DRM or Digital Rights Management is designed to help game developers protect their games from piracy. However, DRM has gained a pretty bad reputation in the gaming community. Video game companies can sometimes take their DRM systems too far. The most recent case was in RiME, where hackers discovered that the DRM actually slowed the game’s performance significantly. Other egregious examples are scattered throughout gaming history.
It is important to understand that companies have every right to protect their games. I am in no way advocating pirated copies of video games. Always buy the game.
That being said… there are some rather downright hilarious and ingenious methods video game companies have used over the years to protect their games. Many of these will ruin your game; completely breaking it or even erasing all of your saved data. Others do hilarious things like turning your character into a seagull or slapping an eyepatch on the player character. The funniest thing about these pirated games by far is the reactions of those who stole the games in the first place. There are several instances where pirates go to complain to the company or post youtube videos of their “bugs,” only to have the developers turn around and out them as pirates.
15 Demoed (Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring Of Fates)
It takes a lot of self-restraint to not try to punish and/or humiliate pirates. Although, that certainly doesn’t stop Square-Enix from finding clever ways to rain on a pirate’s parade. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates for the Nintendo DS showcased the real genius behind these games. Pirates get to enjoy 20 blissful minutes of Ring of Fates before the game stops and gives you a lovely little picture of two happy moogles. The text at the top of the screen says “Thank you for playing!!”
Square-Enix managed to turn pirated copies of their game into demos. It gives you a little taste and just as your getting invested, yanks it all away. Want to know what happens? You’ll have to take a trip to the nearest game store and pick up an actual copy of Ring of Fates. Honestly, though, this is a rather tame and cheeky response to pirates compared to some of the other things on this list.
14 Jump! You Can Fly. (Batman Arkham Asylum)
A pirated copy of Batman Arkham Asylum seems normal at first glance. Everything runs smoothly, and there don’t seem to be any funny bugs. However, it very quickly becomes apparent that something’s not right the first time the game asks you to glide. You’ll be prompted to grapple onto a nearby statue. Next, it will ask you to do a gliding kick to take out a singular baddy below. However, once you press the glide button, Batman will drop like a rock. Most players will just assume they did it wrong. However, keep going and you’ll quickly discover that it’s not you.
Batman Arkham Asylum nerfs the gliding ability in pirated copies. If you continually press the glide button, Batman will flap his wings like a toddler pretending they can fly. It’s quite undignified for the Dark Knight. The lack of gliding actually does a lot more than completely destroying Batman's dignity; it makes it impossible to proceed. An early mission requires you to glide from one platform to the next. So beware pirates, your thievery lets the Joker get away.
13 DEGRADE (ARMA II)
A lot of the games on this list take one of two approaches. Either they go for shame, or they break your game. ARMA II takes the latter approach, but not right away. Instead, it gives pirates a series of warnings before going completely off the deep end.
The DEGRADE system, also known as FADE, in ARMA II does exactly that, it degrades the game over time. The first symptom is fairly upfront and noticeable. All weapons will become wildly inaccurate. From there, the vehicles you’re driving will randomly stop. Eventually, the entire screen starts to rival a bad acid trip as everything becomes wobbly and unfocused. If you haven’t gotten the message at this point, DEGRADE has one final trick up its sleeve. Your character will turn into a seagull and fly away. Finally, a message will pop up to tell you off. “Good birds do not fly away from this game, you only have yourself to blame.”
12 Arachnophobia (Serious Sam 3)
If you have arachnophobia then whatever you do, do not pirate Serious Sam 3. You will be in for a very bad time.
Croteam is one of the developers that wants to make sure pirates have a bad time. In fact, they went so far as to make the game nearly impossible to beat. Now, the game itself will run fine. You won’t encounter any glitches, and the game won’t freeze up on you. Instead, the game will spawn an unkillable, giant, pink scorpion monster that has an obsessive craving for protagonist pie. This hulking monstrosity will hunt you to the ends of the earth. It’s extremely fast. It is equipped with two enormous claws so that it can beat the tar out of you. That’s not even the worst part. This thing has guns. You will not get away. It’s only a matter of time. Plus, the thing is ugly as sin.
