Opinion: The stalemate against piracy in PC gaming doesn't help anyone

By Kate Cox on September 6, 2012, 2:44 AM

The PC's biggest asset, for users, is its amazing flexibility. The modern computer is both a tool and a toy, a generalist device customizable to nearly any needs. With the barest amount of prodding, comparatively speaking, it can be, and do, anything the user wants.

The PC's biggest liability, to games publishers, is its unpredictable flexibility. The modern computer, both a tool and a toy, is dangerously customizable to nearly any needs. With barely any prodding, it can unfortunately be, and do, anything the user wants.

The resulting tension between PC owners and PC publishers has created an awkward stalemate, a mad arms race to prevent a piracy problem that every new weapon just raises the stakes of. Publishers are well within their rights to want to protect themselves from theft, but old systems aren't working. And turning the PC into a console that also runs Word isn't the answer.

The PC itself is caught in a strange position just now, awkwardly transforming between the old and the new. Computers are now, of course, completely ubiquitous. Most of us carry one in our purse or pocket at nearly all times. They're just heavily specialized, designed to unify hardware and software in a way that prevents users from creating variation. The Xbox, the PlayStation, the iPhone... all are walled gardens, unifying hardware configurations with software that, on the whole, very few people will try to circumvent or customize. Deterrents (voided warranties, service bans, and so on) further prevent more users from trying to customize their own systems.

With Windows 8 on the horizon, the Xbox-style dashboard is coming to a PC near you. EA has Origin, Ubisoft has uPlay, and every major publisher wants you to connect your right to play your games to a social account. As login systems get less obtrusive, they still become thornier to navigate.

The result is a stare-down between companies and their customers that twists both sides into ever more awkward situations, as Rock, Paper, Shotgun's recent interview with Ubisoft highlights. Representatives from Ubisoft contort themselves to avoid giving any actual data on piracy rates, and they end up with the washed-out:

We've heard you. We've heard customers. We want to find a balanced way to protect our IPs and our games, and at the same time trade off frustrations or issues for PC gamers, and improve the policies of our games and services. But I guess the answer is, we're still discussing it.

Unfortunately, the industry has been "discussing" it since roughly the dawn of modern computing, and no satisfactory solution has yet been reached.

If PC gamers wanted to be using an iPad or a 360 for our gaming, we would be. (Many of us, in fact, use multiple platforms.) But PC gamers have chosen a platform explicitly for its flexibility—the ability to run everything from Assassin's Creed 3 to World of Warcraft to whatever new Flash game is out today—and publishers see that very flexibility as the enemy, guarding against the copies we might make or the systems we might crack before anyone even decides they want to.

Maybe the only winning move really is not to play. GOG's major selling point is that all its games, old and new alike, are sold DRM free. The Android-based Ouya has decided to embrace openness. Ubisoft is finally standing down from the worst of its unpopular policies, and yet the walls around our gaming gardens grow ever tighter.

Big developers are sure the future is free-to-play and multiplayer—not only because those make money, but because they force gamers to stay honest and to cough up cash if they want to participate. As a player, I'm not so sure.

Thieves will always steal, but a pirated game isn't the same as a lost sale. The rest of us just want to be left alone to use our computers as we will. Give us a reason to buy a game, and promise that it will work smoothly and not punish us for the purchase, and the system will more or less tick along.

Republished with permission. Kate Cox is a contributing editor at Kotaku.
Top photo by Flickr user JD Hancock.




User Comments: 27

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2 people like this | ramonsterns said:

If one could return games like you could return most things you buy, I wouldn't have a problem with it. But I can't, and the industry has proven to me several times that it is incapable of not lying through their teeth and using so many buzzwords to promote their games you could make a drinking game out of it, then get it banned because of people with so many cases of liver problems.

1 person liked this | Rasta211 said:

Thanks for sharing.

I don't want to pay $60 for the game brand new to find out there is $100 worth of download content coming. Make the game $5 initially and then add the download content such that after all that is said and done, it costs $100 for the game included taxes and all the creative magic fees you can think of.

MilwaukeeMike said:

Remember the NHL strike? The players wanted more money and the onwers said no. The players said, 'fine, we won't play then'. The owners didn't care because they lost a couple million bucks every time a game was played. When the games weren't played, they lost less because they didn't have to pay everyone. Obviously the players caved in.

Rasta... if they charged $5 for a game instead of $60 they'd need to sell 12 times as many games to break even. And that's a huge risk to take. here's the big question.... will they make more money making micro transaction games they give away for free (or almost free) or will they make more selling games for $60 knowing piracy is eating into their profits? Who knows?

