Yesterday I mentioned the thing that Michael Fitch wrote without going into any detail. The original forum thread is up to 20 pages as of this writing, and numerous other people have picked up the discussion in other forums and on their own blogs. If I’m very lucky what I have to say here will only have been repeated a dozen times already.
He begins by talking about piracy, and uses the copy protection of Titans Quest as an example:
This is remarkably brazen, to pirate a game and then march into the official forums and demand support for your downloaded copy. But then, piracy itself is sort of asinine to begin with, so I don’t know that we should look to pirates as a source of polite circumspection.
When I first began writing here, I assumed that I was more or less the “average” gamer. I pay for games, take them home, and bitch about them. It’s a grand tradition and I’m proud to be part of it. I’ve assumed that pirates were a small minority of the larger picture. As I read more and more about the extent of piracy I’m quickly realizing that it isn’t just a few semiliterate, unemployed punks hiding out in their parents’ basement. More and more it looks like piracy is widespread, socially acceptable, and hassle-free, practiced by people of all ages and income levels. From the comments, emails, and forum posts I’ve read over the years, saying you pirate a game seems to be about as controversial as giving someone the finger in traffic. The best that can be said of it is that it’s a good thing not everyone does it.
Everyone who does it has their justifications for pirating games. This even includes the people who are fully capable of driving themselves to the store and paying for the games in question. Even by the most conservative estimates, there are as many people who download PC games as there are people who pay for them. If you believe the more aggressive estimates, the balance starts to look more like Persia vs. Sparta.
But I think something is being overlooked in Fitch’s Titans Quest anecdote above: It’s entirely possible that a good portion of those supposed pirates were legit users, and the security software was giving a false positive. Fitch talks later about the tremendous pain in the ass it is trying to build anything on top of the mound of shifting sands known as the personal computer, a point which I consider to be unassailable. This is particularly true when concocting DRM systems that interface with the hardware in nonstandard ways in an effort to detect copied or virtual disks.
I’m the one who pays for games, and I wish you’d stop treating me as collateral damage in the war on piracy. How many honest customers are you willing to lose in your efforts to annoy pirates? If your answer isn’t zero, then why are you even in this business?
I’d love for the world of PC gaming to consist entirely of one transaction: Developers make a fun game, for which I exchange some money. I fully realize that real life rarely approaches such beautiful simplicity. The story we read is one where developers make a game, which the publisher forces them to rush out the door in time for whatever marketing they have planned. I give the publisher money, the publisher gives the developer a tiny cut, I get a buggy game saddled with annoying DRM, and reviewers denounce the game because it doesn’t have multiplayer and doesn’t support 32 bit quad-pass derasterizing sparkle maps. (Now with spicy nacho flavor.) The publisher gets to fend off a pitchfork-wielding mob of pissed off customers and clueless pirates clogging up their support system. Together, everyone sinks deeper into the sequel-driven ennui that plagues the hobby, and game journalists end up writing yet another dark prophesy regarding the impending “death” of PC gaming. Everyone loses, except for the pirates who download the game and enjoy it without the DRM hassles.
All of this seems quite distant from the utopia where I pay $60 for an awesome game and developers get filthy rich. I sneered at the “developers as rockstars” idea that was all the rage in the late 90’s, but that actually sounds pretty good compared to “developers as vassals trying to grow crops in granite”, which is what we have going now.
I think the main problem is that piracy is a social problem, and publishers are treating it like a technological one. I have some armchair quarterbacking I want to do to suggest how publishers might turn things around, but I’ll save that for the next post.
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