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PC Gaming Alliance's Stude On The 'Urgent Imperative' Of Piracy
PC Gaming Alliance's Stude On The 'Urgent Imperative' Of Piracy Exclusive
October 20, 2008 | By Leigh Alexander

October 20, 2008 | By Leigh Alexander
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

Piracy is one of the most important issues facing the PC industry, says Randy Stude, president of the PC Gaming Alliance. And recent evidence tends to support his statement -- Ubisoft recently said it wouldn't ship the PC version of Tom Clancy's EndWar alongside the console version because of piracy, which it says is "cannibalizing" console sales.

MMO companies have begun eyeing the console as a platform that can round out its PC strategy -- despite its continuing support for the PC, Lord of the Rings Online developer Turbine recently told Gamasutra that the console is the "platform of choice" for many consumers.

And Gamasutra recently spoke to EA president John Riccitiello about Spore's launch, plagued by protests of its anti-piracy measures and unprecedented download rates on torrent sites.

Stude is not only the PCGA's president, he's the director of the Gaming Program Office at Intel, whose initiatives with the alliance are part of the company's platform support strategies.

"A few years ago, several of us came together and decided that something needed to be done to shore up the PC image for gaming in particular," Stude says, explaining the Alliance's roots. Initially, the PCGA planned to look not specifically at piracy, but on improving the consumer experience with PC gaming.

Stude says that the varying objectives and tech focus of different companies involved in the PC hardware market was "drawing the attention so far up the performance chain that it was creating a wide disparity between the way games were being developed and what the majority of consumers had in the way of PCs."

"The average refresh cycle is in excess of four years. A PC four years ago compared with a high-end PC shipping today... that scenario sort of describes the challenge for a game developer that wants to attract the largest and most relevant audience and be able to support that audience."

So the Alliance currently plans to introduce "starting points" that developers can use to ensure the games they develop on PC are usable by the widest possible audience. "We're expecting to close it down within our working group by the end of the year... we'll probably announce it sometime in the first quarter of next year," Stude says.

Piracy: The Urgent Imperative

Meanwhile, the PCGA hopes to attract game companies to its efforts -- and while potential committee members acknowledge the importance of platform stability, says Stude, "there's a far more urgent imperative they want to see discussion and debate going on around, which is piracy."

So the PCGA has formed an anti-piracy and DRM subcommittee which is just kicking off its efforts, starting with an endeavor to try and quantify the size of the piracy issue.

"At some point next year, we expect to be able to quantify the potential impact of piracy on the industry," says Stude.

Being able to provide hard data on the impact of piracy on the industry is the first step in anti-piracy initiatives, he says.

"Assuming that every person that pirates a PC game is a lost customer is not a fair assessment… but at the same time, like music and movies, individual piracy has an impact to the bottom line -- and if there isn’t something that’s done we risk an entire medium being fundamentally changed."

Looking East For Examples

China and Korea are the top markets for PC gaming, says Stude -- and yet in those Asian countries, there are very few legitimate retail sales of games.

"But the revenues being generated just blow the mind," says Stude, noting how online business models and digital distribution are far and away the predominant revenue generation strategy for PC games in those markets.

"You're talking almost 5 billion dollars," says Stude. "Almost half the world's PC software revenues are coming from marketplaces that have almost no retail at all."

Stude's comments tend to support those of Turbine CEO Jim Crowley, who recently told Gamasutra that the issues plaguing PC were "not a platform issue, [but] a distribution issue."

Agrees Stude: "It's not a state of disarray; it's a state of evolution. Those used to making a point-in-time disc that may or may not have piracy issues, may have DRM issues that cause backlash... those classic models for publishing PC games are not necessarily the leading ones in the world today."

While in the current climate, Stude believes there's still a viable disc-based marketplace for PC developers, noting Spore and Crysis Warhead as examples of successes despite the potential impact of piracy.

"You look at a game like Spore… despite the fact it's pirated out there on torrent networks, its selling great by any standard... it sort of bucks the notion that all games are going to be destroyed because of piracy. That's not the case."

Smarter Solutions

So while the PCGA's beginning its anti-piracy workgroups, is PC piracy just something the industry needs to accept, weathering the transition into a pure digital marketplace like China's?

"I'm not saying that the industry needs to accept it," says Stude. "I'm saying that if there’s nothing that can be done [about piracy], the assumption that gaming will die on a platform is ridiculous."

And the argument is even more salient in a poor economy, Stude notes. "There is a 1.2 percent drop n retail spending... how is that not going to impact a $70 video game?"

While analysts and console developers remain bullish on the ability for high price points to withstand tightening consumer budgets, Stude is more blunt: "They've gotta be out of their minds," he says.

"If there are alternative means to get that content, piracy or legit, consumers are going go find it. They have broadband, they have PC -- but perhaps they can't buy a $70 game every month like the console ecosystem relies on."

Consumers who are seeing their disposable income diminish will be drawn to alternative business models on PC, Stude says, citing Nexon's free-to-play FPS Combat Arms as an example.

"I think there's things that we can do better," Stude adds. "There may be so much gravity involved in a certain behavior -- that it’s being socially acceptable despite its illegality -- that there may be nothing you can do about it. But I think WoW proves there's something you can do about it. Nexon and Shanda and K2 and all the other microtransactions-driven, free to play-style business models can continue to thrive."