They need to do what'll make the most money... and no, not because they're greedy, but because the developers don't work for free. If they can't make money, they'll just quit. Just like the NHL. Except developers won't agree to a pay cut, they'll quit too.

1 person liked this | Lguest Lguest said:

I don't think piracy is easier in PC than in other platform. For example Wii, Xbox360, ps3 and iphone all they have mod-chips or jailbreakers to circumvent their unbreakable protection, the real difference is behind all those consoles there are a huge marketing trying to convince developers that their consoles are more secure that the other ones, and who is backing PC? nobody backed it.

Anyone can buy game-copies for console on the street in many countries, and pirates just insert the dvd game copy in their console and that's it because they bought a console with a mod chip or pay someone to install it, or simple buy a usb modchip in some cases.

In PC piracy is different, anyone can buy game copies on the street as well but the user have to install a crack, patch, block or redirect some IP or ... well they must to do some stuff before even play the game and sometimes they must do it every time the run the game with the risk of virus with these programs.

For me I think piracy is easier in consoles because the hack need to be done once in lifetime but PC need to be done for every game and it is different each time.

TorturedChaos, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

I don't think piracy is easier in PC than in other platform. ...

I disagree. For a console there needs to be some glitch to exploit in install an aftermarket firmware or software. Or you need to add a chip or have someone do it. Then there is the possibility of bricking your console or hand held.

For PC piracy, you find the torrent or find the game on Usenet and download it. Comes with a nice instruction file and the crack. You just need to have a half decent firewall running so you can tell it not to call home. Install the game, copy and paste the crack, and tell your firewall not to allow that outbound connection and let the fun begin.

As for combating piracy, I don't think cheaper games are necessary, but quality and reward honest players. Instead on of locking the game down and making more of pain for people who did buy it (to the point here people are downloading the cracks to play a legitimately purchased game), make incentives for people to buy the game.

2 people like this | lipe123 said:

Bottom line, an affordable fun well made game will be purchased more than it will be pirated because the complications and issues surrounding piracy.

The PC gaming industry is in the PITS ! Almost every single hyped up game created in the last 2-3 years for PC was a console port that felt like I'm running a Xbox emulator on a pc. The whole idea of letting gamers make their own maps for fps games or mods/addons for games was squashed by stupid poor quality DLC. LAN options was removed and instead we get laggy internet only options that puts the FU in frustrate.

Honestly, I'd rather play minecraft than anything else thats been released lately.

howzz1854 said:

1. Affordable

2. return policy if it sucks (like dead island, now I am stuck with it)

two items, simple.

MilwaukeeMike said:

1. Affordable

2. return policy if it sucks (like dead island, now I am stuck with it)

two items, simple.

Can't you just return it to the store and pay a restocking fee? 15% of $60 is only $9, not that bad. And you can sell it yourself as used. If you do it soon enough after the game comes out you might not even take much of a hit on it.

1 person liked this | howzz1854 said:

I am not sure what medium you're talking about. but I haven't purchased a physical disc PC game for years, and the last time I did, in-store return policy had gone away. and now I buy all PC games online as digital copy, and there's no return policy.

what type of medium are you referring to? Xbox? I am curious.

Littleczr Littleczr said:

BF3 and blizzard games are about the only games that rock on pc right now. Every other are simply console ports.

cuerdc said:

Pirating games on pc is just like try before u buy so yeah if the game is crap they might have lost a sale and you need to buy the game in most cvases to play it online which is what most people do. if you buy a game you should be able to play it on all your devices say bf3 id prefer to play it on pc but maybe now n again might be easier just pick up ps3 pad why should I have to pay twice? all systems aswell should be free and open to do what u like with the option always to reset back to default more to the point why not just assemble everything into 1 maybe oneday a good company will think hmmmm maybe we need to build a tv with a pc, satalite reciever, cable reciever, cable/dsl modem, built in camera/mic, bluetooth/wifi, storage, media player etc....just build everything into one unit oh and there should be an end to poverty starvation crime/war dream on all they thing is the best way to make more money if we split this they have to pay twice.

2 people like this | danhodge danhodge said:

To be honest, I think the majority of people who pirate games are just teenagers who can't afford to buy it.

Noone wants to pirate - its a pain, it can be broken, it can take hours longer to install/download, its illegal, it could have a virus, and DLC's are just plain annoying to try to pirate too.

But charging £40 - £45 for a game is just wiping out what is probably the biggest gaming market - the teenagers.

