Screen Capture of Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction on PC
Game developers and publishers have been turning to anti-piracy solutions increasingly over the years. Whether using DRM (digital rights management), embedded codes, or resorting to Steam only access, the industry sees piracy as a serious problem. Several industry executives offered their take on the issue in an effort to gauge the impact of piracy on PC gaming.
At lowest estimates, pirated copies can account for 40 percent of a particular title. While Christian Svensson of the PC Gaming Alliance and Capcom commented,
at the higher end you can see 90 percent illegitimate usage to 10 percent legitimate.
Figuring the actual financial loss in PC games sales as a result of piracy is difficult. There is no difinitive method of comparison. Gaming companies are often taking many different variables into account: data provided by retail sellers; Torrent site statistics; and research from companies like the ESA.
DRM is always a hot-button issue among the PC and console gaming communities, with many credible examples of how it can frustrate legitimate gamers. Perhaps DRM is doing more to promote piracy than discourage it. While DRM is the solution of choice among publishers, there is something to be said for poorly done DRM. There are many options that can be implemented, some more limiting than others. For example requiring an always on internet connection for full access to a game's content, or limiting the number of installations per disc.
Publishers are more aware of the impact DRM has on legitimate players than in the past. Guillaume Rambourg, Managing Director of GOG.com postulates,
If you make the process too troublesome – even if you are a goodhearted gamer, you will be tempted to give piracy a try.
With that insight in mind, some publishers are adopting a more open philosophy. In some cases, publishers are discarding DRM restrictions altogether, while others are embracing a sun-setting strategy. Sun-setting allows publishers to ship a game title with DRM restrictions that are lessened once a certain time-frame has passed or benchmarks have been achieved. Such actions protect content from pre-launch leaks and help cultivate legitimate game sales during the initial launch period, when sales figures are most important in calculating a title's success.
What does the future hold for PC gaming? The increasing success of free-to-play gaming has developers thinking. Svensson commented,
What I think you're going to see happen is an evolution towards an increasingly network centric set of design considerations and business models, because moving forwards, that is the only thing that is sacrosanct.
Free-to-play games are based on closed networks where game content can only be access via developer or publisher owned networks. These networks are inherently more secure and allow developers and publishers complete control of the network. Free-to-play games have also shown it is possible to use piracy to the publisher's advantage, by providing access to viral marketing using the pirate networks already in place to spread the word about new titles.
What we can take away is that DRM is not a guaranteed solution to piracy. In fact, no one is able to say with any certainty that DRM works at all, but it is here to stay for the time being. However, content developers and publishers are thinking ahead - paying attention to industry trends and listening to what we, as gamers, are saying.
How do you feel about the use of DRM as an anti-piracy tool? Has your gameplay experience been affected by intrusive DRM? What might you suggest as a way to curb the piracy problem?