And they can thrive better on the PC than on the console, Stude notes. For example, an ad-supported business model on consoles is less useful to developers, since the platform-holders -- Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo -- will want a cut of those ad revenues.

"Spending for marketing draws attention toward the console purchase," Stude says, noting Call of Duty 4 as an example. "But certainly, a lot more people are sticking with the PC SKU and playing it longer, "whereas console users "tend to look for that next fix every month."

So as far as Ubisoft and EndWar are concerned, Stude urges the company to join the PCGA and help find solution. "If I'm Ubisoft and I say there's nothing that can be done today about piracy, I'm considering, 'let's join the PCGA and lead the discussion,' so that there's a better handshake between hardware and software; so that the future of the optical disc base is better than it is today."

One possible solution? "Let's monetize every one of those pirates, and let's advertise the hell out of them." Making it "blatant" to pirates by serving, for example, six times the number of in-game ads on unauthenticated game versions would be a piracy deterrent that also provides revenues to the developer, Stude suggests.

"Don't throw [pirates] off [of the server], but show an ad every time a new level loads. The [paying customer] gets a billboard, a passive, less-aggressive ad than [pirates] are going to get."

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Peter Olsted
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Finally a great idea! :D

Get rid of the DRM and get the pirates to pay in another way.

There is one problem however. How are adds going to be implemented in Dragon Age: Origins? It would be terrible to see a McDonalds commercial in fantasy games.

I hope a (non DRM) solution is found.

Note to Ubisoft: Let the non-Americans have access to your games on Steam.

Haig James Toutikian
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The last 2 paragrahps are very interesting :D

Christophe Maire
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The AAA gaming industry is often compare to the movie industry. Like the movie industry, cinema sales are suffering. Stop complaining and adjust your business model for new sources of revenues.

BTW, tip for the movie theater industry - A $20/month all you can eat movie experience - I would liek to see data about that!

Leo Gura
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How are you going to advertise the hell out of a pirate? If it's subscription-based, that already curbed all the pirates, and if it's not, the pirate would trick the game into thinking he's a legit user.

There's a very simple model to stop piracy: subscriptions, or in the case of shallow games, stream them off a company server.

Peter Olsted
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Subscriptions are a ludicrous idea for some games. How would you subscribe to Assassins Creed?

IMO, subscriptions only work for MMO's

Ian Fisch
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I think we all need to grow some balls. I think it's time to aggressively go after the pirates and make examples out of them. Yes I am talking about using lawsuits similar to what the RIAA did. I would like to address two counterarguments right now:

1.But it will punish people ignorant of the law. Nice try. That may have worked for mp3s, but the average PC game pirate is a little bit more sophisticated than the grandma who used Napster by mistake. We're talking about people who find a torrent client, find a torrent site, download an iso, burn it to a disk or run it on a cd emulator, install the pirated game, and replace the .exe with a crack. That's pretty damn complicated. I don't think the naive neophyte defense is gonna be too compelling

2. But it will give companies a bad reputation. So what? I didn't understand this argument when people said it about the RIAA and I don't understand it now. First off, how knowledgable is the average consumer on what company their game comes from? Outside Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, how many game companies can the average consumer name? Second, and most important, who are going to be the people crying about this? The law-abiding folk who don't usually pirate? Do you really think they're gonna boycott because a company is punishing people for stealing what they pay for? I don't think so. Maybe the pirates will boycott but it wasn't like they were paying in the first place.

Obviously this strategy won't work in countries where the legal system isn't so efficient, but it will certainly work in the western world. What are we waiting for?

Aaron Lutz
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Hahah! That'd be hilarious! But, you know, it could work... if WOW can charge X dollars a month for everyone, from the guy who spends every waking moment in the game to the guy who plays maybe once a week, if he's lucky, then it balances out, right? If movie theater's operated the same way... hmm.

Aaron Lutz
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Erm, that was a "hahah, hilarious" to Maire's post a bit up there.

Zirani Jean-Sylvestre
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Ian Fish, I disagree, using lawsuits for intimidation is not a solution. Sure, it will just spread fear among pirates but fear is a very bad motivator for buying legitimate copies.

Instead, pirates will pay for any service that will guarantee anonymity and easy access to copyrighted material. There’s plenty already, they are cheap and very easy to use.

In the end, it will fail at converting a pirate into a customer.

Manoj Patel
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Forget all that crap. Just use the piracy protection software Global Garde to protect from piracy. it cost practically nothing and it can not be copied, period. I have done it.

Maurício Gomes
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Ian you are talking only about the pirates that YOU know, here in Brazil for example it is COMMON to have really counterfeited copies of games being sold cheaper for example, or sites that offer downloads saying that the game is licensed and that sort of things, I already saw SEVERAL people with SEVERAL illegal games, WITHOUT knowing that it was illegal...

What happen if you start to sue that sort of people?

Users will get mad, really mad...

So please, no RIAA style things, I know a LOT of people that think that RIAA is the devil itself.

John Paris
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Isn't Steam a good alternative? I know some have found ways to use even, It, to their advantage, like account theft, but you can't tell me an account based game control system isn't a good alternative.

And as a plus you never have to worry about a cd, if you get a new pc, you can just redownload the game through your steam account. Am I incorrect or is a Steam style system an Effective way to curb piracy?

Running away form it it just going to screw everyone whos a legit PC gamer over.