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Games CEO finds himself reluctant warez hero

After DRM maker points punters to illegal copies

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When Stardock CEO Brad Wardell released his game sequel Galactic Civilizations II recently, he had no idea he'd find himself mistakenly hailed as a poster child for the anti-copyright lobby. Or that a DRM company that makes copy protection for games would post details of where they could download illicit copies of his game.

Wardell had ensured that GCII was released without CD-based copy protection, and in the fortnight since its release, the decision appears to have been vindicated. Wardell said it was WalMart's best-selling game last week. Stardock's protection allows users to make copies of the CD, but unless they can provide a serial as proof of purchase, they won't be entitled to upgrades.

This was apparently too much for some supporters of copy protection. One example is StarForce, which sells a range of DRM software. In the forums section of its website, a StarForce employee posted a link to a Bittorrent seed of a pirate copy of GCII - to "prove" that Stardock was making a terrible mistake.

Wardell told us that the site hosting the Torrent took down the link as soon as it was informed - but StarForce didn't delete the links to the pirate software for 24 hours.

The tale then got even more warped by the great truth machine called the internet's "collective wisdom".

Over on Digg, the headline-hunting site popular with teenagers (digg.com), a story hailing GCII made the front page. Unfortunately it was titled " Company WANTS its game pirated, and Digg members gave the erroneous story the thumbs up. And while more links to pirate copies of GCII was modded up :

Digg: Have some warez! (Click to enlarge)

... while attempts to correct the story were modded down…

Digg: Ignore this comment (Click to enlarge)

and ...

Digg: Ignore this comment, too! (Click to enlarge)

(You have to click to see these examples of "collective intelligence" at its finest.)

Starting with the Digg fiasco, Wardell denies he's making a stand against copy protection. Just stupid copy protection, he explains -

"I'm not a crusader against copy protection. I don't believe in Kumbaya. I'm a blood-sucking, eat-bones businessman," he told us today.

"Or something like that."

"It's just business. We make more money on a game like this - a single-player, turn-based strategy game - if we don't put stupid copy protection on it."

"We know our demographic," he explains. "If I was doing a shooter game - a Doom, say, I'd probably use activation. But 16-year olds warez kids don't play single-player strategy games at LAN parties".

"I've never said 'copy the game'. You have to know who you're selling to and you figure out the best way to keep them happy."

Wardell says sensible copy protection appeals to be people on the fence. He's been repelled by requirements for what he calls "piddly shareware programs" that require him to carry a CD around with him, that he'd otherwise buy.

"That just turns your CD drive into a very annoying dongle."

As for copy protection outfit StarForce, who guided people to a warez version of GCII, Wardell says that even if it's technically legal, it's still deeply unethical behavior.

"It would be like someone from Symantec saying "Hey! This guy should be careful about going this site, they'll catch something."

Wardell's Stardock uses an activation system on its popular Windows utilities, such as WindowBlinds.

Ironically, Wardell's been the victim of IP theft before. His DesktopX pioneered the popularity of "widgets" or "gadgets" - but we won't hold that against him - only to see the idea ripped off by Konfabulator. (Konfabulator's author is something of a serial magpie: he took code created at Apple to create a Mac theme program called Kaleidoscope). ®

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