11 Pixilated (The Sims 4)
The Sims franchise is arguably one of the most famous simulation games of all time. Even if you haven’t played it, you’ve at least heard of it. The games are isometric, third-person games that allow you to create and monitor your own little virtual family. You can create characters, build homes, and generally torture the poor Sims until they meet a hilarious demise.
In The Sims 4, whenever a character climbs into a shower or bathtub, their body will become pixelated. This is typically a temporary state and is used to censor nudity. Once your Sim is clean, they’ll hop out of the shower and get dressed. Normally, the pixilated sections will vanish and the game will proceed as before. However, in pirated copies of the game, the pixelation remains. It will spread and grow until your whole game becomes a permanently pixilated mess. If you turn your head and squint, it kind of looks like Minecraft.
10 Jolly Roger (Quantum Break)
Remedy Entertainment is not a big fan of pirates. Unlike other companies, they don’t go out of their way to implement any particularly harmful or game breaking bugs into illegal copies of their games. Instead, they take a more subtle approach.
If your version of Quantum Break is pirated, it will give the main character Jack Joyce a small but humorous makeover. Jack will run around with an eyepatch over one eye that features a skull and crossed swords design. Tips at the bottom of loading screens will encourage pirates to buy a legitimate copy of the game. Otherwise, the pirated game remains untouched. Remedy implemented an identical strategy in some of their other games including Alan Wake. I’m not exactly sure how effective their strategy is, but I wouldn’t mind Jack running around with an eyepatch.
Fun fact, the skull and crossed sword jolly roger was used by the famous pirate Calico Jack.
9 Trapped (The Talos Principle)
The Talos Principle is a first-person puzzle game created by Croteam and takes a rather unique look at the world of science fiction and philosophy. It was released back in 2014 with overwhelmingly positive reviews for a variety of different platforms. The game was met with critical acclaim, and people were scrambling to get it for themselves, even if that meant stealing it.
Pirates were in for a nasty surprise as their game to a grinding halt in an elevator. Elevators are used to take the player from one level to the next. So in cracked copies, the elevator would freeze halfway up, effectively locking the thief inside. You couldn’t get out or progress. However, Croteam proved to have a slightly sadistic bent to them as the glitch wouldn’t kick in until you were already several hours into the game. Talk about painful. However, it didn’t stop there. Pirates went to the Steam forums to complain about the glitch and inevitably outed themselves because of it.
8 Cannot Unsee (The Witcher 2)
CD Projekt RED is known for their anti-DRM stance. That didn’t stop them from sending letters to people who had pirated the game, asking the scalawags to actually pay for their game. CD Projekt RED later admitted that the letters weren’t exactly the best way to tackle the issue, but it wasn’t their only way.
A second, sneakier bug was implemented into the game that would pop up in pirated copies. There are a few romance options available for Geralt that inevitably lead to a steamy sex scene. Pirates were in for a nasty surprise when the texture pack for their lover of choice bugged out. Instead of romance with a beautiful young woman, they got an ugly old hag.
If you go to youtube, you can find the eye bleeding cutscene. While I don’t recommend watching the video, I do recommend heading to the comment section. It can be quite entertaining.
7 Crisis Of The Infinite Chickens (Crysis Warhead)
The Crysis series is another collection of gritty, first-person shooters that take the art of mass murder to a whole new level. It’s all about the guns. You pick your weapon and charge into battle with bullets flying in both directions. Crysis Warhead is a spinoff of the main title series. However, it was the way it handled pirates that made it very special.
As I said before, guns are very important in Crysis. You need to use the best weapon you can in order to progress through the game. However, Crysis pirates quickly found themselves in a crisis of their own. Chickens would fly out of your gun instead of bullets, and any grenades you tossed would also be chickens. Of course, it is only your gun that runs afoul. Your enemies can still turn you into Swiss cheese without issue. Now, I’ll agree that chickens are evil, but they aren’t all that effective in battle. This isn’t Zelda.
6 Child’s Play (Earthbound)
The developers of Earthbound were not kidding around when it came to protecting their games from pirates. Earthbound had no less than five layers of protection. Many earlier games relied on the users authenticating their games with manuals. Earthbound’s protections were built in. Most of these protections were very small and not really all that noticeable. Others were impossible to miss.
