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Bioshock: The Future of Copy Protection?

I seem to recall that one or two people were slightly unhappy with the anti-piracy measures on Bioshock. There was no big deal about it, was there? Of course there bloody was. Folk don’t take kindly to being told they can install something they’ve just paid real Earth money for a limited number of times. Now that the shouting’s died down, Gamespot’s reporting on a recent talk by 2K Au… 2k Austra… 2K Arrrrgh, no, can’t do it, sorry – Irrational’s Martin Slater about the controversial measures.

“We achieved our goals. We were uncracked for 13 whole days. We were happy with it. But we just got slammed. Everybody hated us for it. It was unbelievable… You can’t afford to be cracked. As soon as you’re gone, you’re gone, and your sales drop astronomically if you’ve got a day one crack.”

I agree and sympathise with him – those torrent sites are very busy these days, and I really can’t believe it’s not hurting developers – but I did feel Bioshock’s measures were far too stringent. If you crossover from protecting your game into insulting the guys who have keenly thrown their money at you, frankly you’ve gone too far. Seems Irrational are somewhat on the same page: “I don’t think we’ll do exactly the same thing again, but we’ll do something close.”

So it is going to happen again. And hardly surprising, really – this piracy thing isn’t going away, is it? DRM, when in a form that prevents me from using something I’ve bought on any device I want to, makes me angry (and you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. I stammer pathetically and get flecks of spittle in the corners of my mouth). However, I’m broadly in favour of a system like Steam uses – you can download and play your game on any PC hooked up the web, just by logging into an account. It’s DRM, but it’s not DRM tied to a specific machine. The trouble with it is that, as demonstrated by the almighty poostorm kicked up upon the retail release of Half-Life 2, it locks out the guys who don’t have broadband, plus anyone uncomfortable with the regular messages to the mothership involved. So really, the only answer is forcible, even violent, re-education of everyone who’d still rather buy a game in a plastic box than download it through a legitimate service. And horrible, screaming death for any publishers not yet signed up to Steam, of course.

Anyway, enough sociopathic babble from me. There’re some compelling, and honest-sounding, insights into quite how piracy affects developers in the report. Well worth a read if you’re one of those convinced it’s not hurting PC gaming.

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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