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| Thoughts on the PC Platform by an Occasional Pirate (1 comments )|
by: Swatt (25) | Posted in cluster FiringSquad User Articles
Posted 56 months ago in category DEFAULT
There has been a lot of talk about the pc as a gaming platform. This is certainly nothing new and in fact by most peopleís estimation the PC platform has been in decline for many years now. These claims are often times met with very verbal backlash from the PC gaming community who cry this and that and how the PC is not only a viable system but also that it is growing. Now there are statistics that can easily display both of these positions as correct and more statistics that can prove each of them wrong.
Many notable people from a variety of companies point to and blame piracy for lack of sales and ultimately the stagnation of the pc as a gaming platform. I can certainly understand and appreciate the position of these people. From their point of view, every time someone downloads a game illegally they could potentially be losing a sale. There is a word in that sentence that is important ďpotentially.Ē
Most of us are informed enough to know realize that just because someone downloaded something doesnít mean that they ever had any intention of buying it. We can also understand that piracy is a very big concern for developers on the PC. Again, we have heard the argument that itís just as easy to mod and pirate on a console as it is on a PC and even this has been subject to arguments and scrutiny. In the end, it doesnít take more than a look at one or two torrent sites to see that there are a lot of people out there downloading games, programs, and other software and those numbers are often times the source of the controversy over piracy. Just a note that taking a quick look deeper will also reveal that there are folks downloading plenty of console titles as well.
Unfortunately, the people with the power make the rules and since we, the gamers, are simply the consumers of these products we donít end up with a whole lot of say in how these companies deal with the piracy issue.
What we do end up dealing with is the fallout of what these companies come up with for solutions. With Digital Rights Management (or DRM) making big headlines around the gaming news these days and with a multitude of consumer level issues popping up wherever DRM is found, itís pretty safe to say that DRM is not helping the customer in the slightest. In fact most would argue that DRM is blatantly treating the customer like a criminal while the pirates out there continue to download copies of games that have often times been stripped of the Digital Rights Management programs or cracked by a fixed *.exe file. A position that, Iíll admit, I often times find myself agreeing with.
But what these companies are doing is much more than just clenching down on their Intellectual Property (which is what a lot of people are calling a lot of things) these days. These companies are now adjusting their End User License Agreements (EULAs) so that even if you purchase the game from a store, you donít necessarily own the game. Are you following me on that? You buy it, but you donít own it.
Iíd like to see a retail store try to explain that to a customer that comes in to buy a t-shirt. I have a hunch that they would walk out of the store if a retailer presented them with a license agreement that they had to accept to be able to wear that shirt. Oh, you can buy the shirt and walk out of here with it, but you need to accept this agreement before you wear it for the first time. Did I mention that you can only authorize two other people to ever wear this shirt? We might make a ďde-authorizationĒ tool available at a later time, but we are certainly not obligated to.
Pretty ridiculous, wouldnít you say?
But this is the kind of treatment that is widely accepted when you purchase a piece of software. Iím not going to go into incredible detail about the types or specific methods of some of these protection practices employed by various software developers. I will say that there are many companies that engage in these practices.
Some people will argue that this treatment and these practices have spurred non-pirates into piracy and the occasional pirate into a drunk, sea-faring, fellow. Indeed these issues have highlighted piracy and it is likely to assume that at least a few people now are pirating when previously they wouldnít have or didnít know how to. Now I am certainly not going to condone piracy. I firmly believe that it is a despicable practice. Even if it all it was doing was making people say that the PC platform is having problems, is dying, is overrun with piracy, and other rhetoric to that extent. Just making people say those things over and over, regardless of whether or not they are true, is going to lend these things credibility and make people believe them.
Not everyone follows the gaming news scene, so ultimately, most people are left somewhere in the middle. Especially people like me, the sometimes and occasional pirate.
I know, Iím not proud of it, but I am in fact guilty of downloading and playing thru an entire game without paying for it. I would bet that most PC gamers who have been around a while are guilty of this as well. I would even say that it is unlikely that any PC gamer out there would maintain such a moral high ground to decline downloading a game from a buddy at a LAN party. Itís just unlikely.
So Iíve confessed. Iíve done it. Iíll probably do it again at some point. Iím still not proud of it and never will be. I will say that there is a certain amount of satisfaction and justification when overly ambitious DRM is employed on titles Iíve played. A certain amount of ďsticking it to the manĒ feeling is experienced. Still it doesnít serve as complete justification for what Iíve done and I would still rather of bought the game in the first place.
But why didnít I? What spurred me to piracy of some games?
Please understand that I have purchased a LOT of PC games over the past fifteen years. It is probably where I have spent the most amount of my disposable income over that amount of time. Iím not just downloading software maliciously or redistributing it to a bunch of people or even, God forbid, be charging cash money for other people to get these games from me. No, absolutely not. That would be far overreaching my already tenuous justification for downloading.
No, in most cases I download games because I quite simply canít afford themÖ
There are a lot of reasons I canít afford them. Things like house payments, heating and electric bills, food and gas prices, wife and family, and other necessities easily take precedence over my gaming habits. We live pretty low down on the middle class ladder. We do ok, but just canít afford to two or three titles a month fifty to sixty dollars a pop. Considering the fact that End User License Agreements, online game accounts, CD keys, and other restrictions now make it impossible to return a PC game after opening making the case to throw fifty dollars at a product I donít know if Iím going to like is a pretty tall order.
