Top 8 Most Interesting Copy Protection Methods

These Games Poked Pirates in the Eye!


Though we can certainly understand the allure of getting games for free, software piracy has severely harmed game developers and publishers since many decades ago. But ever since there’s been piracy, there have been copy protection methods to confound those who’d try and digitally defraud these developers! Here we take a look at the most savage, original and above all funniest methods of copy protection in the history of gaming.


Games Development Tycoon


A game about running your own games development studio has the potential to be a goldmine for metafictional humour. The folks at Greenheart games certainly didn’t squander the opportunity to have some laughs and protect their intellectual property at the same time! Patrick Klug, founder of Greenheart Games, had the foresight to anticipate that Games Development tycoon would likely be plundered by software pirates. To wrongfoot these ne’er do wells, he purposely released a cracked version of the game and uploaded it himself to torrent sites. After booting up the game, players of this “cracked” version wouldn’t notice anything strange for a little while, until they recieved the following message:

“Boss, it seems that while many players play our new game, they steal it by downloading a cracked version rather than buying it legally. If players don’t buy the games they like, we will sooner or later go bankrupt.”

It’s not an idle warning either, as the player soon finds themselves steadily losing more and more moolah until their studio does indeed go bankrupt! This trolling attempt went off without a hitch, with players on message forums complaining en masse about what they thought was an unfair game mechanic, not knowing it only appeared because they were playing the pirated version! When all was said and done, this brilliant bit of copy protection was perhaps the first game to really make software pirates empathize with the harm they can cause.

– Jonathan Trussler


Monkey Island



Whereas modern day games have digital-based copy protection, the original Monkey Island had a particularly classic bit of cardboard-based protection! Each copy of the game came with a beautiful round cardboard spindle with a variety of different cardboard faces. When turning the central cardboard wheel on its axis, you could match the bottom halves of the pirate faces up with a variety of different top halves, making a hilarious number of piratical facial permutations! Each funny face correlates to a set of different dates and locations on the wheel which you have to enter when prompted on the screen to ensure you haven’t pirated (pardon the pun) the game. As a small child, I found this endless fun, which is why I still treasure my pirate wheel today (even though more recent releases of Monkey Island such as the special edition don’t require it!). The sequel, Monkey Island 2, had it’s own version where you can mix various voodoo ingredients which is cool, but not quite as colorful!

– Jonathan Trussler

Star Trek 25th Anniversary


Though Star Trek has long since passed its 50th anniversary now, I can still remember the fiendish copy protection method employed by the game intended to mark its 25th year of trekkin. Star Trek: 25th anniversary was a point n’ click adventure game casting you in the role of the scenery chewing xenophile Captain Kirk. When sent on a mission, you’re given a destination planet to warp to. However, to find the right co-ordinates of this planet, you’ll have to consult the planetary map hidden in the manual. If you don’t have the manual (or simply can’t interpret it properly) then you’ll invariably pick the wrong destination. When arriving at any planet other than your intended destination, you’ll be immediately hailed by a nearby fleet of hostile vessels who will furiously chastise you for crossing the border into their territory.

This nasty verbal broadside is followed up by a literal one, as you’re then attacked by a squadron of 4 or 5 heavily armed warships. No matter how well you pilot the Enterprise, it’s virtually impossible to defeat these odds and you’re blown to oblivion! It’s a pretty brutal method of copy protection, and also perhaps not entirely lore consistent that 99 out of 100 systems seem to be heavily fortified with squadrons of Klingon, Romulan or Elasi warships! Nonetheless, it certainly did its job in deterring space pirates from enjoying their ill-gotten game!

– Jonathan Trussler

Arkham Asylum


The World’s Greatest Detective, got the World Greatest anti-piracy measure. Arkham Knight, the progenitor of the Arkham series of the games, punishes pirates by nerfing their ability to actually play the game.

The developers targeted the caped-crusaders ability to glide. Instead of effortlessly gliding from one platform to another, if pirated, it’s almost as Batman has two invisible lead weights attached to his bat suit, limiting his ability to glide and seriously hampering the pirate’s ability to play.

