The Stalemate Against Piracy In PC Gaming Doesn't Help Anyone. Time To Let Go.

The PC's biggest asset, for users, is its amazing flexibility. The modern computer is both a tool and a toy, a generalist device customisable to nearly any needs. With the barest amount of prodding, comparatively speaking, it can be, and do, anything the user wants.

The PC's biggest liability, to games publishers, is its unpredictable flexibility. The modern computer, both a tool and a toy, is dangerously customisable to nearly any needs. With barely any prodding, it can unfortunately be, and do, anything the user wants.

The resulting tension between PC owners and PC publishers has created an awkward stalemate, a mad arms race to prevent a piracy problem that every new weapon just raises the stakes of. Publishers are well within their rights to want to protect themselves from theft, but old systems aren't working. And turning the PC into a console that also runs Word isn't the answer.

The PC itself is caught in a strange position just now, awkwardly transforming between the old and the new. Computers are now, of course, completely ubiquitous. Most of us carry one in our purse or pocket at nearly all times. They're just heavily specialised, designed to unify hardware and software in a way that prevents users from creating variation. The Xbox, the PlayStation, the iPhone... all are walled gardens, unifying hardware configurations with software that, on the whole, very few people will try to circumvent or customise. Deterrents (voided warranties, service bans, and so on) further prevent more users from trying to customise their own systems.

With Windows 8 on the horizon, the Xbox-style dashboard is coming to a PC near you. EA has Origin, Ubisoft has uPlay, and every major publisher wants you to connect your right to play your games to a social account. As login systems get less obtrusive, they still become thornier to navigate.

The result is a stare-down between companies and their customers that twists both sides into ever more awkward situations, as Rock, Paper, Shotgun's recent interview with Ubisoft highlights. Representatives from Ubisoft contort themselves to avoid giving any actual data on piracy rates, and they end up with the washed-out:

We've heard you. We've heard customers. We want to find a balanced way to protect our IPs and our games, and at the same time trade off frustrations or issues for PC gamers, and improve the policies of our games and services. But I guess the answer is, we're still discussing it.

Unfortunately, the industry has been "discussing" it since roughly the dawn of modern computing, and no satisfactory solution has yet been reached.

If PC gamers wanted to be using an iPad or a 360 for our gaming, we would be. (Many of us, in fact, use multiple platforms.) But PC gamers have chosen a platform explicitly for its flexibility — the ability to run everything from Assassin's Creed 3 to World of Warcraft to whatever new Flash game is out today — and publishers see that very flexibility as the enemy, guarding against the copies we might make or the systems we might crack before anyone even decides they want to.

Maybe the only winning move really is not to play. GOG's major selling point is that all its games, old and new alike, are sold DRM free. The Android-based Ouya has decided to embrace openness. Ubisoft is finally standing down from the worst of its unpopular policies, and yet the walls around our gaming gardens grow ever tighter.

Big developers are sure the future is free-to-play and multiplayer — not only because those make money, but because they force gamers to stay honest and to cough up cash if they want to participate. As a player, I'm not so sure.

Thieves will always steal, but a pirated game isn't the same as a lost sale. The rest of us just want to be left alone to use our computers as we will. Give us a reason to buy a game, and promise that it will work smoothly and not punish us for the purchase, and the system will more or less tick along.

Top photo: Flickr user JD Hancock


    A compelling thought and a great perspective.

      Indeed - I think DRM, although easier for the business puts too much pressure onto the customer to have a CONSTANT internet connect just to play.
      I have found out just how bad this is as my internet connections currently in the middle of a name transfer and will be down for the next 10 days, so essentilly I walk over to my desktop of an afternoon and look at an awesome PC that can literally do nothing as it has 30+ online only Steam Games and Diablo 3 and then I realise just how dependant we have become on internet connections and well... it's silly :)

        Well logically if you have online multiplayer games then no internet connection will mean you can't play. But any of your single player games on steam should still work (providing you installed them before you lost connection of course)

    The worst part is when I see these games come up on steam sale and think, Oh I have really wanted to try that game then you click on it and it says "Requires always online, requires GFWL, requires your children as collateral while you play" then you search for the pirated copy and sure enough, it exists and it doesn't have any of this crap and is bundled with all the DLC.

    I so badly want to buy Bulletstorm in particular but not on my watch while it still has GFWL.

      What is your position on the 'buy game on steam sale, then dl pirate copy for convinience' method?

        If I am going to pirate a game I bought I will usually buy a physical copy for the box from England.

        I try to keep my steam list full of only pure games. The only one that I have on steam with crap on it is Batman Arkham Asylum as a friend gifted it to me. I pirated it on the 360 after that just to tip the statistics away from PC!

          to be completely honest. pirating a game on different platform because DRM makes you do so, does not justify the act of pirating.

          But who am I to judge, I pirate too =P. Heck everyone pirates but they just act all mighty. At least steam did a good job pulling me away from being a pirate. Steam sales FTW.

            I already owned it on the PC! And I agree with steam converting more Pirates than anything else I have ever seen.

