November 12, 2008

Computer Games & the Pirates

by Charlie Wilcox

Most people know about the trouble in the music industry today with people pirating and illegally downloading songs for free, with no money going to the artist or the record company. But what is lesser known yet is equally important is the pirating of computer games. The pirating and illegal downloading of computer games costs the developers billions of dollars each year and is a major problem facing the industry.

Computer game pirating is this widespread for many reasons. The main reason is that with the internet, it is easy for someone to get hold of a computer game for free from a piracy web site. In addition, with the growing general knowledge of computers and programming among young people, more users have the ability to pirate games on their own: The ability to merely access a pirate site and download a way to get around the copy protection on a game

The second reason why illegal downloading of computer games is common is that many games usually do not have much replayability. This means that those who buy most games will most often play through the game once, then shelve the game and move on. The low replayability of most games may cause gamers to think that the games they buy are not worth the fifty or sixty dollars that they would pay were they to buy the game legally. One way companies can fix this is by focusing more on innovation in the core gameplay of their games and less on making pretty graphics that draw people into buying their games. The major offenders of the graphics over gameplay thought process are sports games. Every year new sports games are being sold that merely update the roster for the new season, and perhaps enhance the graphics slightly. These games add almost nothing to the actual gameplay, yet charge a full price tag for the game every year. If companies make games that are worth playing for more than a few hours and make true innovations in the ways one can play the game, then people would be more willing to buy them instead of downloading them illegally.

Another reason people will pirate games is sometimes the methods that developers will use to stop people from pirating their games. With piracy of computer games so rampant, developers say, they need to keep creating and using more effective ways to stop the illegal use of their games. However, this often only works to encourage piracy of their games. This is because the pirated version of a game uses methods to get around or not include the copy-protection devices, while those who legally buy the game have to deal with the measures which are often very inconvenient for the average user.

The prime example of this is the recent backlash over games that use DRM, or digital rights management, software. This software has been reported to cause issues with some computers and has created outrage because a user may not be able to play the game after upgrading their computer. This has caused great outrage among the gaming community, with some going so far as to pirate a game purely because of the DRM software on the game. It has become so widespread that the popular web comic, xkcd, has included the subject as a focus of one of its comics. The use of DRM in some games has also led to many gamers boycotting games that include DRM software and even pirating games purely because of this. This was especially strong in the recent release of Spore, which caused many users to lodge complaints with the manufacturer Electronic Arts. In turn, many sites popular among gamers claim complaints among those playing Spore about DRM are encouraging those users help those involved with game piracy. The issue grew to such an extent that it even caught the eye of newspapers such as The Washington Post.

Overall, piracy in the computer gaming industry is a major problem, but much of it comes from the developers and not the pirates. People do not want to buy something that they do not believe will be worth their money, and will often use other channels to get it. In addition, gaming companies are pushing their customers towards piracy by attaching copy-protection software that is annoying and inconvenient at best, and infringing and harmful at worst, while not addressing the real issue of releasing games that their customers do not want to pay the price that retailers are charging.

The major gaming companies need to get back to the basics of operating a business and use that time-honored principle: The customer is always right.

(The photo is from fffleisch at morgueFile.)

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