Friday, October 02, 2009

Oh, please not DRM

As a user I dislike 'DRM' for software - it gets in my way. Even having to have a disk in the drive to play a game is a pain. What about if I don't have DVD/CD drive attached all the time?. However, as a small indie developer zero copy protection means lower or no sales.

But you don't want to spend a lot of time on anti-features like DRM because they don't add value to the people who might buy stuff. And might risk alienating the people who pay (also called 'your customers'). Or remove what customers might see as features*

So what are the alternatives?

Here's a couple of ideas:
  • Simple emailed registration keys with a trail period... an example: Key here is to make things quick, painless. The trail period means people can see it's not rubbish - but also gives friends the ability to try it. Demo versions are not as good unless they contain enough for people to really try it. Be warned - most demos fail to balance this well in my experience.
  • Enable extra features with Internet. The idea here is basically the thing works without server checking - but there are bonus features for registered users that activate, e.g. high score tables, upgrade patches for registered users, maybe extra quests, ability to show off their character on some website, real-time chat, shared game experiences, etc. These are mostly game style stuff but can be also applied to application level software by enabling some free service - remember to mention this is time limited free bonus material either way ... don't want people getting upset when the servers go dead sometime in 5 years (I heard some games companies make you prove you purchased in order to post on the forums ... not convinced this is such a great idea - see 'invisible stuff' below).
  • Steam's model of easy downloads - It's not without it's problems, but a lot of users put up with it because it's benefits outweigh the negatives, at least for those users. Windows only. And you can't pretend it isn't DRM but some users love it.
  • On-line - maybe this it way it will go, ultimately. It could be considered an extreme form of extra features. Think World of Warcraft for paying users. But what happens when the servers go dark? It will be sad when all these applications and games go away. Additionally, not everyone has internet 24/7. Even the rich are on planes sometimes.

Other invisible stuff that helps purchases happen:
  • Forums - that you participate in...
  • Emails - make sure you email a reply to any question. You'd be surprised how many companies who I've emailed with a simple problem or bug report who either never reply or send a snotty response back. Guess what that does to the possibility of registration? A lot of people send a question to test the water.
  • Easy & fast payment method with lots of options and let people know ahead of time what to expect (server page with registration, instant email, email within 24 hours, etc.)

Some other recent references:
A Jeff Vogel post with some interesting comments ...

Alternatively this made me cringe because I think it won't help for this game. But maybe I just don't understand...

Note from above
* Like: loading on multiple machines they use, move from one machine to another, using/playing on the move, taking around to a mates to play, playing at a party with no Internet, using the application in 20 years time (yeah, I've seen that), stops working when the technology they are using it on slightly changes (e.g. no DVD/CD drive), used in an emulator in 5 years time, giving your copy to a friend as a present, etc, etc...


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