How Bad is PC Piracy Really? • Page 3

DRM or not to DRM, that is the question.

Rambourg is a man of his word. The Witcher 2 was sold on GOG.com with no DRM, and DRM was quickly patched out of other versions (it was there originally to prevent pre-release leaks) - a bold experiment. And a successful one?

"Honestly, we are very satisfied," he tells me. "I'm not doing some corporate blah blah right now - we are really happy. Just to give you an idea - of course I cannot disclose sales numbers: in the first two months of release we have sold more units of The Witcher 2 than of any other game on GOG.com in the past. Even when we released Fallout, Duke Nukem 3D or any triple-A back catalogue title, we never sold that many units within the first two months."

However, he adds a note of caution. "I presume the first version that was interesting for hackers, let's say, was the GOG version. This was the easiest master to get and make available online. Did it impact CDP Red sales worldwide across all distribution channels - retail and digital? I have no idea to be honest. We do know what is the average number of times that The Witcher 2 has been downloaded [a method GOG uses to monitor piracy levels] and, honestly speaking, the number is anything but scary; it's really in the average we have across the whole catalogue, the whole line-up of GOG. There was no specific spike for The Witcher 2. Users and their temptation to pirate the game is minimal - it's not visible."

The Witcher 2 was near 1 million sales at last official count. That barrier has probably now been crossed - or is at least very close to being passed. That's as popular a traditional triple-A PC game as you're likely to get. So why don't other publisher's abolish DRM?

"I don't think there's an argument to abolish it," says Svensson, "because there is a tangible benefit to content creators [that use it]. The other part of this is, unfortunately, we live in a world where we can't leave all of our doors unlocked. There are some creators out there who are really proud of being DRM-free, or they have sun-setted their DRM, which I think is the smarter, the better way to go, where you protect what you can and then at some point in time open it up or release the restrictions in some way. We've done that on our titles and we tend to get very little complaints, at least on the PC side of things."

"The other part of this is, unfortunately, we live in a world where we can't leave all of our doors unlocked."

Christian Svensson, PCGA and Capcom

"When a DRM has been defeated, being able to remove DRM for all customers - because at that point you are only harming the legitimate customer - is an important ability to have. Keeping a crack-free window as long as possible does result in meaningful increases in revenue, especially in the first 30 days."

"It's all a matter of scale," continues Rambourg. "I would be arrogant claiming GOG's model can be applied by any company in the world, because obviously we have a niche market - we sell old classics. It's a bit easier for us to give no DRM a try.

"When it comes to big publishers, the economical stakes are quite important. They have huge investments, they develop games for several dozens of millions of dollars and they believe that DRM is the only way to protect their sales. I believe there is a certain stiffness here. I have talked to some publishers regarding The Witcher 2's success on GOG, and I show them some sales numbers and explain how our model could generate substantial incremental sales for developers and publishers, and I could see some faces, let's say, getting positive behind the table. I could see some people realising that putting psychology into an offering can be another way to shield sales."

So where do we go from here? The rise of free-to-play gaming helped Asia cure its piracy-riddled PC gaming market. And we can see the same beginning to happen here.

"The reality is that the network is the only thing content creators control," Svensson says. "That is the only thing we have validation over, the only true authentication that we can ever have, because you can never trust the client. Free-to-play games are all network based, because you can't do stuff outside of them. The other part is that free-to-play games benefit from piracy to the extent that they can harness the distribution power and viral nature of pirate networks. In certain applications there's an upside to pirate networks."

"What I think you're going to see happen is an evolution towards an increasingly network centric set of design considerations and business models, because moving forwards that is the only thing that is sacrosanct."

"Free-to-play games benefit from piracy to the extent that they can harness the distribution power and viral nature of pirate networks."

Christian Svensson, PCGA and Capcom

Steam, the embodiment of online authentication, uses Achievements, social hooks and an online log-in to naturally outlaw piracy. And the Steamworks developer tools are installed far and wide by the industry's biggest games today. But there's a reluctance by the market to place its eggs all in one basket, hence EA's new Origin store.

Nevertheless, it's because of free-to-play games, because of Facebook, because of streaming services (OnLive, Gaikai), because of MMOs, because of digital distribution, because of Achievements - that Matt Ployhar, president of the PC Gaming Alliance, believes piracy is finally declining on PC.

"If I were a console evangelist I'd totally play up piracy on the PC," Ployhar says. "But I have to stop and wonder how in the world they can continue to make that argument when a few years from now most games are likely going to be free-to-play anyway.

"Consumer PCs are 10-times the install base of any individual console market. Given that free-to-play is largely dependent on having as large a total available market as humanly possible the PC, for gaming, couldn't be in a better position."

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About the author

Robert Purchese

Robert Purchese

Senior Staff Writer  |  Clert

Bertie is senior staff writer and Eurogamer's Poland-and-dragons correspondent. He's part of the furniture here, a friendly chair, and reports on all kinds of things, the stranger the better.

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