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Comment Re:Less talk, more action (Score 1) 388

There is a difference between customers purchasing games and customers purchasing software development services. I'm pretty sure the only game consumers who would demand copy protection (other than shills for DRM et al.,) are those so uninformed as to believe the protection some how keeps their computers safe from intrusion. "Copy protection" does have a nice "security blanket" feel to it. Yet for legitimate users, it contributes absolutely nothing positive to the gaming experience.

Now, those 95% and 60% numbers seem odd to me. For one, the methods used to collect data on piracy are invariably shady. I suppose a creative researcher might come up with a credible way to get an accurate sample of who uses what, but people peddling DRM and copy protection products have no history of being interested in accurate data. Still, I suppose pointing out that the very best work in this area is haphazard stuff like seeding P2P networks with a specific bug and tracking tech support activity is not the same as proving that piracy is not a widespread phenomenon.

Still, I do not dispute that it is widespread. I only dispute the idea that the activities of pirates provide any justification for hassling paying customers. This is because I remain unconvinced that copy protection, DRM, et al. generate any sort of positive return on the investment. Even if one grants the bold assertion that piracy accounted for 95% of the game play anywhere ten years ago, and had since fallen to 60% of the game play in that same place, so what? Making piracy go down is meaningless. Only rising sales would even begin to justify deliberately hassling paying customers the way DRM and traditional copy protections do.

As I recall, ten years ago copy protection inflicted real pain on legitimate users and only the most trivial inconvenience on users of pirated software. Today it is no different. Nothing has been invented that prevents game crackers from distributing executables modified to be stripped of their nuisance features while retaining the full glory of the relevant game. The argument that this sweeping change was caused by copy protection efforts fails to recognize the completely unchanged ease with which games could be pirated throughout the interval in question.

If I had to guess, I'd suspect the place was China and the figures were a half-baked estimate derived from the real trend of increasing appreciation for the legal doctrine of intellectual property. Many cultural traditions give ideas a place of greater stature than mere baubles. The practice of letting people own ideas may not be unique to capitalism, but it is uniquely necessitated by the lack of any other mechanism to sustain creative works in a purely capitalist society. As China continues to embrace all things capitalist, old attitudes about the importance of sharing knowledge and art give way to new attitudes about the importance of hoarding wealth.*

Even if there were some magical way to end all software piracy forever and ever, it is questionable if this would be a good thing for software sales. Do pirates never buy games they have previously played illicitly? Do pirates sometimes buy games they would never have considered but for the illegal free taste? One could argue that piracy increases software sales -- it is a thin argument, but the arguments that piracy drives down software sales are based on similar speculation and similarly dubious reasoning.

If we take China as an example, and we grant that piracy has declined dramatically there in recent years, what are we to conclude? Did something magical happen to make the easily-cracked games of 2008 less fun to steal than the easily-cracked games of 1998? Could it instead be that cultural and economic factors largely beyond the control of game publishers drove a noteworthy trend?

I suspect if anyone does come up with a valid empirical method of gauging the scope of software piracy, trends in its popularity will be influenced by anything but copy protection practices. Long ago, and in ways unchanged to this day, a subculture of expert users insured that game pirates would always quickly enjoy access to protection-free versions of significant commercial releases. Pirates have already decided that copy protection and DRM won't spoil a thing for them. I continue to believe that there is no excuse for the waste of developers' funding and users' time squandered on creating troubles that almost all illicit users will never experience.

*One can only hope this enthusiastic surge is tempered by some understanding that hunger for wealth is a gaping void that can only be satisfied through transcendence to a less vulgar and amoral pursuit. After all, the last thing the Rising Dragon needs is Bill Gates and George W. Bush types defining the new order.)

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