Online-Only DRM Does Not Discourage Piracy?

Interesting mention of Diablo III in this short article about Steam founder Gabe Newell’s remarks to the The Cambridge Student Online. Quoting the write up on GamePro:

“We think there is a fundamental misconception about piracy,” Newell said. “Piracy is almost always a service problem and not a pricing problem. For example, if a pirate offers a product anywhere in the world, 24/7, purchasable from the convenience of your personal computer, and the legal provider says the product is region-locked, will come to your country 3 months after the U.S. release and can only be purchased at a brick and mortar store, then the pirate’s service is more valuable. Most DRM solutions diminish the value of the product by either directly restricting a customer’s use or by creating uncertainty.”

This is particularly apparent with a number of Ubisoft’s titles, where a strict requirement to remain online while playing titles like Assassin’s Creed II has frustrated many gamers with patchy Internet connections. Worse, the strategy seems to be spreading, with Blizzard announcing that Diablo III would be taking a similar approach upon its release — and many other companies following suit. Even customers happy to pay for a game consider making use of cracks to remove DRM when it’s this obtrusive.

“Our goal is to create greater service value than pirates,” continued Newell, “and this has been successful enough for us that piracy is basically a non-issue for our company. For example, prior to entering the Russian market, we were told that Russia was a waste of time because everyone would pirate our products. Russia is now about to become our largest market in Europe.”

Blizzard is working to keep their DRM obstacles in Diablo 3 from encouraging piracy by making the game entirely unplayable without an authorized connection. Which might well work, and clearly they think that losing sales to to people with bad internet connections will be more than offset by cutting piracy and forcing/encouraging more RMAH use.

The online-only thing has been quite controversial, but (to my surprise) in our vote on the issue showed that most of you guys were supportive, or at least didn’t dislike/hate the system. Lots of cable modem and ISDN users out there, I guess.

At any rate, the reasons Newell cites for Steam’s success vs. piracy don’t really apply to D3 (aside from the online-only issue). D3 will get a near-simultaneous world wide release, it’ll work on PC or Mac, it can be bought online from the Blizzard store 24/7, etc. By that description then, it shouldn’t be pirated at all. Good news! Stick back in the single player mode, boys!

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51 thoughts on “Online-Only DRM Does Not Discourage Piracy?

  1. As a regularly contributing member to this Diablo site for 10 years, I’m very disappointed to announce that I’m voting with my wallet, I will *NOT* be buying Diablo III, precisely because of this Online-Only-DRM.
    Online-Only-DRM prevents me from playing while on the move, in hotels, or during transit in airports.

    Moreover, I’m miffed that Blizzard needs to always checks for the legitimacy of my Diablo III purchase before I can play D3 each time, on the presumption that a player is guilty until proven innocent.
    As a Diablo fan who had been waiting 10 years for Diablo 3, I’m personally very disappointed that Blizzard did not listen to its existing customers, and forcing this Online-Only-DRM down our throats.
    Therefore I will not buy Diablo 3.
    I’ll stick with my Diablo 2 Expansion instead, paid for D2/D2X game set *twice* for legitimately by the way (because original CD’s were damaged).
    Game on, Blizzard…

    • I assume you registered your game with now so you can just download the client if your CDs break again?

    • I will buy Diablo 3 BECAUSE it wil be online only. With Diablo 3 it actually has a use to combat hackers and not just pure DRM.

    • Even if you travel a lot, wangnala, your issue is moot as most hotels, airports and even some passenger jets have wifi so yeah… sucks to be you if that is the reason you are choosing to not play D3 because it’s a dumb reason and you are gipping yourself… 😐

  2. ISDN is still a thing?

    No matter what Blizzard do, they’re still going to make a but-tonne of money. It’s their prerogative to cash in on their hard-earned customer loyalty, and I will be a happy number in the statistics. Just release it already!

    • wow, what a fucking dumbass. plenty of people like you in this world is the reason i think twice before putting another living being into this world. jesus.

  3. DRM is pretty much always a bad thing, I think diablo 2 got it right, sure you can pirate and play the single player apsect of the game, but if you want the real fun. you’re gonna have to pay, same with warcraft 3.

    but I found the DRM in AC2 so appauling that I didn’t pirate it. I stole it from walmart (I wasn’t going to pirate it actually, but I found it to be a big fuck you, and walmart’s not hurting from it either). good damn thing too because it can’t be switched to another computer or reinstalled (they claim it can but it won’t install and says the code has already been used, and customer support hung up on me). what a waste of 60 dollars, if I had spent it

    I will be Buying diablo 3 right off the bat, regardless of this bullshit policy, but thats the fanboy in me. Plus I’ll be able to reinstall it as long as I got my id and password, much less offensive

  4. As a long-time VGs entusiast I can say this: DRM (in any form) has always damaged customers more than pirates.

    In the end this is what really matters, are you realising a good game or not? And, are you offering a good enough service? DRM technology lowers the quality of service you’re going to offer, because it puts an additional (often times unnecessary) strain on your paying customers.

