Ubisoft DRM
Monday, 08 March 2010

The war between pirates and publishers continues unabated. I'm sure most of you have heard about Ubisoft's DRM they are in putting in their latest PC games. If you have been living under a rock :), it basically boils down to you need a constant internet connection to play their single player games. Being someone that develops games for a living, doing it as an indie, and being a big fan of PC games I have a different point of view about all of this.

This doesn't surprise me in the least. Ubisoft, like most publishers, feels like they are getting backed into a corner. They are more and more feeling like the PC market is dying, not because there aren't a ton of PCs out there playing games, but because of all of the piracy. They are getting more and more desperate to try to continue to make games on the PC, but they feel they can't without more and more restrictive DRM. Others are just abandoning the platform for the consoles or moving over to server side games like MMOs or facebook games. I at least give Ubisoft some credit for trying.

However, my opinion specifically about their DRM is that it sucks. Being cut off from playing a single player game you bought because your internet connection goes down, because Ubisoft's servers go down (which it has already), or because you are on the train with your laptop is just plain wrong. I understand why Ubisoft wants to do this, but it still sucks. All this is going to do is piss off paying customers, which is never a good idea.

Unfortunately, what is going to happen is a bunch of people are going to use this crappy DRM as an excuse to download the cracked version and possibly continue with other games. Even if you bought a legit version of the product you are still part of the problem. This will just make publishers want to use even worse DRM. If you do this, you just become part of the endless cycle.

I'm going to let you in on a secret, most developers and publishers don't like DRM. In general, it costs a lot of money, takes developer time, introduces more bugs, and causes problems for your customers. Most companies would get rid of all DRM in their products if they thought they could do it without losing money. Yes, I know there are some companies out there that want to restrict how you can use your purchase so they can sell you the same thing multiple times, but they are a small minority. Piracy is the root cause of why we have most DRM.

Why does any of this bother me? Well for 2 reasons. I really like the PC as a platform, but if current trends continue the only games that we are going to have on the PC eventually are things that have a server side component like MMOs. This is going to suck. The other reason is that despite all of the bull-shit justifications that pirates use, they still pirate from us indie companies that are struggling to survive, that have large demos, and that have pretty cheap games just like pirate everything else. Actually piracy hurts us even more than a big publisher. At least big publishers have mega hits here and there that supports everything else they do, most indies do not have this luxury.

My humble suggestion to everyone is vote with you wallet. Don't side with the pirates, they are the ones instigating the problem in the first place and siding with them just results in worse DRM later. However, don't side with the publishers that put in DRM that hurts you, the customer. Buying their crap just tells them it is ok. Instead go buy some other cool game that doesn't have crappy restrictions. Show your support for PC games, but don't support the individual games that do stupid crap.

Now for my pitch. Hey it is my blog after all. :) Our games have pretty large demos (Din's Curse will soon), are fairly cheap, have money back guarantees, try to be unique and not just simple clones, and only use simple keys for copy protection. We also actually listen to our gamers and try to be a very open company. So what do you have to lose?

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Tweets 3
Friday, 19 February 2010

Here's some of my latest tweets from twitter / facebook with a bit more explanation.

I added a wandering enchanter today that will sell you temporary buffs. There should be over 20 buffs and it even includes shapechanging buffs. There are actually 22 now. Personally I think the enchanter is kind of cool and different than the rest of the vendors.

My todo list for Din's Curse is down to 85 items. :) It would be nice to be back down to 85 items (this was before beta).

Just as I thought this is foolish hitting the barrel next to the support beam and gas leak, I swear the entire dungeon collapsed on my head. What happened is that the barrel was full of explosive material and exploded. This made the gas leak explode also and destroyed the support beam. I think all 3 of these caused some cave-ins and those cave-ins started a chain reaction and soon the entire room was completely full of rocks (and I was very dead).

Here's how random numbers screw with developers, I needed a town with a dungeon. This has a 50% chance of happening. I had to start 9 times to get one. This seems to happen a lot (of course I know it's just selective memory). I can get out of the game and change the percent to 100%, but that usually takes longer.

Famous last words "This is going to be easy", right before the person needing a rescue triggered an ambush and attacked me. Even though I know this is possible, it still surprised me. I thought it was going to be easy because the npc was right next to the gate and all alone.

Fixed a weird npc/monster duplication bug today that has been plaguing me for weeks. What was happening is that NPCs were getting added to the spawn system after being used in a quest. When this happened the spawn system thought that monster type was allowed to be added randomly when ever it wanted to.

Apparently I like destroying things in games, I just can't help not destroying support beams and setting barrels on fire. What can I say? It's just fun.

Fixed a lot of issues today, todo list is down to 19. Some of these are fairly big like a skills pass though. This was a few days before beta I believe.

Weird bug of the day, I had to fix fires killing other nearby fires. I didn't notice until I tried to get cold spells to put out the fires. I didn't notice this because each fire would kill each other but the effect would stay around till its normal expire time. This worked fine until my cold spells wouldn't put out the fire because they were already "dead".

While playtesting today Delilah set off a fire nova trap nearby while I was next to a bunch of barrels and doors, I had to flee the inferno. Technically the trap only set 1 door and a few barrels on fire, but the fire spread to the rest of the barrels and the door on the other side of me. So I was in a small room blazing with both exits on fire.

Saw a zombie pull a level in the game today, triggered a trap door and he fell 2 floors down. :) This was one of the funniest things ever (to me at least). Zombies can pull levers, levers can be linked to traps, and yes there is a trap door type of trap. I added all of these in the game, but it never really occurred to me that this would happen.

