A VIEW ON SOFTWARE PIRACY PART II by Richard Karsmakers
When I read Piper's article in ST NEWS Volume 3 Issue 7, I
became seriously concerned. The man made a point for sure. So,
instead of kicking his butt and trying to redesign his head by
using several heavy blunt objects, I decided that I would write
something about the subject as well.
The shit hits the fan
When I talked to Henk van der Molen (also of Cuddly Cactus
International) I even became more seriously concerned: Several
major software companies and retailers have already dropped the
ST as main product or are planning to do so. The reason: Software
piracy is getting to be a pretty big nuisance on the ST. A big
software retailer can nowadays be happy if he sells about units
of a game nationwide (in Holland, that is). And with 20,000 ST
machines sold here, that's a rather uncomparable figure.
A comparison: The biggest hit ever on any home computer,
Activision's "Ghostbusters", sold 50,000 copies world wide. In
Japan, a new game for Nintendo's cartridge-based game system sold
more than a million in the first week after its appearance - and
in Japan only!
Everywhere, the ST and the Amiga are known as the computers with
the heaviest computer piracy among its users. That's a bad name!
I will try to analyse the reasons behind software piracy a bit,
and I will also try to give hints at how these can be evaded.
First of all, there's the software price. I have discussed high
and low with several people about software prices, and it's
always obvious: The software marketing people think they're even
a bit on the low side, and the end user thinks they're on the
What's the truth?
Some programs take years to program, and the programmer invest a
lot of time in it. It is only fair when this programmer would get
enough money back; if the game or utility is great he in fact
deserves to become a millionaire. The sad thing, however, is that
many programmers don't get that much money: I think an estimate
of about 2-5% of the total package price would be quite accurate
(maybe even lower). Advertisements and packaging also costs
money. Here, I consider an estimate of 10% to be quite correct.
Of course, the software house also has to earn money. Let's say
5%? Or even 10%? And an additional 5-10% has to go to people who
do additional artwork, poster design, manual writing/
translation, etc. At the most, this would sum up to 35% of the
total retail price.
What happens to all the rest, then?
In the software business, there's something called a 'dealer
margin'. This is the discount that the software companies or
wholesale retailers give to the computershops that actually SELL
the programs. Most of the time, this is 30-50%!! So that's where
money can be saved: If the dealer margin will go down, more games
will be sold all together and the dealer gets his money in the
Another aspect of computer software prices, especially those of
games, is the format.
On the Commodore 64, most games sells at £9,95 or something like
that (just under 40 Dutch guilders or about $20). That's a good
price for a game, though some budget labels even go lower. The
programs are of average to good quality, and sometimes even a
great game can be found among them. A truly mindstaggering game
might cost five pounds more.
On the Commodore Amiga and ST, software prices are about 30-50%
higher by default. Why? Is it because these people have more
expensive computers and can thus probably afford to spend more
money on software?
There is a huge demand for cheap software on the ST. For
example: "Karting Grand Prix" (XMas 1987) cost only £9,95 and
outsold every other, much better software title at the time. The
game was lousy but the price was right. Eventually, the guys
behind the game might have earned just as much as renown
programmers that happened to write games that would have to be
sold at £24,95 (almost 90 Dutch guilders, or $45)!
My solution: Especially games software can go down a lot in
price. Even the very good games (like the programs from
Microdeal, Telecom and Psygnosis) should be available at £14,95
at the most (I am glad to say that Psygnosis is heading the right
way with their £19,95 Psyclapse games). Dealer margins can also
The Sieve Syndrome
Let me give you two typical examples of the 'Sieve Syndrome'.
At the time that "Terrorpods" was due out, I regularly called
Psygnosis to ask when they would ship the game out eventually. I
was at the time working on an issue of ST NEWS that would have
to be finished within a week. So I called their marketing guy,
Jonathan Ellis, and one day he told me that they would ship the
game tomorrow at the earliest. They would make an exception for
me and do it through express mail, although they couldn't make an
exception by sending it earlier to me than to others ("We never
send any stuff before launch, since we have had negative
experiences with that").
I put down the horn and it almost immediately rang again. There
was someone on the other end of the phone who was playing a game
that he got from a friend that had already got it yesterday. Its
It was then that I started to doubt about the truth of the Dutch
saying "Honesty lasts longest". Well, in fact, honesty does last
longer: Almost a week, to be more precise.
My second example is more recent. VERY recent: This morning (it
is now February 15th 1989). Someone from Germany apparently found
it necessary to send me an illegal copy of a new System 3 game. A
game that has not yet been launched, which will probably take
another month or so.
When I booted up the game, the introductory message said
"There's a leak in System 3" and more stuff like that. I bet! The
game is called "The Last Ninja", and is comes supplied on four
disks plus editor disk. Honesty lasts the longest? Yeah, indeed
I have been tempted to write a full review of the game, because
it's simply GREAT and everybody should buy it, but I decided not
to. A matter of principles. But something is definitely wrong
with someone's principles at System 3!
My solution: If you are a programmer, NEVER EVER give away
source files or ready programs before they're actually marketed.
Obviously, NOBODY can be trusted (especially, I am afraid,
magazine software reviewers!). And please realise that nothing is
hotter than a game that someone is not allowed to give away; the
only difference will be that a message "Don't spread" is written
on each copy's label. There will be just as many copies - maybe
About this, I can be fairly short: They don't help. Copy
protections only decrease a program's userfriendlyness, and
increase loading times and disk drive head wear. Every software
protection will eventually be cracked, and every protection
method will eventually be copyable with some new copy program
version as well.
The only copy protection that helps (and which happens to be
designed by yours truly) is the one with which you write the
user's name and address, as well as his 'license number' (or
something like that) in the program. When you get your hands on
on illegal copy of the program, it is then always possible to
trace back the offender. Of course, this license number has to be
hidden somewhere, and the user has to be made thoroughly aware of
the fact that his name is in it.
My "Virus Destruction Utility" uses this protection method and
it is very effective. I have traced back about twenty offenders
now, and I am having good results getting them in court (the
proof is full-proof!) and paying hard. The method has something
to do with a hidden GEM option and an undocumented GEM buffer in
conjunction with a very neat coding routine that all hackers
couldn't find (yeah...it's been tested by some of the biggest
crackers!). The program can still be backed up to any disk (or
RAM-and harddisk) you want and one never has to insert the
original disk again. And the nicest thing about it all: Two
programs with different names and addresses will be 100%
identical when compared with each other!
What will a system be like when there's NO SOFTWARE left for it,
simply because nobody will take the chance of writing any?
Wouldn't that be quite an inconvenience? Yet this is the way
we're heading for when things go on the way they are going on
now. This might sounds like a vain threat, but just mark my words
and remember them in a year's time.
I hope your views of software piracy have changed now you've
read this (why don't you also read Piper's article I mentioned
above as well?). When you happen to get a really GOOD game, also
go to the shop and BUY it (the manual and packaging is mostly
worth it). Some examples of software like this are "Starglider
II", "Degas Elite" (number of hidden features!), "Falcon"
(impossible to play without a manual), "Flight Simulator II"
(though a bit expensive), some other brilliant games that have
been launched over the years ("Goldrunner", "Arkanoid",
"Nebulus", "Bubble Bobble", "Super Hangon", "Super Sprint", etc.,
etc...) and of course many more titles that I can't possibly
Write to companies and tell them they should decrease their
prices. Only buy computer games through mail order (the dealer
margins are much lower there). And, even more important: Don't
spread illegal software when it concerns GOOD software! This
might also decrease the rapid speed at which viruses multiply
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.