Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Downloadable content and fighting pirates

When deciding to acquire a new stereo, you may try and think about the best way to go about getting one. On one hand, you could break into that family’s front room, rip it out of the wall, and run down the street laughing at your ill gotten gain. On the other hand, you could go to the shop, pay for the stereo, get the box thrown in for free along with some form of guarantee and a smiling shop keeper (as long as you didn’t go to Maplin).

A similar business model, in my mind, could be applied to games in an effort to fight piracy. Not giving away free guarantees and beaming, forced smiles though, but rather to add more incentive to buying games rather than pirating them.

This can come in the way of after market downloadable content that developers can offer for free. This is already working so well for games like Team Fortress 2, Army of Two and soon, Left 4 Dead that I am hoping that it may catch on in a big way.

If developers just make the system so that it will authenticate your copy of a game before the download can begin, this will simply deny the pirates the free upgrade, whilst the paying customer can get rewarded for supporting the company.

This is opposed to the fun crippling DRM devices that companies such as EA are slapping on games that give paying customers a hard install limit, basically giving you a set period of enjoyment before it stops working in a hissy fit of hard drive chugging agony.

Of course, as is life, the pirates will still manage to circum navigate this minor obstacle, sail through without a care in the world, casually exposing themselves to every publisher they come across. This is however definitely a move in the right direction that attempts to reward a paying customer, rather than set bear traps everywhere and put everyone at risk.

Such a system is not necessarily perfect however, as some companies might start releasing games that seem half finished (or more of them anyway), only releasing the next part as DLC a bit later down the line. This means that to obtain the full game after initially buying it, you may need to wait for quite a while.

At any rate, it is not a perfect solution, but it is definitely a start, as quite frankly I am enjoying Red Alert 3 too much to think that if I upgrade my rig too much more, it will stop working for me.

Seriously. It has parachuting bears and time travel!


Anonymous said...

Hmm. It's a good idea, but pirates will either find a workaround, as you say, or just not bother downloading the upgrades/DLC, etc. Look at PC software like windows/office: people download pirate versions that have functions locked or that demand authentication - and all they do is ignore it, continuing to use the software for what they want.

What developers could do is lock the majority of the game, which would only be accessible after authentication. That way, pirates only get a level, or a menu, and we the law-abiding public get the full game at the cost of a couple of minute's waiting for authentication to be done.

Unfortunately, I imagine that would take the form of *shudder* CD keys. Plus, what if you take the game to a friend's - the game is locked to your console?

Piracy is a problem, but there is no simple solution - and, by extension, no solution at all, since gaming's complicated enough without adding in layers of codes and security!

Anonymous said...

I agree with James. However, I do think the future of fighting piracy is Internet-based authentication like you get with Steam. That seems to make the most sense to me, but as you say the pirates will always find a way.

Anonymous said...

Can't remember who it was, but one of the guest speakers at my previous employer's Games 3.0 conference during the London Games Festival said:

"We have more to learn from pirates than we do through stopping them."

Anthony said...

Sorry I took so lone to reply to your comments, it's been a busy week!

Pirates will always find the way around, and this is a problem for a lot of developers.

I have just read that Gears of War 2 will not see a PC release because Epic are afraid of video game piracy.

I find that Steam is probably the best anti-piracy system around at the moment, and generally, a very good video game utility. The added function that it gives to games such as a friends list and achievements recorded out of game are very good incentives to paying customers.

Even having said this though, I am very sure that you could easily get a pirated version of Halflife 2 if you looked hard enough. It will just lack the bells and whistles.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, Miles Jacbosen from SI has come out and said at the moment no-one been able to make a properly working pirated (pirateable?!?) version of Football Manager 2009. It's nice to see a decent outfit like SI get the better of the scummy pirates for once!