DRM has been a major point of contention between publishers and gamers in recent years. The former argues that restrictions are needed to prevent piracy, while the latter says that's a load of baloney because DRM-laced software lands on filesharing sites anyway. It's somewhat uncommon that you can count a large name among the naysayers, but Paradox Interactive CEO Fred Wester isn't afraid to stand among the critics.
Speaking with GameSpy, Wester said he's surprised his industry peers are still pushing DRM because Paradox discovered nearly a decade ago that it simply doesn't work. "If you take something like Sony's DRM, SecuROM -- it's a waste of money. It will keep you protected for three days, it will create a lot of technical support, and it will not increase sales. And I know this for a fact, because we tried it eight years ago," said Wester.
As a gamer, Wester hates DRM, recalling his launch experience with Civilization III. "I bought Civilization III when it first came out, and for the first three days I couldn't play it. It installed some other software, and it just shut down. I had to contact Atari support three times before I even got help. And that experience is terrible," he said. "No one should have to purchase a product that they're unable to install because of the DRM."
Wester believes companies like Ubisoft still defend DRM because of politics -- that is, managers trying to please investors who are clueless about gaming. Being the CEO and half-owner of Paradox, he has more leeway. "I think it's been a way to cover your back, previously. Now, I see no reasonable explanation for why people keep on adding it. Especially the kind where you have to be online all the time, like Ubisoft," Wester explained.
Despite shunning DRM, PC games like Magicka have far exceeded Paradox's expectations. The company would've been happy selling 150,000 copies of its fantasy adventure, but it's moved nearly 10 times that amount -- all through digital services. In fact, over 95% of Paradox's business is on PC, with 97% of that being digital. The company wants to keep things that way and it's working to sign deals with more services, including Origin.
So, what's the secret to selling gobs of DRM-free, digital PC games? Develop something people want to play! Wester points to the wild success of Minecraft which has sold over four million units through one website, without the aid of distribution titans like Steam. What's more, Minecraft creator Notch has repeatedly encouraged cash-strapped gamers to pirate his title with the intentions of paying for it later if they enjoy it.