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PC Piracy - An extended thought

I recently read an article on Eurogamer (link) which deals with piracy and how it should be tackled. It deals specifically in relation to the gaming industry, but it also talks about the music and film industries. The article prompted me to take some time to think about the issue of piracy as it is today, especially in response to recent comments by Gas Powered Gamesí Chris Taylor (read them here) a recent article on Rock, Paper, Shotgun (here) where Kieron Gillen examines piracy figures for one day on a leading pirate torrent site.

As anyone who hasnít been hiding under a rock since the mid-nineties should well know piracy is an issue which is effecting the three big entertainment industries; music, film and, most relevant of all to me, the games industry. Since Metallica took Napster to court in 2000 piracy has, for me become a bigger and bigger ever increasingly prevalent issue. You canít watch a film or a DVD without being bombarded by five minutes worth of adverts and warnings about the dangers and evils of piracy. (I am not condoning piracy in any way here, just sharing how I feel the warnings present it.) In recent years we have seen Sony fall foul of excessive Digital Rights Management (DRM) when they installed a spyware rootkit on their music CDs. We also have an increasing number of PC games use ever more infuriating methods of anti-piracy methods.

If we look at the music industry though, it has now started to change its methods of dealing with piracy. Gone are the days of spyware being installed on your PC without your permission, and we are seeing more internet sites allowing the purchase of songs without any DRM. This is just an example of how the music industry is learning to move forward with the times and change its approach to piracy. Rather than restrict every single aspect possible the industry is now opening itself up. People who purchase music online can now easily copy it over to several different accessories without worrying about the songs being locked down.

This is something the games industry must take heed of and follow. Game developers should recognise that day-zero piracy is very difficult to prevent when the games are sold at retail. Even games like Bioshock which had convoluted extravagant anti-piracy measures was found on pirate sites within two weeks of release. It is obvious that many people would have pirated the game to get around the mess of anti-piracy measures 2K used on the game. On one forum I regularly visit I saw many people claim they were going to take back their copies of Bioshock purely based on the restrictive anti-piracy measures used.

Limiting gamers to a handful of game installs is not going to best please those who purchase a game, it is an overreaction to the threat of piracy, and it is something likely to force people to download a pirated copy so as to avoid the anti-piracy methods used by the developers.

Ubisoft have come under heavy fire in recent years for their anti-piracy methods, namely Starforce which garnered massive criticism for damaging and even stopping users disc drives from working. Other Ubisoft games, and games from other developers, have also refused to install on computers where disc burning software is detected.

These anti-piracy methods often have an adverse effect and will lead more people to pirating the game in their quest to be free from such restrictive and damaging methods of anti-piracy. Developers should come to accept that even if day-zero piracy can be avoided; as soon as a game hits the pirate sites they should release a patch taking away these anti-piracy measures.

What is interesting to note from the Rock, Paper, Shotgun article is that the games at number two in both the UK and US PC games charts do not appear in the top 20 list of pirated games. Football Manager 2008 and Sins of a Solar Empire are two games without copy-protection such as CD-keys, online verification, Starforce etc. For two of the biggest selling games in the UK and US not to appear in the top 20 list of pirated games is surely a testament that using minimal anti-piracy methods is the way forward.

In the Gamasutra article mentioned above, Chris Taylor of Gas Powered Games claims that secure gaming is the future for the PC. This is a clear sign that digital distribution platforms such as Steam are the way forward. However secure gaming can cover a wide range of issues. Purchasing and downloading a game from Steam has become an accepted practice for many, however many people still complain about purchasing The Orange Box or Half-Life 2 and having to unlock and register it online.

As such secure gaming can only be the way forward for games like World of Warcraft which require constant online connectivity and games purchased from digital distribution channels which allow you to download and install a game you have bought on as many PCs as you wish.

The other type of secure gaming that Taylor may be supporting is the purchase of a game at retail and then activating it online, or by requiring the person at hand to remain online whenever they wish to play the game. This would be a dangerous move and, like other methods of piracy prevention is more likely to push people to download a pirated copy which doesnít require these restrictions.

This presents the gaming industry with two viable ways to go to combat piracy. The first is an ever increasing reliance on digital distribution which allows people to download a game they have bought on as many PCs as they desire. The other method is to remove all forms of anti-piracy controls and treat gamers like they should be treated, as non-pirates.

Piracy is never going to go away, especially not on the PC. But if developers stop treating everyone as a potential pirate and free up their games and remove the anti-piracy measures they may slowly reduce the numbers of sales lost through piracy.

This would be a brave new approach, but the music industry did something similar and it seems to be gaining some popular support. The gaming industry must follow, take a deep breath and scrap what it is drive people to pirate; the anti-piracy measures.

This article originally featured on my blog here.
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About Evoone of us since 2:14 PM on 12.03.2007

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