By MrCHUP0N 2 Comments
Pop quiz, hotshot. Would you honor a publisher who, in exchange for your 49.99 wampum, handed you a completely DRM-free PC game on a silver platter?
Recently I tested out the Early Access beta of Good Old Games (or, GOG for short -- http://www.gog.com), a service that promises to deliver older PC games at a low cost, sporting compatibility with 32- and 64-bit versions of Windows XP and Windows Vista, and with no DRM restructions. What's "older"? Think Fallout, Jagged Alliance 2 and the Redneck Rampage collection (yes, that Redneck Rampage) as well as not-so-old offerings like Giants: Citizen Kabuto and even Colin McRae Rally 2005. GOG delivers completely on its no-DRM promise, letting me freely copy the installer file for Messiah (priced at $5.99) back and forth between my laptop and PC, without needing an internet connection to activate it.
With the whole recent drama over Spore and its "Draconian" DRM/activation system, it's nice to see an up-and-coming service that doesn't automatically assume you're some sort of gnarly pirate. You own the file and are free to do with it what you wish. The problem, of course, is that "what you wish" includes, well, sharing the file at your discretion. Without an activation key or a launcher a la Steam or Gametap to verify the authenticity of your ownership, seedy types could just throw the file up somewhere or pass around USB thumb drives with "free data" on it to their friends.
Now, some people claim to pirate software -- among other things, such as movies and music -- because they feel disrespected. They don't want to be presumed guilty until proven innocent by software, so they look online for pirated, cracked software... and ironically proving themselves guilty in the process. One of my friends says he will gladly pay for the movies he pirates if providers will let him obtain and handle those movies how he wants to: download from a service, watch on his PC, or burn to a DVD to watch in his own house, or port over to his portable media player, et cetera. One can surmise that there is a subset of PC gamers that feel the same way: "I will stop pirating games," they say, "when a provider lets me download and install a game without having to put up with SecuROM or being connected to the internet. I don't want to have to hunt for my disc, and I want to be able to enjoy Half Life 2 in the event of a service outage from my internet provider."
GOG's premise seems to be one that would satisfy this subset. Putting aside the somewhat lacking catalog for a minute (it's in Beta after all), the question remains: How big is that subset? How much larger is the subset of people who don't care and will just mooch off of yet another subset of people who are willing to pay the $5.99 for the privilege to distribute the software on their own? And as such, is this methodology a viable answer for current-day PC game publishers in their battle against software piracy?
Over the summer, European music store 7digital claimed that DRM-free music boosted sales by a significant amount, but AlleyInsider is rightfully skeptical of those percentages as no hard numbers were given. Furthermore, the relationship between these sales numbers and potential DRM-free PC game sales is tenuous at best: "triple-A" PC games are generally $50, with music being a fraction of the cost. Sure, there's the argument that games offer much more entertainment for your dollar, but people still go through sticker shock regardless.
There's still the question of game quality -- why pay $50 for a game that's not worth it to you -- though this might be made moot by the oft-repeated point that those who "tried" and disliked such a game wouldn't have bought it anyway.
Finally, the temptation to have $50 of game, for free, and without any hacks to install, might be too great for some. Say a law-abiding citizen purchases a game, and "lends" it to his very good, but very seedy (unbeknownst to Mr. Abidey) pal. McSeedy then just can't resist distributing it under his pirate alias for all to download.
Now, I don't know how pirate networks work -- and frankly, I never want to find out. I don't know if they're in it for the notoriety or if they just believe they're being digital Robin Hoods. In the case of the former, DRM-free games would provide such an effortless experience that perhaps it wouldn't be worth it to distribute, I guess.
The more I think about it, the more I'm resigned to say that it really just doesn't matter. I feel like those pirates who are so determined to get around copy protection -- and ultimately succeed nearly all the time (remember when hackers kept finding solution after solution to get around Sony's continued PSP firmware updates?) -- will just keep on doing what they're doing, providing files for everyone to download, because they can.
Perhaps it's just my inherent lack of faith in much of humanity that this virtual extending of the olive branch -- appeasing the angry DRM-embattled consumer -- will do little good. I'm sure that a more optimistic outlook would take into consideration the relative success that Steam is enjoying, even with its required internet connection and launcher. But isn't it a little hard to look past the looming possibility that, in the wake of a hypothetical DRM-free PC gaming world, too many potential customers will take the providers' kindness for weakness? There has got to be a better way to protect your product other than forcing customers to call hotlines every time they want to re-install their games, but is opening the floodgates an effective the solution?
Should any service decide to follow in GOG's footsteps, if it's even successful in the first place, I'll be first in line to support it. I'm willing to pay the money for the products I know I want, and I'm even more appreciative when publishers don't treat me like a crook. I just hope and pray that others follow suit.