Eight of the Most Hilarious Anti-Piracy Measures in Video Games
Developer Greenheart Games’ Game Dev Tycoon has an impressively clever anti-piracy measure. Users that pirate the game will start out normally, slowly building up their own game development studio. But eventually, something funny starts happening. More and more gamers start illegally downloading your games, eating into your profit margins, until it’s impossible to turn a profit.
This has led to incredible situations like real-world video game pirates complaining about the game’s virtual pirates on the game’s official forums. Oh, the irony!
Game Dev Tycoon isn’t the first game to stick the proverbial thumb in the eye of game pirates, though. In fact the practice has a long and storied history, almost as old as the games industry itself. Let’s take a look at some of the most amusing examples:
Michael Jackson The Experience DS
Ah, 2010. What a great year. Fantastic games like Mass Effect 2, StarCraft II and plenty more all hit store shelves. It was also the year South Africa hosted the World Cup, forcing millions of Westerners to hit up Google to discover just what in the heck a Vuvuzela was.
The team at Ubisoft working on Michael Jackon The Experience DS, determined not to let pirates get the best of them, had found their inspiration. When the game ROM detects that it’s been pirated, it plays vuvuzela noises over all the music tracks. Well done, Ubisoft. Well done.
Sometimes the simplest anti-piracy methods are the most effective. The developers of Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis start pirates off with normal weapons. But as pirates keep playing their weapons become less and less accurate, and less powerful. The player also starts to take more and more damage. Devious!
Ubisoft isn’t the only major publisher capable of clever and devious anti-piracy measures. If Mirror’s Edge from EA detects you’re playing with a pirated copy, it automatically slows you down before you reach key jumps that require lots of speed. Clever!
Batman Arkham Asylum
If Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham Asylum detects a pirated copy, Batman’s cape will refuse to open, preventing players from gliding. Besides making it much harder for pirates to be The Bat, it also makes the game unwinnable – gliding is required to progress in multiple sections of the game.
Grand Theft Auto 4
Rockstar is yet another developer to implement a simple-but-effective method of punishing pirates attempting to play Grand Theft Auto IV without paying. If a pirated copy is detected, the in-game camera wobbles around wildly after a few minutes of play. Bonus points for any gamer that can get Niko drunk in game with this screen wobble on and still complete a mission.
Remedy’s anti-piracy solution in Alan Wake isn’t quite as aggressive as the others on this list, but it’s still a good bit of fun. Pirated copies of the PC release give Alan… a pretty epic eye-patch. Pirates are also given a gentle reminder to please buy their software in the game’s loading screen.
Serious Sam 3
Immediately after picking up the game’s very first gun in the very first level, pirates are greeted with a super-fast, immortal red scorpion enemy. Doh! If these thieves manage to cheat or otherwise get around the deadly foe, a few levels later the camera locks up in an “up and to the left” position, forcing players into running silly circles.
Arguably the most devious and notorious example of “creative” copy protection is also one of the oldest. The good people at Starmen.net have the full scoop on EarthBound’s anti-piracy measures. The short version? Enemy encounters become much, much more frequent, making the game a slog. If a pirate still manages to make it to the end, the game freezes in the final few moments before the climax, and deletes the save file. Brutal!
So there you have it. Eight of the most clever, brutal, or just-plain-funny ways that game developers have out-smarted game pirates over the years. Of course, there are more examples throughout the annals of video game history than we could possibly list here. Ghost Trick renders all of its text invisible. Chrono Trigger sticks players in an infinite time travel loop. Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 blows up all of the player’s buildings. While certainly amusing, these issues have been known to occasionally take on a darker edge, when they inadvertently happened to players to who had legitimately purchased their software.
Here, as with many things, the classics might have done it best. Games like Monkey Island, Leisure Suit Larry and King’s Quest required players to access various physical goods that came with their copy of the game to prove they weren’t running an illegal copy. These foolproof systems were genuinely fun, and didn’t run the risk of unintentionally punishing a legitimate owner of the game. As long as they didn’t lose their manual or code book, of course.
Do you remember any especially memorable examples of video game copy protection? Leave a note in the comments below and let us know.
Justin is Editor of IGN Wireless. He has been reviewing mobile games since the dark days of Java flip phones. You can follow him on Twitter at @ErrorJustin and on IGN.
By Justin Davis