Piracy is the logical option
Many of you may know my opinions on the erosion of player rights, since I’m not shy about liberally spraying them all over the Internet. In particular, it seems to me, PC gamers have become the favourite chew-toy of publishers keen to hammer away at the coalface of piracy. I’ve stated before that I think that these efforts are fundamentally self-defeating and harm consumers; today I bring you a little anecdote to illustrate my claims.
Some time ago, US game rental service Gamefly announced that it was taking over perennial runner-up digital download platform Direct2Drive. You could be forgiven for having missed the news, as it hardly received the appropriate level of attention, especially since Gamefly announced that it was to retire the brand, and some of the Direct2Drive catalogue would be unavailable on the new service. That’s right — they would be summarily removing access to the games that customers had paid for in the reasonable expectation of being able to download and play them.
Still, that’s not what today’s blog post is about; my particular game purchases made it through pretty much unscathed. My complaint has to with what happens when you decide to actually sit down and play one of them.
Fresh from wiping away the drool generated by looking at the new trailer for high-res texture pack iCEnhancer for Grand Theft Auto IV, I was inspired to re-install Rockstar’s shiny little mass murder simulator. Checking my Gamefly account with bated breath, I was heartened to see a cheeky little Download button peeking out at me from beneath a sheltering umbrella of serial number.
So click that inviting blue oblong stupid, what are you waiting for? Oh wait, nothing’s happening. Install Gamefly download manager? Okay. Install Adobe Air? Alright. Update Gamefly download manager? Well, I’m committed now.
Once that rigmarole is over, and the application finally starts, I was rewarded with a tiny virtual shelf with the GTA 4 box art resting upon it, like an absurdly angular pigeon. Not Episodes from Liberty City, which I supposedly own, but vanilla GTA IV. Not a problem, I just wanted to mess around, steal a few cars, mow down a few pedestrians. Onwards to installing, my good fellow!
Everything starts normally enough. DirectX? Check. VisualC++? Check.
Then shit gets real. SecuROM? Hey, what? Games for Windows Live? Hang on a moment… Rockstar Social Club? You’re kidding.
I haven’t even begun copying the program files, and already I’ve got a disc full of DRM junk. I’m perhaps less tolerant than many, but having a program like SecuROM sneaking around my system, loading itself into memory and snooping on my activity while demanding online activation is not my favourite pastime. Layering two further platforms on top, one of which is the entirely execrable Games for Windows Live, only compounds the misery. By this point however, despite a growing sense of unease about what I’m signing up for, I’ve plowed enough time into this tedium that I’m desperate to play a few moments of the game despite my waning interest. After all, if I give up now, I’m admitting that I’ve entirely wasted the hour of my life.
But what’s this? The flashing Play Now button featured so prominently in the Rockstar Social Club window, it does nothing!
No problem, you might say, just launch the program directly from the folder. Well, smarty pants, I have a slightly odd setup on my gaming PC; the boot disk is a super-speedy SSD, but the programs are installed to a folder on the more capacious secondary spinning disk. With some homebrew wizardry and fiddling about with symbolic links and junction points, I’m able to fool most apps into believing that they are installing and running from the C: drive, while diverting them wherever I like.
Not GTA, though. For some reason unknown to both gods and men, the bastard installer has ignored my careful tinkering and dumped the entire game on the boot drive. The registry links are pointing to the wrong place, and nothing will run. The only option is to uninstall and re-install, hoping to hit the jackpot this time and get in a few precious moments of game time.
No. Fuck that.
I’ll admit it — I snapped. I said things to my uncaring screen that it didn’t deserve. I shouted obscenities at the cat, which ignored them.
Then I went and downloaded the disc image from the Internet. And that’s the problem with every strategy that the major games publishers have put forward for getting people to pay for more games; they all make piracy much more attractive. If you can’t convince someone who already owns the title not to download it, you have made some very bad decisions.
I’m not sorry at all — indeed, undermining the publishers’ monopoly on distribution one bit at a time is a positive pleasure for me. But you don’t have to hold my particular set of political beliefs (few do) in order to recognise the absurdity of a system that punishes those who fork out their own cash for the failings of their system to punish the ‘crime’ of copying.