Witcher 2 Digital Download Sales and the Case Against DRM

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News Posted: Sat, Nov 12 2011 11:00 AM
Game publishers are in love with DRM, even the Draconian kind that every once in awhile causes an uproar in the gaming community. Remember Spore? It initially shipped with a three-activation limit, and like baseball, three strikes and you're out. This limit was later relaxed by Electronic Arts, who upped it to five activations and made it possible to de-authorize machines, but only after it became a huge controversy. Anti-DRM advocates even went so far as to trash Spore's rating on Amazon with negative reviews and 1-star votes without having purchased the game, and to this day, Spore is only rated 1.5/5 stars. Three years later, a little title called The Witcher 2 is said to have notched 250,000 digital download sales, all of them sans DRM.

Before you scoff at that number, consider that these are digital download numbers only. Throw in the fact that The Witcher 2 is a PC exclusive and, well, 250,000 sales isn't too shabby. More than that, Good Old Games (GOG), the digital distribution system owned by The Witcher 2's publisher CD Projekt, believes these figures are further proof that DRM-free content still sells.


"Your customers hate DRM," Good Old Games MD Guillaume Rambourg said at the London Games Conference, according to GamesIndustry.biz. "DRM is making companies feel safe while they handle some business, they are trying to protect their product and protect their sales, but the reality is very different."

He took it a step further and said that putting DRM in games works against the consumer, "harming those you should cherish. It's only hurting your loyal consumers which is counter-productive."

What's even more interesting is the way Rambourg views piracy. According to Rambourg, piracy is the "one industry that got everything right...You should treat piiracy as competition, not as an enemy. If you treat piracy as the enemy, as the majority of publishers do, Rambourg argues you'll be "blinded and you [wont] pay attention to what they are doing right."


Rambourg is a bit of a dissenting voice among game publishers, and even if he's right, it's hard to imagine game publishers ditching DRM. Recent figures from research firm Envisional suggests illegally downloaded games shot up 20 percent in the past five years, and that the top five games from 2010 were pirated nearly a million times, BBC reports. That would seem to contradict Rambourg's viewpoint on DRM, but does it really?

"I buy games because I've pirated them; if I don't get to try them I never would have bothered picking them up," BBC quotes one gamer as saying. "Games that I enjoy I purchase; ones I that I don't enjoy I delete."
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Interesting viewpoint by an industry insider...The puzzle to solve with piracy (of all kinds) is : how to convert the freeloaders into paying customers? That's the question the studios need to answer, and few, if any of them are thinking of it that way. Someone who never thought a game was worth their money without DRM is not going to change his mind if DRM is there. Worst case scenario he won't bother with the game. So in the end they didn't gain a new customer, and it costs money to implement DRM, which constitutes a net loss. All DRM does is put hurdles in front of paying customers, who were going to purchase it anyway. Before the internet people were pirating movies and music (go to a street market or some barber stores in 'bad' parts of town in certain countries, they are still there). I wish I had the answer but I don't, and no I'm not condoning piracy.

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jonation replied on Sat, Nov 12 2011 4:28 PM

there will always be some sort of work around/crack. ask adobe. to strive for the impossible at the cost of the consumer seems foolish. very refreshing to hear from Rambourg.

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To quote Kevin Costner from "Field of Dreams"; "If you build it, he will come". In essence if one were to create a game that deserves to be bought people will buy it. That being said few games these days deserve being bought. 

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The Witcher 2 was an awesome game and I made sure to get my digital copy through Gog mainly because it was DRM free. 250,000 copies also does not take into consideration the boxed and steam copies which did include DRM. They did end up patching the DRM out of the versions sold by other manufacturers. I definitely believe in a DRM free games. I also agree that DRM can always be cracked...

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Marco C replied on Sat, Nov 12 2011 6:36 PM

You have to wonder if the increase in illegal downloads is also partially due to more restrictive DRM. I know on more than one occasion, I've ended up using a cracked copy of game I had already bought, strictly because the BS DRM was making it difficult to move from machine to machine for testing purposes.

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RTietjens replied on Sat, Nov 12 2011 6:59 PM

It works like this: If I can *legally* download a game that interests me, I will (usually through Steam; also, World of Warcraft expansions). If the game is sold over-the-counter and includes DRM, then I won't buy it, period. Not ever. In an average year I spend $240 on games for my PC. Not one penny of that goes to DRMed games, because if my PC crashes or burns up or gets stolen, I don't want to have to either do without or re-buy those games.

Sure, $240 is a small number. Now multiply that by the number of gamers who *HATE* DRM and tell me if $240 million per year is small potatoes.

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rapid1 replied on Sat, Nov 12 2011 9:54 PM

DRM is just annoying they should use another way of authorization (Such as machines specific IPS or another ID mechanization per customer) DRM is generally just annoying and I won't buy games with it. What they do is they ostracize a group of customers with it. I would bet at least 50% if not more bought it that way because the DRM was not there in that way. So what 125000 would have just skipped it period if it had DRM. As far as it goes they need to have a real digital ID system not just one of these hack job trying to steal money ones either. As the economy becomes more and more digital it will be more and more necessary and eventually will be implemented anyway.

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