Tuesday, 10 April 2012

PC game piracy = total bullshit

I have been playing computer games since I was around four years old.  My first gaming experience was with the ZX spectrum back in the day when cassette tapes where the media games where stored on.  If you have a problem with load times these days on your PS3 or i7 quad core PC with 8gig of RAM and a solid state HDD, then trust me when I say that spectrum users would have gladly accepted the three of four seconds of today's load screens, instead of the screeching ten to fifteen minutes load time of the spectrum.  Back then games where easily copied between friends, since all you needed was a blank cassette and the free time to copy the original games cassette.  And despite this wave of piracy the gaming industry lived on, people still bought games and the developers continued to thrive.
Good memories, but looooong load times

As tech developed so did the developers themselves, and we began to see basic anti-piracy measures evolve more to prevent the simple copying of games.  I remember Tie fighters copy protection system was to ask for the name of a star destroyer from the games manual.  If you didn't have the book you couldn't find the page and thus enter the password, but obviously a friend with the book could simply write down all the names with page numbers and give you that list instead.  Not all copy protection was this simple, some did try alternate methods, but all were eventually overcome by the savvy gamer who wanted to share the game with his mates.  And once again the games industry continued to grow steadily.

As console games moved to media such as cartridges which where harder to crack (but not impossible) PC gaming continued with floppy drives and later CD ROM drives.  Games on these media on the PC had little copy protection.  A prime example was DOOM, the original big budget shooter after Wolfenstein 3d.  Doom was completely unprotected and was freely passed around by gamers for years, since you didn't need to worry about limited install DRM, or CD keys.  The game was ported to many systems over its life cycle and was highly successful.  One of the main reasons for the games success was the use of shareware by the developers.  Shareware was a means of advertising your games by sending out discs on magazine covers that basically contained around 1/3 of the full game to play.  Doom had the first nine levels to play with no time limit or reduction in features.  This method helped the game reach a huge audience.  Doom spawned many other shooters and all continued to make money even after being pirated or copied between friends.
A classic that paved the way for shooters today

PC gaming got a little more sophisticated protection wise as developers tried to counter with write protected .exe files and CD keys.  Most of these games were easily circumvented by "cracked" .exe files and keygen programs.  Later it only required the cracked file to skip the key entry.  Meanwhile on consoles, systems like the SEGA saturn and Playstation 1 had also switched to CD media.  Although not as straight forward both of these consoles where cracked and a huge number of copied games flooded the market, mainly in the PS1 days.  This fact is almost always overlooked by developers who cry about being cheated out of profit by game piracy.

Jump to today and now we have systems like Steam, Origin, Impulse and more to shield against the majority of piracy via digital downloads and games being permamently tied to one account.  These systems work for the majority of new games, but still its not perfect as cracked versions of today's big games are still available, it just takes a little more work than it used to.

Now what pisses me off the most with this situation is the attitude of the developers like Crytek, EA and Ubisoft.  These are the three most vocal on the topic of piracy of their games.  Crytek obviously brought PC gamers the technical marvel that was Crysis, a game so powerful it needed computers from Star Wars to run competently.  Around six or so months after release, Crytek began to complain of large piracy numbers and that they had lost millions in profit.  They pointed to the number of downloads from sites such as Piratebay and other major torrent sites as proof that each download was a lost customer.  Now this would be fair except Crytek made a few mistakes.  First is that not everyone who downloaded the game was necessarily going to buy it to begin with.  The other problem was that the game had a poorly released demo that didn't allow users to customise the settings, meaning many users had no idea if the full product would run well on their systems.  Not everyone would want to blind buy a game they may not be able to run. 
Good.....if you could run it

The funny thing is that if Crysis had been a huge success then the piracy figures would have been ignored or simply explained away as nothing, but since the game didn't do aswell as Crytek had hoped, they blamed piracy for poor sales and not their own inability to make a game that could run on a wide range of systems.  The most recent case of this was Bulletstorm, with Epic games claiming that underwhelming support and piracy killed off the sequel they were making, instead of admitting that their game was gimmicky and not that fun overall.  I guess all developers can now use piracy as a scapegoat for a game that underperformed.

