If we’re to believe big video game publishers like Electronics Arts, Ubisoft and to a lesser extent Activision, PC gaming is being killed because of piracy. Aye, that be right ya scurvy landlubbers, tis the pirates which be a killin’ gamin on ye ole personal computarrr! All pirate puns (and jargon) aside though, piracy is reportedly the number one issue which causes publisher to skip this platform when releasing video games. In a recent communiqué Ubisoft announced that it would mostly be axing the development of “I am Alive” for PC due to DRM and piracy concerns. Other publishers have taken a similar stance, releasing games for consoles first and PC as an after thought. This is a shame, as I for one wouldn’t want to game on any other platform. My console love never got any further than the 16-bit Sega Megadrive I used to have way back then and while consoles and their controllers have improved they’re still not for me.
To combat piracy publishers often resorted to DRM (Digital Rights Management) to make sure that PC gamers were playing genuine copies. In response to this crackers and warez distributors worked harder to circumvent the added DRM. And so a vicious circle was born with publishers adding more and more stringent DRM to their products and hackers getting ever more creative in cracking it. Things got so bad that some cracked games are more stable and accessible than their genuine, DRM laced counterparts. At this point publishers started throwing in the towel and quietly abandoning the PC platform and who can blame them? The console market is a much steadier source of income for them. Well, who blames them? I do, how dare they run off like that, bunch of pansies!
The worst thing is that, in my opinion, they went about it the wrong way. Locking up a product gets folks irritated and irritated folks will work twice as hard to make the product free of said irritation. Now I’m not saying publishers need to give games away for free (even though that would be awesome), but there are other ways of protecting your investment. One option is implementing a different type of DRM: in the latest Serious Sam release, players with an illegal copy of the game face an immortal scorpion which quite simply prevents them from properly playing the game. This is a way more user friendly way of reminding people to buy the game instead of pirating it, also it does away with all the horrid DRM software which in some cases is worse than infecting your computer with a mild virus.
Another option is offering the player extra services when using an original copy of the game. It’s this option which made me kiss my pirating days goodbye as it appeals to the lazy person inside me. I’ve been a very good boy every since Steam kicked off here in the Netherlands. That doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally download a game, but it’s more of a ‘try before I buy’ download nowadays. Gone are the searches for torrents or usenet posts for the correct cracked game version, gone is the disappointment when you realise you downloaded an infected copy, gone is the time wasted on getting the cracked game to work! Steam offers the ability to buy, download and install your games from your own comfy swivel chair (or whatever piece of furniture you use to work your computer). And it doesn’t stop there, it offers a gaming community, the ability to backup save games and data and user friendly DRM to keep the publishers happy. In a recent statement by Valve (Steam’s creator) their representative called piracy a non-issue for their online game store. Russia, home to most of the illegal software in the world is growing to be one of Steam’s largest global markets. Which is strange, because wasn’t it free games people wanted in the first place? How come they’re all queuing up to buy games in a legal fashion now? Maybe game publishers just got it wrong, maybe adding extra value to a product is enough to win customers back.
I for one hope that the trend of increasing sales on Steam and other download portals holds. So that studios and publishers will keep making PC games for this platform, because this is the platform where most of the innovation in games comes from. This is the platform which produced countless epic games who’s impact shall never be forgotten! This is the platform which pioneered physics, HD gaming and all kind of graphical eye-candy you console folks can enjoy too. And damn it all, I just want to keep gaming on my PC where I can play any game genres I wish! (Good luck playing an RTS on a console)
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