    Regarding D3 specifically, I still balme Blizz for their (greedy) decision. Allowing offline SP would make paying customers a whole lot happier. They will hopefully change their mind soon and push it alongside a patch after release.

    • They won’t patch in an offline SP mode… the game simply isn’t built that way… the whole thing has been developed from the ground up to have most of the data on the server side like WoW and it would take a long time to redo it so you could play it offline… what’s done is done and that’s just how it will be…

  5. Last time I checked Steam had severely localized categories and pricing of games.
    Until Gabe fixes that he doesn’t  have any right to speak about this issue.
    In the meantime I will be buying my region-free same-price-everywhere-in-the-whole-world games at

    edit: Oh and of course they are also DRM-free 🙂

    • Yup, Steam does have some regional quirks… Like, say, Skyrim is not available in Russia… Until you buy a key from a third-party online store for as little as 500 roubles (~$16), enter key into Steam, and voila! Full version, all languages 🙂 I play it in original, my wife in Russian… Absolutely cool 🙂

      Sometimes living in a poor country has its pluses.

  6. The only thing Blizzard is behind Steam is offline mode.
    With Steam, you can “checkout” our profile with all game licenses to your computer, and play on the move. It’ll even sync your save games or whatever next time you go online (for games that support that, of course).
    With SC2, the offline mode was present, but broken right from the start. They tried to fix it later, and maybe even succeeded (didn’t check for a long time).

    If offline mode was implemented for D3, everyone would be happy, I suppose… But I am sure people would crack the game and farm achievements and whatnot while offline, so unless that is taken care of… I’m all for online-only. Blizzard has pretty nice network code anyway, so pretty slow connections are enough.

    P.S.: Russia is about to become Europe’s largest Steam market???? 😯 Living here, and knowing almost no regular legitimate game buyers but myself… I am impressed.

    • I find Steam’s offline mode pretty dodgy at the best of times, as often I have to travel at short notice, and then if I happen to forget to make sure everything has been opened recently enough to renew the offline licenses before every trip – I get to the hotel and can’t play ANYTHING – that is hugely annoying. For that reason, I don’t think Gabe is offering the solution in Steam. Sure it’s good to have some offline play (and that does work in SC2 single player, minus achievements) – but I’d actually rather know that I definitely can’t play without a connection, than get my hopes up, only to be denied by a popup 🙁

      Also – just because a lot of people weren’t bothered by the always online in the poll you did doesn’t mean they all have super fast connnections. I regularly play SC2 multiplayer on my 3g phone connection and it’s totally fine, even with a weak signal. Diablo 3 isn’t a FPS – it doesn’t need ping <50.

  7. Piracy isn’t the only reason why Blizzard has made its stand of online only.  Could they TRY and make as secure as Steam, yeah, but do you want to wait 6 more years for D3 to come out?   An offline only mode would be nice but I won’t loss sleep over it.

  8. At first he is the founder of Valve which has been selected as the greatest game company nearly every year and that company released Half-Life and 2 both have been seen as the best games of all time along with a mod called Counter-Strike which is the most played online game in history. So, the title “Valve Founder” is more important than the title “Steam Founder”. Call Blizzard founders Battle.Net founders next time then.

    Back to the point, I’m sure Gabe’s right. There would be lots of players who pay for a single-player offline D3 right? Or who won’t be mad while Battle.Net servers are offline? What about lag, bad internet connection, or playing the game on a plane (there is not only US)?

    These type of DRMs do wonders in the short-term, but in the long-term they will prove themselves as the punishers of the companies. OFC I’m not expecting a simple D3 follower to see the big picture.

      • I’m shocked there aren’t 3 more chairs tucked away between his ass cheeks there, how can that one chair hold him?

        • I’d seen that image before I’d ever seen a pic of Newell, so I didn’t fully get the joke. Looking at just the headshot in the quoted article though… he does not look like a man you want to come between and his cheeseburger.

