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What stops indies from using illegal software to build their games?

Hello everyone,

Just out of pure curiosity, I wanted to know how developers like allegorithmic, autodesk, pixologic etc. can make sure that their software is used legally? I mean, what stops teams of indies use illegal version of products like photoshop, zbrush or 3ds max, and say that they actually developed their game via gimp, sculptris and blender? I mean they can develop their game, and when it’s done register the studio as it uses the free-ware software?

I’m not really familiar with the process of registering a studio with a game and I might look stupid now. But I’d like to learn more about it. Can somebody explain those things for me?

The best solution I came up with is that a team can develop their game with illegal software and then buy the licenses for them (to play it safe), before the release of the actual game.

I’m just going to say that this topic feels very…grey area. That said, I’ll answer your questions:

What stops indies from using illegal software to build their games?
The security protection, hopefully. If that doesn’t, then your morals. If that doesn’t, then nothing.

Can somebody explain those things for me?
Almost every software has different subscriptions/licenses these days. The one i’m most common with is the “buy one for each computer that will be using it” type. This is why game development can be costly. Four maya licenses add up.

I’m not sure what you mean about registering a studio with a game. If you created the game, you include your information, such as “Copyright of Mycompany, LLC” in it. That honestly should be enough, but when using the unreal engine, a tad more has to be included to protect Epic as well. If you made a project/game, it’s yours, as simple as that.

If you have more questions, I’m glad to help out!

Well first of all, I respect buying licenses for the software, just because it’s going to be unfair to the people who paid a lot of money for that license. But it’s just that I have a very low funding for a project I came up with and worked so far. I use 3ds max student license to build my models. And when I finished it I’d like to buy those licenses.

I spoke to a friend of mine, who studies law, said that this is illegal act. And that I needed to register a firm/studio name, rent an office, develop the game and after that release it. That costs a lot of money, around 30k$ she said.

Not sure that most indie devs have those kind of funding.

What your friend said is true, but some things were left out. Since you’re budget focused, I will assume that you are the only person working on this game:

1.Although its a good idea, you don’t have to register a studio name, if it’s only yourself. Games CAN be made and published under your own name. That said, if something goes wrong (you get sued, for example) having an LLC or better would keep you safe. That will run you around 180 USD. This includes price of owning the name/trademark. Having an LLC also allows you to have a few employees/crew, but you CAN skip the LLC if you’re working solo.

2.You do not have to rent an office ever, it is not required. You can use your home, office, or any place that you own and development occurs there. Guy in a garage? The address of the garage is your “office”.

3.Developing and releasing cost nothing, literally. Unreal engine 4 is free, and if your game is functional, there are several people who would release it for free. Gog, desura, Humble bundle and even Steam, although they are the hardest to get your game on.

4.There ARE free alternatives. Blender, Unreal engine 4, Gimp, Audacity, etc. These are tools of the trade when you’re low budget. If you can’t afford the game you have in mind, you can get funding,publisher support, backing, crowdfund, or use a smaller game idea that would be just as entertaining to sell, just to get funding for something larger.’

5.Yes, using software without a license would mean you do not own it, which is in effect stealing.

You’re right, indies don’t have that kind of funding. Look at minecraft. Notch and one other guy (Jeb, if I recall) Made that game together, artist and coder. It took them years, and they used their own website to sell it. That cost them probably 20-30 dollars a month (rough estimate of website costs.) after that, they took the money they earned with early access sales to hire a team, making the game better. It then got the attention of Microsoft, who bought it for a billion. Now technically, he is free make any game he wants, from just that one game sale. I’m not saying every game would be minecraft, but the idea still sticks: Start free, start small, work your way up.

Thanks, that cleared most of the stuff I was confused about.

About point 4, I know about those free alternatives, it’s just I studied the autodesk software for a year and I got really used to it and work really fast. The problem with the other software is that I need to invest time to learn it.

But I guess life is about being flexible and adaptive. Survival of the fittest heh.

Yup. You gotta do what works. I know I’d make grand theft auto if I could, but…I can’t. :stuck_out_tongue:

What stops indies from using illegal software to build their games?
Nothing

registering a studio with a game and I might look stupid now. But I’d like to learn more about it. Can somebody explain those things for me?
You need be a self-employed, for pay taxes and medical service, but you would can delay until put the game on release.

TLDR:
can I do make a commercial game without spend money?

Yes

Others in the thread have answered in more detail, but I actually know of a studio who pride themselves on not paying for a single piece of software. Not the OS, not the tools, not the marketplace assets. I didn’t record proof, and so won’t be calling them out, but people like that really do exist. How do I know this? I was brought on to work on their game, and left as soon as I found out. That tidbit of info left me with no confidence that I’d see the payout from royalties. I figured that not only did I not want my name attached to their studio, but that if they were going to steal all their software (and assets) that they would also have stolen work. Needless to say, I chuckle when I see the same team trying to find people to replace their high turnover (probably the same story as why I left). You can steal software and assets, but as it turns out anyone smart enough to be a benefit to you won’t let you steal their work. Funny.

If you want to work with good people, use free alternatives, or get the lighter versions of tools.

