Friday, 14 November 2008

The One That Wonders What He Spent The Money On. . .

I'm going to prove two points.

Point 1: It isn't just DK and Obo that can bang on about techie stuff.

Point 2: It isn't just the public sector that can completely screw stuff up.

Perhaps you will have seen the incredulous news reports on the BBC about people queuing up to buy the new World of Warcraft game at midnight or whenever it was during the week.

I've never played WoW, mmorpg's really don't appeal to me, but people who play them are not hurting me, so if it makes them happy, I'm happy. The tone of the BBC report on the morning of the release was quite startling, you see there were a lot of people, mainly young, many of them in costume waiting to get their hands on a copy of this game (incidentally, I wonder how many of them were stopped and searched under s44 of the Terrorism Act?), the obvious question should have been 'What's all the fuss about?' Unfortunately the question that was asked, and is almost as obvious, was 'Are these games turning our kids into fatties/socially dysfunctional types/drooling simpletons/paedophiles/terrorists? It's always paedos and terrorists. It is a computer game and therefore baaaaaaad.

Funny how a group of people, many of whom were probably hanging around waiting for Game to open during the week, were being described in glowing terms when they did exactly the same for the release of the Harry Potter novels.

Anyhow, as with cinematic releases, computer and video games are normally put out on general release on a Friday and I can't help feeling that the unusual midweek release of WoW was down in part to the release of another hugely popular game today.

The latest incarnation of the Football Manager series was released today and has been eagerly awaited by many people, me included. FM is my poison of choice.

Just as with music, piracy is big news in the video game market and publishers are taking big steps to combat the problem. Electronic Arts have courted a good deal of controversy by introducing the secuROM anti-piracy software to their releases. I'm no techie and don't quite understand how it works, but it is in effect a validation tool that ensures you're not running a moody copy. The problem with EA's software is that nowhere in the EULA does it mention that this peice of software will be installed on the user's computer. It is also unremovable, so if you uninstall the software that it came with, it is still on your computer. The only way you can get rid of it by doing a complete format of your hard disk and re-installing everything. It also regularly conflicts with other software. EA (makers of the fantastically popular Sims, FIFA and NFL series) are now the subject of class actions in the USA because of the covert nature of this software.

Sega, the publishers of the Football Manager series are probably the most famous name in the industry, after Nintendo, and following the effective retirement of Sonic The Hedgehog, FM is probably their biggest title. They've introduced a less invasive validation system for the new FM game and it has caused uproar. They've made a right arse of it, the game must be validated before you can play it, and incredibly hardcore gamers have been trying to validate their copy of the game for twenty hours now, and the company that Sega have contracted to do this bit of work has seen its system collapse under the pressure.

This is a failure of public sector magnitude, one would have thought that on their biggest day of the year, Sega would have made sure that their mandatory validation system would have had the strength and bandwidth to get the job done. I can't help wondering how many copies of this game will be returned to the shop tomorrow for, what is in my opinion, a perfectly reasonable refund, and again on Sunday when the less fanatical FMers amongst us go shopping only to realise that they can't actually use it. The retailers will no doubt be furious as they've dedicated a great deal of shelf and promotional space to a product they will make very little money on and will probably demand answers.

The difference between the public sector and private industry? I would expect that a public wringing of hands and a couple of written warnings will not suffice. I would expect that heads will roll. The other difference is that it will be done with dignity and behind closed doors.


Anonymous said...

What's interesting is that DRM (your 'validation tools') don't tend to make any difference as to whether the software is pirated.

See, the people who crack software do it for fun. It's much, much more fun than the game. It's an intellectual challenge in a way that no computer game has managed yet. And these people are very smart, and they have a lot of resources and so the 'copy protection' system is broken. It's in the interest of people who *are* large scale infringers to provide resources to those who enjoy stretching their brains. Sometimes the system is broken even before the game is even released - Nintendo's latest DRM system for the Wii console was broken within 8 hours, and sometimes you can get your hands on an early release copy, if the game comes on a physical disk.

So it doesn't stop 'piracy' and it doesn't stop copyright infringement. Leaks of the game will be available on torrent sites soon - probably already are. You'll find it on sale at the local market for £10, if you look hard enough.

It does piss people off though. Legitimate customers get angry and refuse to buy your games because, like you pointed out, it fucks your PC. And so sales decline. But because it is much easier to point at 'piracy' and scream than it is to accept that there is nothing that can be done(!!!), DRM increases, losses are blamed on infringement, and the spiral deepens.

More and more in politics and in corporate life, there seems to be a trend towards irrationality, where feelings take precedence over logic. No-one thinks about what should be done, and action is taken to everyone's detriment. Feel-good slogans dominate, and quick fixes spiral towards chaos.

To quote Yes, Minister: Something must be done! This is something! Therefore, we must do this...

My question is: was it always this bad? Is it just with greater communication and more voices that it is easier to notice, or is this really an epidemic of lazy thought and intellectual dishonesty?

Anonymous said...

Didn't Sony try and pull this stunt by in effect infecting PC's with a virus? The infamous rootkit. That resulted in a class action suit and an expensive (from Sony's perspective) settlemment. I think I would be reluctant to purchase the game until the dust has settled on this one.