I have a story here about a major publisher who willingly delayed the release of a game until it was good and ready.
The stereotype is that publishers are driven by schedules and release dates, and will brook no delay from indolent developers. They would rather ship the thing unfinished and allow customers to climb on the naked scaffolding of the half-finished game rather than wait for it to be fully erected and allow the mortar to dry. PC Gamers engage in a form of Russian Roulette when they make a purchase, never sure if their non-returnable selection will be actual entertainment or merely an invitation to participate in an ersatz beta. The latter is the very opposite of entertainment – it takes hours that would normally be alloted to entertainment and instead sinks them into the long tedium of coaxing buggy software into doing what it should. Files are re-installed, patches are applied, saved games are corrupted, drivers are fiddled with, and in the end, many hours are spent in a state of non-entertainment. The fact that publishers are not hunted down and killed like dogs for this business is enduring proof that videogames don’t turn us into unthinking killbots. If you tried selling other products that were broken out of the box and non-returnable, the return desk at Wal-Mart would need to be be encased in bullet-proof glass.
But like I said, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes a major publisher is willing to delay a release. In this case, the publisher is Atari, and the thing they’re willing to wait for is the new DRM scheme. From the announcement:
Atari has been working closely with Obsidian and Ossian to try to integrate the new system with NWN2 and MoW specifically. Although we wanted the security modifications to go out with Update 1.12, it simply was not ready in time so we unfortunately had no choice but to push it into Update 1.13.
I realize that many of you are anxious to get your hands on Mysteries of Westgate, and I know from firsthand experience that it is a fantastic adventure. MoW has been ready to ship for a while now and we are close to finalizing the new security system that will ensure that it has its proper day in the sun. In the meantime, we are working hard to keep cool information about the game coming.
When gamers discover the game they just bought is buggy and unfinished, they usually respond to this treatment through the only channel available to them: They complain loudly in forums which are read and moderated by contractors who were hired by people who work for a guy who sometimes gets to meet with the representative for the guy responsible for the premature release of the game in the first place. There are so many layers of insulation between the white-hot rage of the fans and the decision makers that forums serve as a sort of soundproof vault where people are directed to go and voice their grievances. At some point PR might get involved in an attempt to calm the enraged masses, lest they hurt themselves in their ineffectual frenzy. The contrition expressed is directly proportional to the bad press they receive, which is to say: Faint and momentary.
So I’m not really surprised that publishers keep doing it. What I am surprised is that Atari is willing to lose money in an effort to harden an expansion pack against the digital cutlasses of internet pirates. Losing money? Wasn’t that the problem you were trying to solve in the first place?
I’m very curious what this new system is and what sort of hassles and obligations it will place on legit users. I wonder how many of them will know what they’re getting into when the 1.13 update goes live. This could be innocuous from the user’s standpoint – maybe this is just a system of sending exe checksums to other users in a multiplayer game, thus relegating the pirates to the single-player experience. But something like that is just as easily cracked as a CD check. And I don’t imagine they would be ready to delay a game for several months for such a band-aid fix.
I have no more proof than my own well-cultivated cynicism, but for now I’m assuming the new system (which they plan to incorporate into all future titles, yikes) is going to be just like the last fifty copy restriction systems: A system which creates headaches for legitimate users, prohibits fair use, but which will be quickly and easily obliterated by kids sailing under the jolly roger. It will be yet another system of punishing all the wrong people.
I’m eager to be proven wrong.