Up For Debate - If you developed a game, would you sell it DRM-free?

Written by Jon Sutton on Sat, Sep 14, 2019 4:00 PM
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DRM. Once the big bogeyman of gaming until the Epic Store rocked up and redirected the frothing hordes to another target for their ire. But DRM is, and always will be, a negative for the consumer. There are no positives to the end user for DRM being used on a game they’ve purchased. There are literally no scenarios in which someone could wish a game they owned had DRM patched in; it’s just not a thing.

Which means, as consumers, we’re predisposed to liking this ‘bad’ thing because, well, it’s either an invisible extra or it actively prohibits us from using  the product we bought in the way we’d like to.

Reasons why DRM is bad:

  • Region-locking
  • Can prohibit mod support
  • Potentially affects performance
  • Ownership can be taken away
  • Can require an online connection
  • Relies on 3rd-party servers for activation

This is all thinking about it entirely from our point of view though, the people handing over a comparatively meagre 60 bucks in order to play an entertainment product. On the other side of the fence, you’ve got developers and publishers who have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a game, and arguably quite rightly, don’t want to put the game onto the net and let anyone and everyone play it for free. It’s much the same thinking for why an author doesn’t just post a PDF of their latest book on their site, and why cinemas persist as a means to get viewers to watch before the pirates can get their hands on it. Sometimes.

Now I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want anybody taking my work, whatever it is. I wouldn’t want to work my arse off making a music album and then put the whole thing on a torrent network. I don’t want to come up with a good idea at work and then gift it to a colleague and pretend it’s theirs. We want the things we create to be a path to our success.

And it’s exactly the same with videogames. It’s absolutely understandable why a AAA publisher feels the need to protect its $200m investment with some Denuvo DRM. It might not work for long, but at least they’ll feel something is being done to prevent four years work being uploaded to anyone and everyone for the princely sum of nothing.

Which brings us round to the one and only CD Projekt RED. They are the go-to evidence for those who want to suggest going DRM-free doesn’t affect sales. Using common sense tells us that’s nonsense. We’ve no way to know whether The Witcher 3 would’ve sold fewer copies if it had Denuvo DRM. It was a fantastic game which sold well. No amount of sales data can tell us whether being DRM-free was a good or bad thing.

And, in about seven months time, CDPR will launch Cyberpunk 2077. The most anticipated game two years running here on GD, and probably the most anticipated game of 2020 in general. It’s going to be huge. Yet on April 16th, CD Projekt RED will upload a DRM-free version of Cyberpunk 2077 and the whole world will be able to download a simple installer and play the biggest game around. They did it with The Witcher 3 but it feels like an even bolder move with CP2077. Millions will torrent it, we can be assured of that. But CDPR will be hoping many millions more actually reward their hard work, and their resistance to DRM, by handing over cold, hard cash. The people who hate DRM and pirate CP2077 though? They’re just pirates from top to bottom, and DRM receives their hate because it’s the inconvenience between them and pirating a game.

I think Cyberpunk 2077 is a massive move from CD Projekt RED though, and it got me to thinking about what I’d do if I were overseeing my own AAA game project. Would I be prepared to launch my four years of hard graft without any copy protection whatsoever? Or would I load it up to the eyeballs with Denuvo, VMProtect, SecuRom, and just about anything else I could get my hands on? I’ll leave that thought for the comments as I don’t want to swing this debate one way or the other.

What do you think then, if you made a game would you sell it DRM-free? Get voting and let us know why below!

If you developed a game would you sell it DRM-free?

Do you buy games with DRM?

Our favourite comments:

If I have investors that would force me, I'd just quit and start from scratch.

psychoman

With the BS that's going on today (look at Borderlands 3), having no DRM is a very good marketing tool that you can take advantage of. No matter how backwards AAA publishers got it, no DRM generates more sales than a questionable, performance breaking, anti consumer piece of software implemented into your game which does its job for an approximate of one week.

Ozone9012

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05:44 Sep-20-2019

i downloaded a repack BL2 game(due to financial and 3rd-world internet problems), then bought it to play co-op

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08:05 Sep-17-2019

to be honest i genuinly expected this conversation to blow up with valid points supporting and against and some really good alternatives and some crappy ones (i know i gave it a shot) but i'm mainly seeing pure senseless hate for DRM NOTE

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08:13 Sep-17-2019

A lot of ppl only consider their viewpoint so it's not surprising that the reactions are mostly 1 sided.


