The Company's Choice
I am a firm believer that "the customer is always right". Of course, this is limited to satisfying their needs when it comes to your products. Therefore, game developers have two foreseeable choices :
1. Adapt And Embrace
Since this is the direction the market is shifting to, it only makes sense for companies to embrace the Internet as a distribution medium. Software developers can make use of the Internet in ways that would be mutually beneficial to themselves as well as their valuable paying customers.
There are already a few examples of this in action. One of the more popular type is games offered through services such as Steam (see picture on right). Steam does have its short comings but in general, it is a somewhat ideal copy protection solution.
It isn't overly encumbering to the paying customer and the publishers help ensure nothing illegal goes on. I actually like Steam in the sense it's non-intrusive. It makes it convenient to me get verified and obtain updates automatically. Playing it somewhere else? No problem. Login and you can redownload your games. No drama, no worries.
Then, there are also some great developers that do without copy protection. One of them was Stardock, Inc. They chose to not have any form of copy protection on their best-selling game Galactic Civilizations II. That was a really gutsy move but clearly they had their priorities straight. Here's a quote :
"Our company also makes utility software. We've been around a long time -- 14 years now. Our software gets pirated. We don't like it but piracy is a fact of life. And not every pirated copy means a lost sale.
The question isn't about eliminating piracy, it's about increasing sales. It's about trying to make sure that people who would buy your product buy it instead of steal it.
Our primary weapon to fight piracy is through rewarding customers through convenient, frequent, free updates.
If you make it easy for users to buy and make full use of your product or service legitimately then we believe that you'll gain more users from that convenience than you'll lose from piracy."
Now, that is totally logical. Even a four year-old can think of that. If you try to laden a 4 year-old's TinkerToy with some DRM-type implementation, where he can only have one piece at any one time and at any given place; what would the 4 year-old do? I can tell you that the cute little kid will most probably just go find something else to play with. That just shows how much intelligence the RIAA/MPAA/some game studios and publishers have in comparison with someone that young. Problems are never really complicated at their core. It's people that complicate things.
That statement also invokes another interesting thought. If someone obtained the game/software/movie/song through questionable means, how is that a lost sale? I mean, it's not like they were going to buy it anyway, right? They would probably argue that it would have 'compelled' that person to buy it. Yeah, right... They would probably move onto the next thing and not bother with the game. Instead, your paying customer base gets bogged down by complex copy protection schemes.
Now, let's move on to the second thing game developers and publishers can do.
2. Reject And Alienate
Well, this is the 'evil' option, so to speak. Here, you get all the dumb things like StarForce (a great example). I have NEVER and will NEVER buy any game that has StarForce in it. NEVER. Now, that can be classified as a lost sale. There were quite a few games I was interested in, but I refuse to install anything laced with the filth that is StarForce. So take note, game publishers. You can and will alienate your customer base by using copy-protection scheme.
When it comes to software, another company that comes to mind real quick. Yes, you guessed it - Microsoft (I live just 5 minutes away from their Redmond campus ). Their Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) programme has been nothing but trouble. Ironically the 'advantage' the programme claims is often disadvantageous to the user, especially hardware enthusiasts and reviewers like me. We swap computer hardware in and out of our systems all the time. So it can be more than a little annoying to call up Microsoft to get a legit copy of Windows activated.
I have a buddy with a legitimate copy of Windows that WGA continues to insist is not legitimate. He has since given up trying to convince WGA otherwise. In fact, there was an outage fairly recently that caused problems for those who had to have their copies validated. To be honest, I think they should route more resources to more important problems, like issues with their operating systems, than trying to piss off legitimate users.
However, with game publishers trying to go the way of Microsoft (laugh!), they forget one critical factor. Unlike games, Windows usually needs an installation once in a blue moon. Games, however, 'enjoy' a higher volume rate of installation, uninstallation, reinstallation, etc. Microsoft can get away with their retardedness on copy protection, but game developers will encounter far more opposition. Heck, that's why I'm writing this!
To be honest, I have nothing against copy protection. It is one of the safeguards software developers use, and as far as that goes, I do not have a problem with that. It is simply the nature of the business. The fact that they continue to pursue their business shows acceptance of this fact. Risks are everywhere. In our business (online journalism), we are also exposed to similar risks (like plagiarism). But we accept that risk because that is just the nature of the business. Sure, we send out cease-and-desist letters when appropriate, but at least we don't limit how many times you can read our articles, or even ask you for your ID!