And the best part about this story? No, not the crafty way developer Rocksteady crowbarred DRM into the game – it’s the way publisher Eidos dealt with one particular buccaneer protesting about their perceived lack of gliding prowess.

A distressed pirate posted this message on the old Eidos forums:

“I’ve got a problem when it’s time to use Batman’s glide in the game. When I hold , like it’s said to jump from one platform to another, Batman tries to open his wings again and again instead of gliding. So he fels down in a poisoning gas. If somebody could tel me, what should I do there.”

To which an Eidos administrator Keir replies:

“The problem you have encountered is a hook in the copy protection, to catch out people who try and download cracked versions of the game for free. It’s not a bug in the game’s code, it’s a bug in your moral code.”

I mean, Christ, Eidos, don’t pull any punches!

– Jon Davis

Alan Wake


The video game imitation of Twin Peaks, Alan Wake is not only an excellent story-driven psychological thriller, but it also has a great punishment for those that have illegally downloaded the game.

As a badge of dishonour, for pirating the game, Alan will be forced to wear an eyepatch, like his buccaneering counterparts from the late 17th century.

While slightly amusing, it certainly takes strips the drama from poignant scenes as the game roars to its scintillating climax. But, it certainly works well to shame those that have obtained the game through unsavoury means.

Now, I only wish Remedy would make another Alan Wake game to properly round off the story.

– Jon Davis



EarthBound’s programmers were well-aware of the ardent drive behind software pirates, and that’s how the game’s anti-piracy measures begins with a ruse: a warning screen that freezes your game. While enough to deter your average bootlegger, a more tech-savvy pirate can simply arrange the relevant bytes to make the game function. Problem solved, right? Nay, for then they’ve fallen into EarthBound’s trap: Spawning hordes of on-screen enemies wherever you go.

As seen above, these mobs are impossible to avoid rendering the game an aggravating, demoralizing slog. It’s not like this’ll happen to Joe Schmoe, either: you’d have to purposefully bypass the warning screens for this to activate, and the game even throws distorted backgrounds for enemies spawning in places they shouldn’t be (mainly those kooky Spiteful Crows). Even if you persist through this torture, it’ll be all for naught, for EarthBound plays its trump card at the very end by freezing the final boss battle and deleting all your save data. Crime doesn’t pay.

– Anthony Pelone


Serious Sam 3 


Giant, indestructible pink scorpions are the embodiment of my worst nightmare. Aren’t they yours too?

Well they probably should be – because that’s exactly what happens if you pirate a copy of Serious Sam 3 – the blast-fest from developers Croteam.

As if a giant armour-plated scorpion wasn’t bad enough, the wily arachnid follows you throughout the entire game, soaking up all your bullets, rockets, grenades, hopes, dreams or anything else you might throw at it for that matter.

Here’s some gameplay of the guy in action.

That’ll make you think twice about pirating a game, won’t it?

– Jon Davis


The Sims


Remember The Sims? I have fond memories of fighting my brother for the PC, just so I can build a house, build a swimming pool, instruct all my Sims into it, remove the ladder out and then watch as they helplessly swim about the place, slowly dying.

But this isn’t about my slightly disturbing video game fantasies – it’s actually about a clever piece of DRM Maxis snuck into the fourth iteration of the series.

Remember whenever your Sim got into the shower and the thing got all pixelated as they showered? Well, if you’re running a pirated version of The Sims 4 the same thing happens.

But then, slowly, but surely, the pixelated screen spreads and spreads, until your entire game screen is one giant unplayable blob.

You can no longer see or do anything on-screen. You can’t see the status of your Sims, you can’t build anything or see important status updates. Much like the Arkham Asylum DRM, many pirates thought the issue was a bug in the game until they were hastily corrected by Maxis and EA.

– Jon Davis

Jonathan is HeyPoorPlayer's token British person, so expect him to thoroughly exploit this by quoting Monty Python and saying things like "Pip, pip, toodly-whotsit!" for the delight of American readers. He likes artsy-fartsy games, RPGs and RPG-Hybrids (which means pretty much everything at this point). He used to write for He's also just realised how much fun it is to refer to himself in the third person like he's The Rock or something.

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