  9. A 10 year fan that doesn’t like multiplayer, bit weird but whatever. There will be MANY, much funner single player games to play while you’re globetrotting and planting trees in Africa, severing a 10-year commitment in a one-man boycott because you won’t be able to run around on a character that will never participate in the online community…seems more petulant than noble.

    Finally the DRM is less about discouraging piracy and more about keeping duped and hacked items/characters from messing up the RMAH, which is kind of sad to see an unpopular addition causing the necessity of another unpopular addition.

    “if a pirate offers a product anywhere in the world, 24/7, *purchasable*…”

    Um…does Gabe think we buy games off piratebay?

    • Its not unusual for people to spend a decade on D2 or some similar game and not play online. Its more unusual to see them chatting about it online, but not terribly so because thats what gamers tend to do in their down time when not playing the game-regardless of if they do so online or not.

      Online-only solves the problem of dupes/hacks for online players the same way banning all motor vehicles helps protect pedestrians. It requires a great deal more effort on their part than the simple alternative of having offline characters permanently so, and their Rube Goldberg solution stamps out those offline players.

      Choosing not to buy the game because of what it lacks and how the provider of the goods treats you may not be noble, but it is far from petulant. It is the right(arguably the responsibility) of the consumer.

  10. About the online-only thing: I don’t think that 41% “It’s fine” and 17% “if it stops piracy/hacking” vs. 22% “dislike” and 18% “hate it” qualify as “most of you guys were supportive”…you could as easily say “almost half of the voters were against online-only”  😉

    Anyways, interesting point of view on the service problem. Also, because the reason is brought up again and again: Would offline mode really be a problem regarding duping/hacking? Why not split it again like in D2? For BNet play, it’s online only, and you can’t use offline characters for BNet. There, problem solved. (OFC, I might be wrong because I don’t have the technical/programming know-how and don’t play MP D2, only SP…but AFAIK dupes are mostly in-game exploits and not the result of D2 having an offline option??)

  11. The biggest reservation I have with online only is not being able to watch my anti-virus program. Going full screen you can’t see if the protection is on. I’ve had it go out on me many times but I catch it and get off line quickly. I’m in the “Want off line play” camp. For this reason, as well as not wanting the angst of not being able to play when my cable goes out. And let’s face it, I don’t care where anyone lives, your cable does go out. So even though I own the game, I can’t play it just because some idiot says, “I swear officer, that light pole just jumped out in front of me”.

  12. I’m sure the online only thing might be a nice dent against piracy for a while but I am still in the boat of believing that piracy isn’t really why Blizzard is doing the online only DRM.  The game is going to involve real money trading, being able to force people to authenticate and play through your servers is the only way to easily monitor just what people are doing in the game and put a stop to foul play as fast as possible.  Yes, being online only is a bit of a PITA, but I am willing to put up with it if it helps avoid the garbage dump that became D2 online play.

    • D2′ online mess is result of years of completely lack of support from Blizzard’s part and not because the game had single player mode. Hacks, and especially bots will be seen in D3, you can be sure of that, especially now that everyone can make legit money from farmed items.
      Theres a simple rule for Blizzard when they try to fix something: “Use the shorter and easier path”. Just look what Blizzard did in D2 to prevent abuses:
      Realm downs to prevent bots – (screwed legit players while not affecting bots because they have unlimited cd-keys).
      Annihilus to reduce the amount of duped Sojs – (sojs were duped even more).
      Full rust storms – (screwed legit players that acquired a duped item by legit ways, even when they didnt know it was duped)
      Its going to be fun to watch how Blizzard will deal with abusers in D3 🙂

      • Of course there will still be hacks, expecting that any security is 100% is just silly.  However, it will be harder and easier to detect thanks to online only.  You make it sound like Blizzard hasn’t learned a single thing about security since Diablo 2 but WoW proves otherwise.  There has been a single duping incident that was very quickly squashed and there hasn’t been one since.  There are still bots of course but that’s partially because WoW is easy mode when you’re just wandering around the wilderness fighting mobs with fairly static spawn points, landscape that never changes, and mobs with an almost 100% unchanging attack pattern.
        Nobody is saying that there won’t be issues, however, online only is more secure than a game with single player and that’s a fact that can not be disputed.  Is it perfect?  Of course not.  But it IS both more secure and easier to fix.

        • and i dont give a flying fudge.
          i want mods, i want patch selection, i want to make my own decisions. they want secure MP?
          fine, make a MP and a  SP client. easy. MP wont be compromised by that strategy either.

