Is Witcher 2 DRM-Free To Lure In Pirates?

It's always good to hear that a developer has chosen not to inflict pain on paying customers by filling their games with annoying DRM. CD Projekt, the developer of The Witcher 2, has been getting all sorts of good press recently by taking this approach with their latest release, but not so fast. The Polish-based company has an ace up its sleeve, with a plan to snoop on torrent sites and send pay-up-or-else letters to alleged pirates.

Witcher2During the last few days, we’ve received quite a few emails prompting us to write something nice about developer CD Projekt who are releasing the The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings in a few months.

Like a breath of fresh air and bucking the trend of more and more prohibitive and invasive protection schemes, CD Projekt intend to release The Witcher 2 in May 2011 without any DRM. This impressed our readers.

“A lot of gamers, even many of those in, or in favour of, the torrent/filesharing community seem to be looking at this as an opportunity to show the industry that a company can release a game completely without DRM and still see it become a huge success,” reader Ben H told TorrentFreak.

“The message, I think, isn’t ‘don’t pirate’ but rather ‘let’s prove our point’ by supporting a developer who’s willing to treat its customers as customers, rather than criminals by default,” he concluded.

Although more of a console gamer, the name The Witcher did ring a bell with me, but not for any good reason. A couple of years ago, large numbers of Internet users started receiving letters from notorious file-sharing lawyers Davenport Lyons demanding cash settlements, a scheme that most readers will be familiar with and one which has gotten the company in a lot of trouble.

Among those letters were demands for payment on an Atari game with a familiar title – The Witcher.

Needless to say, alarm bells started to ring and since I was travelling, I quickly emailed Ben H back and told him what I remembered.

“I didn’t know that was related to The Witcher – after digging a little deeper it seems that Atari were the ones chasing up file-sharers, while the actual game developers maintain a much more positive and realistic position on piracy,” he told me in response.

“Atari are ‘marketing and distributing‘ The Witcher 2 as well, so I wonder if the DRM-free release indicates that CD Projekt have more control over things this time, or if their relatively file-sharer-friendly stance is actually quite shallow in practice,” he concluded.

As it turns out, those alarm bells were ringing for good reason.

“Of course we’re not happy when people are pirating our games, so we are signing with legal firms and torrent sneaking companies,” CD Projekt co-founder Marcin Iwinski told Eurogamer today.

“In quite a few big countries, when people are downloading it illegally they can expect a letter from a legal firm saying, ‘Hey, you downloaded it illegally and right now you have to pay a fine.’

“We are totally fair, but if you decide you will not buy it legally there is a chance you’ll get a letter.”

What Iwinski means by “totally fair” (using the Davenport Lyons operation as a guide) is that his “sneaking companies” will harvest IP addresses from torrent swarms with no oversight whatsoever and farm them out to ISPs via the courts.

The ISPs will then try their best, for a fee, to match them with their customer records, but will occasionally make mistakes and identify the wrong one. Letters will then be sent out by a lawfirm to ISP account owners who may or may not have done any sharing at all, and will be told that they are responsible for what happens on their connection. Then, in order to make nasty court cases go away, subscribers will be asked to pay a cash settlement.

So, while lack of DRM might be a great idea, sending out these awful letters is the absolute opposite. Mark our words, CD Projekt aren’t going to get an easy ride with this and nothing good will come out of it, especially if they dare to try this again in the UK.

In theory a DRM-free game should give consumers less incentive to download it illegally, but it’s also easier to share. We can’t look inside the minds of CD Projekt’s bosses but it’s not totally inconceivable that they secretly hope that many people will pirate their games. After all, the pay-up-or-else schemes are more profitable than actually selling games.

The Witcher 2 comes out in May 2011, which means that CD Projekt have plenty of time to change their minds. Let’s hope they do.

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