From a financial perspective DRM is understandable, you don't want to waste millions and not get enough $ for your next project.
The problem is that the implementation sucks balls. I like devs that either don't put that **** in their games, or removing it after a few months when the game has made 90% of what it's going to make.

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08:17 Sep-17-2019

totally agreed. A Game called Crytek is a victim of Piracy atleast as far as crysis is concerned many people played it not many actually purchased it. (no excuses they made some really bad decisions otherwise as well)

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09:57 Sep-17-2019

Tons of people pirated Crysis to try and see if it will run on their system, my guess is that for crysis specifically many people who pirated it to see if they can run it and then their system was able to run it, bought it. Keep in mind that making games like crysis 1 for PC is really bad as only people with the best hardware can run it. When crysis 1 came out, you either had to play it on low(maybe some medium) at 800x600 or 1024x768 at 25-35fps or have a top-end GPU and even in crossfire/sli, how many people had such setups? Well back then a lot more than now as hardware was cheaper, but still a small minority.

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09:12 Sep-17-2019

I understand why they go for DRM, to please their CEOs, COOs and the CEOs and COOs to please the investors. And those bosses are investors are sold on the marketing of DRMs, they are not programmers and they don't understand squat.
They also use steam for next to free marketing and obviously people on pc are conditioned to gravitate towards steam by default.


Financially pirating barely affects sales as most people who pirate don't buy software anyway, weather they can pirate it or not.

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11:31 Sep-17-2019

doesn't that just prove their point? many of the gamer's (NOT ALL) who pirate games will never buy a game. why should some game dev spend a huge chunk of his life making a game so that someone somewhere can play it for free? lets be honest

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11:33 Sep-17-2019

if there is a product available for 60$ and the exactly same product for 20 you would go for the one thats cheaper. (one reason why i mostly wait a year or 2 and pick up games during a steam sale) unless its a multiplayer game or a MUST HAV

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11:38 Sep-17-2019

MUST HAVE. now tell me with piracy being something as intense as it is with cracks online the day of the release (cause CRYSIS 2's a month before launch was a pure one off) why would people prefer to pay for it? lets be honest this is defin

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11:40 Sep-17-2019

definitely one of the primary reasons consoles exclusives exist a game publisher has an assurance that the 20million they dropped to make the game will not be leaked online. cause when you pour your heart and soul to make something with all

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11:45 Sep-17-2019

the sacrifices you need to make as well time family friends LIFE!! it really sucks to see someone steal why you dont get any compensation. i bet this is gonna be a super unpopular opinion but yeah its a fact. sure many game publishers make

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11:48 Sep-17-2019

a serious killing and pocket MOST of all the cash for themselves but when you look at smaller studios indie games that stuff leads to people loosing jobs. and as a gamer it hurts to see the architect of my happiness losing his or her job

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11:51 Sep-17-2019

@Gankutsuou implementation is an issue and i would really like to see better implementation cause Forza horizon 3? Australia was massively impacted by DRM's and EA Origin is known for being pretty ****ty on that front as well just cause som

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11:54 Sep-17-2019

some kid somewhere isnt paying for a game dont stop me from enjoying something that i payed full price for. always online is there to monitor and help us enrich your user experience KISS my A$S. FCK DRM something else please

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12:20 Sep-17-2019

I could stomach DRM under one condition. Release your game DRM free after 6 months to a year. And by DRM free I mean completely DRM free.
There are so many good games that you literally cannot play anymore regardless of how much you spent on them because the servers have been shut down and there's no option for dedicated ones, or in some cases simply because the DRM used is just dead.

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12:27 Sep-17-2019

@Reddemolisher
You didn't get what I said. I said that (most)people who pirate games would NEVER buy the game regardless if there is DRM, or there isn't DRM or if it is cracked or it isn't cracked. If they can't get it cracked, they won't play it, simple as that.


