates a few months later. look at SONY and their CELL processer. Even there PSN was hacked.

I think the best way to fight piracy is to DISCOURAGE it and not be an asshole to the consumer. SONY really set up a nice conference with the PS4 reveal. Listening to gamers and developers on what they needed. They got my good will back and I know alot of people who feel the same. But these attempts at draconian style DRM, sleazy ways to penny the crap out of gamers and huge end user license agreements with alot of legal mumbo jumbo that nobody understands.... only angers and frustrates the honest consumer. Creating more future pirates or less support for a product.

And I have no doubt Sim City is a good game, but with so many good games out there I can skip this one.

While pirates run free, its the guy who pays money that gets all the punishment.

Edited 4 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 19th March 2013 1:58pm

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James Prendergast Research Chemist 4 years ago
Why the f*** would I money on something that does not belong to me.

I money on things that don't belong to me all the time....

Oh, wait... Are we still talking about games?


On a more serious note:
How many more times and years are we going to see opinions like this before it really starts catching on in the industry?
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Show all comments (10)
Andrew Watson Tools Programmer 4 years ago
Many people who pirate stuff were never going to buy it anyway so I've never understood how they count as a "lost sale".
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If anything at all, it is a lost opportunity for a sale or rather an opportunity to implement ways to turn owners of a "pirated" game into actual customers. Piracy happens out of various reasons, financial, "demoing", everything free mentality and distrust in a company, it's product or the reviews to name some. Games that have openly dealt with piracy by allowing people who pirated a game to get something that resembles an amnesty and buying the game at a reduced price for example, are able to turn pirates into honest customers.
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Benjamin Crause Supervisor Central Support, Nintendo of Europe4 years ago
I completely agree here. DRM is punishing everyone but the pirates. Accept it and rather turn potential pirates into potential customers.
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James Verity4 years ago
Andrew Watson - Many people who pirate stuff were never going to buy it anyway so I've never understood how they count as a "lost sale".
because many companies are delusional that everyone wants their product and that their product is actually worth the asking price...

lets face it when the programmers start to give their Babies credit in the games end titles you know its going to their heads... shame they didnt spend as much time debugging the game as the time they wasted listing all their relatives and offspring in the end credits...

dont blame every lost sale on piracy... and dont think up imaginary figures off lost sales...

Edited 2 times. Last edit by James Verity on 19th March 2013 4:23pm

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Michael Gunter Monster Hunter 4 years ago
I've remained largely silent on the Sim City issues because I don't own the game, but it found a way to ruin my gaming experience nonetheless. I was playing a free MMO with some friends last night, but one of my buddies would get disconnected/booted to the login screen about once every 20 minutes... The reason? His brother was playing Sim City on another computer at his house, and something about its network code broke his access to another game at annoying, always the most inconvenient moments... Seriously?
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Craig Page El Presidente, Awesome Enterprises4 years ago
Developers should stick to developing games, and let the U.S. Navy deal with the pirates.
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Thomas Dolby Project Manager / Lead Programmer, Ai Solve4 years ago
Maybe EA will hire someone who actually has an interest in games to be their next CEO, then maybe the situation will start to change. Maybe I'll join the gym like I keep saying I will too.
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