As 2008 has proven – draconian digital restrictions management (DRM) does not stop people from illicitly using computer games. Spore, whose DRM was so bad they got ratings bombed on Amazon.com, was the most pirated game of 2008. The DRM caused hassles for legitimate users and did nothing to stop illicit use. This is always the case. Ever since the beginning of DRM on video games there have been people getting around it. These DRM schemes are not cheap. They are licensed from companies who tell the video game companies that this is the only way to protect their games.
I suggest a radically different approach to PC gaming. Open source the video games! Once the source code is freely available, there is no longer any piracy. In fact, encourage people to share the game with as many people as possible. BOOM! Game Piracy problem solved. Not only that, but video game companies (at least the smart ones) realize that the more they have opened their games, the more sales they have had. Just ask the developers of Doom, Quake, Half Life and other games that let the fans create content. This causes more excitment around the underlying game and more copies are sold. Maxis learned this with Sim City, The Sims and Spore. So if you completely open the source code you allow people to create revolutionary mods. It will inspire more people to try and mod your game. Ok, but in solving that problem I created a new one – how do video game companies get reimbursed? Well, there are two possible models.
Model 1: The Internet Model. Advertise in the games. Or, do it in a more classy way and sell licensed materials in the game. In other words, you get paid when people want their Sims to wear H&M or other such styles. Maxis has been experimenting with this with what looks like positive results, at least with The Sims. And then there’s model 2.
Model 2: Give away the game for free, but charge for online play. Every game’s about online play nowadays. Releasing a game without online play is suicide. So let people pay to play the game online. This way it doesn’t matter how many copies get distributed illicitly – you still win. When people want to connect to your servers to play with others, they have to pay. This is the formula that has been winning for WoW and all the other MMORGS. Why not stretch that out to all the games. I could buy a EA Games subscription for X dollars that would allow me to play all of EA’s games online. This relieves EA of the burden of having to sell physical copies or even have a server for download. Just set up a bit torrent site and let the users do all the work. Then they can play a little on their own for free, but when they want the good stuff they come online and pay.
Of course, this also has an added benefit! If your games are open source, that means that enterprising computer science majors in your audience can help you fix bugs and other such problems. This frees up your programmers to work on future games. Who knows….it could work….I think.