This week one of our astute Australian readers contacted us at GiN world headquarters and told us of an interesting event occurring in that country. It seems the offices of one of the companies we track on the GiNDex was being raided. We confirmed a few facts and had the story about the Brilliant Digital Entertainment on the Web about 30 minutes before CNN.
It turns out now that the raid had little to do with the game industry, though the implications of the raid might.
It turns out this raid was part of the music industry's continued push to eliminate pirate music downloading. The biggest file-sharing site alive today is Kazaa, which happens to be headquartered in Australia at Sharman Networks.
Brilliant Digital got involved with Kazaa through a rather boneheaded plan that had about as much to do with reality as the plot of a James Bond super villain. BDE created an advanced version of spy software that was unwillingly downloaded by users on Kazaa along with their music and movie files. The plan was for BDE to wait until they had a large enough secret install base, and then activate a new global sharing network. Of course with about six weeks to go before the new super secret network went active, someone found out what was going on. It seems anti-spyware programs were up to the task.
BDE was forced to publicly apologize, but their plans for world domination, or at least a better file-sharing network, did not stop. They continued to work on the architecture, but instead of it being a big secret to users, BDE offered to pay people to become part of the network. They were continuing to work on this project at the time of the raids.
And truth be told, this was a very unusual raid. Australia apparently not only puts the globe upside down in their classrooms, but has some pretty backwards laws as well. In that country, if you are the plaintiff in a lawsuit, you can get permission from the courts to raid a defendant's business and home for the purpose of gathering evidence. That is what the record company did. It makes you wonder if someone could sue Nicole Kidman and then raid her underwear cabinet looking for evidence.
Anyway, while BDEs stock dropped quite a bit following the raid, there has been no word on what if anything was found by the plaintiffs.
Other than the BDE connection, and let's face it, they are not exactly burning up the game industry with their top-selling titles, there is little direct linking to our industry. Kazaa is being used mostly for music and movie swapping. I've looked around the site from time to time and never once seen any games posted there.
But piracy is a problem in the game industry nonetheless. It's simply easier to copy music than it is to rip the latest copy of Call of Duty, though either one is doable if you have the skills and the desire.
And this problem does affect the game industry. Besides the obvious problems of developers not getting the money they deserve for a game, which means they may not be successful enough to make a sequel, there are other problems. Remember the original Morrowind on the PC? The stupid SafeDisc copy protection scanned for a valid CD every 15 seconds, which caused the game to lock up. It was unplayable to the point that the publishers had to release a patch that of all things, removed the copy protection.
We just recently got a review copy of Gangland from Whiptail Interactive that required us to submit a hardware code to the developer and get a response code that, when used with an imprinted serial number, allowed the game to play. By the end of the day-long copy protection process I was expecting to launch nuclear weapons rather than play a mafia game. And you can only play on the original computer with the original submitted hardware code too. Launching nuclear missiles might be easier.
So companies are worried, and rightfully so, especially if they are investing in ridiculous copy protection schemes like SafeDisc. Billions are lost on pirated computer games each year. There is just no centralized site like Kazaa for the industry to vent their frustration towards.
So what can the average consumer do to help? Simple. Stay informed and only buy the games you think you will like. A friend of mine says he reads at least two reviews from two different game sites before he heads to a game store. When he arrives he knows if he will like a game or not and only buys the game he came in for. You don't have to be that militant, but doing a tiny bit of research can prevent you in most cases from buying a game you hate. And even if you do hate it, there is a booming legitimate secondary market where you can unload bad titles.
In short, if you like playing games, then you owe it to the companies involved to buy their games. We are not talking about an overpriced movie ticket. Game prices have not really risen in over ten years. For $40 or $50 you can get a top of the line title and feel you got your money's worth.
In this way we can avoid fighting the costly copy protection wars that have plagued every other entertainment-based industry, and keep the prices of our beloved titles stable.