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Straight Talk on Piracy
The PC gaming industry has undeniably been affected by the massive growth of routine online piracy buffeted by the maturation of Bit Torrent and growing consumer ambivalence towards the very concept of copyright. Despite all of the publicly expressed worries about how piracy might affect the industry, PC gaming has enjoyed continual growth over the past several years. The suffering music industry, which has been similarly affected by wanton disregard of copyright, can't say the same.
In response to the prevalence of piracy, some developers have sought to put increasingly stringent copy protection on their games. Typically, this results in a massive outcry from gamers, as more often than not the copy protection ends up having serious hardware conflicts for legitimate users. This chiefly annoys people who actually bought the game in question more than it does pirates. People who have problems with copy protection often have to turn to pirate sites to download a No-CD crack to get the game working.
Other developers have largely abandoned the PC platform or have taken to delaying releases by a year or more. Both Bioware and Epic Games have taken that tack as of late, with games like Mass Effect and Gears of War being the primary examples of this release strategy. Still other developers have taken to avoiding releasing traditional single player games, instead focusing on more difficult to pirate multiplayer games.
Virtually anyone with sufficient knowledge to keep a gaming PC up and running and to surf the internet is fully capable of pirating a game and never being caught. That's a fact that developers are being forced to come to terms with. The legalistic enforcement route has not worked. That's the failed strategy pursued by the music industry, and if anything, it has only brought them a heap of negative press coverage. In order to make sure that their customers continue to purchase their products, developers have to work to make purchasing more attractive than piracy to their target market.
The sad fact is that pirates have often been more efficient at distributing software than the publishers themselves. Enhanced security practices have cut down on the number of pre-release game leaks (called "zero day"), but expensive shipping costs for online retailers, a lack of digital distribution options and a derth of stores that stock a substantial inventories of PC games has made a torrent site the most convenient way to acquire many games.
As publishers start to pick up on that fact - years after it was obvious to much of the gaming community, the convenience of distribution has started to increase, as has the industry wide reliance on heavy handed copy protection mechanisms.
The next article in this series will discuss what publishers and developers can do to encourage gamers to actually purchase their games and to keep the industry vibrant.