How Bad is PC Piracy Really? • Page 2

DRM or not to DRM, that is the question.

Svensson's remark about minimising the impact to the consumer is key; DRM, perceptively, has had a rough ride. Two years ago, SecuROM DRM ruled the roost. This gained notoriety through games like BioShock and Spore for restricting installations per game - the thinking being that a communal, pirated, torrented version of a game would soon lock out.

Installation limits are yesterday's news; today the online check embodies DRM. One company that has antagonised the PC community more than most is Ubisoft, for requiring an always on internet connection (which in most cases was later diluted). Driver: San Francisco developer Ubisoft Reflections said a company has every right to protect its investment. And it does.

But whether it's punching holes in discs or requiring an online check, the question remains: why should someone who has bought the game have a more fiddly, frustrating experience with online checks et al than a pirate?

"Consumers are right to complain about DRM, since it impacts both legitimate and illegitimate users," reckons Pachter. "The problem is that the companies think it limits piracy, and an industrious and determined hacker can work around DRM, while a normal, legitimate user must deal with a hassle. I'm not sure where to come down on this, as I respect the companies' right to protect their intellectual property, while acknowledging the legitimate consumer's complaint about the problems created with DRM."

"The challenge nowadays is to reward loyal users," GOG.com's managing director Guillaume Rambourg believes. "If you make the whole gaming experience more complicated and more frustrating for people who buy the game; if it's easier to play a game that is pirated because they removed all the technical restraints, then I think there is a big issue on the plate now. It should be easier to play a game that you bought legally than play a game that you pirated."

"Through the use of DRM, a publisher can meaningfully improve profitability on a project."

Christian Svensson, PCGA and Capcom

"There's good DRM and what we call bad DRM," explains Svensson. "There's a huge breadth of parameters and technologies available, and no one technology is bad - it's the implementation that can be bad, the communication around the implementation that can be bad. What we try and do - and we haven't always been successful in this - is never hurt the legitimate user. If the legitimate user is ever going to have a more negative experience than a pirate, you've done something wrong.

Of utmost importance, says Svensson, is "being upfront with fans". And he himself has been on the receiving end of fan backlash before.

"We had a semi-bright idea at the time to try and restrict content to if you were offline, you had a game experience but it was a lesser game experience. Let's say you had a restriction in characters in the case of Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition. And if you were logged in and we knew you were legit then you would obviously have access to the whole thing. And there were a whole number of fans saying that approach was not a good approach. And we took it back and talked about it and kicked it around and said, 'You know what? They're right.' So we undid it," he recalls.

"And we provided a better experience than the pirate experience, that was, quite frankly, running a virtual machine to emulate network response that impacted performance. In this case, legitimate users got a better product than the pirates did. That was the case of the fans putting up a really cogent and smart argument, and us reacting and being able to remove that DRM - in one case before launch, in the case of the rest of the versions, within a week-and-a-half, which was not easy to do."

A perverse reversal of DRM is the suggestion that it can encourage piracy. Minecraft creator Markus "Notch" Persson cheekily offered a "pro-tip" that "if you pirate Ubisoft games instead of buying them, they will work fine if your internet connection goes down". His point, he argued, was that using a DRM system that encouraged piracy was "insane". Rambourg is of a similar view.

"Consumers are right to complain about DRM, since it impacts both legitimate and illegitimate users."

Michael Pachter, analyst, Wedbush Morgan

"Piracy is some kind of ghost enemy, and chasing a ghost enemy is a pure waste of time and resources. The only way really is to make the whole gaming experience easy, convenient and rewarding for the users - this is the only way to fight against piracy," says Rambourg.

"If you make an experience troublesome or if it's a pain in the back for the users, they will be tempted to give piracy a try. You really have to make sure that whoever buys a game, whether digitally or in retail, is starting the game and playing it straight away. Nowadays we're in a very fast-paced society, and anything taking more than five minutes is seen as a trouble by anybody.

"If you make the process too troublesome - even if you are a good hearted gamer, you will be tempted to give piracy a try. This should be the obsession to fight piracy. Putting restrictive measures, putting any kind of technical restraints can only encourage piracy, whether it's DRM or anything else."

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