Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Forbes Article

There's an interesting article at Forbes about game piracy. What makes it interesting is that they make the observation that while the music and film industries constantly talk about piracy, the gaming industry, in comparison, is relatively quiet.

That's true, and quite odd.

Here's a link to the article ( and here's an excerpt:
Two people close to the industry, who declined to be identified, said publishers might be complacent because business is good and because piracy is far more prevalent in PC-based games, a declining business, than with consoles. That's because of the difficulty in hacking consoles and the ease of circumventing copy protection on PC games.

PC games have seen a steady sales decline for several years. Year-to-date, PC game sales are down 12% to $328 million, according to NPD. Last year PC game sales were $1.1 billion, down from $1.4 billion in 2002. Console videogame sales have grown 5% to $1.52 billion so far this year, compared with last year.

Plenty of interesting stuff in that excerpt. If the rate of decline year-to-date extends through to the end of the year, PC game sales will be under a billion dollars for the year, a decline of roughly thirty percent over two years.

That's quite a fall.

Last year's sales even included the two most widely anticipated games in years: Doom 3 and Half-Life 2.

I think it's an interesting premise that because of new methods of file sharing (peer-to-peer networks, essentially) and the ubiquity of broadband, the "best" platform for developers going forward is not necessarily the most powerful but the one with the most robust copy protection. Extending that reasoning, it could be argued that the winner in the ongoing high-definition DVD format wars will not be the best performer but the most well-protected.

I didn't see this coming, really, but I should have. The ability to copy and distribute an unlimited number of copyrighted works is a paradigm shift of epic proportions. Even in the "old" days, software piracy was so popular in Europe that it's been freqently theorized that it essentially killed the Amiga platform. Now the distribution network for copied material is incredibly robust, exponentially more powerful than it was even ten years ago.

That's also another reason for a new generation of consoles, at least from a business standpoint. New consoles, more advanced copy protection, less (in theory) piracy.

As PC gamers, we're stuck, really. I despise these online copy protection methods that phone home every time I try to start up a disc. I also really dislike that there are almost as many methods of copy protection as there are games. Yet I know that if Microsoft addresses it in Longhorn, its method is likely to be onerous well beyond the current system. If we want high-profile, big budget games to continue to be made for the PC, though, we're going to have to put up with something.

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