Wizz-Fizz Wizz-Fizz said:

To be honest, I think the majority of people who pirate games are just teenagers who can't afford to buy it.

Noone wants to pirate - its a pain, it can be broken, it can take hours longer to install/download, its illegal, it could have a virus, and DLC's are just plain annoying to try to pirate too.

But charging £40 - £45 for a game is just wiping out what is probably the biggest gaming market - the teenagers.

The average PC gamer is in their 30's, therefore the biggest market are well eyond teenagers.

One solution to this is to offer the product at an reasonably affordable price and make it readily available.

Services like steam are a great example of this.

If you don't want the title on launch day, wait a while and get it on steam for a fraction of the price.

If you want the game on launch day, then its a fairly good chance that you have been following it for a long time already and its chances of truly sucking are slim, and probably well worth full price.

ramonsterns said:

I think

See, the neat thing about thinking vs. knowing, is you can be wrong. And you're wrong.

treetops treetops said:

There is no stalemate, you can pirate any single player aspect of a game within a week of release. The war was won by pirates ages ago, so long ago the very idea we can't pirate any single player game seems like a mere myth making its way to legend.

Sarcasm Sarcasm said:

"Give us a reason to buy a game, and promise that it will work smoothly and not punish us for the purchase, and the system will more or less tick along."

/dicussion

ryanb2145 said:

Sorry, I'm still stuck on the concept of paying for DLC. I just won't pay $100+ just to play, not even own, a full game. One game. You could feed 200+ people a meal for that... It's sickening. And of course these gaming companies put messages in these games for everyone in your lobby to see: "This smart person we tried to rip off does not have one of our shitty map packs so you can't play them.... with your friend." Very rarely does anyone enjoy everything in DLC downloads anyways.... especially in FPS games. Maybe if the game offered free (and good) DLC along with the BS DLC you pay for. $1000 for 10 full games WTF?! GTFO!

Let's not forget about companies making DLC before the game is even out, solely for the purpose of ripping you off even more.

1 person liked this | Tygerstrike said:

PC piracy is one of those issues that many ppl argue about. I know many of my freinds do pirate the programs they have on their computers. I even have a freind that dares both his ISP and any program he downloads to catch him. I have heard that those that pirate cant afford to actually purchase the physical media. All I can say to that is BS!!!!

Its not like its a surgery you may need. Or a part on your car and you have to steal it so you can work. Normally its a song/game/movie. Which is entertainment. NOT a staple of survival. There are many other ways to entertain yourself w/o breaking any laws. Try reading a book. Or atleast budget the money better so you can afford it.

Alpha Gamer Alpha Gamer said:

If I may suggest an interesting reading on the subject of piracy, here it is.

http://www.tweakguides.com/Piracy_1.html

This article will clarify and explain a lot concerning piracy

Zoltan Head said:

If I may suggest an interesting reading on the subject of piracy, here it is.

http://www.tweakguides.com/Piracy_1.html

This article will clarify and explain a lot concerning piracy

This seems very clear! And yet, I'm sure there will be at least ten different interpretations of the implications.... :'(

danhodge danhodge said:

See, the neat thing about thinking vs. knowing, is you can be wrong. And you're wrong.

Surely that's better than pretending I know anything and everything?

Besides, if it wasn't for such high prices, it could easily be the biggest market.

And that is kind of irrelevant anyway, they are still losing out on a big market from charging such high prices.

Zoltan Head said:

See, the neat thing about thinking vs. knowing, is you can be wrong

Another neat thing about thinking is you can be flexible and learn things.

ramonsterns said:

Another neat thing about thinking is you can be flexible and learn things.

How about we all flexibly learn something before we post it on the internet?

Zoltan Head said:

How about we all flexibly learn something before we post it on the internet?

Does that mean anything? The words seem English, but the meaning escapes me!

ramonsterns said:

Does that mean anything? The words seem English, but the meaning escapes me!

It means know what you're talking about (See: go read up on it from two or more sources) before you post about it. Surely this concept isn't lost on you.

Zoltan Head said:

It means know what you're talking about (See: go read up on it from two or more sources) before you post about it. Surely this concept isn't lost on you.

The concept is clear, but doesn't apply to anything I said (sort of

deep & meaningless!)

ramonsterns said:

The concept is clear, but doesn't apply to anything I said (sort of

deep & meaningless!)

Maybe because I wasn't talking to you and you went butt your head into a conversation where you had nothing meaningful to contribute? This discussion between us ends here, good day.

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