Stardock anti-DRM stance not working?

Last year, Stardock CEO Brad Wardell took a huge anti-DRM stance when it came to its games, but it looks like this may have come back to bite them in the rear end.

Stardock's latest release, Demigod, is now out for PC. The game, an action real time strategy hybrid, was recently released but is facing a huge problem. The game that is ignoring the pirates is now getting hurt by them. There are over 100,000 more players than anticipated on their servers, and the reason is clearly piracy because the number of legit connections is only around 18,000.

"The system works pretty well if you have a few thousand people online at once. The system works... less well if there are tens of thousands of people online at once," says Wardell on his blog. The online system crashed causing many people (including those who legitimately purchased the game), to have several connection issues. This was just one issue as Gamestop broke the street date, causing the game to be played earlier then expected.

The servers were just not meant to handle this much load at once. "Our stress tests had counted on having maybe 50,000 people playing at once at peak and that wouldn't be reached for a few weeks by which time we would have slowly seen things becoming problematic... So during the day today, people couldn't even log on, and in some cases, the Demigod forums, which use one of the affected databases for some piddly thing were even down," he wrote. "Even getting the game running was a pain today because a simple HTTP call to see what the latest version would get hung leaving people looking at a black screen. Stuff of nightmares."

The Stardock team is currently working around the clock to solve these issues. The team has also come up with a way to validate the legit users and give them a way to update their games which would give them, and only them, the ability to play online. "So over the first 24 hours, we had to essentially scrap together a doppleganger of the infrastructure dedicated to Demigod's multi player network needs, release an update to legitimate users to point them to it... Now today, day 3, it's pretty much taken care of. Users are connecting in multi player, the servers are pretty responsive and we're adding more in preparation for the weekend."

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Maybe they should reconsider their approach to a more service-based type of thing, sell a game and provide follow up content free for paying customers in such a way that is not based on a download, kind of like how instantaction.com does it. Given this would increase costs, but it could be considered part of the cost of making the game. That way there'd be some incentive to actually buy the game. DRM alone doesn't stop piracy though.

The only difference between a release with DRM and a release without is the inclusion of a cracked *.exe. DRM is irrelevant to pirates.

This is a long winding road though: How can people try your game if you don't release a demo?
There's no way to rent PC games and there's no used PC games market so without a demo all you can do is seek out a torrent or gamble away $50-60 on a game like DemiGod which, just like Sins of a Solar Empire, has no single-player campaign.(something which some people like to know about before spending money) Hence why you'd have more pirates playing online multiplayer in this case...unless they want to play against mindless bots then that's all they can do to really test out DemiGod.

It's not the end-all excuse but I always have a lot less sympathy for companies who ask their customers to blindly gamble away $50-60+tax on some game having zero ability to get their hands on it outside of piracy.

Did you release a DemiGod demo Stardock? I'm not seeing one on your website. How exactly are people supposed to try DemiGod without buying it? Because right now piracy seems to be their only means of getting a taste.

edit: I hope that they mention that it was their own bad code which allowed for pirated copies to go online and that currently their servers are in some kind of limbo state between beta and final. (not wanting to patch out legit users they are allowing the pirates to continue to play online on beta servers)

Aahz said,
The only difference between a release with DRM and a release without is the inclusion of a cracked *.exe. DRM is irrelevant to pirates.

This is a long winding road though: How can people try your game if you don't release a demo?
There's no way to rent PC games and there's no used PC games market so without a demo all you can do is seek out a torrent or gamble away $50-60 on a game like DemiGod which, just like Sins of a Solar Empire, has no single-player campaign.(something which some people like to know about before spending money) Hence why you'd have more pirates playing online multiplayer in this case...unless they want to play against mindless bots then that's all they can do to really test out DemiGod.

It's not the end-all excuse but I always have a lot less sympathy for companies who ask their customers to blindly gamble away $50-60+tax on some game having zero ability to get their hands on it outside of piracy.