  13. Just had a thought. How difficult would it be for them to set up having us sign in to play online, but once signed in giving us the option to play online or off line? This way we still have to sign in each time we use it, but don’t have to stay online to play. This would work for people that have the slow phone modems as well. It would open up the game to more people than those that have broadband. Money people, that’s the language all corporations understand.

    • Impossible I’m afraid, as much of the game data e.g. all monster AI is on the servers and not local.

      • Well maybe in the future, they can add a disk to let us load the monsters on our hard drives. With the mandatory signing in online to start the game each time we play, BUT let us choose the option to either continue playing online or off.
        Or for that matter, how difficult would it be to just put the monsters on the disk? The game is still in Beta mode. It’s not that hard to change it so we can load the monsters on our hard drive and just HAVE to sign in each time we want to play the game. But with the GREAT option of being able to play off line. Just an option, Blizzard. After all, how can you turn down all those bucks from people that have slow modems. Just put up a website that tells the game on your computer that it’s okay to play, this is not a pirated game.

        • The problem with that is that despite what the original article posted says, it’s totally obvious that being online only prevents a lot of piracy. Not including all the monster AI, drop rates etc in the local game files means that if you try to download the game illegally (torrent for example), you have to also connect to an emulated server – where someone has manually reconstructed all of that missing data themselves. Now – this might well happen eventually, but it’s a HUGE barrier to piracy. Not only that, but every time Blizzard updates the game, it’s likely to break the emulated servers – and they’ll also have to manually add in any new content – huge pain. Look at the beta, people have been hammering away trying to get it working on an emulated server, and they’re still miles from done.

          Compare that to many games, MW3 for example, where you just download the game, and replace the executable file with a cracked one which totally bypasses all checks that the game is legal – like the ones you suggest.  

          For Blizzard – it’d also mean totally rewriting large parts of the code to change it to a local source, for little benefit – so I don’t see it happening I’m afraid.

          • Well, then it comes all down to piracy again, but not to dupes/hacks. Because if it really was about dupes/hacks only/mostly, they could still separate the community as they did in D2 with a slight difference:
            They include all necessary files for offline play in the install, but those files are only used if you choose to play an “offline character” (=SP). Characters started in SP can never be brought to online only (=B.Net). Game files are once in a while updated via regular patches (so offline play might not be as up-to-date as online play). No RMAH.
            If you play an online only character on B.Net, the game uses the data on the servers instead of the local stored files. Characters are stored at the servers and cannot be brought to SP. (and yes, they already did that in part with D2 – see Uber Diablo/Tristram for example). It’s not like they’d be reinventing the wheel…
            Voila, no dupes and hacks because of SP content (although more support work for Blizzard because of the necessary SP patches). So yeah, I think the only reason for online only is piracy, and all the “because of dupes/hacks” reasons from Blizzard to justify online only are implausible at best… 🙄

          • Grisu, it isn’t about where the files are run that makes then make the game online only.  It’s the fact that if they provide the files at all then people will know how the code works which could give them insight in manipulating data online.  The only solution is to completely disallow players from having those files which of course prevents any offline-play.

    • It’s been said time and time again, Blizz wants to maximize all possible revenue streams (as does any competitive company).  They are expecting the RMAH to be one of those major streams.  By keeping people online, and reducing dupes, they have a captive audience that has more of an incentive to use their fee based service.  If they ever do offer an off-line play option (very unlikely) it will only be because the RMAH fails miserably or slows to a trickle, or from customer backlash against the inconvenience of online only play.  Unless there is a consistent, horrible lag issue, I don’t see either happening anytime soon.  Do you?

    • Everyone? That is a strong word. “Most” is the right word…

      I spent the last three years visiting fan sites in search for news about D3 so I am (was) a hardcore fan. The RMAH hit me like a bomb, enough to make ME lose interest to play D3 online.

      That doesn’t mean I wont play it… you understand what I mean… If it was possible to buy a cheaper D3 version with single player only I would gladly buy it.

  14. I wish more people could be like Gabe. You can’t block pirates with DRM, its impossible, they will always find a way to bypass it.
    Just look at D3. They removed single player so pirates couldn’t play the game, but if you take a quick look at Mooege’s work you can see the game will be fully cracked no matter what, leaving pirates happy and legit players unhappy because they paid for a game that can only be played online.
    I know that the number of players unhappy with the removal of SP is low compared with the total amount of players, but they are still numerous. Blizzard could sell thousands of extra copies if they enabled SP.
    Either way, its not the online only feature that made me not want to buy D3, it was the RMAH. So i’m still pirating D3 :mrgreen:

    • I guess you won’t be playing it till the end of 2012 then – because it’s going to take at least that long to get a version working on an emulator anything like the retail experience 😛 Don’t get me wrong, Mooage is making good progress, but there’s nothing to stop Blizzard throwing in all sorts of changes to the code just to break emulators whenever they feel like it.

