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Guest wathomas777

Confessions of an ex-game pirate

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The latest threads regarding the piracy of FS2004, and the means some companies are being forced to protect their investments have led me to relate some of my life experiences, because they definitely apply.I am 37 years young. I have a wife, 3 kids, and work for a KVM switch manufacturer. We publish software for use with our switches, and some of them have licence fees. I also worked for 2 years as games tester for Microsoft.And 20 years ago, I was a huge Commodore 64 pirate. I estimated the street value of my software at the height of my piracy at over $20,000 dollars (1984 dollars).This piracy continued for roughly two years. My friends and I would often have "copy" parties, in which we all met for an afternoon sucking down cokes and eating pizza, while trading the latest warez.We refered to ourselves as the commodore convicts, and would trade documentation and copy protection schemes and how to break them over local 8 bit BBS systems.We figured we were hurting no-one, and Thankfully I never got caught. At least not by anyone mortal. You see, going to Church, and stealing 20K of software didn't really mix, and as a result, of some maturity, the prospect of possible capture, and a bit of conviction from the big JC. I bulk erased every single disk I did not legally own.My friends could not believe it. They wanted me to at least "give them" the disks. But I wouldn't do it.So flame me if you want, but here is a bit of truth, from someone who was once in the community.We didn't pirate, just to 'play' the game. The challenge was in cracking the software, putting our little "logo" or "Opus Rulz" on the header and then distributing our fame around. In most pirate groups, it was like collecting baseball cards. I had every single Infocom adventure ever published. I played none of them. But those files were of value because they could get me something else. The files themselves became the tender of the software underground. And most of us had no interest in the software except that we had it. (For truthful insight into the past and current hacker/pirate subculture. Read the book, The Hacker Crackdown by Bruce Sterling. Ironically, it is available on the web for free download. It is legally free of charge in electronic format, and is an astounding read!)Did we actually use most of the software. Not really. Of all the software I had, 10 games were what I played most of the time, and owned valid commercial versions of each and everyone of them. You did this for a number of reasons. Good documentation, addictive game play. Whatever. You bought it because it was worth it.Do I deserve a medal. No. I was a thief. But at the same time, it wasn't using the software that gave the thrill. it was the challenge of breaking "the code". Most of us who really loved a game purchased it simply for the documentation, and because despite our illicit activity, really believed deep down, that talented software developers deserved our money, whether we could get it for free or not.20 years ago, there were no downloadable demos, or "shareware" or "time limited" copies. Most software purchases were "buyer beware". The minute the shrink wrap came off, your rights were forfit. It did not matter how the content was. We didn't have the magazines that review software like you do now. Most reviews were simply glorified press releases, and you could only rely on a screenshot and a fancy box.We justified our actions as simply "trying before buying". And while it doesn't justify the activity. In truth, that is what was indeed happening.I pirated Flight Simulator and Jet for the C64. But also bought them, because well, because.... after trying the pirated copies, I just had to own the actual software...I have also worked on the other end of the spectrum. I run customer support for a company that licenses it's software, but relys on the honor system to generate revenue. We depend on the customer to actually purchase the licenses he needs. We get hurt by piracy, but we also then roll that cost into the cost of the hardware. I worked at Microsoft for 2 years and saw the damage done by pirates, as well as damage done by overly restrictive software anti-piracy measures.Why did I write this? To let people know. To software pirates. Stop it. It is as illegal as shoplifting. It takes food from peoples tables, and forces you to pay more for legitimate goods and services. With reviews, previews, demos, and forums, it is not necessary to "pirate" simply to see if you like the product. Also some stores, like Software ETC. do allow returns of open material. There is no moral or legal justification of your actions.To software developers. You have a right to protect your investment as you see fit. However, spend your energies on providing quality and bug-free product. Develop a business that is supportive of your customers. Stop spending money on anti-piracy measures that will either be cracked within 3 months, or will alienate your customer base.Understand, that Piracy will always exist. However, you can win by providing such a good product, with such good customer service, at such a good price, that MOST "casual" pirates would find that actually purchasing your product is easier and more convenient than piracy. Sometimes the easiest solution is the one that seems least likely to work.I would love to hear if there is actual data that relates an anti-piracy measure, or machine binding measure, to real declines in piracy. Are these expensive software packages really serving up as a deterrent, or simply alienating honest users. What are the piracy rates for an unprotected product vs protected product. And even more telling, what would the piracy rates be for unprotected product that was now reduced in price because of the savings a company gets by not passing on the cost of expensive copy protection schemes.Just a thought. Will.In the case of anti-piracy methods, sometimes, less is more.

