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Dire future implications for PC gaming
In the case of BioShock, the crack provided by the software pirates had both negative and positive consequences. On the negative side, it has allowed — as with many other PC game releases — untold numbers of unscrupulous individuals to play the game without paying for it. On the positive side, the functionality provided by the crack has inadvertently served as a form of technical support; questions posted on the Web appeared to diminish after the crack was posted, and the crack has reportedly helped users overcome both technical problems and many of the obstacles posed by the ill-conceived copy protection system. Despite these benefits, I couldn’t help but cringe when I heard a podcast from representatives of a major print game magazine recommending that frustrated gamers resort to using the crack, stating that, if they paid the $50 and couldn’t get it to run, then they have every right to download the crack so they could enjoy what they bought. The sad part is that honest paying customers often have to spend hours trying to overcome technical and copy protection roadblocks, while criminal software pirates circumvent these issues without difficulty. Furthermore, the excuses for PC gamer piracy continue to be lame; looking in blogs and forums, I see comments like, “I’m too poor to buy the game,” “I might decide to pay for it after playing through a pirated copy,” “I didn’t know warez were illegal,” and the like.
The changing nature of computer gaming technology, along with the huge variety of PCs, contributes to the inability of even the most responsible company to release a state-of-the-art game incorporating cutting-edge features that, through extensive testing, is sure to run well on everyone’s machine. Veteran PC gamers don’t mind tweaking settings and experimenting with configurations to get games running, but that doesn’t characterize the bulk of those who want to play virtual entertainment today. We hardcore PC gamers demand endless customizability and titles that take advantage of the full capabilities of our expensive computers, and so in some ways, we bring these kinds of technical problems on ourselves.
In recent months, many PC game releases have been mere ports of console releases; due to the wide range of technical and piracy problems, it’s possible the future will see fewer and fewer developers choosing to create major releases designed specifically for the PC. A basic economic reality is that if piracy and complex technical problems escalate above a certain threshold on a particular gaming platform, and other popular platforms exist where piracy is less intrusive and technical problems are fewer and less severe, then profit considerations will cause developers and publishers to focus on these other platforms.
After the experience 2K Games had with BioShock, what company would want to go through a similar debilitating post-release barrage? The curse for the personal computer has been that the very openness and customizability that encourage innovation and create low barriers to entry for newcomers also create a nightmare for technical compatibility and for protection of proprietary products from illegal copying. The net effect might be more users moving from computer gaming to console gaming, for console releases don’t have the high number technical glitches and multiple configurations like PCs, and they generally don’t contain annoying copy protection systems. So the future for PC gaming, no matter what the quality of the releases, looks bleak unless these fundamental hurdles can be overcome.
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