Game Piracy and The Line In The Sand

Right off the bat let’s make sure we understand which games I am talking about since I wouldn’t want the wrong set of gamers getting their panties in an uproar here. I am not talking about web based games. I am not talking about iPhone or other mobile platform games. I am not talking about console based gaming here and I am not talking about games for the Mac because – well it’s an almost non-existent market to begin with. However I am talking about the gaming market for the PC because that is the one that is held up with feigned disgust by the big boy game development houses.

As well lets get one other thing out of the way. There will always be piracy of software, music and many other forms of entertainment because quite frankly there are a whole bunch of cheap pricks out there who will never pay for anything if they don’t have to. It is an inescapable fact and existed long before the Internet and its veritable cornacopia of goodies ripe for ripping off. You can try all the methods you like to protect your investment but it doesn’t matter what kind of DRM you employ it will be broken and the only ones who really pay the price for this draconian method of locking up products is the consumers who actually pay for the product.

This doesn’t stop game producers though from blaming piracy as the root of all evil that is destroying their business. Another such case of this blathering was pointed out today by John Walker on the Rock, Paper Shotgun blog where he tells us that the release of the EndWar game for the PC from Ubisoft is being delayed. the reason being given by Ubisoft’s Shanghai director Michael de Plater is of course – piracy

“To be honest, if PC wasn’t pirated to hell and back, there’d probably be a PC version coming out the same day as the other two.”

“But at the moment, if you release the PC version, essentially what you’re doing is letting people have a free version that they rip off instead of a purchased version. Piracy’s basically killing PC.”

In his post John quite rightly questions this load of crap that comes out on a regular basis from just about every major game producer

We want to see the demonstrable evidence for the harm piracy has on sales. Because if it’s true, then yes, action needs to be taken. But if it isn’t (and history suggests it very well might not be – the most successful formats in the last 30 years have always been the most pirated, with the DS currently proving this on a dramatic scale), then untold damage is being done to the PC platform by claims like this.

What’s fascinating here is to consider whether this is an isolated case, or whether this attitude is endemic amongst publishers. Is this why we’re not seeing Mirror’s Edge on PC until next year? Does this explain why GTA takes nine months to find its way onto our preferred platform? Are we missing out on Fable 2 because of a fear of the pirates? Halo 3? Has the reputation of the PC, so far entirely without corroborating evidence, hobbled it?

In contrast to this piracy argument you have companies like Stardock whose games are all released without any type of DRM and they continue to grow with new games and new versions of their popular ones. Stardock has acknowledged the problem of piracy in the past but this hasn’t changed their philosophy about how they sell their games. For them the paying customer is the most important and making their games as easy to use as possible is the driving force for the company.

With other companies though, the idea that the person who has paid their hard earned money for some game shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to be able to enjoy their game is not even considered. Whether it be the SecureROM infesting of PCs as employed by Spore to the exceptionally irritating CD check every time the game is started up, game houses have no problem putting as many roadblocks in the consumers way as they can. It doesn’t matter that the consumer is made to feel like a pirate as they use the product they have paid for.

There is one – well two but they sort of go hand in hand – area that is a prime motivator for people to play pirated versions of games. Cost to the wallet and the constant drive to produce games that require more and more cutting edge computers in order to play them. Take games like BioShock, Crysis or Jericho that are all great games if you have a PC that is all tricked out; because the average machine just won’t have enough guts to play them. Tie that in with the fact that games like Spore and BioShock can run you in the $30 to $50 USD to buy it is no wonder that people end up trying out that pirated version of the game.

The game producers are creating their own hell here but the use of piracy claims in the overall picture of games for the PC is nothing but a red herring that allows them to use any kind of DRM that they like as well as to keep increasing the price of the games. This is one of the reasons that we are seeing such an explosion in the casual game market. Not everyone has; or can afford, to keep upgrading their computers to play these new games and neither can they afford to keep paying the ever increasing price of the games.

To some degree computer games have stopped being fun for a growing number of people as games becoming more complex and requiring more involvement. This is why the casual gaming marketplace is growing in popularity. While it is true that even the casual games are being pirated I would bet that they are pirated a lot less than any of the big game titles.

What this all boils down to is that all the big game developers want to keep producing extremely high end games that the large majority of PCs can’t play. They want to keep on making it as difficult to even run the games because of their DRM policies that really only affect the people who actually pay for it. On top of this they want to keep increasing the price of the games while adding things like in-game advertising. They are proving that they don’t care about the consumer and the consumer is getting tired of this treatment.

Piracy is nothing short of a line being drawn in the sand letting the game producers know that there is only so much the consumer will take. Too bad they seem to be too blind or too stupid to see the line.