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Whee, hornet's nests are fun!

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Apparently, I've touched on a rather controversial nerve. Not unexpected, really - piracy and anti-piracy is a very hot debate, and will likely continue to be so for quite some time.

Given a few days to re-gather my own thoughts, and consider some of the great comments from my last rant, I've decided that I'm not done yet. It's not so much that I have more of the same to say; more precisely, I have a clearer idea of what I wanted to say in the first place, and that's been focused in part by some of the feedback I got last time around.

I'm a big fan of thinking iteratively: try something, see how well it works out as a thought process, get some alternative options; keep what works, chuck the rest, and try it again. So in that spirit, here's "Piracy Redux." I have another interest to serve, namely the interest that it's 4 AM and I'm kind of tired, so I'll drop this into a bullet-point format for convenience and brevity. (Heh, me being succint. Yeah right.)

  • I'm just venting here. I don't honestly believe I have a solution - yet.
    I've brought most of this up just to lament. It's self-indulgent, angsty, and more than a bit frivolous. But it's my opinion, and I feel like getting it out into the open. I don't pretend to know how to resolve this situation, although I'd like to believe that a solution exists, and I'd definitely love to be a part of the solution if one ever becomes apparent. For now, though, I'm not looking to lay blame, assign targets, draw lines in the sand, or rally the troops for the final battle - I'm just bitching [grin]

    Rightly or not, I feel like an innocent victim here. I feel like a kid who just wanted to go out and play Frisbee, and accidentally found a land mine. I shouldn't have to get caught up in this at all. Yeah, complaining about it is rather pointless, but I still feel like I should get to say my piece.

  • I absolutely support the customer's right to avoid crappy copy protection.
    Heck, as far as I'm concerned, the consumer doesn't get near enough respect these days. The DRM craze is just plain idiotic at this stage. Game copy protection is, if anything, even worse. The Sony music-CD rootkit fiasco was old hat to those of us who have been dealing with the likes of StarForce for years already in the PC gaming realm.

    When I complain about consumers excercising their rights, I don't mean to suggest that they shouldn't be allowed to boycott or even avoid that which they find distasteful. Avoiding things we don't like and don't agree with is a fundamental freedom that I fully support. However, I think it is important that, in all things, we understand the consequences of that avoidance.

    Say I dislike the fact that I cannot fly, and thus choose to avoid the reality of gravity. It's an extreme analogy, to be sure, but that's the point - ignoring gravity is not going to let me fly, it's going to make me a grease spot on the sidewalk.

    Boycotting evil copy-protection systems is not just going to change the copy-protection arena. It's going to encourage these companies to produce ever more restrictive systems - the arms-race escalation I mentioned before. More importantly, it's going to cause collateral damage.

  • Yes, it's the publisher's fault. No, that doesn't mean I can fix it.
    At my place of employment, we develop a niche game. We're all acutely aware of that fact. Sometimes we've had to settle for suboptimal publishing deals just because that's the only way we can get anything published at all. Changing publishers is not really an option; getting the ones we have was hard enough. Anyone with real experience trying to publish a niche game knows the realities of this. We either accept publishers with controversial and arguably "poor" choices in copy-protection, or we work at McDonald's. Considering that I haven't spent 90% of my life dreaming about flipping burgers, the only real option here is Door Number One.

    I don't speak much for groups like Stardock that can manage to wrangle CP-free publishing arrangements. I speak for those of us (in the minority as we may be) that don't have the luxury of telling our publishers they're making bad decisions. As much as I wish it could be different, that's the reality of the situation, and that's part of what makes this so annoying.

    Publishers are, by and large, ignorant of or unwilling to face the fact that bad copy-protection costs sales. The only reason such systems are used at all is because publishers still believe they help sales in the long run by preventing piracy. For niche games, this is just plain moronic. The number of sales lost to piracy will never, by sheer virtue of the game's obscure nature, outweigh the sales lost to savvy consumers who are avoiding bad copy protection.

