According to Miles Jacobsen, studio manager at Sports Interactive, the answer is no – the problem isn’t one of DRM or copy protection, but one of society.
Jacobsen is the man behind the Football Manager (the type that we Yanks call “soccer”) games, a popular series of PC games. It seems like piracy and DRM were at the forefront of everyone’s minds in 2008, a year in which indie titles like World of Goo had reported 90% piracy rates and Spore became the most-pirated game of all time. Jacobsen himself is no stranger to the controversy – when Football Manager 2009 was first released last November, fans who bought the game early had trouble authenticating their – entirely legitimate – copies.
In an interview with Videogamer, he still thinks games need some sort of DRM, though perhaps not for the usual reasons: “There needs to be some kind of copy protection in your product otherwise retail aren’t going to stock your product, so we do have to take some measures.”
Even so, Jacobsen’s remarks were sober and realistic, acknowledging that there’s only so much that DRM and other protection can do to staunch the bleeding of piracy. “I don’t know whether there is a proper cure for piracy without a change in society, to be honest … I don’t think it will ever be fixed and it is a shame because the price of games would go down if the issue was fixed and we’d be able to have more people working on the titles.”
Jacobsen was asked to comment on the 90% piracy rate reported by rival series Championship Manager, and said that it seemed right. He gave an anecdote as evidence, mentioning that there had been one specific keycode that a Russian piracy site had claimed would work with all versions of the game, but in reality wouldn’t work at all – said code has been attempted by 338,000 unique people.
“But I don’t know what the figures are because we’ve got no way of tracking it. We don’t believe there is a way to track fully exactly how many downloads we have. What we do know is there are countries out there where there are 30,000 members signed up and active on a local language forum and we sell 2,000 copies in that country to date. So, that 90 per cent level could be a low figure. I could pick a figure out of my arse but it wouldn’t really do anyone any good. But piracy is incredibly bad!”
The man does have a point: people do like getting free stuff. I can’t really say that there’s anything in his remarks that I disagree with – if there weren’t any piracy, I think prices would go down, as there’d be far less need to recoup on the percent that legitimately buys the game. But, on the other hand, I find it hard to believe that piracy would suddenly stop happening even in established markets, let alone emergent developing nations where piracy is the rule, rather than the exception.