Did you release a DemiGod demo Stardock? I'm not seeing one on your website. How exactly are people supposed to try DemiGod without buying it? Because right now piracy seems to be their only means of getting a taste.

edit: I hope that they mention that it was their own bad code which allowed for pirated copies to go online and that currently their servers are in some kind of limbo state between beta and final. (not wanting to patch out legit users they are allowing the pirates to continue to play online on beta servers)

Your entire argument is based around having a right to know what you're getting before you buy it. There's a simple answer, wait for reviews and wait for the demo. It will be reviewed, and they want to release a demo.

I always thought the try before you buy argument was a bit flawed anyways, you don't see a movie before entering the cinema either...

Don't get me wrong, i will admit i have done this myself; pirated a game, and if i liked it enough gone out and bought it. I just don't think it _realy_ justifies pirating games. ;)

Piracy and Copyright are difficult subjects, i think if you are going to in some way defend piracy, you have to think out better arguments.

It's why you protect online multiplayer same as other games through some sort of channel of management without DRM. Whether it's accounts linked with purchase, serial registering/authentication etc is fine just as long as people who didn't pay for the game don't get punished because fact of the matter is people are playing your game and enjoying it and you should embrace that.

Digix said,
It's why you protect online multiplayer same as other games through some sort of channel of management without DRM. Whether it's accounts linked with purchase, serial registering/authentication etc is fine just as long as people who didn't pay for the game don't get punished because fact of the matter is people are playing your game and enjoying it and you should embrace that.

I totally agree, DRM is a big mistake born out of blatant greed, but it is also wrong to sell a game unprotected. There'll always be enough ppl who won't pay even if they could and should, because the game they are playing is a good product (which is rare lately, but still...).

This is exactly why no DRM is bad. People can bitch and moan all they want about how it's DRM that is causing companies to loose money/customers but this is clear evidence removing DRM makes it worse not better. DRM free is not the answer, DRM must remain BUT they must draw a line to how far it can go. You'll never stop the professional pirates but you can slow down the small time ones and even then companies have seen reasonable profits...they just got too greedy and tried to stop the pros (which is honestly a loosing battle) which ultimately costs them more money (in both costs for DRM RnD and/or purchasing stronger DRM systems etc plus loosing customers). This is my view on this, take with a grain of salt.

If the server checks for legit keys, the pirates will find a way to use a legit key on more than one game.

The best way to work around the problem is if each game had a different s/n hard coded in the code and the server will then be checking for those keys. This way, since each version of the EXE has a hard coded key, it should make it nearly impossible to circumvent it. This will be more expansive to implement as it will require a different version of the EXE for every CD.

I trully hope Stardock finds a way to stop this insanity. I do NOT support priacy but I also do NOT support DRM depending on situation, for example when it comes to music DRM, I should be able to play my honestly purchased MP3 where ever I want so I am very against music DRM but when it comes to software piracy, I am in favor of DRM)

rwx said,
The best way to work around the problem is if each game had a different s/n hard coded in the code and the server will then be checking for those keys. This way, since each version of the EXE has a hard coded key, it should make it nearly impossible to circumvent it. This will be more expansive to implement as it will require a different version of the EXE for every CD.

You made me smile. You seem so confident of what you are talking about, but be a 100% sure that hard-coding serials into EXE is just as easy to crack as any other crack that have been done before. Actually, its a lot easier to crack than some of the protection methods used today.

Best way to fix this. Include a Serial Code for installation (If it doesn't already have one).

Have a list of all Serial Codes in the market place.
Deny any game that tries to connect to the Game Servers using a Serial Code that is not in the Market Place and display a message telling them that if they want to play they can purchase the full game at xyz address or play for this session only (Built in Trial!)

DRM doesn't need to be intrusive just use what you've got Serial Codes are really simple and a good way to authenticate if you operate all the servers yourself.