The answer is pretty simple - the moment they get found out, the studio, and those who have a stake in it, are financially ruined and will likely never work in the industry again.

Stealing other assets and claiming “what you did by yourself” is really annoying, I hate it myself.

Thanks to everyone about those answers guys. You really helped me out. I thought I had to find funding to make that project. Now I can peacefully continue.

Well, if a person has enough self-consciousness and judgement, he or she will never use illegal software. If someone doesn’t have enough resources to buy expensive software, he or she can easily use free alternatives instead (for example, GIMP instead of Photoshop, Inkscape instead of Illustrator, or Blender instead of Maya).

It’s worth noting that using the student license, and anything created with one (even after buying a full license), would technically be illegal as well. At least that seems to be the overall response from companies like Autodesk. They expect you should recreate anything made in a student/free copy. Personally I see this as a bit of a drastic overreaction, as (especially if you’re buying a license outright and not subscribing) they’re getting their money either way, and it saves you the developer money in the short-run as you are not paying that big chunk of money upfront, but also are not pirating their software, and you may have started your project as a student and punishing you for that is silly. Now I don’t think there’s any true way for them to tell (once it’s in your finished game) what version you made what assets with, but I am aware that certain file formats do store that information.

Certainly don’t break the law, especially when there are free alternatives to work with, but I wouldn’t sweat anything you’ve already made. That seems ridiculous and extremely difficult to enforce.

But like @IcemanX said, what your friend told you is mostly/partially true. I suspect she is looking at it from the more generic business aspect, and not from an understanding of how the gaming industry actually works.

3D Software…

As a game maker I’ve researched the implications of buying models from modelers, when you don’t know the licensing situation.
After conversations with Autodesk it seems that game makers are covered liability-wise, should outside modelers opt to ‘cheat’.

But the real elephant in the room is that Autodesk gives away their flagship 3D software to students for free with no validation
Then after 3 years or sooner if the student goes pro, Autodesk demands exorbitant fess that encourages piracy in many territories.

So why leave it up in the air Autodesk? Why not ‘watermark’ Max / Maya student versions to prevent pro-use and kill the uncertainty!
Either way, once a model is imported into a packaged game, there’s no way to tell if the authoring software was fully licensed anyway.

But my 2c overall is, modelers should try and opt for open-source i.e. Blender. If that’s a no-go then try Modo or another budget option.
If Modo isn’t a runner then resort to Maya-LT. But avoid full-Maya / Max as it’ll cripple you financially unless you get pro-industry work.

They do have it watermarked. If you open up a source Maya or Max file that was created in (or ever opened and saved in) a Student version, an alert will pop up. However this same alert doesn’t seem to occur with exported files such as FBX. However I’ve heard from a few forums and such that if you poke around in the plaintext of those files you can still find some hint at the license information that was used, but I have no first-hand verification of that myself.

I agree however that the ideal choice should be to go OS or with a budget option. But I have to say I don’t agree with this idea (Autodesk) of seemingly demanding that any work that was made has to be remade rather than just being retro-actively ok to work with once a license is purchased, which seems to be Autodesks’ opinion.

Sure, but its serves more as a nag screen than a practical block on usage, no…?
Whereas the FBX (often the end target) doesn’t know whether its created in a legit version or not…

Kudos! I long for the day when Linux, Blender, Gimp, UE4 etc is a more popular workflow…

Ouch! That’s just horrible…

This is one of those cases where I don’t think video games were the target, but likely aimed at things like outsourced projects and renders, things where a source file is much more likely to be changing hands. I can’t find the Autodesk threads where I originally got all that from, so as I said, I don’t think the FBX format identifies anything, nor would something like OBJ, etc…but I cannot be certain. I know someone in a Reddit thread (claiming to be experienced with Autodesks’ Loss Prevention) claimed that they had a means to still identify those files because that license information didn’t go away when the format changed. If someone knows for sure though, feel free to correct me, because even I think that sounds fishy.

An interesting exception to all this is Adobe. THey offer a reduced price student edition of their software (not free) but you can use it commercially.

Thanks everyone for your time to answer my question,

I got it, I have to use free software until I can afford the autodesk licenses. That’s bad because I need to invest time to learn blender, and I’ve tried and it’s a total disaster compared to 3ds max. Everything is so weird :smiley:

I recall hearing of (but don’t know where) of some sort of plugin/modifications for Blender that could make it look more familiar to Autodesk users and set the shortcuts to be similar. I think someone shared it here on the forums.

Personally if i was developer of any image processing application i would do this:

Secrets Hidden in Images (Steganography)

That idea can be also used in 3d models (like tiny variations of vertices, or simply their indexes in file).

So i would simply embedded serial number of software that assets are created with. Then it should be quite easy to extract texture or models from game, and see what serial number is embedded there inside. If its from illegal copy, write nice email to developer.

But i think those companies got major income from big partners, indies and hobbysts are outside of their scope, low potential money and big risk for bad pr. That is also reason why microsoft does not really copy protect windows, they rather lose some income and have windows widespread, than get bit more but windows not so popular.