Whilst I’ll never advocate piracy, either maritime or electronic, I do believe they have the right idea about some things. Frilly shirts, large hats, a penchant for all things shiny… pirates have a good time about life. My largest point of envy for pirates, though, is the fact that they never have to suffer DRM. DRM, or digital rights management, that boil upon PC gaming’s overwise volumptuous and tempting bottom, has hit a new low in inconveniencing paying customers. And the pirates get none of it.
See, once a game has been cracked, it’s cracked. It might take a while; Ubisoft’s infamous always-online DRM took months to crack – but they got there in the end. And once they’ve done it, they have a game stripped of all of the annoying things that continue to plague us paying customers.
I understand why DRM has to exist, I really do. And I honestly don’t mind about entering CD keys on install. That’s been part of being a PC gamer since before I can remember. That’s normal and quite acceptable. What isn’t acceptable is the new DRM that companies think they need in order to preserve what they believe are lost profits. Always-online, limited installs, Games for Windows Live, Steam… they’re all DRM in one ugly form or another, and whilst some are more acceptable than others (I’m a massive fan of Steam and Valve) they’re still a way of chasing after vanishing ghost profits.
I don’t understand economics, and certainly not the economics of piracy, but I do understand one thing; pirates probably wouldn’t have bought the game anyway. Whether or not you feel you have lost a sale from piracy, the truth is that you probably haven’t. And if they weren’t gonna buy the game anyway, then you’ve lost nothing. Technically, you haven’t lost anything anyway, since a digital version of the game hardly amounts to a physical copy anyway – it isn’t the same as stealing. Nothing physical has been lost. But that’s something I don’t understand deeply about, and am probably wrong about anyway. Feel free to pick apart my fleeting knowledge in the comment section; back onto the subject.
The DRM that is supposed to keep pirates away and stop them from playing the games that the companies have worked so hard to make (and they have) only inconveniences those who have to put up with it – the consumers of the product. Those honest people who actually bought the game. The pirates breeze right by as if the restrictions weren’t there, and it’s us honest people who foot the bill.
Some might side with the game creators on this issue, and I can see why. Yes, they have the right to protect their intellectual property from people who are distributing it unofficially. But why must they feel the need to prosecute the innocent in order to vainly strike out at those who aren’t affected by it anyway? It really isn’t a good business ethic, and it must be stopped. Surely, great minds such as theirs must be able to figure out a new method of DRM that doesn’t infringe on their users and actually stops pirates from using unlicensed software. Steam managed it – despite it being a variation of the always-online DRM, it still allows you to be offline (sometimes, when it’s not being buggier than Starship Troopers) and is generally unintrusive to your gameplay. The same can’t be said for Microsoft’s Games for Windows Live. Having to log in through a buggy and slow interface every single time I boot a game was stupidly annoying, and made only more so by the fact that I knew pirates wouldn’t have to go through this rigmarole every time they wanted to play Arkham Asylum.
And so, I come to the main reason I typed this article. My solution to the whole shaboodle is a simple one, and I expect that many of you have come up with it yourself. It comes in two steps: buy the game you like, despite the horrible DRM; then pirate a version that doesn’t have the offending demon-DRM. You still bought the game, and that should give you the right to play it however you like, especially if that’s without restrictive DRM that doesn’t apply to you, a person who actually bought the game and can prove it with a boxed/digital copy.
And frankly, if that’s not legal, you have to wonder why not.
Included in this article are Amazon links to two games: a pirate one and a hacking one. Oh the irony!
EDIT: Whilst I was writing this article, Gabe Newell came out with a statement about piracy and how the best tactic is to not treat consumers like shit. Read it here.