Rampant piracy is threatening the future of the PC games industry, Todd Hollenshead, head of Doom 3 creator Id software has said.
Enemy Territory has already been leaked online
He warned that unless the problem was tackled some companies could relegate the PC to a second tier platform.
"Some developers are taking that approach," he told the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco last week.
Global piracy cost the US games industry more than $4bn in 2004, not including losses from net piracy.
Mr Hollenshead said the PC games industry was still not taking the threat of piracy seriously.
"I find myself when I have a discussion about piracy trying to convince people it's a serious problem.
"Some estimates show that as much as 50% of game sales are lost to piracy in the US.
"In Eastern Europe, Asia and South America the losses are estimated to be 90% plus," he said.
He added: "Piracy is rampant at this moment."
He said the problem of cracked copies of PC games circulating online was particularly worrying.
"The statistics of the amount of net traffic devoted to piracy of PC titles is startling," he said.
A quick check of some of the most popular websites which facilitate the exchange of cracked PC games reveals a plethora of titles.
Recent games such as Battlefield 2142, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas, Fahrenheit and Need for Speed Carbon are all available for download.
Id is currently working on a new title Enemy Territory Quake Wars and said developers had to work harder to prevent internal leaks.
"Every major project we have worked on has somehow found its way to the internet," he said.
He said Id had issued physical dongles with development copies of Enemy Territory which prevent the title being played without the hardware key.
"We know a copy of Enemy Territory is out there because someone is posting screen shots.
"Hopefully some of our protections have worked to keep that from being distributed online."
Mr Hollenshead said the industry was engaged in a game of one upmanship with hackers.
"It's not just child's play - there are big dollars at stake here."
He said the industry had to look at better physical protection for DVDs, demand better protection from digital rights management and look to educate consumers about the damage caused by piracy.
"There is a serious attitude problem we have about games and game fans especially amongst the PC community who look to hackers as icons.
"It's seen as a cool thing to be part of the warez (hacker) community and share copies of games.
"Hopefully through education and understanding the community who love PC games needs to recognise they are poisoning the well we all drink from."
Have you downloaded a cracked PC game? What are your opinions on the scale of piracy? Are you a member of the hacker community?
It is warranted to point out that net piracy is not necessarily a lost sale, as individuals that download a cracked PC game may not be those that would buy it. This leads to vastly biased statistics that do not take these factors into account, or rather do take these factors into account when they shouldn't. Those who oppose piracy need to be more informed within their writing when it comes to differences between theft and piracy, as they are subtly but very importantly different.
Colin, Exeter England
Every game I have ever played has been borrowed, downloaded or cracked.
The fact is though, that I am not actually contributing to the piracy world. I don't create cracks or help spread pirated games.
And at the end of the day I can "take" or "leave" games and if I was forced to pay for them I would choose to "leave" them. They are certainly not worth the £40+ they are sold for. But I personally wouldn't pay a penny for them, I would either play them for free as I do now, or not play them at all.
I've had friends who've all had a pirated copy of a game at some point. I have always refused to download cracked PC games, etc., mainly because of the threat it poses.
People are always complaining about why prices of games are so high. Part of the reason, at least I believe, is piracy. With games becoming more and more expensive to make, and piracy increasing more and more, the only way they can ensure profits is to raise the prices of games.
If people want cheaper games or free games, why don't we just get rid of capitalism and go with socialism?
William Ogle, Winchester, England
I dont condone donwloading pirate game as they are too expensive to buy.
At the moment an average cost of a PC game is £29.99 and £39.99 for a Xbox 360 game.
If you took the PC price and multiplied it by an average amount of people that buy the game (say 3 million) thats a total of £89 million pounds.
Out of that £89m you have to take out overheads, maufacturing costs and other things but i would still stay they made a profit of £50-60m
I know that the companies have to make a profit to be able to make better and more interesting games but why should it be at the cost of the public.
