Game piracy is a big deal. Protection mechanisms have improved over the years, but the industry still suffers significant losses because of it. According to a 2005 report by the Interactive Entertainment Association of Australia, piracy costs local developers around $100 million per year. A scary number when you consider the industry only generated $136.9 million in income in 2007.
Atari founder Nolan Bushnell reckons Trusted Computing (TC) is the answer. A few days ago at a Wedbush Morgan security conference, Bushnell explained that Trusted Protection Module, or TPM, chips are currently being built into motherboards, and could be used to slow down, and even stop, piracy.
"What that says is that in the games business we will be able to encrypt with an absolutely verifiable private key in the encryption world - which is uncrackable by people on the internet and by giving away passwords - which will allow for a huge market to develop in some of the areas where piracy has been a real problem," he went on to say.I'm not an expert on Trust Computing platforms, but what I can tell you is that TPM chips are indeed being included on new motherboards. Note that the system is opt-in, requiring activiation via a PC's BIOS, but nonetheless the technology is there.
Not that you should be freaking out just yet - the concept has been around for some time, but has yet to see much use in consumer PCs. It was not specifically designed to curb piracy either.
What makes TC different to other DRM systems is that it's based in hardware. This means that all parts of the process can be secured from software tampering - be it storage (both volatile and non-volatile), input/output or encryption/decryption. The Playstation 3 incorporates a similar philosophy with its Cell processor, which has so far proven difficult to circumvent with mod chips.
But I wouldn't be so worried about the technical aspects. The full implementation of TC (whenever that happens) will take us one step closer to a computing environment in which we have no control over our PCs. The criticism section of the Trusted Computing article in Wikipedia outlines the situation in detail. To a degree, Bushnell is supporting this future.
Encryption chip will end piracy, open markets, says Bushnell [Gamesindustry.biz]