This is a good question. I originally had a bit about this in the previous post but I cut it when it began turning into a lengthy digression.
The answers to these are related. Entering a license code is a lot less onerous when you’re getting something in return. License codes are really annoying when all I’m getting in return for my trouble is permission to play what I ostensibly already own.
(Having said that, they could certainly be a little shorter. The standard seems to be around 35 digits. It’s usually case-insensitive, they use the letters A-Z plus the digits 0-9. You can think of it as a base 36 number system. That gives you a number space of 3635. If I’m reading my calculator right, that’s…
Or 2.96×1054, which seems excessive if all you need is a unique identifier for the game / user. In fact, there are “only” 8.87 x 1049 atoms in the Earth, which means that with a 35 digit system we could give each and every atom in the planet its very own license key, and then some. Of course, license keys are used for more than just identification, they’re used for authentication, which is why they’re so long and annoying. Only certain ones are valid – usually according to some inscrutable system – and they need a large number space to minimize the risk of you just “guessing” a valid key.)
But at the heart of the issue it’s not the length of the license key that matters, it’s the reason for entering it. Nobody objects to putting the CD in the drive to play a PS2 game, yet lots of gamers object when asked to do the same on a PC. People don’t usually object to entering personal information as part of creating an account so they can get something of value. Yet they will balk at doing so if the process is the digital equivalent of airport security. In the case of both CD checks and license keys, users can tell that they are being forced to do these things because the publisher regards them with a lack of trust. It conveys contempt for the customer and a willingness to needlessly waste their time, which interferes with making the customer view you as a friend. So it’s not really the hassle itself, it’s the reason behind it. The system carries the implied insult, “I think you’re a pirate. Perform this task to prove me wrong.”
Someone else pointed out that the piracy numbers do not seem to be even across the board. Certain genres seem to be targeted much more heavily than others. Brad Wardell suggests the same thing back in the original thread that started the discussion.
Like I said earlier, people who pirate stuff simply lose their vote when it comes to what actually gets made. I won’t make action games even though I love them (Stardock is full of Orange box addicts) because the cost to make them versus the PC market of people who actually BUY games is not compelling.
Assuming that this is true, that action games are pirated far more than (say) turn-based strategy, I see three ways of looking at it:
- It’s an age / economic problem. That is, if we assume action games are favored by teens and college students, perhaps those people will begin paying for stuff once they enter the workforce.
- It’s an age / generational problem. These games are favored by teens and college students, who have grown up in a world where P2P filesharing is ubiquitous and do not think of it as “stealing” or even “wrong”. They will continue to pirate even when they are older and can afford the software they want.
- It’s an attitude / personality problem. We assume that action gamers are not any particular age, but they are more inclined to pirate because the personality that makes them like those games also makes them likely to resort to piracy.
I have no idea, but it’s still an interesting question. In any case, I think Brad’s pragmatic attitude is something other publishers should adopt. Make games for people who buy games, not just people who play games. This can work against you, because the gaming press loves to hype the more visceral titles. The question is whether being ignored or marginalized by the press is more harmful that putting out a title that is likely to be heavily pirated. You could use the fact that Galactic Civilizations I and II did so well and Iron Forge Entertainment went under to make the case that aiming for an honest audience is more important than wooing the gaming press. But if you do that some wiseguy is going to come along and point out that the plural of anecdote is not data, and you’ve only got one anecdote to begin with. It’s hard to tell, really.
Several people brought up the problems of piracy in countries where piracy is ultra-rampant, where brick-and-mortar stores will burn you copies of Windows XP for $1, and where it’s difficult or impossible to obtain a legitimate copy of anything. I didn’t discuss this because I don’t see much that can be done. Combating piracy is hard enough when the publisher and the pirates are in the same country, under the same legal system, and there are laws to protect the publisher. Maybe Microsoft has the clout to affect international politics (I doubt it) but your average games publisher is probably better off focusing on building a loyal customer base in countries where there is already a viable market. Certainly this is where all the low-hanging fruit is right now.
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