If they lowered the price of buying a game to say £10-15 then surely in the long run more people will buy it and in doing so profits would increase.
I do belive that it is wrong to pirate games, but from a consumers point of view, games are far too overpriced. especially as it is increasingly hard to tell how good a game will be until you try it. Paying so much for a game and then not enjoying it is just not worth it, when you can download the same game for free.
The games industry can say that this is the reason they provide demos of games. while this is true, demos are completely unrepresentative of a game. Most developers will put the best aspects in a demo and the the final product ends up being a complete disapointment.
There are a few instances where i have downloaded a game over the net, and have subsequently gone out and purchased it. But to be honest, these times are few and far between.
Another issue is that the requirements listed for a game are often incorrect. There have been many games where my system has surpassed the minimum spec, and in fact has been just slightly below the "recommended spec" and the game has still run badly. paying money for a game only to find that it runs badly is again, a waste of money and a risk that many are not willing to take.
anonymous, South Africa
The internet is so vast hackers can literally go underground if they so wished! The view is that unlesas the games industry polices this crime it will spread through other mediums such as the playstation3 and xbox360. The price of PC games is also an issue, if prices continue to remain above boartd than this will feed the fire that burns it! The internet industry is slowly but surely feeding the fire but not stopping hackers from doewnloading copies of future games, this is the one and major flaw I have with the internet! It's not all good news especially with those who act in good faith to purchase games, when will it end, if there ever is and end to piracy!
Brandon Fuller, Birmingham, England
If PC games were a more reasonably price I think piracy would drop. I play BF 2142 a lot (legally) and they just released Northern Strike the add-on priced at £5.99 that is a bargain. Ok you don't get a disc or fancy manuals but £5.99 is better to pay than the HMV price of £17.99.
Making games available via a portal like Steam or EA linker is a great way of making games cheaper to distribute and harder to crack.
Piracy. Yes it is bad. The theft of someones hard work and creativity. There will always be people that will do this. It is unavoidable. In a digital age it becomes easier and more people may do this. This is also unavoidable. Price coupled with this ease is also a factor. But generally if a product is reasonably priced and easy to use with little hassles then the vast majority of people will prefer the legitimate route to acquire the media. What actually makes this situation worse is DRM. Firstly you have a cost added to the development of DRM systems, which pushes the price up and converts some of the legally purchasing crowd into illegal copies, those with the required knowledge that is. Secondly DRM is not user friendly and even when it is, it adds unnecessary complications to it and annoys the end users i.e. those who have bought a legitimate copy and actually pushes them to aid the cracking of DRM protected media, aiding the actual pirates .
John Doe, London
I have never downloaded a single game from the internet, apart from freeware/shareware and they are from legitimate sites. I have 3 PC's networked together for myself and my 2 children (10 and 12) so we can play together. And yes I have copied and installed games on there PC's for the above purpose. Are you really suggesting that I have to purchase 3 copies of a game so my family can play together ? If I buy a board game, I only have to buy it once and all the family can play, no copyright issues there. So why is the software/games/music industries so different to the rest of the world ???
Mike, Southampton UK
No doubt if the developers and publishers of the most pirated games PAID ATTENTION to the consumers, they might not be suffering at the hands of piracy.
Activision and Infinity Ward come to mind... all they've done is gouge the users and provide lousy support and minimal fixes for their EXPENSIVE game software.
On the other hand look at STEAM and Red Orchestra... literally no piracy and the developers Tripwire provide regular updates, fixes and communicate with their users.
A good 90% of the problems are caused by arrogant developers and publishers who seem to think they can disregard good business principles and do as they wish while riding rough shod over the consumers.
The consumers have too few remedies at their disposal... the EULA (End User License Agreement) pretty much puts all remedies in favor of the publisher and developer. The consumer is usually left prone and bleeding in the gutter.
