This article is based on the writer’s opinion and not necessarily that of GamingClimax in any form.
SecuROM. TAGES / SolidShield. STEAMWorks. Games For Windows LIVE. These DRM platforms or one of many more schemes are utilized by many game developers to supposedly protect their games from piracy, and further secure their bottom lines. However, the pirates have, time and again, cracked each and every one of these schemes. The end result? Legitimate consumers having issues with their copies not allowing play (whether authentication servers die, registration limits are reached, or internet connections fail), while the pirates play the games without regrets. Some publishers have tried to make their schemes more extreme, but only causing more piracy (the Spore debacle comes to mind, where backlash to harsh install limits led to Spore becoming the most pirated game of 2008).
One very recent uproar regarding DRM is the forced online-only play requirement for Diablo III, even for single player. This seems to centrally be an effort to protect the equally-controversial real-money auction house, of which Blizzard will take several cuts of the players’ revenue. It can also be seen, obviously, as an anti-piracy measure. The problem with the new depth of protections in place in Diablo III is that this inadvertently serves as a challenge to pirate groups that dedicate themselves to cracking through DRM for the sake of reputation within their “underground circles”, as it were. This very notion of challenge has occurred time and again – another example being the Ubisoft always-online system, which was eagerly cracked by pirates, simply because the ‘victorious’ group got to show off their skills at removing protection and ‘freeing’ the game, while “sticking it” to the publisher.
What, then, is the solution to this issue? To me, it is quite simple: Abandon the use of DRM completely. While pirates will obviously be more easily able to illegally distribute a game, legitimate users are no longer hampered by faulty DRM schemes. As for what developers should do, they need to invest and develop technologies to exclusively target pirates. Research needs to be focused on the methods of distribution of pirated games, specifically what can be done to hamper those services without interfering with legitimate consumers. In addition, publishers need to reinvest funds used to license DRM solutions into improving the convenience of game downloads / delivery.
As Valve (the company running Steam, as well as developer of several successful FPS games) founder and CEO Gabe Newell said, “Piracy is a service problem.” Regardless of legality, pirates are indeed providing a service: you can download a game for free through their means of distribution, just as you could pay for that game through a legitimate website. In addition, pirates have an attracting advantage to their services: their versions come “cracked”, where hackers have modified the game program to bypass or explicitly remove the DRM’s functionality. Therefore, for piracy to decrease, legitimate distribution methods must become as or more functional and convenient as the services “provided” by pirating sites.
The customer should be the focus of any gaming service. If developers and publishers wish to increase revenue, they must attract the customer more through reasonable costs and quality service, not through DRM schemes that end up failing due to the efforts of software cracking groups. Whether they like to admit the fact or not, pirates are providing competing services versus the legitimate sites, just as the legitimate distributors compete amongst one another.