Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Yarr, pirates ahoy

I know that it can't just be me who gets annoyed by the anti piracy ads you now get whenever you attempt to watch a DVD. It always nags me that I would never steal a car or a handbag, or even a movie. This advert knows nothing about me. Maybe I would steal a car, handbag, film or police man's hat. In fact, the advert is so annoying, especially when it can not be skipped, that it might just persuade me to get a pirated version of the film, because at least that one won't insist on telling me how bad I am.

Now, personally, I do not condone piracy. I believe that if something is good enough for me to want it, the producers of the work are entitled to my money. That is how a job works. However, making your game so inaccessible to paying customers to try and stop this big piracy monster, is not the way to go about combating it whilst keeping a loyal fan base. Spore, released last Friday, is protected to the brim with the much hated DRM protection, which only allows the game to be installed three times. This might be enough for the majority of users, but then there are those who are about to switch machines, or who share the game with other family members who have their own computers within the same house. Before you know it, the three install limit becomes a bit of a problem.

This over protective software is bizarrely the reduced security version, meaning that originally it was much worse. The first concept was met by the metaphoric pitch forks and torches of the online world very swiftly. It was initially planned that the game would need an internet connection to activate itself, be limited to three installs, but also it would perform an online check every two weeks, meaning that those without an internet connection would not be able to play an offline game. This was of course absurd, and shot down shortly after the information went public.

It is or should be a well known fact that you can not stop software piracy. There are people who like to take the challenge of cracking security just for the sake of it. Sometimes it is then sold on at a market for example, but in the vast majority of cases, it is distributed free on the internet, and not lining the pockets of terrorists as some anti piracy campaigns might have you believe. The real irony of the situation however, is that a lot of the time, these pirated versions are more user friendly. No more obstructive copy protection to screw over the player, that the paying customers are having to fight through. You could even try supplying every game with an armed guard and hornets nest, the pirates will still find away to crack it, and put a pain free version online.

The best way to fight video game piracy is to simply accept that it will happen. Sins of a Solar Empire, developed by Ironclad Games had no CD protection on it at all. Yes, it was pirated, but it also sold well and topped charts, making the developers money. A lot of self confessed pirates would admit that if they do download a game illegally, if they think it is good enough, they would spend their cash on it. Surely this is a sign that in order to cut piracy down, developers should invest less time in copy protection, and more on making their games good. Quality and piracy do show trends in other industries. Many people justify their habit of downloading songs by saying that they are seeing if the artist/album is any good before they buy.

I will stick stand by my guns and say piracy is bad, and yes, it does cost computer games sales. Developers do need to acknowledge however, that it is not just piracy that would cost them sales, it is the overall quality of the game they make. It is very easy to blame the figurative skull and cross bones for screwing them out of sales, but this seems more of an excuse these days than thought out reasoning.

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