Game developers and studios struggle with how to keep their products out of the hands of hackers and pirates while maintaining a fair level of convenient usability for legitimate customers. Many have turned to digital rights management (DRM), but such measures are often easily hacked, rendering them ineffective, or are so intrusive that they are a major annoyance to a game’s paying audience.
One game developer, however, thought up an ingenious form of “DRM” to catch pirates in the act, while leaving his paying customers to go about their play completely unaffected.
Garry Newman, creator of the popular open world physics-based game Garry’s Mod, made a change to his source code that would throw an error when someone attempted to play an unauthorized copy. Soon after, online support forums began to fill up with threads like this:
“Everytime I launch Garrys Mod, it starts up then about 5 seconds later after it is done loading, it crashed with the Engine Error: Unable to shade polygon normals (76561198023026085).”
Newman just sat back, while basking in the glory of his prank and watching the lulz ensue. He even taunted the Garry’s Mod pirates on Twitter.
“Anyone unable to shade polygon normals?” Newman asked his Twitter followers, generating a number of responses from the illegitimate users who were hoping to get a fix for the “bug.”
Newman soon let the cat out of the bag, however, by tweeting, “Just enabled this error in GMod today. It happens when you pirated it. Having fun watching people complain. http://goo.gl/1CkT7.” The link shows hundreds of Google search results for the engine error.
While the tactic was obviously effective, Newman claimed that he wasn’t trying to generate more revenue. “I don’t think the error isn’t going to boost GMod sales… I just like to give people that paid something to be smug about,” he stated in one tweet, followed by a reply to another Twitter user that said, “Yeah of course, nothing is ever going to stop piracy, I’m just having fun at the pirates (sic) expense.”
Now that Newman has kicked the hornets’ nest, it will be interesting to see if he experiences any backlash from the hacking community for his prank.