    Net result: we, the small-time game developer, lose. We become collateral damage. We have no bargaining power: our niche game is a small part of the publisher's own bottom line, and losing us over a copy-protection fight only kills us, not them. We have none of this supposed leverage to force a change.

  • Changing the publishers is not easy, and never will be.
    First and most importantly, there's a little thing called a contract. Leaving a contract agreement with a publisher is a Huge Deal, and has drastic financial consequences. So in a lot of cases, it isn't that there's no alternative publisher out there - it's that we literally can't change at this point. But there's also more than just that to consider.

    It's a pretty well-documented phenomenon that people will go to great things to bend reality to fit what they want to believe. Let's look at this from the publisher's perspective:
    • I want to make money selling games

    • Piracy undercuts sales

    • I can invest a lot of money into anti-piracy systems

    If sales go down, I'm going to think of it in a certain way. I don't want to believe that I made a dumb decision; in all likelihood, I believe that copy protection was a good decision. So if sales go down, I am naturally left to one of two conclusions: either the game sucks, or piracy is still running wild. If I conclude the second, I'll probably go looking for stronger copy protection - and you better believe that the CP industry is just going to love that. They're going to want to encourage that conclusion in my mind, because it means I buy more CP software.

    I don't want to paint publishers as The Evil Empire here. I appreciate the real necessity of the publishing industry. Hell, one of our publishing partners is absolutely superb in what they've done for us as a small-name niche group. I don't believe that publishers are unintelligent, foolish, or naive. They just see things differently, and that's natural - that's a side effect of the business they are in.

    Put yourself in the publisher's shoes: you've made a huge investment into supporting Copy Protection Scheme Foo. Now your customers and developers tell you it sucks. Are you going to sacrifice your credibility by renouncing Scheme Foo? (Yes, I know that 99% of us would love it for Foo to go away. That's not the point. The publishers do not see it that way, and fairly so.) You don't want to give up copy protection in general - your numbers seem to show that it helps sales overall - so what else do you turn to? Say Scheme Baz exists, but Baz sucks much harder than Foo, and is cracked five thousand times faster. Does it even remotely make business sense to use Baz over Foo? Not on paper, no.

    You have to remember that publishing is a business, too. They've got their numbers and figures, and it's going to take a lot more than "people think you suck because you use Scheme Foo" to get them to see things differently. Actually, a few people in the publishing biz already see it that way - but lack the clout to do anything, either.

    Change is not easy. Big change is especially hard. There is a lot of inertia to fight here, and historically, you don't beat corporate inertia by steering the boat. You blow the boat up and build a new one, and hope it sails in the right direction.

Want to know why GalCivII is such a big deal? Because breaking the publisher's iron grip on the business is not that easy. I think GalCivII is a ray of hope that the publisher can eventually be put back in their rightful place (as an enabler of creative media rather than a controller), but that happy time has not yet come. And not all of us are capable of wielding the weapons that it will take to accomplish that victory.

Yes, the cycle can be broken. Yes, there is hope. I just don't want to lose my dream job because my home town got pillaged by the raging armies.
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I understand your dilema - I've had a brief taste of what it's like to work in the commercial game industry, and I know that unless you're working at a really big name company then the developer pretty much has to do whatever the publisher says.

It's probably the case that the publishers will try to implement tougher and nastier copy protection schemes. I do think this is more of a symptom of the lack of respect for the customer that the publishers seem to exhibit these days. I haven't started boycotting companies because of their copy production, but I have started boycotting publishers for their lack of quality.

While in the nineties I was a die-hard PC gamer, these days I almost only pay full price for console games, and I buy PC games when they're heaivly discounted. The reason is I've been burnt too many times with unfinished games as well as annoying copy protection which reviewers just seem to accept.

This is starting to turn into a rant of my own, so I'll try to steer it back on topic [smile]. If a publisher is keeping a good ear to the ground for what it's potential market is doing, then they should realise when keeping copy protection scheme Foo is a worse business decision than ditching it for Bar. If there's enough of a protest against Foo, then it wouldn't be economical to keep it. Personally I don't think the backlash will be big enough to warrant that, but I don't think a protest boycott is unwarranted; that's how the market works.

