Piracy is "ruining" PC games and "forcing" them online, Michael Pacther has told Eurogamer.
The same thing happened to a piracy-riddled Asia which, in response, invented free-to-play gaming.
"Yes, piracy is ruining PC gameplay, and yes, it is forcing PC games online," Pachter told Eurogamer, as part of a wider investigation into PC piracy and DRM. "This happened in China 15 years ago, and in Korea in the last decade, and it's happening in the West now."
Matt Ployhar, president of the PC Gaming Alliance, explained: "Free-to-play really got momentum quickly in Asia for several reasons, chief of which was that the only way local games ISVs [independent software vendors] could make money was to 'give the game away', then hope for a micro-transaction on the back-end (e.g. pets, weapons, clothes, etc.). This proved to be so effective that it pretty much replaced older (off the shelf) business models.
"Piracy persists primarily in those markets that persist in shipping a retail boxed good; namely Western game devs heavily focused on shipping games into the console markets."
Piracy on today's biggest PC titles can be as high as 80 per cent, Eurogamer learned. That means only one in five copies of a game being played are bought. But to claim that, through DRM, those product-pinchers can be converted to buyers would be misleading.
"There's a huge chunk of people that no matter what you do, no matter what measures you put in place, even if you deny them access to the content - they will never be a paying customer."Christian Svensson, Capcom and the PCGA
Capcom US vice president Christian Svensson explained: "There's a huge chunk of people that no matter what you do, no matter what measures you put in place, even if you deny them access to the content - they will never be a paying customer.
"That has a lot to do with culture, a lot to do with education, a lot to do with ability to pay, and it also has a lot to do with the very basic thing of could they even get access to the content - is it for sale in their country legitimately? There's a lot of content that ends up in China that is not available for sale legitimately in China, because it hasn't gone through the governmental hoops and approvals and/or there's no partnership with a Chinese publisher on the ground to make that happen."
"Piracy has always existed and it will always exist," stated Good Old Games managing director Guillaume Rambourg. "Today is quite bad because it's a lot easier for people to pirate games compared to the '90s or '80s, when the only way was to get floppies at school from some friends. Nowadays you can pirate easily online. The threat has never been so visible in the past. Today it's very easy."
Rambourg said Russia, France and Spain are "quite famous for piracy". He puts this down to those countries historically displaying a "huge" appetite for "cultural goods", whether they be paintings, once upon a time, or now games. "They need to have access to cultural goods," he said. Couple that with ever speedier broadband and the tools with which to work and you have "potentially a country that is very likely to give piracy a try". In France, the government took measures to fight piracy, handing out notifications to people downloading illicit files. "Does it discourage piracy?" he asked. "I don't think so - people who want to buy eventually buy, and people who want to pirate eventually pirate."
But to assume that people who pirate are terminal wrong-doers would also be ignorant. "There's a variety of reasons why people pirate," Christian Svensson informed us. "Some of them are, quite frankly - and I hate to say it - quite good reasons. If they can't get it any other way, that's a pretty major for them to try and do that."
"You add up secondary sales plus growing piracy in the console space, which is largely subsidised by the content, and you have a very real threat to the continued existence of consoles being able to survive."Matt Ployhar, president, PC Gaming Alliance
"Piracy was born out of ease," countered Pachter. "The fact is that every PC has a hard drive and an internet connection, and there are a lot of people who think it is perfectly acceptable to share software. So long as there is one bad apple who posts a game file on a torrent site, there will be people who feel it is appropriate to steal the IP for their own use.
"The answer appears to be DRM, and even if it doesn't work, it makes the publishers feel better."
But the PC isn't the only platform suffering here.
"Piracy exists on almost every console to varying degrees," said Svensson. "The only one I would say is fairly inconsequential to our business, as much as we can tell, is PlayStation 3. Obviously the PlayStation 3 was opened up [jailbroken], and through a variety of systems, Sony has managed to largely put that genie back in the bottle, to the point where the scene is nowhere near as large as it is on other platforms."
Matt Ployhar told us piracy had grown on console over the past decade, and demand for modded consoles that will play illegal copies of games is, in less established gaming markets, "strong".
In May this year, Lionhead said second-hand console game sales were a bigger problem than PC piracy. Many baulked at such a claim. But Matt Ployhar agrees.
"Secondary sales have been devastating to the console markets and continue to be a key detractor," said Ployhar. " While it's great for the EBGames/GameStops of the world, very little of that money ever trickles back down to the games ISVs if at all.
"You add up secondary sales plus growing piracy in the console space, which is largely subsidised by the content, and you have a very real threat to the continued existence of consoles being able to survive."