As piracy continues to threaten media industries, increasingly dramatic measures have been taken to ensure that products are only used by people who have paid for them. Furthermore, some gaming manufacturers consider second-hand sales to be more of a deficit to the industry than piracy. Where does this leave us? How will future console developments be affected by this truth? What use will there be to sell physical games when one can simply sell computer games online?
Perhaps the single greatest measures in place against piracy are the ubiquitous unique activation codes of modern video games, and indeed, software in general. These codes dramatically increase security, that is, they prevent users from installing more than one iteration of software from one purchased disc. But, inevitably, these activation keys may be ‘cracked’ — in fact, ‘cracking’ software is considered to be a simple challenge, like a game, to many tech-savvy individuals.
Microsoft and the digital download
The Guardian reports that the new Xbox console may require a permanent online connection and could rule out the pre-owned game market. According to anonymous sources, the new console may require players to sign into their unique personal account each time they play and will restrict purchased games to this single identity.
Digital Rights Management
Digital Rights Management, or DRM, has been problematic in the past. Usually, DRM is accomplished by an ‘always-online’ policy for a game; if the player is required to constantly be connected to the manufacturer’s server, their accounts may be easily monitored for piracy and illegal activity. But there’s a catch: what if the manufacturer’s servers can’t handle the traffic? Blizzard’s much-anticipated Diablo III launch was plagued by this exact problem and millions of players cried out in revolt as they found themselves unable to play the new game, a single player game — one they had just purchased for upwards of $60 — because the host servers had crashed due to traffic. It seems we have a long way to go if Digital Rights Management is to be commonplace in future consoles.
EA’s Online Pass
The Guardian also quotes Piers Harding-Rolls, a senior analyst at IHS Screen Digest; Harding-Rolls claims that a more sustainable — and likely — model for the new Xbox and Playstation consoles is likely to reflect that of EA Sports’ ‘Online Pass’ — players can acquire the game in any way they chose, and can play against the computer free of charge, but must pay for online content and multiplayer. Given the extent to which modern games take place in a multiplayer context, this is likely to achieve the ends of DRM without the invasive and troublesome ‘always-online’ rule. Regardless, says Harding-Rolls, “The online activation of games is contentious … we do not believe the concept of compulsory online activation of games will resonate strongly with consumers in general.”