My latest game, Card Sweethearts, is out. So I thought to make a post about the making of it, including some interesting informations for developers about a hard DRM decision I had to take.
As you might imagine taking a look at the screenshot on the right, the game is about poker. In some parts, you can even play strip poker with one of the four women you’ll encounter during the game. The game features beautiful manga art from Rebecca Gunter (don’t bother contacting her, she is full of work until next year!) and uses a custom version of the Ren’Py card-game engine that the programmer Tom made specifically for this game.
The project started a long time ago, so long that I had to look in my emails archive to find out when first I asked Tom if he would like to collaborate with me for this game. It was september 2008! The poker engine took quite some time to make (it’s more complex than you might think, especially the Poker AI of the CPU players) so around the summer of 2009 I had a finished alpha version of the poker engine, all the art for the game and a general plot idea in my mind.
At those times I had released already some other visual novels/dating sims like Bionic Heart. The problem for me in making those games was (actually it still is) the language: since I wanted this game to be humorous, I had lots of difficulties in writing it in english because isn’t my native language. So I hired a person I found on Deviantart to write the game texts.
Sadly, that person quit in middle of the story in autumn 2009: so I was in a very bad situation, with almost everything ready except the story. Once again, I asked my precious collaborator Ayu Sakata (which at those times was proofreading Heileen 2, and started writing The Flower Shop) if she could finish the story. I really can’t blame her for not being too enthusiast about this (even if she never said that, I’m sure she was!), being a poker game with a male protagonist trying to date the girls, and end up playing strip poker with them
But anyway, she did a great job as always and in April/May we had the final beta version. Now comes the interesting part for developers: the DRM!
Why we decided to drop the DRM
As you can imagine, such a game would be very popular among the warez sites (manga, strip poker, etc) much more than my other regular games. Tom even came up with a neat online activation system, that was using a private/public key (similar to what OpenPGP does for emails) so that the product, once activated on a computer, was tied to its hardware. The user would have been able to “deactivate” the game from a computer to reinstall it to another, but still, was unable to play for example at same time on his home pc and on his notebook.
After some weeks of testing and feedback from friends, developers friends and normal testers, we decided to take the risk and drop it. Why? Well, for several reasons:
- I’ve always promoted the idea that people would buy the game license as “personal”. So restricting the use to only 1 computer per person was against what I always did
- There’s always the risk of server going down, preventing people from registering (even if was just one-time activation). A fun coincidence was that exactly in those weeks I was unable to play even for just a few hours Dragon Age expansion (requiring online log-in) and I remember I was extremely disappointed as player
- The game would have been cracked anyway: so all that DRM would have accomplished is prevent a “0-day crack” but possibly piss off some people
- The Ubisoft DRM epic fail was not too distant: I had fear of bringing my company under a bad name… once you lose the buyers confidence, is hard to get it back!
- Ultimately, we wanted to provide a good experience to paying users, and focus only on them, not the pirates
So, we released the game using absolutlely No-DRM system. Just a download link to get the fullversion, like we always did.
I don’t know if the game has been already cracked or not (it’s out since just yesterday) but I have the feeling (and the hope!) I made the right choice. The choice of rewarding people who buy games, not punish them with absurd DRM requirements.