Often times there are game demos out there that will give you a taste of a game, but so very often they are limited, donít include multiplayer, and usually donít properly represent what a game is like. I have found too often that all of the games development time was spent on the early levels to make them flashy for the media and demo only to be left with a flat, flavorless, game after you surpass the first thirty minutes.
There have been games that I played thru for single player alone as well. Without the draw of an online multiplayer portion of a game, a developer is in an even more difficult situation because to earn the money of the consumer they really have to have a top notch product. If I play a game and end up not liking it, there is no way I would consider buying it.
I guess Iíve saved myself a lot of frustration and money because of my piracy habits, but I want to make it very clear that on the flip side of that I have made probably just as many purchases because I did pirate a game and ended up liking it. In those cases I feel like my hard earned money was going toward something that I believed in and justly deserved my investment in both time and money.
I know that I am not alone in this mentality. In fact, I was listening to a radio program on public Radio called ďFuture TenseĒ where the host was interviewing an lesser known game designer who, on his blog, posed the question ďwhy do you pirate gamesĒ to his audience. Interestingly enough, the two main reasons were cost and Digital Rights Management. This didnít surprise me, and it probably wouldnít surprise many folks reading this. But what did surprise me was the fact that he, the developer, was blown away by this.
To me, this doesnít necessarily mean that these game developers are bad guys when trying to shove DRM down out collective throats, but it does show that many of these companies are largely out of touch.
I guess what Iím getting at in writing this is that the business, in which I mean the PC gaming industry, needs to be more creative in managing its digital rights. There are some companies out there that have been doing it mostly right. Blizzardís battlenet is an example of adding value to their games which is only available to paying customers. Their software itself is largely DRM free outside of some relatively minor anti-burning protection and CD checks (which have now been removed via patches to some of their older games.) This stance on DRM was likely inexpensive to the company and largely unobtrusive to the customer.
Another example of a value adding DRM system is valves ďSteam.Ē Iíll freely admit that steam has many issues, and some of the nightmares I had with steam during its early days haunt me still. But after many updates and patches, valve has successfully created what amounts to an online authentication device that doesnít impede on the customer rights to terribly. Itís not perfect, but the flaws in some areas of steam are made up in other areas. Other features are largely a draw as some of the constant updating and online authentication does occasionally get in the way of other things, but you can go offline with it (easier now than it has been in the past) and temporarily circumvent some of those difficulties. But the community building aspects of steam and ability to purchase and download the games from within steam itself are not only handy, but also provide a ďgreenĒ alternative as well.
Still other examples of DRM done right in games are their complete omission altogether. Donít believe me? Just ask the guys over at StarDock how itís working out. Some of their most recent games havenít had any DRM protection and have sold better than many triple-a high profile titles. They argue that game design with a larger audience in mind and with a high quality end product will go a long way to ensure customer loyalty and satisfaction which directly translates into sales.
But still companies (like EA) have been insisting on using invasive software like securerom in all of their titles going forward. This is basically handing the would-be and occasional pirates out there ammunition and justification for pirating your product. The hardcore pirates out there are going to pirate anyway and make it easier to use their pirated product that the retail product. Anyone can see how this would be problematic.
So this is the part where I tell you that I have the solution to the problem and that you should all use my shining example of how to solve the problem.
I donít have the answer. I know there are plenty of smart folks working at these companies who I have confidence in fixing this problem. Aside from the obvious ďyou can all use SteamĒ my only recommendation is this:
If you must DRM, do it in a way that adds value to your program, not detracts value.
There are many ways to do this ranging from persistent stat tracking, allowing for ďbuddyĒ accounts (which would probably cut down piracy and lead to more sales) and even an authentication tool that acts as a community building program.
You shouldnít require that a computer have an internet connection once, twice, every ten days, or EVER. Also, with games taking up more than twelve gigabytes of disk space and many folks playing a wide variety of games CD checks have got to go. They arenít necessary and will only cause frustration when a gamer heads to a LAN party with a stack of disks.
Finally, and most importantly, never (and I mean NEVER EVER) include a 3rd party program that will interfere with the computer in any way. If you have DRM on your software, just fess up and tell people itís there. Provide the necessary tools to get rid of it if itís causing problems and when your customer are mad about the situation, let them return the game for their money back.
No, these arenít perfect solutions but if you just try to be innovative Iím sure youíll come up with something.
These companies need to own up to the problem. Itís not the consumerís problem, itís their problem which they are only making worse by talking about it all the time and complaining about it in interviews. They are compounding the problem by blatantly threatening the PC market to shift their development to the consoles (which most of them are going to do anyway) and fanning the flames of their core audienceís anger (which, as a rule, in ANY other business is NOT something you do) with these tales of rampant piracy and clenching down hard with harsher and harsher DRM protections.
I donít know what the future holds for the PC as a platform. I do know that I can do a lot more with my PC than anyone can claim to do with their PS3 or Xbox360. I also know that more people have PCís in their home than Console systems. I also know that there are more people who will go and see a nine dollar movie than will buy a sixty dollar game.
Iím not here to argue. I buy plenty of games and I enjoy playing them single player, online, and with my friends. But I will also tell you that I am an occasional pirate. I donít like it, in fact I hate it, but your rules, policies, and prices make it impossible to do it any other way for the sake of my own livelihood. I canít change unless you change first.
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