Copy Protection and Intellectual Property
20mm: Let’s talk about the proverbial 800 pound gorillas known as copy protection and intellectual property. How much do you see this today as a significant issue in a buyer determining whether to purchase a title?
Polovski: Very important obviously to consider.
Jason: Developers have a right to protect their property and piracy is a huge problem, but there needs to be a balance.
Buckshot: This is something I feel very strongly about. The major focus I have put on copy protection within XSI is to ensure that any copy protection scheme used is not onerous to the paying customer. At the end of the day, every piece of software is going to be copied, no matter how much is spent on copy protection. Certainly you want to limit the instances of copyright infringement and make it as hard as possible for those involved, however implementing intrusive, and in some cases destructive, methods of copy protection, in my opinion actually drives people to seek out “cracked” versions with those intrusive or destructive elements removed. Piracy, while a big problem, is almost constantly exaggerated by those with a vested interest, for example when figures are quoted on “losses” due to piracy, they always assume every pirate would otherwise have purchased the product, clearly an illogical assumption. It could just as easily be argued that a percentage of sales come from customers downloading music or software, then enjoying it enough to go out and purchase a copy where they would not have otherwise have done so. Regardless of the actual figures, it is certainly clear to us that punishing our paying customer is not the answer, in my opinion the only way to limit piracy is to spend those resources on putting out a quality product at a reasonable price and looking at ways to add value to those who have purchased the product through methods such as online content, etc.
Flexman: It’s something specific to PC gaming where end users are typically well informed. Gamers can make purchasing choices based on technical and ethical grounds. Look at what happened to EA’s Spore, the negative public reaction to the limited 5 activations of the DRM system resulted in Amazon closing down user feedback for a time.
Ssnake: Whatever you do, you will lose some customers. Either you lose them to piracy, or you lose them because they don’t like your implementation of license management. For every protection scheme you will find an unwieldy, whatever. I can’t change the weather. I look out of the window, and if it is raining I don a hat and a coat, and hope for the best. You can’t even make controlled experiments to see with which implementation you lose the least amount of profit. Each title, time, and market is different.
20mm: Where you see copy protection methods headed?
Flexman: Spiraling downhill. The trend is to remove ownership of software and move towards leasing. More and more online activation and delivery.
Ssnake: Most seem to go with server-based online activation and verification.
Polovski: Online something is the obvious route, but as stated before not everyone likes that. So sometimes you may need more than one method — maybe let the user choose.
20mm: How do you achieve a fit between product protection from piracy and yet not have overly intrusive methods forced upon the users?
Polovski: The $64 million question. It has to be somewhere in the middle. You cannot punish genuine users for being honest and buying your product. Too much phone home, or too many errors because of fierce DVD checking or whatever is bad, and any “spyware” code which cause irritation and rumors is very bad too.
Flexman: Give users a reason to do the right thing. My favored approach is to not ship with any DRM. But if you register you will have access to the update server with all the future goodies it will bring. And if for any reason you end up with copy of the game (on the Internet we understand how that can happen), we encourage you to make it right by donating. The worst thing that can happen is that we’ll go belly up and there’ll be no more updates or any of the cool new technology we have planned for future versions. But at least we’ll have tried to do the right thing ourselves. After that it’s up to everyone else. I don’t want to force anything on anyone. Although we are considering a retro-style “input word x from page n” just for flavor (and you can enter any world you like).
Ssnake: We found a strong encryption with separate USB device to be best for us, given that we have a long-selling product and the need for individualized license solutions. CodeMeter doesn’t need a driver, it doesn’t phone home, you can sell the software to someone else, it works without internet connection, it allows unlimited number of installations and making backup copies of the installation files. We could issue up to a thousand different product codes, hand out date or usage-limited licenses. It is very flexible. Like every other hardware it can fail, so that creates a bit of tech support overhead, and the devices aren’t dirt cheap, and they can get lost, stolen, or destroyed. Whether such a solution works for others will depend very much on the circumstances.
Jason: You don’t. Not everyone will be happy with whatever you choose to do.
20mm: How do you view open source availability to your product coding?
Oleg: This is usually killing the multiplayer. Once IL-2 was hacked then multiplayer became unfair. So if we are speaking about simulations, then the part of multiplayer and changes of settings should not be with open source code. Other part in some way may be open. But there is a lot of contradictions that again may damage the gameplay with a lot of versions.