Shane Pitman said,
Been done, pirates figure out the algorithm for the serials and create keygens.
But the serial can be double-checked when you go play online. It can be checked against a list of all released serials. Keygens allow you to install the game, but usually not to play online.

Dr_Asik said,
But the serial can be double-checked when you go play online. It can be checked against a list of all released serials. Keygens allow you to install the game, but usually not to play online.

i have seen instances where people were locked out of connecting because a keygen has gotten to their key before they did

If they can distinguish between legitimate connections and those that aren't why don't they simply block the people who didn't pay for it? Problem solved. I mean I hate intrusive DRM, but in an online game you have to have some kind of protection in place. What did they think was going to happen?

And if 100,000 people actually DID buy the game, then stardock would be stuffed anyway because they couldn't handle the load!

But at least with the revenue from 100,000 purchases it would be easier to swallow adding servers and upgrading their services, rather than facing those same expenditures on less revenue, all to provide a quality experience to those who did pay for the game.

An infrastructure that could handle the load would have been better from the start. All I get from this story is that the mass piracy of this game showed flaws in that infrastructure.

iamwhoiam said,
An infrastructure that could handle the load would have been better from the start. All I get from this story is that the mass piracy of this game showed flaws in that infrastructure.

No online game has ever started out with the infrastructure in place to support their ultimate projected capacity. They build for what they anticipate they'll need to provide for their initial clients, and plan to grow as the client base increases.

Shane Pitman said,
No online game has ever started out with the infrastructure in place to support their ultimate projected capacity. They build for what they anticipate they'll need to provide for their initial clients, and plan to grow as the client base increases.

Yep. Just look around at any MMO that hits. They're generally overwhelmed in the beginning.

This is sad...i hate it when software companies try harder on preventing piracy than their product. But this is the total opposite. I usually dont think much of piracy...just something that will happen no matter what. Chances are, if it wasnt for all this commotion i would probably have downloaded the game along with the other 100,000 people, but screw this, i am buying it because this deserves better.

People don't know they are getting a break when they are given one...What's the point of these companies making new products for you when they are not getting anything out of it. Good products deserve recognition.

How were pirates able to play online on official servers anyway? Doesn't Demogod have a unique serial key tied to a unique Impulse account?

Also the title of this article goes a little over the top. Stardock's stance on DRM is not meant to eliminate piracy, but rather to treat paying customers with respect to encourage them to buy the product. To say their stance is not working based on a single ****-up in their multiplayer server setup seems grossly overstated.

dead.cell said,
Sometimes all it takes is a single f--k up. ;)

Yeah, but most of the time a single f--k up is all it takes to ensure the same mistake doesn't happen again.

I would say it's possible to have 100,000 + pirated versions
out. You figure their are 10 major torrent sites and few more
private ones. Don't forget news groups, irc and CDs that are
sold in back allies too.

I don't know i don't buy any of this. this game is not that popular. just looking at some torrent sites just don't make sense to have that many, although i know not to take those numbers as gospel. If they said 100,000 accounts in general. I might believe this but not at one time, makes me roll my eyes. even if that is true what kid of amateurs working there to know only valid key connect to there servers. Just seems such of a basic of an idea.

I believe they just looking for some scape goat for that awful net code.

Yea I don't understand what going on, the online play should be valid key only... like Sins of the solar empire, it is DRM free but you need a valid key to play online.

I think Gas Powered Games and Star Dock need to have these torrents tracked
down and removed. Also, those servers that are running, so the pirated players
can play on-line need to be removed too.

My issue with DRM really isn't the idea of DRM itself, but how companies have implemented it and made it so anti-consumer

DRM can be useful, especially for games/software, I can understand the need for DRM to deal with these specific issues.

I don't agree/accept DRM on multimedia though.

thealexweb said,
Stardock, yawn...

