A subset of Garry’s Mod users have been noticing a hugely annoying bug lately. Upon launching the game they get the message that it’s “unable to shade polygon normals,” after which the Steam-run game quickly crashes. In a response to thousands of complaining users, the game’s creator has now admitted that the bug is actually a feature, but one that only affects those who pirated the game.
The danger of applying DRM to any software is that the pirated copy can turn into a more desirable product than the retail version. That is, those who download a copy illegally are actually better off than legitimate customers who chose to spend their hard earned cash to purchase it through the usual channels.
The paradox above has gone unnoticed by many copyright holders who don’t appear to realize that in many instances DRM does them and their customers more harm than good. However, that doesn’t mean that DRM is inherently evil. There are examples of how DRM could work, at least, if executed successfully.
Garry Newman, the creator of the popular game Garry’s Mod which allows Steam users to alter the appearance of Source engine based games, has come up with such an elegant form of DRM. Yesterday he tweeted whether any people were “unable to shade polygon normals,” an issue that seemed to be quite common among a certain group of players.
The Google search Newman linked to in the tweet indeed suggested that the problem was fairly common. However, affected users who thought that the tweet meant that their problems would be fixed soon were wrong. The ‘bug’ is actually a feature that was put in the game as an anti-piracy measure, a form of DRM really.
After getting a few responses to his call for bug reports, Garry’s Mod’s creator Newman tweeted the following:
Although this appears to be nothing more than a gimmick, the type of thinking that goes behind it is definitely a step in the right direction compared to the more invasive types of DRM we’ve seen in recent years. It doesn’t affect legitimate players who were willing to spend the $9.99 on the game, but it’ll send a clear message to those who pirated it.
Newman doesn’t think the new ‘feature’ will result in many additional sales, but hopes the people who bought the game can appreciate it.
We have to agree that tackling a piracy issue in this way doesn’t leave users with much to complain about (that is, if no people got the message by ‘accident’). However, we wonder if it was a good idea to permaban those who were caught from the game’s forums. Giving people the opportunity to correct their mistakes and continue to participate in the community might have been and even more sensible and educational approach.
The bottom line is that instead of adding restrictions to regular customers, DRM fares much better when it’s framed in the opposite way. Offer people who bought the game legitimately the best experience possible, at the least better than that of people who pirate the game. At the end of the day DRM is nothing more than an acronym, which by itself doesn’t have to be all that evil.
And let’s be honest, those damned pirates deserve to be pranked every now and then! Or to put it in Newman’s words: “You can’t stop pirates.. but you can troll them.”