Flexman: Not something we can do due to the nature of SDK licenses.
20mm: How much user created modification are you willing to accept in your coding?
Ssnake: So far we have limited user access to texture modifications, and of course content creation with the integrated mission and map editors. Maybe we’ll change that one day, as long as we can ensure compatibility among modifications. But one shouldn’t underestimate the fact that online players trust the software and that it doesn’t allow for much cheating. The more you open the door for modifications the bigger also becomes the potential for abuse.
Buckshot: This is always tough in any genre which involves competition. I definitely believe user modifications are something modern developers need to embrace, having said that though, we need to balance this against ensuring players are able to create a competitive, realistic and stable online environment as well as in our case ensuring the long term development of the product.
Polovski: We like mods that are in the spirit of the sim, and we encourage where possible. We also have to take care not to break multiplayer games too much so we introduced a backup tool in our settings to allow for example offline aircraft files to be backed up before switching to a standard or known multiplayer set. It also allows multiplayer groups with modded stuff to share their own multiplayer sets of aircraft settings.
Jason: ROF has a Mods On / Mods Off mode so we give the ability to change certain aspects of the sim, but access to the root code is not granted.
Oleg: It is probably depending of product type. I personally wouldn’t open the whole source code if we are going for commercial release and would like to cover expenses and get some profit. Some limitations must be present.
Flexman: Not too much at-the-moment. We just want to get version 1.0 out the door. For the future we do want to include a level of scripting to let you build your own in-game cockpits.
20mm: Does this change per genre?
Jason: I think access to the root code will become less available as business models change and support for mods is built-in. The FPS genre has this going for it in spades. Simmers have always sort of needed to hack into stuff. However, whenever you leave everything open you leave potential money on the table. It needs to be a balance as simmers are by nature modders.
20mm: Users are very protective of classic sim CDs, and make big efforts to keep them from becoming damaged. Do you have a company policy on no-CD software?
Ssnake: Yes, the CodeMeter device. You can make as many backup copies of the installation media as you like. You can install on multiple computers. You don’t need the DVD inserted in your computer at all. But don’t lose that USB stick.
Polovski: Users obviously like to do that sometimes, but our main concern is also that no-cd’s could interfere with our code and cause unknown issues. So for users with issues and wanting support from us, we’d make sure it’s the original exe and they have their order number and details before continuing.
Jason: ROF does not require a CD/DVD to operate and you can grab the necessary files for free from multiple sources. Needing a disk in the drive is obsolete in my mind and there is no need for developers to require it.
Oleg: I think most are going with PC games to online sales.
20mm: Several years ago a hot topic were the efforts of some aircraft and race car manufacturers to reinforce their intellectual property and copyrights. Is this an issue you’ve had to address, and how have you succeeded overcoming any limitations?
Flexman: This is an on-going issue for us. There was a move to pass a law through the U.S. Senate called the “Military Toy Replica Act HR 607” and it keeps being re-introduced but never being passed. The act was written to “prohibit defense contractors from requiring licenses or fees for use of military likenesses and designations.” So you should write to your senator and ask them to support this act if / when it’s re-introduced which was last in 2008. We’re trying to obtain an official license but as a small indie outfit it presents something of a legal challenge.
Oleg: Simply don’t make any problematic branches of simulation. It is one of the ways to resolve the problem if they do not want advertising of their production. Really, they should pay developers for the modeling of their production that makes the company more known and kids begin to respect such companies from a young age.
20mm: What specific simulation titles have been the most inspirational to you in terms of what you strive for in the development of new titles, and why?
Flexman: Everything by Microprose. M1 Tank Platoon and Gunship 2000 offered repeat play through simple mechanics. And I’d also go with Wing Commander for its attempt at a narrative. And a huge shout out to Jane’s Longbow 2 which was a fine blend of action and simulation. What’s interesting in those choices is (with exception to Wing Commander) are totally dynamic. Grand Theft Auto managed to blend narrative with a free-flow structure. That’s a little of what we’re aiming for, a blend of dynamic missions with a few narrative threads. Both M1 Tank Platoon and Gunship 2000 had crew advancement (or death), you could get really fond of those AI guys. We unashamedly copied the idea of a crew roster you can develop over missions. They have metrics for flight time, skill level, combat fatigue, aggression. The latter being quite important for AI sorties.