Games as of 2009...YAWN
How many RPG/FPS wannabe knock offs is the gaming industry releasing? Is it any wonder the games of the 1980's arcade still sell and play better than 98% of the new stuff that is released for more current platforms. I guess pretty graphics gave way to pointless games... Who needs playability and fun when you have pretty pictures and animated avatars? Guess that's why I focus all my efforts on using my love for technology to pay my bills and not focus on killing the same pretty picture until the end of time. In closing-Pacman rocked because one quarter bought you 5-25 minutes or more of fun because there was skill involved, it could be played quickly or slowly based on actual skill with no option for more quarters. The games of today require no talent other than sitting on your PC looking at a game environment for thousands of hours and are rewarded with character levels.... That's the Ultimate yawn. I spend my money on things that are actually useful to me when it comes to technology. I try not to let technology isolate me into a "social life" where all i do is type to those I think I am talking to in a game environment to feel accepted. Playing a few hours of WoW a week is ok. More than 8 in that same week? Watch Make Love Not Warcraft from South Park to see what is to become of you...lol :-D

Doesn't Demigod have Goo? (or whatever is called)

I thought it would get rid of the pirated copies, to prevent this kind of mess from happening.

Its sad, i liked Stardocks approach to DRM and wished them the best.. I dont blame them if they stick harsh DRM on there games now though, at least they tried.

And the reality is...even with harsh DRM, it still won't matter. Those that want to pirate will and the paying customers will be the getting screwed in the end.

iamwhoiam said,
And the reality is...even with harsh DRM, it still won't matter. Those that want to pirate will and the paying customers will be the getting screwed in the end.

and this is what i came here to say. somehow insinuating that having DRM would have fixed the piracy portion of the issue is simply disingenuous, as the DRM would have been broken eventually anyway.

HOWEVER, stardock could have been (and i cant believe i am about to say this) sligtly less naive and included a simple CD key that would have cross-checked with their servers before allowing online play.

sure, the pirate would have eventually unlocked the key and provided fake ones, but they wouldn't be valid online and would have effectively neutralized this high volume of server requests that is debilitating the paying customer.


this is NOT drm's fault, this is Stardocks fault for not implementing at least some way of eliminating the pirates ability to use the online service. which is easy. and in most cases, uncrackable.

CD keys are the ONLY form of DRM that lasts for more than a week. I can not believe they did not even include one. You said it best, they are naive.

babyHacker said,
CD keys are the ONLY form of DRM that lasts for more than a week. I can not believe they did not even include one. You said it best, they are naive.

CD keys aren't DRM, they're copy protection.

BigBoy said,
I am sure someone, somewhere is surprised by this...

oh my god ... is this even possible?! .... i have some *.rar files, but when i double click the game does not run ... what do i do?

zeta_immersion said,
oh my god ... is this even possible?! .... i have some *.rar files, but when i double click the game does not run ... what do i do?

lol! that's awesome.

i hope to god you are kidding.

http://forums.demigodthegame.com/346815/page/3/#2147572

Just want to point out a quote from Stardock forum for the benefit of people who read headlines then jumping to conclusion.

1. Warez user can't connect to multiplayer mode.
2. The 100,000 number of players quoted does not translate to 100,000 player login at the same time. It's a counter that add 1 everytime someone try to start the game (auto check for update).

Guess what I'm trying to say is DRM got nothing to do with these last 2 headlines on the front page.

Jaron said,
http://forums.demigodthegame.com/346815/page/3/#2147572

Just want to point out a quote from Stardock forum for the benefit of people who read headlines then jumping to conclusion.

1. Warez user can't connect to multiplayer mode.
2. The 100,000 number of players quoted does not translate to 100,000 player login at the same time. It's a counter that add 1 everytime someone try to start the game (auto check for update).

Guess what I'm trying to say is DRM got nothing to do with these last 2 headlines on the front page.

Whatever. Just...whatever.

non.sequitur2 said,

Whatever. Just...whatever.

hes right
the issues are from the fact that the servers ARE being hammered reguardless by the update checks