Mike Nomad, Mandarin, Florida USA
I d/l games to see if they are any good as the quality of games has plummeted in the last 10 years. if a game is good(or just new and different) i will then go out and buy it. i even pre-order games if im confident they will actually be playable (supreme commander being the latest).
the PC is the best games platform and probably always will be. Piracy is so ripe developers assume if there is a problem they can patch it (on consoles you cant yet) which gives some people the idea that its not finished and therefore not worth paying for. i disagree however i was rather angry when i had to wait two months for a patch that supported my sound card before i could play a game. that four times longer than an american has to what for a pistol!
Games have always been copied and the copies have always been easy to get. I've played games since 1990 or something and never paid for any. We'd just go to friends with a large number of diskettes and exchange games. Same goes for music and now also movies are easy to get. Prices have always been too high and you don't know what you get until you play it and I've started to play many games and threw them (the files) away because they sucked!
I've only considered buying the cheap older games, when I knew I liked the game from playing an illegal copy and wanted to support the company.
Also if I couldn't get the illegal content I mostly wouldn't buy any of it. This goes for music, movies, software and games. I'd only buy if I could get it for substantially lower prices than we are expected to pay now.
For (big expensive) games I don't have time anymore and for software I now try to choose more and more open source and freeware. Trying to switch to some Linux OS.
Only things I do buy are books but also almost only for lower prices like at book dumps, 2nd hand and such.
Yes, I like things cheap and I don't see much value in "posessions".
I used to use cracked versions of games that I owned as they required the CD to play. It was harder to use a legitimate version of the game than to get a cracked one online and play CD-less.
It made getting cracked games an acceptable practice and software houses are now reaping what was sown as a result of inappropriate protection.
Todd Hollenshead is way out of line. Enough whining from the game developers who just consistently prove to be hackers themselves anyway. If they had any concern about the "gaming community" they wouldn't keep releasing titles before they are finished with enough bugs in them to make the titles worthless.
Game development companies should smarten up and realize if they didn't consistently produce/release crappy software (there are exceptions but they are RARE) the "gaming community" might give them some credit and take his advice.
Todd Hollenshead also needs to come to grips with reality and realize that if his company was really focussed on education (as attested to by his whining), he wouldn't release trashy games which focus solely on training players to be soldiers (is he getting kick backs from the Pentagon?) and come out with decent, bug free, FINISHED titles which educate players to develop very important real-world skills in mathematics, the sciences and history, of which titled content is sorely needed.
A lot of the games i have downloaded are for trial purposes. A few i have kept and bought (star wars battlefront, rise of legends, medieval 2) however the majority of them are not worth the download time and are soon discarded.
I have been a part of the demo/hacking community in the past. Nowadays im content enough to go along to the local supermarket and pick up a cheap copy of the latest game, its the cost that puts you off when your younger and unable to pay the high costs for a game, its easy to download a game to play instead, since games got larger though its become more difficult to get them from anywhere, i still see many marketstalls around the country selling counterfeit goods, and i cant believe that the people selling them get away with it week after week, the penalties imposed upon them for selling the counterfeit goods is a joke, some people even get away with it, personally i think thats where the problem lies, not with the hackers, but the people that sell the pirated games and make a profit from them, they provide an easy way of people getting the goods when they would otherwise have to go online to buy them. Harsher punishments for the sale of pirated games (and films) is the way.
Ahead, dont confiscate the goods, dont pussy foot about getting police in fully clothed, get the plain clothes guys in, find out who is selling the goods, arrest them and confiscate the goods, make sure they are locked up for a long time. For far too long this country has been a soft touch and i think that needs to change.
George O'Jeungle, Sheffield, Uk
As a PC gamer myself, I agree that piracy is a serious problem, particularly if it is causing developers to view the PC as a platform with too high a risk to produce games for.
