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Piracy on the PC: Where do we go from here?

Just a sampling of the news this month in PC gaming:

  • Epic says that Gears of War 2 will not come to the PC, citing piracy as a primary reason.
  • EndWar creative director Michael de Plater asserts that the PC port of the game (which, incidentally, has not been officially confirmed to be in development) is delayed because of piracy.
  • Bionic Commando, the remake of the 80's hit, is coming to the PC a little later than the console version, again being delayed over piracy fears.
  • Fallout 3 has gone gold, and the XBox 360 version has already been leaked on to torrents. How long before the PC version, too, is leaked?
  • The Witcher developer CDProjekt is struggling to gain publusher support for its DRM-free classic-game service Good Old Games (gog.com).
  • A class-action lawsuit has been filed against EA for its use of SecuROM protection in Spore.

There's little disputing that piracy is a serious problem on the PC. It's also a problem for consoles, but it's certainly more prevalent on the PC. Unfortunately though, there's no real solid data to give us a clear picture just how big of a financial impact piracy really has. A study in 2004 found that music piracy, long blamed by the music industry for a decline in CD sales, was mostly unrelated to the decline. It's difficult to say whether this holds true for the PC as well; most piracy happens in Asia and Eastern Europe, so it's unclear whether game makers are really losing customers to piracy en masse.

But whether or not piracy is actually harming companies' bottom lines, it's clearly having a strong effect on their perception of the viability of the PC market. It's not unlike a bear market, where anxiety over stock viability creates a buying freeze. In other words, developers like Epic, Ubisoft, Capcom and id may be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy by relegated the PC to a second-class market.

At the same time, whether data supports them or not, developers are quick to blame piracy for any perceived lost sales. Epic, for example, dropped the ball last year with the PC port of Gears of War. The game was released a year late at full price with sparse new content, was not available through any of the many popular digital distribution channels such as Steam and Direct2Drive, and received bad word of mouth due to numerous game-breaking bugs resulting from a sloppy implementation of Games for Windows Live which, to add insult to injury, required a paid subscription to access all the online features. And yet Epic seems all too willing to ignore these factors and just blame piracy. I'm not singling out Epic—similar comments have come from Crytek, Infinity Ward, and many others. While piracy may indeed be an issue, the perception of piracy is clearly just as serious a problem, one that may prevent developers and publishers from addressing more immediate problems in their business models.

The response from developers and publishers to this possibly real, but unquestionably perceived threat of piracy has been to lace their games with more and more stringent DRM restrictions. When I wrote a blog chiding gamers for blowing DRM out of proportion, I was heavily criticized for failing to recognize that DRM really does create problems for a lot of users and, so say many, it just makes piracy worse. In retrospect, I was wrong to understate the impact DRM has on users, as well as wrong to overstate its efficacy. Clearly no DRM scheme does much of anything to prevent piracy—even the most heavily protected games are leaked very quickly; and clearly many legitimate users are inconvenienced by increasingly draconian DRM schemes—I've been there myself recently.

And yet, it's not clear to what extent DRM is hurting PC game sales if at all, or whether it makes piracy worse as some suggest—though both are valid possibilities. Again looking at music sales, some data suggests that Apple's DRM-free iTunes Plus may spur greater sales, and Amazon.com has seen great success with their DRM-free music service.

I applaud CDProjekt for their ambitious DRM-free Good Old Games service, and I applaud Bethesda for sticking with a simple CD check for Fallout 3. Ultimately the success or failure of DRM-free software will determine whether frustrated developers will continue to get away with blaming piracy for their woes, and whether DRM use continues to be prevalent. Regardless, it's time developers and publishers take a more critical eye toward their perception of piracy's true impact on their business, and start treating their customers a little better. As long as developers treat PC gaming as a second-class market, that's exactly what it will be.

Ars Technica tackles games with serious issues

Ars Technica closely examines some recent games that raise controversial themes and issues.

On Super Columbine Massacre RPG!:

Essentially, SCMRPG! is a psychological examination of Harris and Klebold. It attempts to put the player into their mindset, exploring how and why they came to do what they did. The subject matter itself questions what a game is meant to be. Though people normally play video games for sheer enjoyment, there is none to be found in SCMRPG! Instead, I found myself actively dreading entering the game world, unwilling to perform the actions necessary to progress.

On Metal Gear Solid 4:

In the world of MGS4, war has become a business, and PMCs are in the center of it. The new war economy means that the world is in a constant state of battle, locked in perpetual proxy wars fought for business purposes. But while this is an interesting concept to contemplate, unfortunately it is not covered with real depth.

As a Kojima game, MGS4 spends much more time tackling strange philosophical debates than it does real world issues like PMCs. And given the fact that the existence of these corporations only came to light recently, it's a topic that is at the forefront of many people's minds. The game is wonderful, but the opportunity for a serious look at the subject was squandered.

Review Games for GameCritics.com

So you think you can be a game critic? GameCritics.com is issuing an open invitation to the gaming community to review games for us. Game review submissions will be rated by the community and staff and the best game reviews will be published on our homepage.

