A New, Unpopular Philosophy
Stop me when you’ve heard this before: Gamers are up in arms over the copy protection scheme of a major publisher.
The tumult from the latest skirmish between warring gamers and publishers involves Spore, which limits the number of installs permitted to 3 before the user must contact EA to extend their license. Immediately gamers lined up their rhetorical catapults and fired salvo after salvo of familiar, flaming linguistic ballistics, rolling out all the hits: treating customers like criminals, it doesn’t do anything against piracy, boycott EA and so on.
Call it apathy. Call it selling out. Call it whatever you want, but try as I might, I simply can not find any enthusiasm for bubbling up my once white-hot animus. It’s not just that I don’t necessarily see anything extraordinarily troubling about EA’s security measures; it’s also that I just can’t muster the same gamer-rage that once seemed to come so easily. Feeling victimized by every perceived slight just isn't as appealing to me as it used to be.
Let me stress that I don’t fault those who experience trouble with restrictive DRM for speaking up. I just wonder how many of the people expressing outrage saw fire on the horizon and went running toward it with lighter fluid?
I appreciate the basic sentiment of gamers, misguided as I think it may be. But, when I think about my personal experience with recent anti-piracy efforts, I find it hard to recall it actually causing me any trouble. Oh, it’s not hard to imagine circumstances under which I could be inconvenienced, but when I measure that against the instances in which it actually happened, I come up blank.
I can count on one hand the number of games I’ve actually installed more than three times. So, if I look at how the Spore issue relates to me practically, then I am forced to concede that the likelihood of my having to ever extend my installations is extraordinarily small. And, should I ever have to make that call, I wonder how difficult a process that really is? I once had to do something similar for Windows. The process was painless and lasted a few minutes. So, I ask myself: is this a price I’m willing to pay if EA’s investors feel like the company is making meaningful anti-piracy efforts and by extension is willing to greenlight even more high-budget PC titles?
The more I release myself from the chains of hysterical hypotheticals, the more I find myself not really having a problem with it.
And, I think about the options that EA and other major publishers have. Piracy is a problem that companies can’t choose not to address. Arguments over the number of lost sales any degree of piracy represent or the effectiveness of anti-piracy efforts aren’t really the point. The real issue is that the company would be criminally negligent if it didn't make measurable efforts to protect the multi-million dollar investment they have in Spore.
You’re absolutely right; those who stand the largest likelihood of being inconvenienced are the legitimate consumers — saying nothing of how often that will actually happen or how difficult a problem that is to fix. Just once, though, I wouldn’t mind seeing the hivemind of gamer rage aimed at the people who actually put us in this position, the pirates. How likely that is to happen, I don't know. I suspect that most publishers have lost a good deal of faith on that question, which is perhaps why the PC has become such a diminished platform. Again, I think I’ll choose to not get worked up about things that are beyond my control.
It's not that I’m not trying to flip the blame on the self-labeled victims. I don’t believe that approach is any more productive than bombing EA with negative Amazon.com reviews. Those who want to get in a schoolyard brawl with the publishing giant are welcome to their dirty fights. Maybe they’ll even get the company to back down on Spore, winning a minor skirmish in the losing war against the inevitable. The problem is that gamers don't have much of a track record on the 'being practical about the realities of business' front. Beside the fact that our ability to participate in the industry debate has been completely dilluted as a result of our tacit approval of piracy, there are very few demonstrable instances where concessions to gamers haven't just resulted in further outrage. We aren't known for meeting in the middle.
So, I’m going to reserve what dry fumes of gamer rage I have left for problems that, for me, are actual rather than hypothetical. I’ll save my victimization for when Spore of Mass Effect actually leave me with no access to the content I paid for rather than suffering the many imagined ways such a thing might happen. I suspect that by the time the installation limitation is likely to be an issue, I will have no shortage of options on the table for either extending my license or circumventing EA’s anti-piracy measures.
These days I’m willing to spend hours re-installing my favorite old games. I’ll waste time scouring the internet for updated texture packs, old patches and homemade mods. If my time and $60 is so precious that I can’t accept that corporations have legal obligations to shareholders and a necessary interest in making efforts to limit the theft of their property, then I am comfortable with my choices of supporting different companies or finding a new past time.
That's the whole point. I have a choice. I can either wash myself in the venomous bath of voluntary outrage for a problem I will likely never have, or I can accept that the circumstances of the industry simply do not permit a major publisher the luxury of being lackadaisical with their investment. I can make the industry the villain for trying to protect its property, or I can make the thieves the villain for massive excesses and creating the combative climate. I can be furious about the vague problems of some unknown number of people, or I can realize that for me I will likely buy Spore, install it and play it without incident.
For me, the choice isn’t particularly complicated. It may make me a patsy, a sellout or an apologist. Fair enough, I can’t control those labels, but I can control the fact that while thousands of outraged gamers have signed petitions, fired off angry emails, posted furiously on message boards and drowned Spore with negative reviews, I was having a fun and hassle free experience playing the actual game.
In the immortal words of Miracle Max, “have fun stormin’ da castle.”