July 27, 2006

[Personal] Light

I write this blog for a very focused audience. I write it for friends, former co-workers, and professional acquaintances. For the most part, what happens here stays within that circle.

However, this is still a public site. It stays public because there may be times when lessons learned here or information posted here could be useful for the outside world. I get about 800 new visitors each month as a result of searches through the major search engines, so it's all worthwhile.

One thing that regular visitors know about me is that I vent. I vent a lot. The world has a lot of stuff to be angry about, and at least for me, it's safer and cleaner to vent into the digital ether than it is to take it out on the people in the world around me.

In this case, venting led to a lot of light being shown on the subject of piracy. Almost every site I've gone to today has had some sort of conversation going on related to piracy. Tons of debate between those that believe that if you don't pay for it you shouldn't have it versus people who believe that piracy is a godsend to computers and everyone inbetween.

My original vent was because pirates had been moving beyond just getting illegal copies of software I had worked on, and had moved to expecting me to support their illegal copies. So I vented. That vent led to a press interview and a lot of news coverage that I don't think anyone expected. Lots of people read their own personal agendas into both.

Some believed that I was forecasting the doom and gloom of the industry. Others believed that I was broadcasting my incompetence. Others believed that I was proof that DRM doesn't work. Others used me as validation of their own sick, twisted theories of the world. Me? I was exposing a data point that was pissing me off, with a little extrapolation thrown in for good measure.

Now I can't say much about piracy that hasn't already been said, but I can say this...I haven't received a single request for tech support from a pirated copy of the game since Chris Remo's interview went live. Not one.

I like trying to identify problems early and shine a light on them so that we can see the problem for what it really is. In this case, it seems that the light being generated by all of this discussion is scaring away the people who would be testing their limits.

Piracy has been a problem in this industry for so long that people have become accustomed to it. Defeatist attitudes by some of this industry's most respected names have essentially led to a free-for-all, and has turned piracy into a problem that is so large that we may not be able to solve it to any meaningful degree.

The problem that I have been having (pirates wanting support) hasn't just been isolated to Ritual. I've gotten hundreds of E-mails from developers all over the world asking about what I was doing because they have similar issues. Verification steps (user ID's, serial number checks, etc.) all seem to be failing. Hundreds of manhours per developer being spent trying to chase down issues, only to find that they were introduced in the pirated product. I shared my methods and results with those who asked. Piracy may seem unsolvable, but support for pirates is still a small enough issue that it can potentially be solved without causing undue hardship on legitimate customers.

For now, the problem has vanished due to the light. It's going to come back, and I intend to be ready for it, as do many of my fellow game developers.

1 comment:

GFree said...

You do seem to feel rather passionate about the issue of piracy Mike, and I can understand why. I do agree that piracy has a difficult mindset to defeat; the lure of something for nothing is too hard to break for a lot of people. It also has an issue with acceptance from too many people - in many social circles it's considered weird for someone to actually BUY a legit copy of a game, as if such an idea was ludicrous. This brings tacit approval for piracy, which of course makes it even more difficult to break the attitude.

Another problem I've experienced with piracy is that there seems to be a strong mentality that if you can't afford a game, it's somehow OK to download it from a torrent site or something. Games can be fairly expensive sure, and they are after all "luxery items" that we can buy if we've got the cash. But that's something that's lost on people who download pirated software continuously. They forget to realise that it is OK if they can't buy the latest game due to lack of funds. There's no logical reason why they need to have it now, when they can save a bit of money and get it later and/or when the price has gone down. Just because you can't get it now, does NOT give you the right to break copyright (I won't say steal, because software piracy isn't technically stealing, it's more copyright infringement.)

Now I'm not innocent when it comes to piracy; I've downloaded/swapped my fair share of games and other media. That's pretty much stopped now since I have money to burn (one benefit of getting older), but it doesn't excuse past behavour. Having said that, piracy becomes pretty easy when the torrents are released for all to see, packeged up nicely and found with a few clicks. Notwithstanding the fact that heavy copy-protection will ALWAYS piss off legit customers and not affect pirated copies which have been stripped of said protection anyway. Steam has (for me) proved to be the most effective way to deal with copy protection, as I know my net connection is reliable and damn well prefer it to having to flick through CDs/DVDs to find the right one (only to have it rejected occasionally due to dodgy SecuROM algorithms). Don't get me started on StarForce...

The purpose of my post was simply to describe why piracy is so popular. It's mostly a mindset - people get pirated stuff because they can, because it's easy, because they like building "collections" of software, because they're cheap, or because they hate the shitty copy-protection of the legit version.

There is always the option to "go without", but such an idea does not exist in our materialistic world - it never did.

(First blogger post - too long, sorry 'bout that. :) )