Since its release in May this year, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings has sold over a million copies worldwide. Unfortunately, though, the game has also been plagued by piracy. But for the makers this isn’t much of a problem since they are making money on both sides, by getting paid by regular customers and demanding hefty cash settlements from those who (they claim) dared to pirate the game.
In May, game company CD Projekt released the Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, without DRM. Initially the retail version was bundled with some nasty rights management software, but after the threat of a pre-release leak was gone, CD Projekt issued a patch to remove it.
According to the makers of the game, DRM only hurts people who buy the game, not those who download the pirated versions where the DRM has been stripped.
“Yes, it is then hard to crack, but you start messing with the operation system, the game runs much slower and – for a group of legal gamers – it will not run at all. None of these solutions really work, so why not abandon it altogether?” CD Projekt’s CEO Marcin Iwinski explained recently.
In the same interview the CEO also said that despite selling over a million DRM-free games, many people still pirated it. According to his own accounting some 4,5 million copies were shared on BitTorrent alone. Although this is a few million more than TorrentFreak’s tracking systems report, there have indeed been lots of downloads of the game.
However, for CD Projekt this is not necessarily a bad thing as they had plans all along to cash in on piracy.
“Yes we will track illegal file-sharing hoping people will find the game good enough to actually change their mind and be willing to pay for it,” CD Projekt’s Agnieszka Szostak told us earlier.
Although this initially sounded quite reasonable, away from the spotlight the company followed in the footsteps of so-called copyright trolls, by signing up for a so-called “pay-up-or-else” scheme. CD Projekt hired a law firm and torrent monitoring company to track those who illegally downloaded and shared the game, and has been sending them hefty cash settlement proposals.
The price CD Projekt is asking through their lawyers is slightly higher than what gamers have to pay in stores, to say the least. Over the past several months thousands of alleged BitTorrent users in Germany were asked to cough up 911,80 euros ($1230) to pay off their apparent debt to the company.
As is often the case, these mass settlement schemes do not exist without collateral damage. Aside from targeting many people who indeed downloaded and shared the game without paying, CD Projekt’s lawyers are also wrongfully accusing people who have never even heard of the game.
After all, an IP-address doesn’t identify a person, and Wi-Fi piggybacking is not unusual. But CD Projekt, who don’t want to bug legitimate consumers with DRM, apparently take this collateral damage for granted.
The company, however, is no stranger to the business model which a US federal judge recently described as a shakedown. In 2008, large numbers of Internet users started receiving letters from notorious file-sharing lawyers Davenport Lyons in the UK demanding cash settlements. Among those letters were demands for payment on an Atari-published game with a familiar title – The Witcher.
At the time the actions were widely criticized in the UK by consumer rights groups and the media, mainly because of the many wrongful accusations. Despite this critique, CD Projekt continues to pursue BitTorrent users in Germany, probably because it earns them good money.