Apr 17

Is piracy the problem or the symptom?

Category: gaming

Is piracy the problem or the symptom? In problem solving an important technique and skill to have but the crux of the skill in my mind is the ability to differentiate between the problem and the symptom of the problem. The question “are you treating the symptom or the problem?” perhaps raises this most pertinently. But let me diverge to why I’ve come to this point.

Today I had another reasonably lazy day. I started with a significant sleep in before spending a few hours of Wii Fit exercising. It is curious to see that I am improving in different things and getting better but still not quite there. Amazing that Nintendo have created something so useful.

After this I had a flick through Slashdot, tended to my inbox and looked through my Twitter stream. One of the stories in Slashdot that I noticed was the CEO of Crytek saying that game demos were a “free luxury” that isn’t afforded in other areas such as movies. A curious statement and at the time I didn’t see a need to follow up with it.

In the afternoon I headed to the local shopping centre. My aim was to get a replacement for the Nokia phone charger with the European plugs (turns out I’m not the only one to get it, I remember at Council a Nokia phone coming through having a charger with a European plug, my hatred of their plug style is blog for another day) that now has a dint in the charging bit. I’m not a fan of this style charger (appears its an AC-8 charger) as the plug into my Nokia N80 is hardly connected and easily comes out. The new “high energy efficiency” charger cost me $37 for a Nokia genuine charger. Not sure where they get $37 out of that but whatever. I popped past EB and figured I’d pick up a copy of L4D which was being sold at $25. I hadn’t bought it previously on Steam when it was on sale and I figured it was about time I got a copy of it. So I grabbed a copy of it. I prefer boxed games because it saves me having to download around 4GB of data which at the moment for me on a wireless broadband connection will cost me around $60. Yes, twice the amount that I had paid for the game to just download it.

So I head home and look forward to a bit of zombie shooting. I put the DVD in and nothing happens. Ok, this isn’t fun. It’s opening up a terminal when I double click on it. So I spawn a terminal and run the command manually. “Program too bit to fit in memory.” Wonderful. A quick Google reveals that this is an encryption problem and restarting Steam would appear to be a solution. Ok. I try that a few times and no joy. I restart the computer, again, no joy. Why the Setup.exe file would be encrypted seems a tad strange which leads me to believe its probably corrupted. Re-examining the search results I get some suggestions that it might be corrupted. Looking over the disc at some of the files reveals apparently empty looking files. Great. After an hour of futzing with things I can’t get it to work and this isn’t fun. This isn’t what I paid for – to have something not working.

So it brings me back to the article where the Crytek CEO is whining about piracy. At this point in time I want to just shoot zombies not have to fight with antipiracy software. Fortunately I can activate the game and find an active install to copy the resources off to save me the download. But at this point I might as well have gotten a pirate copy off of someone anyway. If I have to download the entire thing off the internet then I might as well have pirated it and cracked it. This is starting to remind me of what happened with CNC4 – I got to the point where downloading a server emulator off the web was required to let me play the game. I could have again pirated the game to get it to work just as well.

There in lies the problem. If I can pirate the game for less than it costs me to buy the game and gives me a significantly better product (in this case, one that works) – of course piracy is increasing. But even that is a true statement given the industry keeps posting year on year profits that are increasing you wonder what they’re missing. Antipiracy measures are making life harder for those who want to pay money. The recent issues with Assassin’s Creed 2 and the Ubisoft DRM servers going offline demonstrates the issue for legitimate user is screwed whilst the pirate can continue to play the game. In this case 100% due to failure on the vendors part. But this raises the more worrying issue – what happens when the vendors decide they want to switch off the server?

But it puzzles me that what we are in is a DRM arms race. We have companies spending lots of money to try and protect their assets and an army of people trying to break it for nothing more than reputation. And the people breaking it are winning. I was recently listening to a podcast from Richard Dawkins which comments about an evolutionary arms race with the comment that when you’re in an arms race something else loses out. Thinking back to other arms races around the place there wasn’t any winners but arms dealers, weapons suppliers and perhaps some scientists. All of the money spent on this not being spent on other items such as making the games better. How many millions are wasted on ineffective DRM that people are paying for?

The other curious happening in the Crytek article that I saw was the idea that people could monetise computer game demos because demos are “prohibitively expensive.” Demos are a marketing tool and making people pay for either your marketing or your beta without something useful in return isn’t going to go down well. At the moment demos are maybe the tutorial and the first mission. I fail to see how this is prohibitively expensive, some extra QA to ensure that your first few levels work fine? Releasing a product that actually works instead of patching something on release day so that it works properly? This depresses me. I could see paying for a demo as being good so long as I get the demo portion of the game off. The demo would have to be comparable value. For example I can go to the movies and see Avatar for $10 which is 3 hours of entertainment guaranteed (quality is another question and a problem in both film and gaming) – if I’m going to pay that for a demo, this is what I’m going to be expecting. And more than perhaps the first level, if its 10%, then 10% of the game I should get.

But at the end of the day this doesn’t stop piracy and barely slows it because its trying to treat the symptom, not the problem. As to the actual problem, that is something they need to work out before it is too late.

2 comments

2 Comments so far

  1. watermelon May 14th, 2010 1:34 am

    ^^

    not update for a long time!!

  2. Andrea May 29th, 2010 10:47 pm

    If the cost of the DRM race is what is causing games to keep going up and up, or at least has a factor in the price increases, then the game companies are feeding their own fire. The more expensive a game is, the more likely people will turn to piracy.

    Good article, it is important to raise these issues because the gaming industry today in 2010 is taking many wrong turns, and chasing after DRM solutions may be completely unnecessary. Just make games affordable and easy and we will support them financially!

Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: