Monday, July 20, 2009

EA: They Just Don't Get It

Any dog knows not to bite the hand that feeds it, but EA just can't resist dousing its paying customers in steak sauce and munching away. It seems the overriding concern has been to avoid piracy, and I can appreciate that. Piracy is not good for any of us, gamers or developers alike. But how does one reason that piracy can be beaten by punishing those who choose not to pirate?

The Spore debacle is well documented. Spore should have been a landmark game. It should have been a harbinger of a new generation of games that bring the gamer into the development process in new and exciting ways. Instead, it became one of the most pirated games of all time and spawned a class action lawsuit against the publisher, EA. Now when we think of Spore, we think of rootkits, intrusive digital rights management schemes, and a company that punishes its customers in the name of fighting pirates.

EA learned nothing from Spore. Last week the company proudly confirmed that we will have to be connected to the internet in order to play Command and Conquer 4. The interesting part is that CnC4 is a real time strategy title that will include a large single player campaign. The logic behind requiring gamers to be constantly connected to the internet to play in single player mode? EA has made vague statements about including MMO-esque features into CnC4 that will allow for the tracking of individual player progression. Because goodness knows we all want to advertise to the world that we failed the 9th mission 5 straight times before giving up and looking for strategies online. Other than mentioning player progression tracking, no reason has been given.

It seems far more likely this decision is another misguided EA anti-piracy measure. Not everything must be multiplayer, online, or include social networking features. Nor does everyone do all their gaming in a fixed location, or a location with stable and free wireless internet. By forcing all copies of CnC4 to be online at all times, regardless of what the gamer is doing, EA has simply guaranteed that CnC4 will be cracked and pirated. Offline gaming is a standard feature that many strategy gamers want, and if EA does not provide that feature, the pirates will be more than happy to oblige.

With Spore, if you did not want something akin to a rootkit infesting your computer, you had to pirate a copy of the game, even if you did buy it. With CnC4, if you want to play a truly single player game without being constantly online, you will have to pirate a copy of the game, even if you do buy it. Instead of reducing piracy, these moves simply provide incentives to the pirates. Just like with Spore, the end result of online requirement will not be a reduction in piracy, but an increase. Sadly, the ones hurt most by EA's efforts to punish the paying gamers are the developers who make the games. Gamers can and will turn to the pirates to get copies that are not artificially crippled. But the developers have no where to turn for the revenue they lost when those would-be customers turned to the pirates.

At the end of the day, EA's anti-piracy efforts are only angering their customers and hurting the revenue of their developers. When EA fights pirates, only the pirates win. And that isn't good for anyone. Giving incentives for piracy is no way to get rid of it.

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