But those chinese crackers, DMI or 3DM or whatever did a test, where they didn't crack a few denuvo games for a half a year or was it a year, to see if them cracking the game had any impact on the sales, one of them was rise of the tomb raider and that game sold less, much less, close to half of what tomb raider 2013 which was instantly cracked, iirc. So yeah... people who crack will NOT buy the games regardless.

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13:02 Sep-17-2019

I got what you mean but DRM exist cause of those guys who dont buy the games. if they bought it there would be no reason to come up with something so stupid that the game is rendered unplayable. there must definitely be millions of people

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13:05 Sep-17-2019

who pretty much only pirate games. we all know someone who does that common. NOW i am not saying that game companies are the victims here they dont even like people swapping game disc, now i am a pc gamer a the disc swapping era pretty much

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13:07 Sep-17-2019

ended for pc users with the arrival of gaming services and then they brought in the restriction of you not being allowed to install the game on more than 5 devices and then simply blocking the game away!! hello we ALL paid full price for it

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13:06 Sep-17-2019

True and yet with all the DRM in the world they still don't buy the games... so what does the DRM solve?

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13:10 Sep-17-2019

nothing we need a different solution that makes lives better for the gamer who just wants to play a game and paid for it. for the rest i dont know bring in a subscription package like EA access and make it cheaper but why should we suffer?

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13:19 Sep-17-2019

The solution is to make the games free, but then they die or have to have in-game purchases and for-game purchases which are bad for the player, they seem innocent enough, but they are a toxic practice. Dividing the player base is bad, making people pay for in-game content is bad, be it cosmetic or functional and usually works only in specific games, usually match based games like MOBAs and often it isn't enough and many games go under, because micro-transactions are not a guaranteed income and there are comments, videos, etc, etc by many people with tons of reasons. Just terrible practice as a whole.


How do you make someone who will NOT pay for software, pay for software? DRM won't do it, it won't pay instead of them...

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22:35 Sep-17-2019

Did not expect my comment to result is such an interesting conversation.
Pleasantly surprised, but back to the topic at hand.
I concur that it is very likely that most ppl that pirate games will never buy a game unless they really like the publisher (some might not do it even then).


The question that I think is more interesting in this topic is this. Should you do everything within your power to prevent those ppl from playing your games or not?

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22:45 Sep-17-2019

I'd say that the pirates are free marketing, whereas the customers are marketing that pays as the consumer has always been a tool for marketing, regardless if they paid or not. And many games have gotten legendary reputation due to the consumers who played them, didn't matter if they paid or not.


But again, if you are an investor, you know that pirates steal your games, that's all you know(applies for most investors that are not that big) and the marketing of the DRM is that they prevent pirating, which to most investors equates to preventing of stealing, so they pretty much want the DRM for sure and they are the ones who tell the CEOs and COOs what to do and they tell the dev team what to do.

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22:45 Sep-17-2019

And steam is just free marketing(initially as they take a 30% cut) so yeah, I can see why even devs would want it on steam or now even epic(BL3 sold over 2x as much as BL2 for the same period of time so proves my point that the regular consumer doesn't care on which store a game is).

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06:40 Sep-18-2019

It's not senseless hate for DRM. It's their viewpoint that they only consider. Especially in my case. They have their reasons and they don't care for greedy investors.

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10:58 Sep-18-2019

I care for greedy investory, I care so much that I want them gone and this whole stock market bs should just be banned.

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11:16 Sep-18-2019

Doubt it'll happen. If you consider the $$$ floating around I'd almost say it's impossible .
The gaming industry earns more $$$ than the movie and music industry combined, so from a financial standpoint it would be insane not to get into the industry in one form or another.


Doesn't mean I like it tho.

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12:47 Sep-18-2019

That's a really weird way to think about it.

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15:39 Sep-18-2019

I don't mean only about video games, the entire concept of stocks and stock market and investors that own the company get to say what is and isn't should just die...

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16:51 Sep-18-2019

Thats a pretty bold statement psychoman. Why the public company hate?


You are totally right about piraters though, in that they are extremely unlikely to buy a game just because it can't be cracked.

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19:43 Sep-18-2019

Because investors are absolutely useless to most companies they invest in(apart from their money obviously), why? Because they usually don't know squat about anything the company is doing, they just give stupid, unreasonable orders and demands and they screw everything up by wanting each and every Quarter or Year the company(ies) they've invested in to have higher profit and income than the last Quarter or Year and that's to inifnity, which is absolutely impossible and stupid...


