Venting my frustrations with PC game-dev


#21

When I was learning to make games, I was dead set against working on console games. Nowadays, I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Michael, your experiences mimics many of my own, and many of my friends who've developed PC games.

I think I speak for most developers when I say fuck the PC. Even if they keep making PC games, fuck the PC. It's a tar pit of shit, and it's not going to get any better.

Slap a mouse and keyboard on consoles and be done with it.

Also, re: Copy protection crash, for those attacking Michael for it. A lot of the time, these systems are black boxes, with magic functions you just call. There often isn't even an interface to handle a failed check, as the copy protection does it all internally.

Partially this is to make devs' lives easier, as if they had to handle a return code for every place they slapped the check, it would drastically increase the work they'd have to do to implement the copy protection.

Damned if you do. Damned if you don't.

PC Gaming has claimed another life. Fuck the PC.


#22

Dominions 3 used a 'crash to desktop' exit for pirated versions. There was a post about it by one of the devs. I dunno if it hurt them terribly, but they are still in business :o

[This is directed at the folks pointing out what a bad idea that is, it's not directed at Michael. I have no sense of the value of handling it that way, I just thought it interesting that TQ isn't the only game that uses it.]


#23

We are not attacking Michael, I doubt he had anything to do with the situation. It doesn't matter who is at fault, it's still royally fucking stupid. It's guaranteed bad publicity with no upside. It sucks that's it's even a factor, but that doesn't change the sheer inanity of it.

We are not even arguing that copy protection is bad here, just this specific type of implementation. It helps nobody.


#24

Right, but telling a guy who just lost his job about how stupid it is when there is, in all likelihood, nothing him or his coworkers could've done about it is just insensitive and makes you look like a giant retarded prick.

Probably wasn't even Iron Lore's choice -- THQ probably picked the poison that killed them.


#25

Who says there's nothing they could have done about it? It's just code, man; you can do anything.

Bruce


#26

Not when you are using precompiled obfuscated libraries given to you by a third party.

Not a programmer, huh?


#27

Unless you're blaming Microsoft, and you haven't demonstrated yet that they were the culprit, then you use another third party. But even then, so what? You can put a wrapper around that. You can do your pirate check earlier in the game so it doesn't look like a bug. You can announce the pirate check before doing it. There's a lot you can do.

Bruce


#28

The established amount of consoles in homes is very nice and dandy, but everyone and the cat has a computer. So why does COD4 sell 10 to 1 on consoles vs pc?

For the same reason The Orange Box sells a lot more on the PC than it sells on consoles, STEAM is a secure environment, that fixes the problem with piracy.

Giving the fact that COD4 plays itself much better with a mouse, if some practical way of combating piracy through a secure environment was in place than the sales would be much higher. That's why MMORPGs can get to be a success as they are.

More casual friendly games will do fine, like the Sims or Bejeweled, because their prime target audience isn't tech savy enough to download the games, or ends downloading some horse and sheep pRon since they can't figure it out how it's done.

More hardcore games for hardcore gamers are simply pirated to death. Either the PC goes to the digital download path or the STEAM path or things will just get worse.

Good luck for the people at the studio, your games were fine.


#29

We can point out, quite legitimately, that TQ's particular implementation of copy protection was less than ideal. But we should also remember that it ONLY mattered because piracy was rampant.

Sticking our heads in the sand and constructing hypothetical reasons why piracy isn't as bad as it's made out to be is getting PC gaming nowhere. It's bad. It's really bad. The publishers all know it, most of the developers know it.

The fact of the matter is that anti-piracy solutions on the PC are crap. They don't stop pirates, and they cause problems for legit customers. They're usually middleware solutions, and it looks to me more like snake-oil than anything else.

Someone needs to really step up to the plate, here. Someone named Microsoft. They have low-level access to the OS. They need to build MUCH harder-to-crack hooks into the OS to allow legit software to run and provide graceful error messages when it won't. They need to build access to this into an easy-to-implement API that is flexible enough for developers to do piracy checks in different ways (disc check, online check/activation, checks during gameplay, or any combination). DirectSecurity or something. Give it away for free, but of course shipping a game with it would require a license (so the pirates couldn't just fake API calls and returns). Make the license fee nominal - a real no-brainer.

Charles - yes, it's a tar pit of shit in many ways. :( It's also great in many ways. A mouse and keyboard isn't going to fly in the majority of living rooms in the world, though. Nobody wants that crap on the their coffee table. I'm not sure I'd say it's never going to get better... but it certainly won't if the developers and publishers don't demand it.

Publishers and developers meet with Microsoft on a regular basis to discuss all kinds of business shit, but I somehow doubt they're saying, with one loud unified voice, "look, I don't give a shit about the next DirectX or the GFW tag on my box. Do something about my piracy and QA problems."