    F2P....ugggghhhh...such a dirty word

      Gw2 works

        Its not the same thing though, You have to buy the game upfront. Free to play generally = Micro transactions which suck ass.

    while a pirated copy is not always a lost sale, its still illegal. Most of the time a pirated copy really is a lost sale. Once more people start to buy games properly, they will start to value the games more, and then value the companies more. Maybe then companies will give gamers more freedom. Shame the few make it sux for the rest of us.

      That will never happen, why would companies give more freedom. Also pirating at least from my perspective is very rarely a lost sale. Nearly every game I have pirated which isn't often are games I owned at one point or more likely are games I would never buy because they are terrible and I am testing them out to see if I am mistaken and are worth the purchase price. I would say I spend 500 dollars to every 10 dollars I save with pirating. If game developers produced great quality games more often the pirating rate would be even lower then it currently is. Pirating is not a large issue for game developers they don't lose much revenue on it and really it's just greed to focus on such a small scale issue when piracy from what I've read and seen is under 5% most people I know rarely if ever pirate games. Also look at how much the big game developers hate used game sales, again this is just greed not some grand financial wrong that warrents the extreme messures like DRM that companys like Ubisoft utilised and this extreme capalistic obession with always expanding and growing.

    So... the only solution is to give in?
    That doesn't sound right... maybe the only solution is to retreat, remove themselves from the field completely and only release console games.

      In my view the kind of pirate who would have a good enough PC to play games on would generally have a hacked PS3/360 as well.

        The pc requirements for multiplatform games are fairly low, comparitivly speaking... also, modded consoles can be identified and remotely disabled.

          You only lose online functionality, just like the PC version if you don't have a legit key. Even if you get banned you can still play Singeplayer/System Link

    Interesting topic. Thats why I buy a copy and also download a pirated copy. When it comes to isntalling, I will install the illegally cracked version simply because I don't want to be forced to be online the whole time with the policies that these publishers have put in place. I don't necessarily want to connect with everyone. I just want to enjoy my own game at my own pace on my own time.

    "Thieves will always steal, but a pirated game isn’t the same as a lost sale" - surely you mean isn't *always* the same as a lost sale - otherwise that is a ridiculous statement.

    "Give us a reason to buy a game, and promise that it will work smoothly and not punish us for the purchase, and the system will more or less tick along." - The problem is that the reason to buy a game is always provided - i.e. you want to play it - but pirates prefer to ignore that, and then come up with all sorts of justifications as to why they are entitled to play it without paying the creators anything.

      Actually, logically, it is a correct statement. Possibly it is ambiguous and should be clarified as you suggest, but the clarification itself validates the initial wording. Only if every pirated copy corresponded to exactly one lost sale would the initial sentence be incorrect.

      I could say a similar thing about your few on pirates. Not *all* pirates behave in the simplistic way you outline. In the comment thread above you can already see people who admit to pirating games but also contribute money to the creators. On the other hand I am sure there are pirates who feel no need to justify their behaviour.

        *view on pirates.

        It would be nice to have a 2 minute window for editing (yes I realise I should probably proof read before submitting).

    Game company's attitudes towards PC and piracy are so idiotic.
    Guess what Ubisoft? Console games are pirated just as much as PC games. And a pirated game is NOT a lost sale. They see it as lost revenue when in fact it's a black market that has little effect on the real economy.
    It's like Toyota saying they have to stop car thieves, because every stolen car is one that would been bought by the thief.
    If you want to reduce piracy:
    a) Sell games at a price point that people feel is good value for money.
    b) Make it EASIER to obtain a purchased game than a pirated one (high bandwidth digital delivery).
    c) Don't penalise the paying customers with ridiculously invasive and crippling DRM.

      But you wouldn't steal a car.

        You wouldn't download a delicious chocolate cake

          You wouldnt steal a baby!

      IE Steam, and before you get on about the prices on Steam, those prices are set by the indvidual publishers like ubisoft, Activision, 2k etc.

      Now origin is also an ok service, but he main problem with it (besides the fact thats its made by EA) is that its another piece of software that must be run inorder to play a game. This is why So many people prefer steam, When you have a huge libray of games on steam, you dont want to have to run another piece of software like uPlay or G$WL because is just extra bullshit that serves no purpose other then to add in an extra layer of DRM and clog up system resources.

        Personally I love Steam, I think it's a great compromise between DRM and functionality. I blame the publishers for the Australia tax.

      I couldn't agree more crowbar and the company's still don;t take into account that pirating doesn't qualify as a form of stealing. Piracy is it's own thing should it be encouraged of course not but with a responsive consumer and a responsible producer it becomes a non issue if it even is an issue atm.

    "Big developers are sure the future is free-to-play and multiplayer" When this happens, I'll stop gaming :/

    I hate needing to be online to play a game, some of my machines aren't even connected to the internet, Even then the ones that are, I only have 10gb a month, don't want to burn it out for something which is single player

    I shall steal this cake because it is inferior to the cake i want!
    I believe this cake will be a terrible cake, so i am stealing it to confirm my suspicions
    if they didnt want me to steal this cake, they should have made it more delicious, then i wouldnt be stealing cakes

    muffins are also yum

    i just pirated a win98 vm so i could play dungeon keeper 2 with minimum crashes. i did pay for both of them many years ago. buggered if i know where any of that is.

    i spend lots of cash on games, have legit windows and develop (often on microsoft platforms) with legit software. i dont feel bad. :P

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