The Witcher 3 Dev Speaks Out About DRM
“Pirates are just misunderstood customers.”
In an age where platforms and publishers alike are battening down the hatches in order to restrict piracy and used game sales, supporters of #NoDRM are hard to find.
This is not to say that they simply do not exist.
Although the support is loudest from the indie developer community, DRM-free retailers like GOG, towering video game publisher Bethesda Softworks of The Elder Scrolls and Fallout fame, and CD Projekt RED, the Polish developers and publishers of the renowned The Witcher series have been vehemently anti-DRM for years.
Their stance on used games? It’s not about hanging onto every dollar you think you deserve, it’s about making good games worth keeping.
But does that work?
The direct approach doesn’t seem to...
As if to throw down the gauntlet and test their iron will, this No DRM policy helped lead CD Projekt RED into having a pretty serious conundrum on their hands. In 2011, piracy numbers for The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings skyrocketed to an (optimistic) estimate of over 4.5 million copies within a few short weeks... averaging a 5:1 ratio of pirated games to those legitimately sold.
What do you even begin to do about that?
First, they tried the direct approach. Writing pirates a pay-us-or-we-prosecute letter, as it were. It didn’t work—but not because the pirates fought back.
“We got lots of feedback from the community,” said CD Projekt RED’s PR spokesperson Agnieszka Szóstak, “from gamers, and not even pirates, but actually legal gamers with a legal version of the game, saying, ‘You know what, guys? That’s not entirely right to do that.’” Fans were concerned that this violated those much-vaunted no DRM principles... on the one hand, copy protection is useless and ultimately invasive and annoying to paying customers, but also threatening alleged pirates with prosecution if they didn’t pay.
While individuals from the company continue to stand by the opinion that going after pirates is fair, the company itself has come around to believing that the letters it was sending was the wrong way to go about it.
“We’re not afraid to say that wasn’t the best choice and best solution we could have done,” said Szóstak. “And that’s why we kind of resigned and we don’t do it anymore.”
So what now?
Undaunted, CD Projekt RED is determined to win over the pirates... this time with much less intrusive tactics.
Their new secret? Make awesome games.
CD Projekt RED has become renowned not just because of quality game construction, but for its long-term support for its games. A new Enhanced Edition, Free downloadable content, new HD textures, free REDkit tools for mod developers... just last month, they initiated a massive overhaul of The Witcher 2’s combat system for full combat rebalancing by a The Witcher 3 gameplay designer.
Since The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will also be debuting on the next-gen consoles, right in the middle of the great Microsoft/Sony DRM debate, PlayStation Universe caught up with game director Konrad Tomaszkiewicz about their intentions for the upcoming release.
“We believe that pirates are just misunderstood customers. That’s why we always try to approach gamers from various angles and see what makes them tick. ... We decided to build our business on trust and a mutual understanding of sorts—you buy our games and we genuinely give a damn about your experience with them. ... You give us your money and we do our best to give you a product you’d like to pay for, even if you managed to obtain it for free. Being honest pays off!”
Furthermore, Tomaszkiewicz doesn’t seem in the least bit concerned about money-grubbing after recouping on used game sales.
“We’re making a game you just don’t want to sell. ... It may seem cheesy to say this, but think of it this way—everyone has a favorite series of games, movies or books that he or she just wants to have on their shelves and pop in the drive ro read from time to time. We’re working hard for The Witcher 3 to be such a game.”
He might not be wrong either. The game promises to be huge... 35 times bigger than The Witcher 2, with overwhelming replayability, multiple (really multiple) endings, and playable epilogues.
“We’re really hoping The Witcher 3 is a game you’d like to keep for yourself. If you want to resell it—it’s fine by us. It’s your game after all.”
Well said, and well spoken.
But is that enough?
Skeptics might read the words and see the dreams of an optimist and an artist. Tomaszkiewicz is not a businessman, he can afford to be hopeful and believe in people. Businessmen know better. They know it’s the cash that’s really important.
Maybe. But whatever you might say of their policies, The Witcher series is a smash success, both critically and commercially. As of February 6, 2013, both Witcher games have sold a combined worldwide total of over 5 million copies.
Maybe sometimes it pays to be that dreamer. I don’t know about you, but I don’t plan on reselling my copy of The Witcher 3 anytime soon. If ever.