Jane’s titles managed to walk a tightrope of action and simulation. The audio chatter went a long way to provide a sense of battle and excitement. F15 was super with calls of “shack” and “check your panel”. Even Falcon 3.0 has some amusing pilot chatter. All of that we scripted for our game too just because it added so much to the feeling of a Jane’s simulation and it’s not technically difficult to do. It adds value at little expense.
But we didn’t just copy other games. Here I risk sounding like PR but this is something I personally have invested a lot of time into creating. It was important to give Combat-Helo something unique to set it above anything else done before, the campaign system, it’s fair to call it a separate simulation. The design document runs for 20 pages and it’s about the only aspect that I think is totally out of the box and what I hope will show how much fun combat sims can be with a bit of thought. It was inspired partly by work done by an Oxford professor into conflicts and how they have predictable structure, which sounds counter-intuitive but they do. And also by a friend who spent time behind “enemy” lines recounting some of the ludicrous thinking that goes on. The agenda was to create a number crunching simulation that could educate and even yield some insights into real conflicts. And it does this by simulating terror cell structures, family connections and factional control of regions using a complex web-like data structure (my former day-job specialty). The math can be applied to any scale of warfare but we’re starting small with COIN operations in Combat-Helo. As you ramp up the kind of warfare it requires more complex logic to build combatants (or a big order of battle look-up table).
The true test of this game system will be when we use data from years of conflict in Helmand and see how our model reacts to military surges then compare that to what really happened. I’ve no idea if we have the time to get in the narrative material in the first content release; it’s quite a major logistical problem of getting scripts and recording sessions done. Not to mention the mission scripting system which is currently a WIP.
Oleg: Any, but at first I personally look for the quality and it needs to impress me. Then will I try to do even better with the team. To repeat isn’t the thing that leads to success. It must be better and possible — in many ways.
Buckshot: Having grown up with every flight simulation title since flight for the C64, it’s impossible to pick a few titles, they have all been inspirational in different ways, if I had to select one though, Falcon 4.0 stands apart in my mind, simply for what it brought to the table and the length of time it has stood above all others in so many areas.
Polovski: Red Baron and Red Baron 3D — especially from its immersive campaign POV.
Jason: IL-2 and Falcon 4.0.
20mm: One final question. When you do have time to play, and excepting your own work, what is your current personal favorite simulation or game?
Ssnake: Occasionally I still find the time. Last year it was a lot of time with Fallout 3, currently there’s Mass Effect 2 for me and occasionally still Civilization IV. I wish I had the time for rFactor, or DCS: Black Shark.
Buckshot: Play? Oh yeah, I remember that, in the time I do get to play around, Falcon 4.0 is still my choice in flight sims, other than that I have been getting addicted to Civilization V recently.
Polovski: Personally I like most of the current flight sims, for visuals I love Wings of Prey. Rise of Flight too as it’s also WWI. Other games I enjoy are the Call of Duty series, Fallout and many others, just need more time to play them.
Jason: There are so many great PC games and simulations out there. Not including my own titles I still have time for rFactor, Call of Dutyand Company of Heroes. Plus I fly A-10 and FSX when I’m not in a wood and canvas kite.
Flexman: Lord of the Rings Online. So peaceful to wander around and fish, soak up the atmosphere of the Shire and slay thousands of orcs. I also love to zoom around British Columbia in X-Plane; my current favorite is the Verticopter which hopefully will be a real aircraft soon. It’s such an interesting design if they can solve the mechanical engineering problems.
Oleg: There is no favorite. I try to learn all things from any game or sim that becomes a hit on the market, and to understand why and what to do in our own product so that it will be at least as good. It doesn’t matter if what I just reviewed wasn’t a simulation.
20mm: On behalf of everyone here at SimHQ, I want to thank you all for a most enlightening and educational discussion. I certainly learned a lot. I hope we can do this again in the future. Best of luck to each of you on your current and future projects!
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|SimHQ Special Feature / The Future of Simulations / Table of Contents|
|Page 1||Page 2||Page 3||Page 4|
|Software Development||Software Development
|Controllers and Peripherals|
|Page 5||Page 6||Page 7|
|Multiplayer||Distribution and Publishing||Copy Protection and Intellectual Property|