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Well for one I'd like to give you a BIG hand. You are one of a very few people who actually admits that he did software piracy. It takes a good man to admit something to another person, it takes a strong man to admit something to a community.

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Most people may not like this post but My wife and my mother believes that I have a diffrent way of looking at things. First off I am a church go

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Don't you think the likes of Microsoft already have a built in premium on the price of software for pirated versions? I.e its like an indirect tax, a 'warez tax' which we all pay, obviously in which we all don't know about.

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Thanks for the insight, Will.I'm a bit of a noob when it comes to all this IT stuff. Never really understood the motivation of the "casual pirate". Yesterday, in the huge thread on the subject, Steve Small linked us to a Warez site. It was interesting to see how much time and energy those guys use on "security" measures to keep from being caught. It truly is a challenge for them to NOT pay for the software they steal. And the challenge is the real motivation.Life's realities remind me that we'll never really be rid of the pirates. Most don't do what they do for any commercial reasons... it's a game they play. They simply do it for the challenge. This sort of activity is difficult to stop. It's very much like terrorism... loosely organized, fluid, poorly planned.Another major concern to me is the hit on commerce that anti-piracy methods have created. In their effort to stop the casual pirate, software developers are inwittingly pushing their customers away. The two recent monster threads in this forum have opened my eyes to the extent that software sellers are reaching into our lives when we purchase their products. Methods like machine binding are short sighted and doomed to fail. It's ironic that this particular technolgy can only achieve success on computers that are not upgraded, yet computer technolgy changes so fast that many folks (especially us gamers) are driven to live by an almost constant upgrade schedule.I have now made the choice to limit my online software purchases. I simply don't want the intrusive and inconvienent technology in my life. I recently wasted 4 hours of my life trying to get an FS addon to work on my system... I finally gave up and wrote off the purchase and effort to install. I may not be able to stop the march of technolgy, but I certainly can choose to not support it by keeping my credit card in my pocket.And this then is the real damage caused by pirating. When developers become so engrossed in stopping it that they drive away their honest paying customers. Terribly short sighted IMHO.Thanks,

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>Don't you think the likes of Microsoft already have a built>in premium on the price of software for pirated versions? I.e>its like an indirect tax, a 'warez tax' which we all pay,>obviously in which we all don't know about.>So what you are saying is: If I own a store and raise the prices for my paying customers a little, it's ok for other people to steal from me? Correct me if I misunderstand what you are saying.KP

