The Imminent Death of “PC” Games

This is actually an issue that has disturbed me for a long time: copy protection schemes and how their implementation is killing gaming on what was once known as the “personal computer” (and yes, I include Macs, Windows and even desktop Linux in the blanket term). In many ways, in the days of yore it wasn’t so bad. Sure, copy protection hampered many a music program from working effectively – dongles were lost, dongle calls were poorly written and caused crashes – but games, even BOUGHT games, were usually never a problem. The worst that could happen was that you broke your diskette/cd/DVD if that was the kind of CP scheme used.

Now, things are very different. Hardware copy protection has been superseded by several kinds of online authentication, worst of which are the ones that use the internet to even launch, and those that kicks you out of your game – unsaved! – when the wlan flutters for some reason or other. I mean, what the heck? Back in March, Electronic Arts editor-in-chief Jeff Green tweeted about the crappitude of the DRM deployed in his own company’s Command and Conquer 4. At the time I thought it was irksome, but since I myself hadn’t been confronted with the problem, I wasn’t really irritited.

But then came a good review of an expansion to one of the rare games I bought to play via BootCamp: MassEffect 2. I must say this: I really liked ME2, just as I liked ME. Deus Ex it ain’t, but still very much my kinda game. So I rebooted my computer into Windows 7, managed to pay for the game after a bit of a hassle: Bioware demanded that I register as a user, and I searched thru all my email accounts to see if I could find some sort of login info. No dice. After a while, I surmised that I had never registered the game in the first place and went ahead and created an account and bought the expansion. 1+ gig later and I was ready to rhumba. Or so I thought.

Instead, I was stuck in a Catch-22 kinda situation. Apparently, I had registered the original game to an account when I bought it, but that account was with EA, not Bioware, hence I couldn’t find the login info in my email. Thus, the expansion didn’t launch, throwing semi-cryptic messages at me. Something about “DLC” (which I had to search for to find out that it means “DownLoadable Content”) not being authorized for the logged in user. OK, fine. I managed to change account in ME2, only to realize that I could play the game, but not use any saved games or original DLC. Meaning I had to start a 100-hrs-played character from the beginning or just bite the bullet and call it a loss. I did the latter, but fuck me if I’ll ever buy an EA game again. Oh, they offer to merge accounts for people in my situation. Only $30…

I told my WoW pals about it in our forum, and realized that I wasn’t alone: at least three compadres had experienced very similar problems, with similar degrees of annoyance. So the bottom line is that in a rapidly declining PC games industry, some of the game companies has decided to punish those who DO pay for the games with the most draconic CP schemes I’ve ever seen (and I’ve had plenty experience of copy protection since the early 80s). I mean, what are they thinking? An insider friend once told me that one of their games anonymously reported that it was being used but not bought, and a staggering >90% number was pirated. That doesn’t include those that were blocked by outgoing firewalls, of course. So: declining sales = harsher cp = more problems = even less PC games sold. Do the math.  The winners are those with no cp, or a subscription model, or a relatively simple sales model (AppStore, Steam). The ones with the old mindset are probably moving to console only. Or are well and truly buggered.

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