Of course, it does suck that there's nothing you can do about it, except voice your opinions to the publisher.

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I do understand your side of it, and I apologize if I came off like I was uncaring about your side of it. I do know publishers are enormous pricks, and I hope that solutions like GalCivII will start to break that sort of thing.

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Guest Anonymous Poster


Ok its realy intresting reading youre views on the subject. But if boycotting sf is not the way forward what is? We the consumers have no other weapon. And sry to say the developers and the consumers are casualtys in the same war. Its sad you probably did a good job on x3 ill never see it, and i understand that hurts you. So what can i say sorry but thats how its gona be!

Btw i realy dont hold anything against the makers of games its the publisheres and right now i belive the time was ripe for the consumers to stand up.


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Tell the publishers. Voting with your wallet is fine, but it's best as a weapon of last resort. In fact, in most cases, threatening to vote with your wallet is actually far more effective, because then businesses have a paper trail that they can look at - they have a concrete set of evidence that says customers are pissed off at the copy protection choices we've made rather than just a "mysterious" drop in sales. Believe me, if a publisher notices a drop in sales, the last conclusion they will reach is that it's due to their copy protection scheme - the fact that publishers sink money into CP licenses gives them a bias against seeing faults in it. Sometimes they simply can't change CP because of contractual obligations, even.

As I've said, I have no problem whatsoever with people exercising their right to not buy things they don't want (I wish more people would do that in general, really - maybe we'd get some decent TV for a change). But let's try some careful diplomacy before we go whipping out the nuclear weapons and vaporizing everything that moves.

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Guest Anonymous Poster


Belive me i did:) But they belive me to be a pirate anyway so get dont think i scared them. But ill give the publisheres the benefit of a daubt. The sf crisses hasent grown so big until the last monthes. I belive new games now comming out withe sf will get hit harder. And theya are gona get hit by the sillent majorety of fans that just dont like cp at all and now have a reason to react.


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Guest Anonymous Poster


This is much better than the first post.

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Guest Anonymous Poster


i personally belive im an average consumer of computer games. i spend in the order of 400 dollars a year on games, including monthly fees and purcase.
I allways try to get my hands on an nocd patch asap, because i really cant be bothered with keeping my piles of cd's dust and scratch free. I do now and then download games illigally mostely via bittorrent, quite a few titles i have bought, after iligally testing them and quite a few i havent bought.
Latest success in this category was oblivion wich i downloaded and played for 2 hours then bought, offcause i still run it as nocd, because it insists on checking cd drive D:\ for the original cd and that drive is deamon tools virtual drive.
I played X2 (legal copy) and was greatly looking forwards to X3, remembering how annoying the cd check was on X2, i figured id make sure i could get X3 running without the cd's.
following my usual m.o. i downloaded X3 via bittorrent (yea im a criminal). I didnt get the illigal copy running because the starforce security really is effective, so effective infact, that it eventually messed up parts of nero 7 so badly that all my cd drives disappeared. Now my nero 7 and deamon tools applications, are perfectly legal and its my right to have them installed.
I can hardly blame anyone for my crimes not paying off, but since i checked the game out and found it to be infected by malware (starforce), im now waiting for an official or unofficial nocd patch before i buy the game, as i cant wery well have it mess up my system configuration. Should you pass by your publisher, then do tell them that starforce has not been sucessfully cracked (and thus not pirated) and that the game is not selling because the cd is malware infected.

In about a year or so X3 may have an official nocd patch and im sure ill buy it at that time. Offcause by then the price i have to pay will be alot less than atm and thus egosoft will make less money. Offcause if egosoft had just released the game online with say a 20 dollar download fee, id be playing it right now, those russian starforce mobsters would be doing credit card fraud and youd be making upgrade patches for my legally bought game.

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