I think that we can all agree that piracy sucks. The worst aspect of this type of digital high seas shenanigans is that companies are forced to punish legitimate customers to make sure that their games are harder to pirate. Most recently, EA tried to regulate piracy by forcing all copies of their games to include SecuROM, possibly the most draconian form of copy-protection currently available (with the notable exception of the Sony BMG CD copyright scandal).
The most infamous of the SecuROM stories was that of EA’s Spore, Will Wright’s procedurally-generated creature creator simulator from last year. The digital lock-down on Spore enforced a three-install limit upon the game, much to the lament of the internet savvy. As a result of this heavy-handed maneuver, Spore ended up being the most pirated game of 2008 with over 1.7 million downloads.
So, what did the games industry take away from this horrendous back-fire?
Well, not much has changed. SecuROM is still present though its code is a little less invasive (it still remains installed on your system unless you use a special tool to remove it), but there are some companies who are starting to look for different ways to curb piracy.
BioWare, creators of such eminent games as Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect and the upcoming Dragon Age have changed their stance on piracy, despite being an EA partner. Far from trying to stamp out piracy, BioWare simply accepts that there will always be those who feel that paying for products is beneath them. Instead of trying to incur the wrath of those who might be tempted to grift their games, BioWare has adopted some gentler methods of copy-protection. Players who purchase authentic copies of their games will be treated to extra content at launch through limited editions, and any DLC released post-launch will contain software that will check if your game is a legitimate copy.
While I agree that games piracy will be an on-going problem, I think that treating actual paying customers with a little respect instead of engaging in collective punishment is a step in the right direction. I’ve personally never had a problem with copyright enforcement on games (except for being unable to use one copy for LAN gaming), but I’m interested if any of you have had problems with copy-protection software, and what you think are the right steps towards solving piracy.