That's why Blizzard had to fire 800 people when they had ALL TIME RECORD INCOME... and I'm sure that there are countless other examples. And that's why popular AAA games that do NOT need micro-transactions and loot boxes have micro-transactions and loot boxes... and DLCs and so on...

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20:35 Sep-18-2019

That's just not true @Psychoman. Investors don't dictate anything apart from where their money goes. They just place their money if they see potential or take it away if they don't. They don't sit at the table and dictate who does what.

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20:35 Sep-18-2019

Those that make decisions are the board members, CEO and other executives. Pleasing investors means showing them that their investment pays out. That's all. As these are all publicly traded companies they require cash by other ...

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20:35 Sep-18-2019

... individuals or other companies instead of usually the government or other private entity. Those that support the company financially are called investors. And finance is all investors do, they have no other powers apart from that.

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20:38 Sep-18-2019

So no, Blizzard didn't fire 800 people because investors wanted it. CEO and the board made that happen because they thought that'd show the investors their money is safe and growing. And investors just want their money to grow ...

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20:41 Sep-18-2019

... mostly without any care of how that happens. As long as you keep doing better you'll keep their money and get more.

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21:15 Sep-18-2019

@psycho: it is actually the other way -- mgt sets guidance and investors use that to value how much shares are worth.
But either way, I guess this is rooted in your dislike for what you view as excess profits/greed as opposed to an objection on how public companies work.. Its just that shareholders own a company, most have limited powers as it is. Dont like it? Stay private! :)

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07:51 Sep-19-2019

technically speaking if any of us truly decide to make a game company Indie or LARGE SCALE INDIE = small studio of about 50 people we will have 4 options to proceed
1} the people working there all kinda work for free and distribute all th

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07:56 Sep-19-2019

the leftover revenue after payment of all the licence fees and other various bills. I will not call it Profits even though thats what it technically is. cause no way of knowing if it'll actually succeed hence .
2} we go Crowd funding and

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08:00 Sep-19-2019

hope to convince potential Gamer's to pay us upfront in hopes that we deliver a game to the standards we are promising.
3} we get a publisher or a financier to bank roll our game and everyone working gets paid a salary and bonus percentage

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08:03 Sep-19-2019

percentages depending on the deal each individual has with the publisher / financier / SELF game company
4} you make the game company and float it online as a startup opening the door to many unknown variables depending on how much of the

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08:07 Sep-19-2019

Company (%wise) you are actually putting on market. today's gaming market is crazy we have Cloud Emporium games as a the Champion of Crowdfunding but we know all the mess they have made Shenmue 3 the crazy success story at the end of the da

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08:09 Sep-19-2019

day you need a good idea but BRILLIANT BLOODY EXECUTION to make things succeed LUCK is a factor many choose to belive in few do not whatever it is we can hope for better future but remember THE PAYING BUYER IS ALWAYS KING IN ANY CYCLE

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08:08 Sep-19-2019

In a perfect world sure, but also in a perfect world each and every new president or party makes the life of people excellent, each and every diplomat is good, school is the best thing in the world that producess experts in each and every field and people live in harmony and don't even need laws along with investors just investing because they want to see the company make it and not pressure them to have higher profits and income every quarter or year...


Directly or indirectly ivestors force public companies to do crap once said companies have hit a plateau of growth, it's not just video game companies, it's all companies. And blizzard fired 800 people because their stock fell by 40% after poor PR since investors started selling back their stock... even though they had record income...

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08:11 Sep-19-2019

And you mathematically can NOT get more money than ever before, year after year infinitely... humans are finite and there is always more and more competition that arises, especially in the video game market...

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10:55 Sep-19-2019

What you don't see is that's not entirely true. Yes, a single company cannot earn money infinitely, but investors don't need that. As public market is a free market, you can technically as an investor grow money forever, you just need to take it back from those that are failing and place it towards those that aren't. No investor expects a company to grow forever, that's why they can sell the stocks whenever they please and use that cash to place it somewhere else.