There's a lot than CAN be done about this, but it all takes time and money that the publishers and developers don't want to spend. Hell, even the anti-piracy middleware guys don't want to spend the time and money. Microsoft has a platform to protect, and deeper access into it's low-level systems than anyone. They can fix this. They SHOULD fix this. They AREN'T fixing this, and that's what needs to change.


#30

I didn't think Michael lost his job. I thought he worked for the publisher and just heavily worked with Iron Lore. Wrong?

As an end user this time all I can say is how stupid it looks. I guess that is pretty insulting, for which I apologize. My heart absolutely sunk when I saw the announcement this morning. I don't care about RTS games but I had high hopes ILE would return to another genre I did like.


#31

Unfortunately friendly security behavior like this is in most cases also very helpful to the crackers.


#32

I have massive sympathy for the OP. Agreed on every point with him, including the intel pieces of shit.
When looking glass shut down there was talk about how much thief games got pirated, but people all try and pretend it had no effect. Now piracy helps claims another victim, and PC gaming is worse off yet again.
PC gaming pirates make me angry. There is one prick who is determined that a certain warez forum has pirated copies of all my games. every single day he uploads multiple copies of all of them to multiple hosting sites and posts them. Every day I send out abuse emails and get them removed. We are now up to the 44th set of fresh links. He basically takes time out of his day every day to help put me out of business.
Fuck the pirates, and fuck their pathetic justifications.
If anyone out there wants an indie strategy/sim game for their console, and can make it happen for someone like me, please let me know. I'd happily never make another PC game again, because I'm sick of dealing witht he same crap the OP mentioned.

Plus, the mentality of people calling someone whose company just folded an idiot is just tragic.


#33

Yeah, I'm sure popping up "PIRACY CHECK!" in the middle of gameplay will make people happy. How would doing it earlier help? If it's going to crash, it's going to crash. Plus, the habit is to pepper them everywhere in the code so that there's some that crackers don't find. Not saying I'm agreeing with the practice, but that's usually how it works.

Also, not sure how you managed to drag microsoft in to this. Devs don't write their own copy protection, they license shit like Safedisc and such from other companies.


#34

The point is people thought the piracy check was a crash because of where it occured in-game and the fact it didn't generate a message on exit. Thus, generating a message prior to the check, putting the check in another place, etc. all alleviate this misconception.

Microsoft would be the one third-party whose libraries you couldn't avoid. Otherwise, don't license "shit".

Bruce


#35

agreed 100%. Crackers aren't stupid. they check the game runs before they release the crack. AT the very least you have different checks for different days of the week or times of day.
Anything that announces "welcome! you have found the location of the copy protection routine!" is a bad idea.

And as someone posted earlier, if your game crashes and your are using a crack, step #1 is try not using a crack. flipping obvious.


#36

Spoken like a man who has never used a commercial copy protection scheme. Charles is not joking when he says that they are, for all practical purposes, black boxes over which the end-user (the developer) has very little control.


#37

I am a programmer and I understand your point, but if I were using some prepackaged copy protection system where security checks that failed resulted in the library calling ExitProcess() (or whatever) without my consent, I'd find a new copy protection vendor, one that would allow me to get a return value or throw an exception based on a failure. While it might be easier for pirates to subvert in that case, it'd be worth it for me so that my game didn't appear to be a buggy piece of crap.

I do agree with Jason Cross though in that the simple fact that PC gamers can't be trusted is what results in developers having to use ridiculous copy protection schemes and that's sad. Again, I'm not trying to defend piracy, I just believe that if your game gets a reputation as being a buggy crashing mess due to your copy protection (or due to a bad selection of 3rd party copy protection vendors), you share at least some of the blame for the bugginess reputation.


#38

Tell that to publishers. Iron Lore wouldn't have gotten to pick, because the publisher tends to handle this stuff. If the person signing your paycheck says to eat shit and like it, you eat shit and like it.


#39

Say you are a developer, and your publisher says "Use this." Then you say "I don't want to use it, it's badly designed." and they say "Well, we buy it in bulk, so you don't have a choice."

What do you do then, smart guy?


#40

As pointed out in Michael's starting post, even 1% of additional sales to potential pirates can mean a massive revenue increase.

Copy protection that at least cannot be copied by everybody already deters that part of the audience that does not know where to find cracks on the internet (and that is still a large chunk of the market by my estimates) from pirating - it does not really matter if a crack exists or the protection is circumvented by emulation as long as you cannot just copy it with e.g. Nero.

So instead of gaining in sales by removing all copy protection you would actually increase the number of pirate copies in the "word-of-mouth having seen a game played by a neighbor and want it too" audience.