Asking the wrong question

Shamus Young over at Twenty Sided has posted a couple of articles on the subject of PC gaming and DRM. Part 1 of "The Publishers vs. The Pirates" is interesting, but Part 2 is what really caught my attention.

(By the way, I'm under no illusions that I'm in any way, shape, or form going to contribute anything to Mr. Young's readership. This is the guy that did DM of the Rings, for crying out loud. Unlike poor schmoes like me, he thinks in terms of 64-bit hit counters. So if you happen to wander by this blog, and you've never visited Twenty Sided, you really should go check it out. He's way smarter than I am, and a much better writer as well. Go.)

Shamus' argument - which I agree with entirely - is that piracy is a social problem, not a technological problem. Because it's not a technological problem, throwing technological solutions (increasingly strict DRM) at the problem really isn't solving anything.

It really comes down to a problem of perception. The PC game publishers decide that they can increase sales if they can keep people from pirating their game, so they look for ways to stop piracy. New license key schemes, requiring a CD in the drive to play, online activation, increasingly intrusive DRM schemes... They're engaged in a technological arms race, and like anything else in the tech market, innovations come rapidly, from both sides.

The problem is, they're really asking the wrong question. They're asking how they can keep people from pirating their games; but that's not what they really want. What they really want is to increase their sales. As I've mentioned in a recent post about eBooks, giving away something can be a way to increase sales. Here, the PC games publishers don't even need to give away anything (except maybe demos). All they have to do it stop throwing money, time, and man0hours into developing, shipping, and supporting code that nobody likes and which is really doing them no good. If dropping DRM causes a 100% increase in piracy, do you really care if it also results in a 30% increase in sales?

Sooner or later - hopefully, before the PC game industry damages itself too badly with delusions of DRM - they'll come to their senses, and start asking the right question.

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