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Copy protection and piracy have been a very interesting thing to monitor over the years. I've followed it since the early 80's mainly since I had a good deal of authority over what software was purchased for our department within a corporation for many years before I retired, and the issue was just there.Observing from the outside (not in the software business), software protection appears to mostly have been a total failure. Many companies, over the years, that adapted it, later retracted it. The best example of total failure with it, that I can think of, was/is Autocad.Then look at ACDSee. This program has been pirated so many times, and by so many millions of people, it's beyond belief. And the company flourishes. I read a while back where some government ordered 18,000 copies in one swoosh!And look at the download counts at any freeware/shareware site. That program with a long period between upgrades and the resultant availability of a serial or crack is always the leader in downloads. And frankly it seems like the program author doesn't particularily care.And look at the simple trial download/key system used by 95% of the smaller programmers. That system is usually broken the day it is released. And surely the author knows that is going to happen.And I've strained my brain, and said "what's the deal". Why does it go on this way? This does not have to be. And while it's "just my humble opinion", the only conclusion I can come to is....1. The developers want to get big at any cost. An old Bill Gates trick (remember Windows Explorer).2. Many developers are relying on commercial business to be their real "bread and butter". These customers are usually highly legal.3. They feel if someone is gonna steal their program, they probably would not have bought it anyway. And what the hell, maybe they've got some honest friends.I'm not saying software developers love piracy. I'm just saying it's an interesting fact of life in this business. And some of the developers with alot of business sense, have not only learned to live with it, but have actually exploited it.And I find that most interesting. Bob (Lecanto, Fl)AMD, Athlon XP, 1800+MSI, K7T266 XP ProPC 2100 DDR, 1024 MBXP, Home Edition Elsa GLadiac 920, GF3/64Mb andPNY, Verto nVidia TNT 2-M64/32WD, 100 MB, 7200, Ultra 100Sound Blaster, Audigy MP3+CH Prod, VPP Yoke - Sound CardCH Prod, Pedals - Sound Card

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There is an excellent article about piracy on the bbc web site (UK).In short, people pirate because1)it's virtual - nothing solid or physical has been taken2)how can you have stolen something when no one has lost something they used to have3)no risk of being caughtbut best of all, 4)"It's that we don't really mind ripping off huge fat-cat corporations, which would probably do the same to us given half the chance.The ethics of intellectual property are not only about individuals. If companies charge extortionate prices because they can, perhaps they ought to get their own house in order before suing customers. And if they package their software in sweatshops, who's ripping off whom?"http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/3049966.stm

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Thanks Will - your words are personally encouraging to read.Blessings hard and soft,Mark

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I for one applaud your honesty and courage in coming forward like this.Most of the FS enthusiasts on the Internet are good honest people. But unfortunately there are some who feel they are entitled to take advantage of others by trading or accepting the copyrighted material of developers. Their sense of entitlement fuels their self-serving justification that manifests itself in the "I'm not hurting anyone" mantra. The result of this is that it is the honest people who are inconvenienced by having to deal with license management/anti-piracy protection put in place by Microsoft, and developers like us. We wish we did not have to do it, but it has come to the point where we cannot survive without them.And the less principled just sit back and laugh at all the tumult and controversy they have created.My http://www.fsd-international.com/dcforum/Images/twocents.gif worth.http://www.fsd-international.com/team/TD_forum_sig.gif

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Hi Tim,<>It is this that concerns me the most. The inconvinience and intrusion I can limit by not purchasing. And therein lies the problem... for you.It is the impact of buyers pulling away that is adding to your losses. I don't like that... because I like your products. But not enough to submit to the intrusion and inconvenience. Buying your products is not a necessity for me. It is a hobby.I was preparing to purchase the Cheyenne upgrade (been busy the past couple of weeks), but now I'm going to pass. And to be honest, part of me was putting off the purchase because of the problems you, Steve, and I had in getting the Commander upgrade installed on my machine. We never did succeed in getting the Commander upgrade installed. All the time and inconvenience prompted me to stop the effort (I felt bad about your hours of time and efforts, not to mention my time). So in the end who wins here?I hope a resolution can be created here. But until then I have no choice but to not buy payware.I don't envy your position. It is a fine balancing act between protecting your rights and generating revenue. But in the end, what can you achieve by trying to block the pirates at the expense of lost revenue from your honest customers?Nope, I don't envy you at all. But I still stand by your side in your battle... because that's all I can really do.Regards,

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Hey .. great post!I'm curious... why don't former hackers like you ever switch hats and go hack the hackers.. find out who they are, and get them busted?Vin

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Many hackers do just that and become security experts and the very same people that make anti-piracy in the first place.The truth is, it's very hard to do. Read the great Hacker Crackdown and you will see that in many cases, the hackers themselves got a huge amount of PR because they are going up against large corporations.