While testing a brand new character, the first monster I killed was a unique and he dropped a unique item. That's luck for you. This was the test character for the beta build. That's a sign, right?

For some reason my todo list has gone from 0 to 87 things today (luckily most of it is very minor). This is right after the start of the beta.

Tracking down unreproducible bugs is a huge pain. :( Off hand I forget what I was trying to track down, but this is always annoying.

Bug hunting today, some easy to find and fix, some trying to be elusive.

Added logging to Din's Curse today so that players can have a record of what happened in their game. This is going to be a really cool feature. It's already being used to tell really cool stories. Let this be a lesson to other game developers. Listen to your fans!

Tracked down and fixed a bunch of multiplayer issues today. Multiplayer issues are a pain to track down. From a debugging standpoint you are only seeing half of the picture. To make it even worse you also have to take into account what the network, the OS, and even what other software like firewalls are doing.

Doing some tax related stuff today. :( I really dread doing tax/administration type stuff. It's boring and way more complicated than it seems it needs to be. You know how some IRS instructions tells you the average time to finish that form? If I actually took the allotted time, I swear I would spend at least a couple months of the year filling out forms.

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Din progress report 3
Wednesday, 17 February 2010

We are now two weeks into the beta of Din's Curse. So far I'm very happy. Everything seems to be going pretty good and most people seem to really like the game, not everyone, but that's expected.

The feedback that I have been getting on our forums, other gaming forums, and by email has been awesome. Actually there has been so much, it's a bit overwhelming. This is a good thing so please don't stop. I'm not able to post responses as much as I would like, but I've been reading everything and changing tons of things based on the feedback.

Today, I released our 4th patch. In those four patches, I have made 309 changes. Well over half of those are changes directly from gamer feedback. There are still many changes coming that I haven't gotten to though. Right now my todo list has 241 items on it. One of these days I will get this back down to zero.

A quick sales note, so far this is our fastest selling game ever. I'm really hoping it stays this way. :) If it doesn't, I might start taking some contracting work, which would slow down Soldak development. :( The sales so far is actually interesting to me. On one hand we don't have a finished product, just a beta, and not even a demo yet. Yet the beta is selling quicker than our previous two games. This is kind of strange. On the other hand, we have an established fan base, we've talked a lot more about this game than probably both our other games combined, and I'm still convinced this is our best game ever. So it's strange and not a big surprise at the same time.

So where does that leave us? Well right now I would say we will have at least two more weeks of beta, a bunch of patches to come, and one of these days an actual demo and a final game. And by final, I mean the patches might slow down, not really final. :)

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Din progress report 2
Friday, 22 January 2010

I thought I would write up another short progress report for Din's Curse. So far alpha has been going pretty well. Our alpha testers are liking the game and it's getting better every day. A very good sign is that I'm spotting less things to fix and having more fun actually playing the game during our daily play testing.

Another good sign is the size of my todo list. The number of things on my todo list fluctuates a lot. I'm constantly fixing, adding, and balancing things so that I can remove an item from my list, but I or the testers also constantly find new things to add to the list. When I did my last progress report in mid December, I had 250 things left to do. When I announced alpha earlier this month the list had grown to 310 thanks to a lot of early feedback from our testers. Now it's down to 65. Just to give an example of all of this, 2 days ago it was at 67 items, yet I have changed 55 things since then.

Anyways, the game has come a long way during alpha. Yesterday I was surprised when a rescue went renegade and ambushed me. A few days ago I caved in an entire area of a cave doing something foolish (hit a trap next to a support beam and a gas leak). I also found a bunch of unique items yesterday. I'm not sure if it was a good streak of luck or I had a town with some kind of treasure world modifier going (either way it was nice). I really like when things surprise me. :) Considering I'm the one that added all of these pieces, it's cool that I can be surprised still.

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Tweets 2
Friday, 15 January 2010

Here's some of my latest tweets from twitter / facebook with a bit more explanation.

I still have a funny multiplayer bug that lets you run around while dead sometimes, everyone else sees you sliding around in the dead pose. This was pretty funny watching people slide around as dead bodies. This is fixed now though.

I swear our game is plotting against me, I spawn in a gas leak to test out flaming oil, and the world spawns an earthquake and destroys it. This seems to happen fairly often. I cheat to test something and the game responds.

I really like days were I focus on little things, I knocked 60 things off my todo list today. :) This was last week some time. At the beginning of that day my todo list had 313 items on it. At the end of the day it was down to 247. Today it's at 133.

I actually used a teleport trap to escape some enemies today in Din's Curse. I got mobbed and that was the quickest way out. :)

It's strange how many bugs you can find when you do weird things like tell the networking system not to send anything more than 2 feet away. In this case, the main thing I found was that I was sending all of the npcs in town across the network regardless of how far away you were.

Changelings disguised as imps on a level where you need to find imp tails for a quest is very dangerous. I was actually trying to kill imps and I ran into 2 changelings at the same time.

I destroyed a cursed gate today by setting fire to a bunch of barrels near it with my flaming sword. I couldn't get to the gate because of the barrels and all of the monsters nearby, so I started a little fire. :)

A zombie attacked a naga attacking me, the naga turns and kills the zombie, then walks over to use a lifestone, and then it came back to kill me. I was actually surprised that they were fighting in the first place since I was killing everything, so I just sat there and watched. I was even more surprised when the naga walked right by me to go heal and I'm the one that programmed them to do that.

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