"Life as a Disabled Gamer"

Life as a Disabled Gamer is a guest editorial at Game|Life by Andrew Monkelban, a gamer with cerebral palsy who plays one-handed. His piece covers a lot of important issues, but what most interested me was the kinds of games he likes and doesn't like to play, and why:

Up until recently, I've played predominately roleplaying games, with some focus on fighters. However, with the inclusion of online multi-player and other networking features in games and consoles, I've been able to try different titles and genres (i.e. Devil May Cry 4, Grand Theft Auto 4, and Mass Effect).

One example of a genre I can't play is shooters. Mass Effect is in this genre, and I had trouble playing it, due to the controls being too complicated for one-handed gaming. When you need to hold the controller a certain way, it causes problems when needing to reach some buttons.

Gamers are an incredibly diverse group of people, and I don't think most game developers or publishers (or indeed, most gamers, myself included) fully realize just how diverse we are. Can controllers with sensitive analog sticks and lots of little buttons be adapted for someone who needs a larger, simpler setup? Are there certain games and genres that gamers with certain impairments can't play because of the barriers involved? If so, are these barriers truly "just the way things are" or can we fix them? For instance, can we make audio cue-intensive survival horror games and first-person-shooters accessible to Deaf and hard of hearing gamers? (See the Doom 3 closed-captioning/transcription mod).

By blogging about gaming and disability, I hope to examine these and other questions. And, of course, alert readers to some really cool technology and people.

'Professional' Gamer Loses Cool @ Intel Extreme Masters

Either he's one hell of a competitor or he's a brat who needs a timeout.

Crysis Warhead: The Layman's Guide to Essential Optimization

Crysis Warhead Screenshot

Crysis Warhead is finally upon us, and that can only mean one thing—more tweaking! Before reading this guide, it is imperative that you read my original Crysis optimization guide, as I'm not going to re-explain how to alter configuration files or access console commands. The engine is largely the same, and all of the information from the previous guide is still valid. Fortunately though it is far less necessary to use "tweaks" to get great performance from Crysis Warhead due to heavy optimization of the game engine.

Needing more storage space on Wii to play Art Style: Orbient


Not enough memory in here.

The amount of storage available on the Wii is truly pathetic, and not at all appropriate for the current environment. Adding insult to injury is the fact that you can only fit a small handful of games (never mind demos or movies) and I'm not able to delete the totally unnecessary news and weather channels to free up space for things that I actually want.

Anatomy of a Game Review

Along with our new mission and tagline, we're also introducing a new game review format. Starting soon, all of our reviews will contain the following features:

Title of Review

HIGH What the critic felt was the high point of the game.

LOW What the critic felt was the low point of the game.

WTF Description of the funniest and/or most unexpected moment of the game.

With the Internet getting faster and noisier, and the hectic pace of life today, we recognize that not everyone has the time or patience to read through a 1000 word game review. Adding a title to the review serves as quick introduction to draw the reader in and rather than do a dry bulleted summary of the review, we cribbed an idea from The Onion AV Club and gave it our own twist with the HIGH/LOW/WTF points.

Body of Review And yes, the magic rating will still be here.

Not much is going to change here. We will continue to avoid writing reviews that try to quantify the monetary/time value of a game, which we feel is an impossible and meaningless task since each gamer brings a unique set of expectations and values that cannot be matched by any one critic. Instead, we feel our opinions and thoughts are most useful and interesting when trying to determine if a game is good by conveying and qualifying our personal experiences during gameplay and what it means to us in relation to own lives and world-view.

Disclosures: This game was obtained via [publisher/retail store/rental] and reviewed on the [game console]. Approximately x hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed x times) and x hours of play to multiplayer modes.

After GerstmannGate and in light of other questionable business practices in the video game industry brought to the forefront by Video Game Media Watch, the Sore Thumbs blog and others, we felt strongly that more transparency was needed and having additional disclosures is a step in the right direction towards restoring reader confidence. In short, we want to be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem.

Parents: Questionable content in the game that parents may want to be aware of before letting their kids play it.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing: Content addressing the auditory aspects of games and how they may impact play experiences for the hearing impaired.

We are eliminating our Consumer Guides and integrating the information that we felt still had value to the standard review format. Since most readers do not recognize the difference between game criticism vs. the "is this worth your time and money" consumer content, separating the review and consumer advice only caused confusion and hurt the overall visibility of the writing.

These are the only points in the review where we step out of own perspective because we understand that parents and the Deaf and Hard of Hearing have very specific needs and concerns that we can properly address.

We've put a lot of time and thought into developing this new review format. Look for its debut in all our upcoming reviews and let us know what you think.

Finnish government frowns on game kindergartener-killing game

It takes national tragedies for the government of Finland to A) notice a game where you kill a bunch of kindergarten students and B) take action against it. That means that for a long while no one knew of this game or found it offensive enough to take action. I don't know what is worst.

Kindergarten Killer

Nintendo debuts the DSi and shows off new Wii software (Updated)

Update: The Internet did get it right about the camera, but were a bit off about everything else. It may not all be as earthshattering as some were hoping, but according to GameDaily.com, there are some worthwhile additions.

Nintendo of Japan debuts the Nintendo DSi:

The Wii is getting some new software including a PunchOut! sequel:

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