The first really noticeable change happens almost right away. Pirated copies of Earthbound are a lot harder than the real deal. The number of random enemies skyrockets. Plus, a few enemies will appear in places that they have no right being in.
Now, while this is annoying to deal with and gives the game a difficulty curve on steroids, it isn’t impossible to play. If you do manage to make it through to the final boss, Earthbound has one last surprise. The game will completely freeze at some point in the middle of the Giygas fight. Once you restart the game, all of the save files will be deleted.
5 Leap Of Faith (Mirror’s Edge)
No one knows hardcore parkour like someone who’s played Mirror’s Edge. You play as Faith, a Runner who has to outrun and out climb government cronies as you fight for freedom. Mirror’s Edge has you leaping off of skyscrapers and running across walls. It’s a parkour enthusiast's dream. The game is a ton of fun for those who have legal copiess. Pirates, on the other hand, have a much harder time.
The ability to run is the most important part of the game. You’ll need it to get out of danger or cross huge gaps. Pirated versions of the game have a glitch that makes running nearly impossible. Faith slows down exponentially whenever she approaches a jump. It gets to the point where a snail could outpace her. Forget jumping. Just getting across the rooftop becomes difficult. If you try to make the jump despite her speed, Faith will plunge to meet her fate on the ground far below.
4 Pigging Out (Settlers III)
The Settlers series is one about strategy and resource management. It’s kind of like Starcraft, but without the aliens. You had to create and build a settlement into a massive utopia filled with riches and huge armies that could conquer the neighboring land. It all required careful manipulation of your resources. Some of the most important resources were food, wood, coal, stone, and iron. Without them, your settlement wasn’t going anywhere.
Getting the ingredients themselves isn’t too tricky. However, pirates would quickly find themselves short of one essential resource: iron. Instead of iron, iron smelters would produce pigs. Lots and lots of pigs. Now, having the extra food isn’t so bad, but unless you are in a Monty Python sketch, pigs aren’t that effective of a military strategy. Buying the game would absolutely be the best strategy here.
3 Waiting Game (Dragon Quest V)
When it comes to pirates, Square-Enix developers do everything in their power to try and waste as much of the pirate’s time as possible. They are the ultimate pirate-punishing trolls.
The first ten or so minutes of Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride has you playing through the main character’s childhood. One part of the story places you on a boat as the main character and their father travel to meet an old friend. You can wander throughout the ship, talking to various NPCs as you wait for the ship to reach the harbor. However, if you’ve got an illicit copy, the ship will never reach land. Prates spent hours on the ship before flooding the forums to report the bug. That’s when Square-Enix let the cat out of the bag and revealed the trick. Word to the wise, if you’ve pirated a game and something strange is going on, don’t go complaining on the game’s forums. It doesn’t end well.
2 Read the Manual (Zak McKracken)
A lot of older games couldn’t program DRM and anti-piracy bugs into their games. Instead, they included little puzzles that required the game’s manual in order to solve. For Prince of Persia, it was a series of potions. You had to select the right one based on a series of clues in order to proceed. Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders had ‘exit visa codes.’ The codes were printed on a sheet that came with the game. PDFs didn’t exist at the time, but photocopiers did. To get around that, LucasArts printed the codes on dark brown pieces of paper in black ink. Every time you needed a code, you’d have five tries to get it right. Get it wrong, and the game would throw your character in jail. But it doesn’t end there. The guard in the jail started by giving the character a lecture about stealing before turning to the player to lecture you directly. It’s a long scene, and it ends with the guard telling you to go out and buy the game already.
1 Thieves! (Game Dev Tycoon)
Game Dev Tycoon is a rather unique little indie title. It lets you take the role of a small time game developer. Your goal is to create a game and try to sell it to as many people as possible. You’ll have to manage your social media accounts, reviews, and various other obstacles along the way. Pirated versions of Game Dev Tycoon give the player a taste of their own medicine.
The game proceeds normally for a short while until you’ve released your first title. After that, you’ll receive a message informing you that too many people have pirated your game. It will force your small company into bankruptcy, and you lose the game. Ironically, people have asked if there is an in game DRM that you can use to protect your game. Sorry, but you should have thought of that before you illegally ripped off a tiny indie game. It doesn’t even cost that much!