Thursday, July 4, 2013

Why I am not validating Mac App Store Receipts

When someone buys one of your apps in the Mac App Store you can check a receipt using cryptography to make sure it has been paid for. I am not doing this. I never have. I never will. Why? Because I am still traumatized and excited from childhood experiences. Here is what happened:

As kids, my brother and myself enjoyed playing a video game called "The Settlers". It was a game where you slowly built your own settlement. You could build farms, mine gold, coal and ore and combine your goods to make new stuff.

Source: Wikipedia

At some point the next major version of "The Settlers" came out. It cost a lot. My brother and myself had to save up weeks of our weekly allowance to get enough money. After a couple of weeks saving every penny we finally were able to buy The Settlers 3. The gameplay was great. The story was great. But there was a problem…

In order to expand you sometimes have to fight AI enemies with your own warriors. You create new warriors by combining coal, ore and gold. You use the coal and ore to build new weapons. Your settlers are then equipped with those weapons and turn into warriors. At least in theory. That is what the manual said. That is what common sense dictates. The problem was that our forges produced meat instead of swords. Meat was the last thing we needed in order to build an army.


We spent weeks if not months and tried to work around this problem. There must be another way to get weapons. We must have done something wrong. Maybe we needed more gold? Maybe we had to produce a certain amount of meat before the forge finally realized that it was time for war. Maybe we had to burn the forge down a couple of times to make the blacksmith angry so that he produces weapons instead of meat.

We had no luck. All of our attempts to fix the meat issue failed. We gave up because we were not able to really play this game. Without expanding to new territory you ran out of resources quite quickly. And without weapons there was no efficient was to fight your enemies. My brother and myself thought that the meat issue was just a bug. At that time there was no internet for us: No updates. So we went back to do other things.

Years later we found out that the meat issue was indeed a bug but not a bug in the actual game. It was a bug in the copy protection. The Settlers 3 was one of the first games that had a copy protection. It was a special kind of copy protection: If the game thought you had not bought it then nothing special would happen at first. It would still be playable but in a special mode. In this mode coal and ore turned into meat and trees never grew back which made the game unplayable in the mid and end game.

This happened to a lot of people. The copy protection was pretty buggy in that it hit the wrong people: People who bought the game for money. People like my brother and myself.

Now you know why I am still traumatized by copy protection. You never want this to happen to anybody.

But wait: There is more to it.

At some point my brother and myself got a new computer. A friend gave us a copy of a game called StarCraft I but he forgot to give us the serial number for the game.

I have to mention that at it is legal to do that in Germany. Even if he had given us the serial number it would still have been legal to do so - at least to my knowledge.

When you start StarCraft I it plays a nice sound effect and shows a nice intro. This made us very excited. But then the game asked us for a serial key. We had none! Out of frustration I entered a number in the serial number text field:


Something like that. AND IT WORKED!

We played StarCraft I for months! It was the best game we have ever played. We fought against each other.


Years later, StarCraft II came out. Because of that great experience (and because I like to pay for software/games) I bought many copies of StarCraft II: For myself, for my brother and for friends. Today I am a huge StarCraft II fanboy. I am watching tournaments and I pay casters to get access to good commentary. The experience would be even better if Blizzard had decided to relax the copy protection for StarCraft II. The fact that they have a strong copy protection in place may weaken my point but the fact is: I bought StarCraft II not because it has strong copy protection but because I had a good experience with it in the past.

Copy protection can really be bad for your business and make children unhappy and avoid your company for the next 60 years.