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11:07 Sep-19-2019

True, but the moment you take back your money and invest it in another company, the previous company suffers. And thus they don't want 50%+ of their investors leaving as it would devistate them, thus they have to make more money than before to keep those investors and maybe gain more and at one point even if all their games are excellent and they sell a butt ton they hit a ceiling and can't sell more, but they still need to grow... in come micro-transactions, DLCs, loot boxes and all the other bs...


The worst part about that is those stock softwares that constantly invest and they invest 1$ and it increases to 1.1$ and they withdraw it in the span of a few days or even mere hours, they effectively didn't even help the company at all... but those are a different type of investors.

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11:09 Sep-19-2019

And smart investors invest long term. Majority investors do have a say in negotiations and decision makings.

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14:08 Sep-19-2019

Keeping your money invested in a company knowing there are better options is like using strictly worse gear in an RPG just for the challenge. GL with that in real life. There's a difference between investing and charity. Keeping the price of something above what it should be worth only causes pain, both for wall street and main street.

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14:13 Sep-19-2019

Whether a company (and the economy) can continue growing indefinitely is too complicated of a debate; but a company does not need to show outsized growth to keep investors satisfied. What happens is companies set goals and expectations for growth, which bumps up share price. And when those goals are not met, naturally this will be unwound.

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14:34 Sep-19-2019

A company growing at the pace of the economy is perfectly acceptable. And even if we get to a theoretical point wherein the economy can no longer grow, that will be fine as well, since every single company will be in the same boat. If not, then money will flow to where growth is still possible. Keeping it in areas not growing is a disservice to everyone on planet earth.

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17:53 Sep-19-2019

Not true, all the greatest investors in the past and present and most-likely the future are long term investors.


Secondly the economy is finite, just because we keep printing money out of thin air doesn't mean it isn't. Money is resources and people and both are finite.


Third you have to grow to keep investors happy unless they are owners or partners.

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01:53 Sep-20-2019

Sir, I don't know why you bring up long term investors. Are you implying long term investors would not sell shares of a company if its share price no longer reflect its worth?


Investors want an appropriate return on their capital, not growth of earnings per se. Its just that no company exists with static earnings (which would make it a risk free venture).

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02:02 Sep-20-2019

Consequently, you have to factor in expectations of increasing and decreasing earnings. And since these are uncertain (no one has a crystal ball) record breaking earnings can be disappointing in the same way that lower earnings or even losses can be viewed as exceeding expectations.

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01:44 Sep-17-2019

For better press I'd make it DRM free. Then I'd advertise the mess out of my game on that one point alone.

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01:15 Sep-17-2019

drm just add extra complications for pc gamers and we already, many issues ALREADY

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23:19 Sep-16-2019

I can recall the days when I was younger and thought about making games.
Man the DRM I thought up at the time was perverse beyond what's "normal" today.


Basically the game could be only installed from a dvd (at the time most games were under 4.7 GB), and if the script within it detected anything off during the installation it would brick the folder it installed itself to or only the folder that the game created.

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20:32 Sep-16-2019

in my opinion depends on how much time and money you invest in it especially if you have a huge team who worked their ass to make that game. it wouldn't be fair for them to have your game cracked-day-one and not receive any compensation("nice game" or "amazing creation" wont fill their belly).

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18:05 Sep-16-2019

id rather like to pirate a game see if it works fine on my computer and then buy it...then to spend 60$ ona piece of **** like fckin idiotic anthem....

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14:06 Sep-16-2019

Release initial part of the game (singleplayer) as a F2P demo that never ends along with access to 1 online multiplayer map and give them full access to the entire progression so that the player themselves can try the game out and if you pu

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14:08 Sep-16-2019

put in the hours to unlock gear and achivements you can then go ahead and simply purchase the game and have your progress usable for the rest of the game. so not only do you avoid DRM but also have a game demo/trial

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14:14 Sep-16-2019

and if it is only a single player game PUT in A DRM then have it patched out 8-12 months later cause most games make majority of their revenue in this period unless your indie or an statistical outlier OR GTA V that still makes serious bank

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19:30 Sep-17-2019

I can definitely take you up on removing DRM after a while. Not only will that please people who have issues with DRMs, but if they take a bit more care, it could increase game longevity to possibly forever.