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Warning, this is very long,There are 4 basic types of Pirate, and Piracy 1. The Warez Pirate: They are basically individuals who pirate software simply for the sake of piracy. The files themselves are the legal tender in this subculture. The more valuable the software, the more prestigeous the pirate. This is the most visible form of piracy, and is ironically the least damaging. Many of these pirates never even use the files they collect. In fact, many pirates will purchase software so that they can crack it for the prestige it brings. A great book that exposes this subculture, is "The Hacker Crackdown" by Bruce Sterling. It is a highly entertaining book, and provides a unique insight to the "digital underground". While a pirated copy of the latest version of Back Office, may indeed be illicit, it is hard to quantify financial damage from a 12year old warez dude who probably would never fork over the $4000.00 to own it if he had it. Has no idea how do use it, and simply files it in the recesses of his hard drive for some future "trade". 2. The Corporate Pirate: One of the most invisible, andconsequently most damaging pirates. These are the corporate IT guys who are basically bucking the system by buying single copies of applications, and then "spawning" them across the network. These type of Pirates usually "buy" one legitimate copy of the software they use, and then spawn it to the entire enterprise. Another form of this Pirate is the "system integrator" who may own a computer shop and then sell computers that have copies of a single OS on them. The losses to this type of piracy can be staggering. Application and Operating System Software companies are hardest hit by this piracy 3. Piracy for Profit: This group is probably the smallest group in the US, due to copyright laws, but is staggering in it's scope internationally. Hong Kong, was (and still may be) a veritable playground of piracy. In Asia, many countries did not, and still do not recognize copyright law. As a result, A huge number of legitimate international companies in Asia, and in third-world developing countries are actually running businesses on Pirated software. In fact, in some areas, the pirated versions are more easily obtained than legitimate copies. The piracy in this form can boggle the mind. When I went to Hong Kong, I went to a place in Kawloon that featured over four floors of booth, after booth, selling all forms of software. None of it original. You simply picked which ones you wanted, and came back in an hour. Price differences were usually only if you wanted color copies of the manualsinstead of black and white. This was done in the open and was entirely legal in Hong Kong. In fact, it was harder for me to find a LEGAL vendor of software in the city. 4. The Casual Pirate: They get a game for free from a friend and fire it up. They don't necessarily go searching for the Warez, but simply get their friends to "burn em" a copy to play with. This also causes a real loss of revenue to companies because the casual pirate usually ONLY pirates what he uses, and rarely purchases what he uses.The Hardware binding scheme that Microsoft employs in XP, is actually a very powerful and relatively effective anti-piracy tool that is targeted at pirates 2 and 3 (The corporate and for profit pirates). Most of these environments use OS and application installations that are fairly static (No IT guy likes to reinstall an end users OS or application over and over again). And this has been very effective at countering the Level 2 and 3 pirates. While this method has been cracked. (I saw a "pre-activated" copy of Office XP recently), even the cracked copies are usually not able to be upgraded via patches or updates. This makes these versions not really suitablefor the needs of the number 2 and number 3 pirate, since security upgrades and patches are necessary to run a secure business. Entertainment software is a different beast. First of all, the home user is much more likely to make incremental upgrade changes that will affect product activation, and the hobbiest is much more likely to individually wipe their system. Also, many times, software is uninstalled and reinstalled to manage hard drive space as Entertainment Packages get larger.Entertainment software is also, much cheaper than an OS or Office suite and entertainment software depreciates over time. Anyone recently just pay 8 bucks for Serious Sam 2 off the slash counter? Or $19.00 for Diablo II expansion? (Current prices at my local Wal-Mart), The copy protection means usually employed here, involves CD keys, and copy protected disks. While these methods are adequate to prevent the casual copier. They do nothing to deter the dedicated warez dude. Corporate Pirates, have little need for the entertainment software, and as far as the "piracy for profit" the market for entertainment software