STEAM GROUP: bashandslash

The End of PC Gaming?
Written by jockyitch   
Tuesday, 04 March 2008

One of the questions I asked in the first BASH trivia contest (BASH 51: Kill or be Killed) had to do with how many units of CoD4 were sold before Christmas of 2007. The answer was approximately 7 million total, but only 400,000 on the PC side (source: NPD group, Jan 2008 stats).

I had heard of these figures for a while, so they did not come as a shock to me when I was doing research on the game.

But it was interesting to hear Garetjax, one of the contestants, show much surprise over these numbers.

Why were the PC numbers just so damn low, for such a great game?

Robert Bowling (aka Fourzerotwo), Community Manager at Infinity Ward had given the answer to this question soon after the numbers were out. Here is what he said on his blog, back in January:

They Wonder Why People Don’t Make PC Games Any More

On another PC related note, we pulled some disturbing numbers this past week about the amount of PC players currently playing Multiplayer (which was fantastic). What wasn’t fantastic was the percentage of those numbers who were playing on stolen copies of the game on stolen / cracked CD keys of pirated copies (and that was only people playing online).

Not sure if I can share the exact numbers or percentage of PC players with you, but I’ll check and see; if I can I’ll update with them. As the amount of people who pirate PC games is astounding. It blows me away at the amount of people willing to steal games (or anything) simply because it’s not physical or it’s on the safety of the internet to do.



Just recently, extremetech author Loyd Case, speculated that this could signal the end for PC games in an article titled: Piracy, Copy Protection, and the Evolution of PC Gaming.

He points to numbers like these:

Two, the numbers on piracy are really astonishing. The research I've seen pegs the piracy rate at between 70-85% on PC in the US, 90%+ in Europe, off the charts in Asia. I didn't believe it at first. It seemed way too high. Then I saw that Bioshock was selling 5 to 1 on console vs. PC. And Call of Duty 4 was selling 10 to 1. These are hardcore games, shooters, classic PC audience stuff. Given the difference in install base, I can't believe that there's that big of a difference in who played these games, but I guess there can be in who actually paid for them.


Back in November, just days after buying my copy at the local Electronic Boutique store here in Canada, I was made aware of the fact that CoD4 had already been uploaded to warez sites around the world. Furthermore, CD keys were also being made available - stolen from legitimate purchasers. In fact, one of the BASHBoards forum goers just last month reported that his CD key was stolen (a keylogger had been installed on his PC!). In fact I was so amazed at how rapidly the theft had occurred I blogged about it here: CoD4 Theft In Progress.

What has always fascinated me about this is that stealing a $50CAD game seems to so pointless if you are stealing it to save money.

Assuming you are playing this game online. How much are you paying for broadband? Say $500/yr? What about a computer? If your hardcore, $2K every three years, say?  Which works out to $700/yr. Then there are peripherals, upgrades...etc., say $100/yr.

So, you are outlaying $1300/yr for your hobby.  How does ripping off a $50 game fit in all the grand scheme of things when you are paying orders of magnitude more just to have the capability of playing it?

Wouldn't it make more sense to figure out ways of ripping of your broadband provider? (NOTE: I'm not suggesting this!).

Why do people do it then?

I can understand why this happens in Asia. A combination of a large gap in wages and a healthy thirst for digital entertainment makes a bad mix over there. Ditto for folks in South America and in Mexico. But why are the figures so high in the "rich" U.S. and Canada - and especially in Europe?

I had the opportunity to talk to a few clans who run "cracked servers" and are unashamed recently. The responses to this theft are somewhat lame and always defensive:

"I bought XXXX and YYYY recently, paid full price and they were bogus games. I hate being ripped off, so our clan is running cracked CoD4 to see what it's like", said one cracked server Admin.

When I last left the Admin I'm quoting above, he had promised to remove the cracked servers and replace them with legit copies (apparently they're impressed with CoD4). But last I checked...they are still there.

Check out the list of cracked servers in the CoD4 community:

Cracked servers  

In the end, people will steal software for the same reason they steal music: cuz they can. In the old days, people would probably buy a lot less software - or wait until the games entered the "delete" bins in the store and pick them up for a few bucks (ever wonder why BF2 is still hanging around!).

Is there any reason to believe that this piracy trend will lead to the death of gaming on PC's?

I remember hearing this back when people were copying 5-1/4" disks and Nintendo first started selling consoles in North America. People have been ringing the death knell for PC's for a long time. While I admit, the PC platform is now being slapped around by the consoles, there is news that consoles are or will be subject to the same piratical forces currently affecting PC's.

Heck, I can walk into any number of "Asian" malls here in Toronto, whose owners have imported their expertise when they immigrated, and get an Xbox "tweaked" to run any number of cracked games for free (full disclosure: I don't even own a console - so I'm clean, I swear!).  Most troubling, these "cracks" are now well out of the domain of the hackers and have become mainstream - and will begin affecting gaming bottom lines at gaming companies very soon in a significant way (if they haven't already). One could even say that cracking an Xbox could even be more simple than a PC. Online multiplayer, admittedly, could be a little more difficult.

Bottomline: the problem here is not exclusive to PC's. 

Towards the end of his article, Case describes a future that still includes PC games, but throws away the idea that you will be purchasing the software in a store. He has business models that mimic Steam's download concept, others that let you get a game for "free" for require you to pay for online play...and so on. All these models provide the distributor with a more sophisticated means of controlling their content.

I tend to agree. There will be forever a chase between those selleing eGoods and those attempting to pirate them. The trick will be for manufacturers to keep ahead of the pirates. And that can only be done by continuous change to the distribution system. Oh - and guess who will pay for that.


Discuss this here



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