Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'

That Showed ‘Em, Huh?

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Honestly, what with the destruction of the music industry’s distribution platform in its quixotic quest to stick it to pirates, why does the games industry persist?

Ubisoft declared that it would require constant online activation in order to play its games, and with its new line-up of games coming out, PC Gamer has already felt the brunt of what that means to the end-user: Namely, when your internet connection or Ubisoft’s servers go down, so does your game.

While you play it.

I shed no tears for the music industry, because I am not beholden to the music industry. I am not beholden to them for the simple reason that they are music itself. I shed no tears for games companies that shoot themselves in the foot like this, because their DRM is not the only place they have stuck it to their customers.

They like to demonize their audience for making the usual pirate’s claim:

  • No pirating ever happens.
  • If pirating does happen it’s your fault.
  • If you try and stop us we’ll pirate your game on principle.

By claiming its justifications as baseless, as if they are catering to an unpleasable base. But it’s primarily that unpleasable base that gave them all their money in the first place.

People do what works best for them. Pirating is a direct response to high prices coupled with mediocre content. Napster was the logical response to the MTV generation of $18 albums of the Backstreet Boys. Bittorrent is the natural response to $50 Halo and $60 Modern Warfare 2. It’s the mind drawing the logical result from the parameters of “nothing today is worth what they’re charging, but I still want to play games.” The market is still there; it’s just not being addressed properly, and that’s not the fault of the consumer.

I’ve pirated a lot of games, for various reasons:

  • Because they didn’t produce shareware or demos.
  • Because the professional reviewers are all in their pocket.
  • Because I lost my original manual with the serial number.
  • Because the CD got scratched.
  • Because the CD check took a full three minutes.
  • Because the game lost company support and couldn’t find an activation server.
  • Because SecuROM bluescreened my computer after finding CD burning software.
  • Because the average game price went up 50% but my income didn’t.
  • Because game’s IP was held by a company that wasn’t putting it on the market.

I’ve also bought a lot of games, for various reasons:

  • Because it got legitimate acclaim from gamers.
  • Because the price went down. (thanks, Steam!)
  • Because it was easier to buy than pirate. (Steam, GOG, D2D)
  • Because I wanted to see that company succeed for its efforts. (THQ, Valve, Bioware)

Money is not an insurmountable obstacle. People will spend money not to go through flaming hoops. That said, if the flaming hoops are hotter after having spent that money, then any rational person is going to go and say, “Hey, only people who legitimately bought this game have to suffer the nonsense of these activation servers when there’s a Day One hack already out to loop the request back to yourself.” And pirating wins again.

The games companies have also focused on console platforms as their answer to the charge of high prices and mediocrity, and cited PC gaming’s high pirating rates as “pushing them away.” Except the PC is still the largest single market despite such high rates, and the creation of the hardcore console gamer is only going to delay the inevitable: PC gamers know mediocre games. Halo 3 and Modern Warfare 2 rather illustrate how certain game genres are new to console gamers and thus they don’t know what they’re missing.

That will change, and the more console gamers play, the more they, too, will chafe at their lackluster choices. For every game companies choose to promote solely on the console – like Alan Wake or Brutal Legend – for fear of being panned on the PC as weak examples of their genre, the more likely console gamers will learn of these things. The companies merely sow the seeds of their own destruction for want of saving their short-sighted business paradigm.

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