      Also – do you really think they’d gain more sales by adding in offline SP, than they’d lose from making it insanely easy to crack? I think not…

      For example:

      • Hmm, true but there is a problem with the way they estimated the number pirated copies is that it don’t take into account that A) some DLs will fail = some will DL it more than once, secondly the speed estimate that he used is high its ~600kb/s or 6megabit lines, the average line speed in the UK is more like 2 megabits & Torrents and when I use Torrents (legal ones) they are nowhere near as fast as my line speed. B) It’s assuming that people who would buy the game don’t because they can Pirate it IE every Pirate copy is a lost sale. C) This is the biggy IMO make sure there’s an easily found Playable Demo, as 70% of the people I know wont buy a game without playing it first so no demo = some people will Pirate it to get a demo.

        As for the Witcher 2 it Guilty of C) in that demo is hidden no link on official Webpage.

      • “Don’t get me wrong, Mooage is making good progress, but there’s nothing to stop Blizzard throwing in all sorts of changes to the code just to break emulators whenever they feel like it.”
        Fun fact, pirated copies not being patched up to date isn’t something unusual…
        As for the Witcher 2 thing… the guy is making a case against DRM, with the game selling over a million copies anyway, while being a hardcore RPG that everyone complained about being too hard…
        And considering the numbers an unpirated game should sell 5 times more copies, and frankly i cant think of any game that did that no matter how many months it took for a crack to appear.

  15. You cannot compare Ubisoft’s online only with D3 online only. As Newell said, Blizzard’s SC2 and D3 online-only come with a service (, whereas Ubisoft’s offering nothing else to complement, it’s just a barrier for the legitimate consumer to play the game wherever/whenever he wants.

  16. Just for peoples info there is already a working Diablo 3 beta on the net with hacked server. I’m sure that by release the servers will be working as good as Blizzards. Blizzards current online only policy will cause more people to gladly seek out these copies especially in eastern Europe and Asia and will be Blizzards loss.

  17. Gabe should probably focus on the fact that most zero-day cracked games by the heavy-hitters (RELOADED, SKIDROW, RAZOR1911) are Steam repacks from preloads.  I can’t believe he is saying this isn’t an issue for Steam!

    Sure the non-zero days are more stable and have fully cracked .exe’s, but to say Steam doesn’t have an issue (read: contribute to) this is 100% marketing.

  18. DRM usually just increases piracy. From a trust/credibility heuristic view, people hate being treated unfairly. Fairness is one of the key indicators of public satisfaction with an event or product. Even when people do not like the outcome of something, if they are treated fairly and given respect and voice, they are more likely to accept the situation. There’s tons of psychological research on this, as well as risk communication. Names like Benkler and McComas will get you really interesting research on these topics as well.
    Here’s a more mainstream article looking at the same topic

  19. Diablo III’s online-only requirement, though inconvenient in many cases, isn’t only a matter of DRM. People very often seem to forget that there is a very good reason beside piracy-prevention for D3 to stay connected: with Blizzard’s plans to have greater support for the in-game economy, the server-side data structure allows them to monitor possible hacking and duping of items to help ensure a fair play experience. Say what you will about Blizzard’s attempts to use the RMAH as a revenue stream, but the online-only system will help them prevent hacking to some extent and that alone will make a better play experience for the vast majority of players. It’s stupid for a game like Assassin’s Creed 2 to be online-only, but with D3 there are good reasons for the online requirement (even though there are cons to it as well).

    What he’s forgetting is that Steam also has some great deals on games all the time, and that is a pricing issues being bypassed…
    Like when he mentions how Russia is their biggest market… how many of those buys are from sales?

  21. This is a whole bunch of bullcrap. I grew up on generations of D1 and D2 and i never played them online or any shit like that. I only wanted to play diablo because  i like playing games at the same time with a very good story background (flashesbacks speech of that random corpse outside the dungeon at town of tristam mummbling about the butcher) and im not a “read a story book” kind of person. screw this shit goddammit give me my pirated diablo 3 u blizzard whores!! PIRATES forever!!! NYAAARR!!! 😉  PS : DIABLO 1 was the very first game i ever played for PC :mrgreen:

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