As Jack Sparrow has proven time and time again, pirates are cool. In fact, some people find them to be even cooler than ninjas. However, the modern era has introduced us to a new type of piracy, which, unfortunately, doesn't involve sword fighting, sailing the seven seas, or drinking rum. (Well, I suppose the rum is still there for those who want it.)
As most gamers probably already know, software piracy is an issue that developers cannot stop talking about. All these evil scallywags are cutting into their bottom line by hacking, cracking, and uploading big-budget games to the internet, where users can simply download them for free.
Software developers are put in an awkward place—they have to try to curb these piracy habits without upsetting the fans that pay their bills. This becomes a dangerous balancing act, as proven by Capcom's recent DRM predicament.
To protect the PC version of Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, Capcom added DRM (digital rights management) features that required users to be online in order to have the full game unlocked. Without an active internet connection, players wouldn't be able to save their progress, and would be limited to only 15 of the 39 playable characters. This meant that only legitimate copies would have all the features unlocked. Yet it also gave players without a reliable internet connection a severely stripped-down version of the game, even if they paid full price for it.
Fans were outraged by this, and made some very convincing arguments about why they felt this way. Thankfully Capcom listened to them; the decision has been addressed and reversed. In fact, here's an official statement, made by Capcom bigwig Christian Svensson: "The argument that legitimate users would have a worse experience than pirates was the loudest and most convincing. We certainly don't want that to be the case and that was never our intention."
The fans explained to Capcom that the legitimate version of SSFIV:AE would be inferior to the hacked version that would be inevitable if lack of internet connection would severely hinder the game. Fans who felt cheated by this would have to seek out hacked versions just to be able to play the version of the game they paid for.
This brings up an interesting point about anti-piracy regulation: Too often, it's the fans that get punished instead of the pirates. The battle against piracy quickly becomes a battle between the companies and the loyal fans, and this should never be the case.
Valve is a company that understands this perhaps better than anyone. Their Steam sales platform allows users to play purchased games on any PC, as long as they log into their accounts first. For example, I could purchase Left 4 Dead on my home PC, then go to a friend's house and play it on my friend's computer.
This is incredibly convenient, yet it also makes piracy extremely easy. If I want to play Portal 2, I just have to log into my friend's account. Since he purchased Portal 2 already, I can play it on my own computer using his account. But Valve co-founder Gabe Newell isn't worried at all. He made this statement in an interview last year: "Once you create service value for customers, ongoing service value, piracy seems to disappear, right?"
His point is that by making games on Steam so easy to play and transfer between computers, that software becomes valuable. The value of the game comes from the fact that once you buy it, you can do whatever you want with it. Newell went on to say, "And that's why some of the DRM approaches are so bad, because they create negative value, not positive value." Forcing legal buyers to jump through hoops, according to Newell, is diminishing the value of a product. If your product becomes less valuable, less people will be willing to pay full price. The next logical step in this line of reasoning is that customers will be more likely to turn to piracy when piracy provides value that can't be acquired with a legal purchase.
The entire anti-piracy battle is misdirected. Instead of crippling their own games, companies need to offer the premium version—as in an all-access pass—to the people who actually pay for the game.
My prediction: Eventually, more software developers will realize this important truth: People will pay for a game they see value in. Trying to keep your product on too short a leash keeps that value low, and people simply will not pay top dollar for something that isn't valuable.
Personally, I think the future of gaming is going to be great, as long as game sales platforms like Steam continue to be awesome. I have high hopes that we're moving toward an era in which paying for a game means you get to actually play it with no strings attached. We're definitely not there yet, but if companies like Capcom continue to actually take their fans' opinions to heart, we'll definitely be moving in the right direction.
CCC Editor/Contributing Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*