As a result Crytek basically branded all PC owners as pirates and made the announcement that all of their future Crysis games would be built for the consoles first and ported later to the PC.  This alienated the PC fans and thus lost many sales for the negative attitude the company had toward their own fans.  Ubisoft is a company that has been campaigning for new anti-piracy measures for years now, going so far as to the introduce some of the most inconvinient measures for PC users to date.  Ubisoft now enforce a new system where PC users must be connected to the internet for the entire time they play their games, even if the game is singleplayer only and has no multiplayer component.  If Ubisoft's server goes down, you cannot play your game.  This system serves to only punish legitimate owners of the games, while pirates have been able to get around the online portion to play without it being needed.

EA who were once very anti-piracy decided to eventually go the same route as Valve and create their own game manager/online store called Origin.  Its not perfect but is probably the best solution, since players may have to login they can continue to play their games in singleplayer even if the server goes down.
Ubisoft's DRM has spawned quite a row

Now I don't condone PC piracy at all, in fact most of my PC games are linked to my steam account and I would always recommend players buy their games new and not preowned or download, since developers do deserve the money.  The other side of this so called threat to the gaming industry though is the console piracy.  Developers only ever seem to focus on the PC pirates, but never seem to acknowledge the large number of Xbox 360 torrents for all newly released titles, the huge number of R4 cards available world wide that allows people to download Nintendo DS games and play them for free and the recently cracked PS3 systems.  Nintendo is going strong despite the R4 issue and Sony and Microsoft are still set to release new home systems in the next year or two.  Its just amusing to see publishers like Ubisoft complain about PC's and ignore the console piracy completely.

The solution I think for many players of PC titles is simple.  Release demo's.  In the last decade demo's for new games have been in a sharp decline, and without something to help players make a decision after playing some of the game, some people are obviously going to download the game before making any decision to buy it.  Buying blind is something from the SEGA and NES days when you only had the box to look at to make an informed purchase.  I am not saying that every pirate would stop downloading games, but it would reduce it somewhat.  There will always be players who just steal rather than support the developers, and they are wrong to do so, but developers need to meet halfway and not brand every PC gamer as a pirate.

Still better than Oblivion & Skyrim combined
I would like to finish off with a story about how piracy actually helped make 7 sales of a game many people enjoyed world wide.  My brother was given a pirated copy of a game a few months before his systems secondary hard drive died.  He lost all of his games bar one, the pirated one that would only install to the C drive.  With nothing else to do he decided to give it a go.  Within a few days he was hooked and later that week let his friends have a look at the game.  They were all so impressed they went out and bought their own copies my brother included.  The name of that game was.....Morrowind.

Yes a single pirate copy of a game got Bethesda 7 sales.  Its not all bad, but users need to be given the chance to play a demo, get some hands on time with a product before they shell out cash for something they might not enjoy.  Today we have the internet and its myriad of sites to cross reference, but one hundred reviews mean nothing compared to actually sitting down and playing a demo.

Again I do not condone piracy on PC or consoles, but I can also see where the developers have gone wrong in treating customers and how they might be able to lessen the impact of piracy on new releases.  So support your favourite dev's, buy new copies of games and not preowned and tell publishers like Ubisoft, Epic and Crytek why they need to change their policy toward legitimate customers.  Thanks for reading.


DM.paul said...

I love Morrowind, that game was so good.

Critical Pheelan said...

I totally agree that certain developers have a knee-jerk reaction to blame the "pirates" rather than looking to their tired, generic, frankly lazy development of "new" titles. I went out and actually bought a copy of Crysis and found the ending bugged up the arse so I have never seen the end of the game. Cryteks respone to my technical email was a FAQ link to a page that suggested that I have a crap PC, thanks for valuing my custom you arseholes. I will not buy another Crytek product because of that.
Not so much piracy as "we have your money now and there is nothing you can do about it", an attitude I have encountered from other developers too, I am remembering Lineage 2 and Conan as prime examples of products where the developers didn't give a rats ass once they had my money.

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