Legacy copy protection better than the new stuff
May 14, 2008
Is anyone surprised that the copy protection announced for Mass Effect and Spore is being reconsidered? In short, publishers Bioware and EA, respectively, initially decided to include a copy protection mechanism that would cause the aforementioned games to “phone home” every ten days to ensure that the game played was legitimately purchased. The ten-day authentication angered a lot of gamers, despite the fact, as “Tobold points out, they’re online all the time anyway. In reality, the group of gamers who have the most to complain about are the ones who won’t consistently be wired once every ten days, but this is a very tiny subset of those complaining.
Let’s be honest about software piracy, though: the lengths taken by a lot of companies these days (e.g. the RIAA) to protect their sales has ballooned to the point where it’s instead determining who can do what with media and software in a “fair” manner. In other words, the “protections” proposed have gone beyond simply protecting a company’s assets, to simply being unfair to the consumer.
Tobold’s take on the matter is not an unusual one, because like most others, he seems to forget that a pirated game does not equate to a “lost sale”. That’s because there are plenty of people who have no qualms about illegally obtaining a song, movie, or video game to try it out, who might very well never have bought the item in the first place, even if it wasn’t available illegally. In other words, the a chunk of software pirates have no effect on a company’s sales, but corporate big-wigs like to inflate their problems to impose stricter regulations out of greed, not simply financial security. That’s precisely why, after years of piracy increasing, the music, movie, and game industries are still seeing an increase in yearly profits, despite claims that they’re hurting.
We’re not sure what Tobold’s source is when he claims,
“There are several good game studios that have gone under or been forced to sell out because while lots of people played their games, less than half of their players had actually paid for them.”
Interestingly, he didn’t name one example, and the more likely suspect of them failing is because while some people may have enjoyed their products, they probably didn’t appeal to most gamers. Look at the considerable number of games that do manage to make money, which began as free products. Counterstrike is a prime example of a polished game, released as a free-download for Half-Life, that would later be sold, with minimal changes, to the same players who enjoyed it for free for years. Look at XBox Live Arcade, which features games based off free, web-based Flash games. Or, take a gander at Nintendo’s Virtual Console, which features titles many years old that are easily obtainable for free, illegally, by doing a simple Google search. Good games will sell despite piracy, and that’s a lesson the music and movie industries will need to learn, also.
Even assuming that strict copy protection was necessary, it still doesn’t justify a product phoning home every ten days. Nor does it require a physical check of the purchased media.
As far as video games go, it wasn’t too long ago that copy protection was based on the user looking up content from material bundled with the game. Some games made users look up certain words in the included game manuals, while other games found a way to incorporate bundled items into the game’s context. With how common bundling material in “collector’s editions” has become, developers could just as easily throw in a nice physical item that’s needed to decode an in-game puzzle or riddle. These methods were relied upon until CD-ROMs became popular, because at the onset of their release, they were not copyable by the average consumer.
Now, however, why not go back to this proven system that requires no media checks or online access?