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Hoist the colours!

Piracy has been one of the most flammable topics of this century in game development and the flames are not going to be put out anytime soon. In this post I talk about the nature of piracy and how it is changing the gaming landscape.

If there’s something you learn when working in the gaming industry it’s that pirates are everywhere. Regardless of what we do about the situation they can’t be rid of. Even worse, we tend to hurt our legitimate customers in the process of going after these people. Solutions like online DRM have angered players around the world and have really done nothing to prevent the actual targeted activity. Tyler York also recently wrote about four different methods to combat piracy (http://www.altdevblogaday.com/2012/10/11/4-simple-tips-for-combating-game-piracy/). The ideas in the post are ones that have been employed time and time again with freemium being perhaps the most effective whilst the others have fallen short and done just what pretty much every online DRM has done, and that is hurt the real customers.

This is a real issue, no doubt about that. There’s a significant base of potential customers who are not buying the title but are still playing it. Many of these people are lost customers, in that they would not be playing the game had they been in some way forced to pay for it. On the other hand, these people will spread the word on the game, regardless. This means that they are actually helping you out in reaching more customers. No I am not supporting piracy, by no means!

The problem with the internet is that it’s like a shopping mall the size of Ohio with only a handful of people looking after it. Some of the people visiting this mall are also very creative in finding ways to pick things up without any money changing hands and then copying that modified product to other people who do not necessarily have the required technical skills to pull it off on their own. One of the biggest problems is that the products changing hands are just bits stored on a hard drive. How could you even think protecting that kind of material?

We live in a very different world with the internet at the center of it. Piracy is something that’s very hard to control because humans really are more than just apes when it comes to our brain capacity. We are hitting the wall by treating intangible products as something tangible that can change hands.  Sure, you have EULAs that just give you a license to use the product, but what if you don’t care about that EULA? That’s just what pirates do. They don’t like paying for stuff that they can get for free and a simple legal contract is not going to stop them.

Luckily, people on the other side of the fence have not been standing idle either. If we can’t battle piracy, then why not just change the way we operate? Subscription based games and free-to-play games have shown that treating games as more of a service than an actual tangible product allows us to make money and not need to control the actual software product. We control the service. It does not matter who gets their hands on the actual game client if the only sensible way to play it is to log on to a service where all the other players are. Pirates might create their own networks where you can play for free, but those networks will not have all the benefits of the legitimate one.

To be honest, I would like to see a solution that would not require every single player game to be forced to adopt being online just for the sake of copy protection, but we are really at a crossroads here. It’s easy to say that this is not the right way to go, but do game developers have a choice if everything we do is to suffer from 99% piracy rates? Most of us can’t make a living on forging pick axes anymore while it might have been a lucrative business in the 18th century. I’m sure this is a very flammable topic. I would love to hear opinions about the topic, as usual! :)

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