News

Anti-piracy software creates more problems than it solves

Victor Godinez
The Dallas Morning News (MCT)

Is there such a thing as "good" anti-piracy software in games?

The perennial topic has been pushed back into the spotlight recently thanks to the PC game Spore.

Electronic Arts, the game's publisher, originally imposed rather draconian limits, including preventing buyers from installing the simulation game on more than three computers.

That has since been relaxed, but EA hasn't backed down from its overall stance that so-called digital rights management (DRM) software reduces piracy.

There's no denying that piracy is a problem, particularly when it comes to PC games such as Spore.

The piracy protections on consoles tend to be much more rigorous, in some cases requiring players of pirated games to physically open and modify their systems to play the software.

What piracy does occur is almost surely overstated.

Tech site Ars Technica recently did a great investigative story on the piracy numbers that are often bandied about - 750,000 lost jobs and $250 billion in lost sales across all industries - and showed how those figures are based on little or no actual research, and that the true numbers are likely much lower.

Even so, piracy is a real problem.

One of the reasons game makers are abandoning the PC in favor of consoles is that piracy is much less prevalent on the console side.

But given how imperfect anti-piracy software is - Spore was easily cracked and posted on a variety of piracy sites - the only demographic really inconvenienced by DRM is paying customers.

If you download the pirated copy of Spore, you don't have to worry about how many computers you can install the game on.

But if you buy the legit version, the installation limit is potentially a real problem.

Given that there are always going to be losses from piracy, it seems as if the publishers would be better off not wasting their time and their customers' patience on easily circumvented protection.

Unless someone develops anti-piracy software that is simultaneously bulletproof and completely transparent, just go without the anti-copying restrictions.

Given that no other segment of the entertainment industry has opted to go that route, it seems unlikely game makers will strike off on their own.

But here's hoping.

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