One of the funniest pictures I’ve seen on Reddit was this one which pretty accurately describes the whole piracy/DRM state of affairs for most software:
DRM and piracy have been a pretty hot topic ever since broadband has made it easy to download software. An important point is that piracy is currently an unsolved problem. I don’t think it ever can be solved entirely for client software, either. The companies with the largest budgets in the world can’t stop it. For software startups piracy is not something you should look to solve, it’s something you should look to reduce. It’s important to remember this as a lot of people will try to solve it, but you can only really make efforts to reduce it.
When we first set sail on selling software, DRM and piracy was something we discussed and thought about a lot. Several months on, this is the strategy we have built and we feel for us it’s working out pretty well.
Useful free edition
We offer a free edition of our software Construct 2 which has very similar but limited functionality to the paid edition, but is still genuinely useful. (See these charts for comparison.)
This is good for everyone for a variety of reasons:
- People who can't otherwise afford the software can still use it. It’s functional, useful and comparable to the paid edition. There are no time restrictions. We have some limits and features that are for the paid edition only as incentive to upgrade (we do have to make money at some point!) but our general strategy is to make sure that the free edition is useful enough that people actually want to use it to make cool stuff.
- Pirates who claim they pirate something ‘to try before I buy’ now don’t need to. They have a great free edition to try. If there are pirates who did take that approach (and in this blog post I’m not going to casually wander into the quagmire that is ethics/morality of pirating!) they now don’t need to. This helps hamper the supply of pirated editions of our software on networks like bittorrent.
- People like free stuff! This helps promote the software.
Offering such a functional free version is a bit risky and we probably do pay for this in the way of lost sales. However, we think it's worth it. One of our main objectives is to get our software out into the world.
Our free version is highly accessible. You don’t need to register or sign in or provide us with your mother's maiden name to have access to Construct 2.
We’ve taken the same approach with buying the software as well. It’s the simplest and most accessible process we could come up with. The bigger the gap between the accessibility of buying software legitimately and downloading illegally, the more pirates are going to wash up on your shores. In other words, it should be easier to buy than pirate. This is why Construct 2 has no DRM. It's paradoxical to chain up your legitimate customers with DRM while pirates run free. For example, many software products limit the number of computers you can install on, but pirates can do what they like - making the software more useful for pirates, and creating quite an enticing reason to pirate! Construct 2 can be installed on as many computers as you like. In fact, our installer is portable, so you can put your copy of Construct 2 on a USB stick with a license file and take it where you like - and that as a paying customer. So I don't think any pirates could claim to be trying to circumvent unfair restrictions, and paying customers get to use the product they paid for however they like!
License files contain personal information
Our license files include the customer's information, such as their name and email address. This means that if someone was to upload and share their license across the world it's easy to see who did it! This is no bother at all if you're a paying customer, since your license is just for you. However, hopefully it would make a pirate think twice about putting it online. All the data in the license file is protected with a hash, so it cannot be altered or edited in any way, otherwise it becomes invalid.
Hopefully a smaller benefit is you feel that it's a more personal ownership - you didn't buy a long number, it has your name on it :)
We price our product well
Construct 2 is a lot cheaper than most other alternatives out there. We are at the early-adopter phase of our licensing which means a license can be bought for $32 - which we think for what we offer is very cheap.
This early adopter phase will end at some point (still to be decided) but even as this phase ends we will still price very competitively. The point about pricing competitively and fairly is that we are not out to bleed people dry. We want it to be accessible to people all around the world. Hopefully this also makes piracy due to unaffordable or inflated cost unnecessary.
Benefits you can’t pirate
On our site we have a few features in the community that a pirated version of Construct 2 can’t get you. Early adopters who buy our software get a cool medal on their profile to show they are legitimate customers. We're pleased that these seem to have been well received.
An effective anti piracy method that a lot of new software is heading towards is integrating it with external servers. For example if you want to play the new computer game Battlefield 3, you pretty much must have a legitimate copy of it if you want to have the total experience it has to offer. Medals, rewards, full servers, large player pools etc. It’s pretty crucial to have a legitimate license to take advantage of these benefits.
We don’t ever really want to take the route of requiring an active internet connection to use Construct 2, nor do we currently have any interest in tying it in with some online service. We're aware that some users don't have reliable internet connections, and in some cases want to use Construct 2 entirely offline. So we ruled that out as an option, and instead we’ve gone for the badges and community rewards you are starting to see pop up around the site!
Good honest business
We try to provide the best product and support we can. Sometimes we make mistakes but we also try to rectify them as quickly as possible so everyone is happy at the end of the day. Construct 2 on average gets new features added once every week since its commercial launch. This is very popular, reflected in the overwhelmingly positive comments on the releases, which we love reading!
I’m fairly sure there is a strong correlation between respect between the customer and the company and rates of piracy (this isn’t based on anything other than feeling admittedly). You could take the controversial view that pirates for this reason are forcing companies to be better at building relationships and providing good service. However I think for the most part companies respond like prison officers and build stronger bars around the legitimate customers to forcibly prevent them from doing anything the company wouldn't like.
We think the best anti-piracy is simply building up a good relationship with you lot, the users, communicating openly and honestly, and trying to build up mutual respect. It’s hard to scale up to corporate sizes of course but for startups like us we have an opportunity to really make it personal, and we hope this continues to be something that gives us an edge into the future as well.