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19:31 Sep-17-2019

It would be a fair deal for the consumers and the publishers. But this is all expecting that publishers care about us consumers though, which is kinda proven not to be true. If they can take even a penny of of you ...

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19:32 Sep-17-2019

... they'll do everything in their power to do so. Because they don't just want your money, they want all of your money, again, and again, and again. Even when you have none left they'll try to squeeze more.

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13:09 Sep-16-2019

Well it takes the better part of 3 years to develop a game and I don't know about everyone else but I sure as hell would put some form of protection in it.

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13:23 Sep-16-2019

but look at it this way if someone wants to play the game but not buy it he will wait for it to get cracked anyway he is not losing anything only thing thats gained by this is posible peformance issues which will hit thos who payed as well

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14:11 Sep-16-2019

sure but on this very site using multiple games the Performance hits has been about 2-3 fps which is totaly in the realm of data errors and if the game isnt cracked you might pick it up during a sale.

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09:49 Sep-16-2019

If I made my game, I’d me famous enough that my fans would not buy the game if I told them not to because of drm, but I would have gone with the Star Citizen route and the players would would own the game. If enough people backed the title, I’d make the title and all its code, all its assets, open for free use for all.

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10:04 Sep-15-2019

If I were to make a game, I would definitely make it DRM free. DRM literally only hurts the end user and will be cracked anyway... it is a useless arms race that is lost from the get-go, so, why bother? Invest the money in the actual game instead.
Plus, the majority of pirates simply would not play if they couldn't pirate it, so, the argument that pirated copies are lost revenue is just BS.

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09:29 Sep-15-2019

no, because it would just annoy paying customers and pirates would circumvent it anyway;
there is no valid reason to bother with implementing DRM into a game, unless publisher is obsessed with money and demands so

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14:28 Sep-15-2019

oh I almost forgot fckdrm.com

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09:28 Sep-16-2019

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09:23 Sep-15-2019

Well of course we'd put it drm free...and we probably wouldn't include any of the big companies..hell we'd make it totally free with no mtx and free content for the rest of our lives..don't you know how big humanitarians all us are hahaha

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05:16 Sep-15-2019

Is this a trick question?


OF COURSE I WOULD DEVELOP A GAME WITHOUT DRM. Put it on Steam and GoG and that's the only DRM i would put it on. Because Steam needs account login. Same with GoG but with GoG you own the game entirely.


With Steam, not unless it shuts down.

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05:05 Sep-15-2019

I'd just make a game with an equally good multiplayer component so that people would buy just to play multiplayer as well.

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02:23 Sep-15-2019

I am one who breaks the mold and shakes my head when people call companies out for being greedy and all that. I also dont really care if my game has DRM (on top of steam).
Nevertheless, these companies got it wrong with DRM. This is just a case of doing something for the sake of doing something. Seriously, save the money. Use it to make a better game. Or donate it to charity or your shareholders.

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00:21 Sep-15-2019

A DRM free game with multiplayer won't have any issues.

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23:42 Sep-14-2019

i don't know about DRM, but i miss the good old times. Where u put the CD/DVD and u just install it and thats it. It got luncher for itself no need for epic games, steam, origin, etc... Just the good old you and the game thing.

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22:30 Sep-14-2019

Defo DRM Free, Good thing i only buy sp games,


I dont buy denuvo games at all unless there is a crack for the final version of the game (dont like its online requirement), so despite buying lots of games on steam, i always try and apply a crack to them, this way they cant ever be removed unless i uninstall them, i try to get most my games from GOG when possible

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admin approved badge
22:09 Sep-14-2019

If I got a choice, I definitely would not waste money on DRM, like if I had to have Steam DRM to be on Steam, I would do that, but I do not believe that DRM makes major difference. So I would definitely want to cut expenses.


As for buying, depends on the game, if game is good, I am willing to tolerate DRM, since if you want to play it, there is no choice.

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22:11 Sep-14-2019

P.S. Yes, I could pirate it, but my philosophy is, if game is worth investing time into, it is worth buying. Unless DRM completely breaks it, which I only had happen to me once, with Act of War, though even fixing DRM issue there didn't help, because if you had too much RAM, game would crash anyway. I think it only worked on up to 2GB. At least I think I got 4GB at the time and it didn't work.

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