I've been reading up on the StarForce/Galactic Civilization II scandal this afternoon. I find the whole thing disgusting on several fronts. First and foremost, what StarForce did is obviously reprehensible and someone deserves to bleed (as in literal physical blood) for that kind of scummy behavior.
However, the more important issue here is that these calls for StarForce boycotts need to stop.
Now, lest I give the wrong impression, let me be clear about why this bugs me: as I read through dozens of pages of blogs, blog comments, news articles (to use the term loosely), and various forum postings, I see a lot of mention of boycotting StarForce and StarForce-protected games. One of the games that comes up quite often is X3. I literally can no longer count the number of people I've seen claiming to have not bought games like X3 simply because of StarForce's involvement. So, up-front, let me be perfectly clear that I'm pissed about this because it affects me, personally.
So I hope you understand me perfectly when I say that that kind of attitude is only slightly less scummy than StarForce's. That's a strong statement for me to make, so let me explain my position.
Most boycott activists whine about StarForce supposedly being invasive, incompatible, unstable, and so on. That was true - at one point in time. However, the current generation of their software is vastly improved from what it once was. It properly cleans up after itself (in most cases), does not have severe effects on performance (I've run protected and unprotected builds of X3 side by side, with a negligible difference in performance, and only a slight increase in load times), is far more compatible (based on technical support queries in the Egosoft forums), and I've yet to see any evidence whatsoever that the current generation is unstable.
The bottom line is that, in the current generation, there's vanishingly little reason to "hate" StarForce except on a purely philosophical level. I'm a professional game developer, for Bob's sake, and I hate the notion of copy protection. But I also realize that it is, more or less, a necessary evil these days.
The boycotters seem to believe that, by not buying protected games, they directly "injure" the protection companies like StarForce. It doesn't take much common sense to figure out that this is entirely ludicrous. They still get a very healthy cut. They're probably going to use reduced sales as "proof" of piracy, not as evidence that people hate their protection schemes. And they're certainly not going to shut themselves down and go out of business just because some people don't think they should exist. Wake up and join reality, folks - boycott activism rarely makes a real, positive difference.
It does make a real, negative difference, though. The most dangerous are the people who buy the games, and then crack them to bypass the protection schemes. I won't argue whether or not it is "acceptable" for someone to do this - but it is an idiotic behavior. It seems unfashionable in this day and age to consider the consequences of one's actions. Most of these "legit crackers" are serving only to escalate an arms race. Sure, the pirates themselves contribute to the escalation, but it would go a lot slower if the users would quit using cracks.
Arguably, at this point, it's too late. The activists have created a self-fulfilling prophecy. "I crack this game because protection schemes are too invasive." So the companies have to go and create more invasive, more "effective" schemes to retaliate. Can't you guys see you're digging your own graves deeper here?
All that is gravy, though. What really bugs me is how short-sighted and ignorant most of the activists are. At Egosoft, we use StarForce primarily at our publishers' insistence. Anyone with even passing familiarity with the game industry knows that publishers hold the power. We sell a niche game, one that struggles to even get shelf space next to more "famous" and money-laden publishers - even when their games are bilge. We had to fight hard to get a publishing deal at all. We either make some concessions to sell the game, or we don't sell it at all.
Most importantly, though, is what the hot-headed, ignorant, short-sighted boycott weenies do to sales. Every time you refuse to buy a game, you're not hurting StarForce. StarForce is going to make a boatload of money no matter what you do. You would literally have to boycott the entire games industry into nonexistence, and rebuild the entire industry from the ground up, to get them to go away - and you know what? Another one is just going to spring up to take their place. It's stupid - patently moronic - to believe that a boycott movement will ever really change things for the better.
You're not hurting StarForce. You're hurting the game developers. You're hurting us, on our small and relatively unknown team. Suppose the anti-StarForce mob successfully "prevents," say, 10,000 sales of X3. The publishers then compare us to other titles, which (maybe on merit, and maybe just on publicity) have sold better. Guess whose contract gets the axe? Guess who still sells copy protection by the boatload, blissfully unaffected? Guess who really goes out of business?
You may think you're pissing all over The Evil Greedy Corporations, but they're smarter than you are. They know how to duck. You're not getting your urine all over them, you're hosing us.
This lunacy isn't fixing the problem of rampant, excessive copy-protection. It's killing the small guys, the underdogs. Your religious fanatical war is slaughtering innocent bystanders by the millions while the real enemy laughs at you from inside their impenetrable bunkers - and just sits back and escalates the carnage still further when you refuse to back down.
The whole issue of piracy really comes down to respecting developers enough to support them for making a game. Yes, there are peripheral issues and other things that get lumped under the same banner, but that's really what it's all about, in the end. And yet people have gone so far that they're missing the forest for the trees. You may claim, on the surface, to be fighting for the rights of developers and consumers to live in a world free of ridiculous copy-protection schemes.
But when it all adds up, you're screwing the developers, too - and maybe even contributing to the death of the small-time studios out there. You're not even making the consumer's side of things better, either, because it just sparks an escalation that shows no signs of slowing down.
All of this craziness is supposed to keep pirates from destroying the creators of legitimate works like games. But, in the end, I don't think pirates are anywhere near as much of a threat as the supposedly upstanding consumers that are fuelling this war.