What would be viable copy protection?

Published on Monday, September 22, 2008 By Brad Wardell In PC Gaming

I've been getting a lot of email since the announcement of the Gamers Bill of Rights -- quite a bit from game developers who make the argument that it's easy to throw stones at what other people but what solution do we suggest for them?

For example, one of the things I've seen is that Stardock is "anti-DRM" in all cases.  This isn't true.  WindowBlinds, for example, requires activation. In fact, nearly all our software requires activation.  Yet, you rarely if ever see anyone complain about it. Why is that? Because our activation is largely invisible, most people aren't aware of it. The beta of Demigod has activation in it too. Yet, it too is invisible to the user. 

So clearly, activation, unto itself, isn't necessarily a problem. Yet clearly with Spore, people had a big problem with it. What's the difference? The difference in my opinion is the arbitrary limitations set ("3 activations" for instance). Or more generally, anything that materially interferes with a legitimate customer's ability to use their game.

So those people who were so unhappy with Spore's activation, I'd be curious to hear what specifically bothered them? What was it about Spore that causes such an uproar versus things done in the past?

Here are things that annoy me about various types of copy protection:

  • While I'm okay with activation in principle, I should never have to call a human being and "ask" for more activations. Even iTunes lets me de-authorize other computers. I still find that annoying but I can live with it.
  • Anything that requires me to hunt around for something physical like a CD or a DVD. 
  • Anything that causes me to have to run an extra program in order to run the application or game.

My tolerance may be higher than others, hence why I'd like to try to understand what caused the Spore backlash.

As others know, our games ship with no CD copy protection at all since not all users have Internet access but we require users to download our free updates from us so that we know (to a high degree) that only legitimate customers are getting our free updates. And even with that laid back system, some people still object.  So we'd like to get an idea of what invisible threshold you think Spore crossed that made so many people upset.