Today we're going to put the spotlight on a controversial issue: copy protection. On the one hand, all it takes is a look at the financial status of various publishers and developers, the popularity of warez sites (an acquaintance looked at the number of Doom 3 downloads at a major BitTorrent site and counted over 50,000 at the same time), and even a look through a friend's game collection to see the number of "archival copies for missing originals" to understand the scope of the problem.
While the BSA
ludicrously exaggerates the cost of piracy by assuming that every pirated copy is a lost sale, there's no denying it's taking a heavy toll on the gaming industry, PCs in particular. While we here at FiringSquad generally revile the MPAA and RIAA for being Trust-like associations that abuse their almost monopolistic powers to control their art forms and thus prices, there's clearly no such profiteering going on in the gaming industry. It's a running joke that no movie ever nets
any money no matter how much it grosses, but unfortunately this is close to a fact of life with PC games.
Most pro-piracy arguments are the kind of fluff that 6th rate trolls throw around on usenet.
"I wouldn't buy it anyway" - doesn't matter, fact is you didn't pay for it but benefited from the labor of the publisher and developer - that's theft.
"Games are crap so often I don't want to get ripped off" - try reading reviews and playing demos. Besides, good luck getting a car dealership to refund you your money after you so much as signed the contract, never mind drove the car. Not all that many goods can be used and returned for your money back.
"It doesn't hurt anyone, I'm not actually stealing". Technically, no, you're not picking up an item and walking away with it. But if you're not stealing, why are publishers and developers willing to spend money on copy protection that they know increases the hassle? They're not stupid, they know they're losing money to pirates.
Of course, this does bring us to the other side of the equation. Copy protection is
getting more invasive. While we're not quite yet seeing dongles
, copy protection has become a bigger hassle in recent years. First it was simply a matter of keeping the CD in the drive. Then we had CD keys. Then those CD keys began being authenticated online. Windows XP uses a scary validation system that I'm not looking forward to messing with when I upgrade my hardware in a few weeks. Now copy protection is disabling games if you have utilities that simply might
help pirate a game - like Alcohol 120%, Nero or CloneCD.
Furthermore, copy protection denies users the right to an archival copy. We've all damaged, destroyed or lost discs and CD keys. Getting a replacement from a publisher can be and often is another hassle. Of course, if we honestly ask ourselves how many purely
legitimate users of those utilities there are, odds are probably that deep down inside we have to admit "not many".
In recent months there's been an increasing awareness and alarm over StarForce copy protection. It's actually a driver that installs itself with the games that come shipped with it, and originally it didn't uninstall when the game was uninstalled. There are many panicked reports about "StarForce disabled/fried my USB flash scanner/ATA drive/CD drive". Having lived through several internet panics like this - from the V-chip through CD keys to Senator Joe Lieberman's bills on game sales to minors - and generally having participated on the wrong side of them - I was skeptical. I've learned that if there's one thing that the internet is good at, it's spreading rumors and unnecessary hyperbolic panic. Like I said, I was part of that myself in earlier times.
So, rather than simply jump aboard the panic wagon, we decided to get the word straight from the horse's mouth. Here then is our interview with Abbie Sommer of StarForce.