Monday, April 29, 2013

Availability Will Solve Piracy!

Ahh school journalism. I don’t miss it.

I’m not entirely sure where this idea for a story came from, since it hasn’t been discussed, or where Patrick White, for the Kansas State University paper, came up with the concept, but we’ll talk about it. We need a healthy debate about DRM.

DRM has been a concern after the release of the latest Sim City, also known as the game that’s killing the Sim City franchise by requiring an always online connection. Or at least that’s what I call it. We saw the same thing happen with Diablo 3. Ubisoft and EA are notorious for their DRM practices at this point. We expect that when we buy one of their products, we need to register it to access all of the content, or have to have an online connection in order to “verify” that we are, yes, playing a legit copy of the game. (Oh my god EA servers quit telling me I’m logged out! You logged me out! I don’t want to get onto the Cerberus network. Let me scan this damn planet!)

White’s article focuses heavily on DRM being a necessary evil, quoting a Eurogamer article from 2011 that at the higher end of the spectrum, 90% are stealing the games, and that piracy costs them sales. This is a stark contrast to what a local video game owner, Game Hounds in Kansas, who states that DRM hurts the legitimate purchases because no encryption high enough will discourage someone from trying to steal it. If they want to get it for free, they are going to find a way. And he is right about the sales of games. In that retailers pay the publishers up-front for the product. It’s then in the retailers hands to make a profit. The publishers don’t see another dime from the sales, until the retailer sends in another purchase order to obtain more product.

White wants to take the DRM issue beyond that. That the heart of the problem is lack of availability. To clarify, some products are not available anywhere (Australia and it’s super-strict guidelines are a fantastic example), or internet connections are intermittent in rural areas therefore the online DRM clause makes it difficult for a person to play a game. As such, these people are most likely to pirate to avoid the hassle of 1: not being able to purchase the product in their country and/or 2: not having a stable enough connection to be in line with the DRM.

It’s a sound notion. White doesn’t flesh out this statement and bum rushes it towards the end of the article. Nor does he credit any sources with this idea. For being a DRM “noob” as he calls himself, that’s pretty profound and logical. Sometimes it’s the easiest solution to the worst problems. Open access to content on a global scale would cut down the need for DRM because fewer people are going to find a reason to pirate. The primary reason so many do it is because of lack of access. Ask anyone! Are there people still going to try and abuse the system for personal gains? Absolutely. There is no reason to think otherwise, because if someone really wants it for free, they’re going to find a way to get it. But it’s the same for any industry. Video games and any type of computer software are just more apparent because content is digital in a physical format.

The issue with DRM isn’t just about piracy. That’s where a number of reporters miss the mark. It’s about used game sales as well. This is where the publisher doesn’t make a cent, money that they want to get their hands in. What’s the best way to curb used game sales in hopes that more people will buy from you directly? DRM. Institute an always online, or require registration of the product, done. If someone buys the game used? Well they have to buy a code from the publisher to play the game, so they can get something from the exchange, not solely the retailer.

And it’s a tricky situation. I’ve brought this up before but I can understand from the point of view of the publishers and the gamers. It’s still sneaky and underhanded at how publishers try to “resolve” the piracy and used sales by adding in an “always online” feature and covering it as part of the game’s design. Consumers can be stupid, but for the most part, we know what you’re trying to do. And it’s prompting more of us to pirate your games.

Let’s try an experiment. EA, Ubisoft: Go for a year without any DRM on a game’s release. Things that are already tacked on can stay that way. But the next Madden, Tom Clancy, or whatever take off the DRM. See what happens. And make sure to publicize it. I’ll bet you that sales will go up. We’ve removed the “inclusivity” that you have been demanding.

Piracy is still going to happen. Some countries have really strict standards when it comes to media content, such as Australia and China, that can’t be overturned simply by a publisher saying “hey let’s put our stuff there.” Because believe me, EA would love nothing more than to take over China. It’s just not going to happen any time in the near future. But in locations where the games are available, I’d imagine there would be a drop in piracy. Why pirate something that doesn’t restrict you from playing?

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