pales in comparison to the business counterparts.Some entertainment software companies have even recently adopted Microsoft's hardware binding method for their own software. This is the equivalent of hunting praire dogs with an Elephant Gun. You may hit the target, but you also have to deal with the collateral damage as well.The problem with this type of anti-piracy measure, is two fold.One,it is not very compatible with the home user, and their typically more "fluid" hardware configurations. (Something XP home users have found out). Two, it is prohibitively expensive to support. When I worked at Microsoft, a single phone call to Technical support roughtly cost $30.00. What are my costs,when I now make every user activate? Well, for web connected users, I can have them automatically activate. I have to set up the website and perform the activation. This is not THAT expensive. But what do I do for non-webenabled clients. Now they have to phone in. For every manual activation I perform, I write that sale off in total. Now how about the guy who phones in because the web didn't work or the Web Server was saturated. Write his sale off too. And if I have to deal with the "atypical" "pain in the butt" customer, I may have to write off as many as 5 to 10 sales, depending on when I finally draw the line in the sand.After the initial release, the picture doesn't get any prettier. When sales die off, and the price of the software drops, we then see a whole new "wave" of consumers possibly needing to call in. These are the guys who might not pay the full price, but now are more than willing to pay half price. Only now, the cost of the call now writes off TWO sales, not just one.And what if you ever want to just "retire" the product to the "Value" pile?With CD-Keys and more passive methods, you can simply write off the CD with a final Read-Me and you're there. With product activation, Value software companies are not going to support product activation on a product that retails for $9.99. And you, are either stuck holding the "activation" bag, or you won't be able to sell off the product to another "publisher". And after you DO retire support, at what point do you shut down the activation line and tell your customers that, "I'm sorry, but we are no longer activating that product, thanks for your patronage"?Small software houses are also not as financially stable, thus the idea of a software company like Looking Glass, going bust, and losing all support is a very real possibility.Now companies like Microsoft, can afford this expense and are likely to be around awhile. Windows XP home costs 200 bucks and Office nearly 400. So an activation call or two doesn't hurt them as much. They can also afford to have an automated phone system which will allow activation over the phone, and can afford the toll freecharges as well. In short, the company has deeper pockets, can lower the cost of implementation through automation, and MOST IMPORTANTLY the software that uses activation is usually is priced to handle the added expense.Did you ever notice, however, that Microsoft GAMES don't use productactivation? Why? If activation were so keen, how come it isn'trequired for a recent game like Freelancer, one of the most heavilyanticipated (and ultimately pirated) games in years? Will Flight Simulator 2004 require activation? No, simply a game CD to be inserted during initial start up of the program. The answer is simple, product activation is too expensive to implement for the price point of the software protected. (In this case, the lock costs more than the door, or the house) So here is the dillema faced by the Entertainment Software Industry. They need to devise a method of anti-piracy that will keep pirates from robbing them blind during the first 3 months of a release, but then need it passive enough to prevent having the support the product ad-nauseum. Plus they need to assure the user that his software won't suddenly become inactive after the company goes out of business or retires the product.Product Activation in my honest opinion, is entirely appropriate for what it was designed for. It has worked fairly well for Operating Systems and expensive Software suites that tend to be installed either one time, in a static environment, or if installed multiple times, has a price point that will support the added "technical support" requirements. It is much less effective for lower end products. The PR alone from the "Intuit Turbo Tax" fiasco, forced users into the arms of the much more "user firendly" hands ofTax Pro. And that is but one example. Microsoft, the first user of such methods, only enables it on higher priced software for a good reason.Software companies are free to choose whatever means they wish to combat piracy. However, they may find that sometimes, the cure, is more harmful than the disease.You be the judge.Will.

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