Digital Rights Management, however, is not the answer. For DRM to be anywhere near successful in defeating piracy, it would have to seriously inconvenience legitimate buyers of the games, by crippling the game, or indeed the user's computer, with unwanted software that demands system resources. A similar problem exists in the sales of music and movies on the Internet. It only takes one person to find a way past the DRM, and everybody on the Internet can then get hold of a cracked or decrypted copy. If it can be played, it can be copied. A game with DRM "protection" will be spread illegally just as much as one without.
DRM is a thus far failed attempt at a technical solution to a problem that is entirely social. Education is the industry's best weapon against piracy, but as far as I can see, piracy is a part of society that will never entirely disappear.
Kirk, Colchester, England
This article and probably Todd misses oen major aspect of the story. What do they do about this issue besides whine and come up with overly complicated "solutions"? It would be very interesting to hear of ways to solve the underlying issues of piracy, rather than see yet more increases of games' retail costs or new and extreme ways of protecting the software (ending up with tools that cause damage to the consumer/gamer's PC). Pirated copies exist for any type and platform. I personally would love to see the PC "delegated" to second tier platform and leave the pirates to crack and ruin the XBOX or playstation or what have you market (just as virus makers mainly hit Windows systems leaving other OS platforms alone). That way the prices might fall, quality might replace quantity in gaming again as the big publishers finally take their Sauron-esque eyes off the PC gaming industry and I just might be able to afford to pay for all the games I want to play throughout the year.
Stefanos Patelis, Athens, Greece
I've downloaded a few games in the past and ended up purchasing a couple of them. My motivation for downloading a games is more of an extended try-before-you-buy than to avoid paying for it. I suspect that much of what developers think of as piracy in the games industry falls along that line. There will always be those that crack the games as a pastime, I doubt that will ever be eliminated. And there will always be those that just don't want to pay. But there is also a group that refuses to spend $50 on a game that can not be returned unless I know it's worth the money.
billb, Austin, USA
I haven't downloaded a pirated game how ever I do download cracks for my purchased games as the copy protection on them is usually highly subpar causing all types of problems like crashes and games refusing to load. To play some classic games which were purchased pre 2002 you have to crack the copy protection because it just doesnt work on Windows XP/Vista systems. Until they make copy protection less obtrusive and more professional with less bugs then I wouldnt resort to downloading cracks for games ive brought.
I regularly download PC games including the Battlefield 2142 game mentioned in the article. I use it as a way of trying out titles before committing to spending £30-£40 for a release as it gives a better reflection of the finished article compared to demos. It hasn't reduced my spending either(I bought a legimate copy of BF2142 soon after downloading it), it has though stopped me wasting my money on sub-standard products. These are soon deleted from my hard drive and the money I would have spent I can use of better titles. The irony is that I have one game where the legitimate copy doesn't work due its copy-protection system but the hacked version works fine!
Colin, Sheffield UK
Has Todd considered not treating his customers as thieves? You put in a console game, it plays. You put in a PC game, and you have to install it (installing its own protection software), type in a 20-character string of gibberish, register online, remove any software the protection scheme disagrees with, patch immediately, then try to figure out why its insisting you haven't inserted the correct CD. Is it any wonder that people download cracked games that have most of these hurdles stripped out? I'm assuming Enemy Territory is going to be a FPS game - why not do what Halflife did, and create a massively compelling online gaming service that you need a legit copy to use? Making the game not suck in multiplayer would help too - after Doom 3, I'm not that hopeful.
Phil B, Preston, UK
i will repeat what others have mentioned over and over -- most users pirating the software wouldn't have paid for it anyways. so, stop inflating the numbers for "lost" revenue.
I do download PC games simply because most of them are so poor that they are not worth buying. Most console owners can buy a game, try it and return it within 10 days if they are not happy with the game. PC owners are expected to pay £40 for a game, only to find that it is a total waste of money. The argument from the industry is that you can download a demo for free, but the demo's are often very early versions lacking vital features and often the finished article is very different. Until this is rectified i will continue to download games and only spend my hard earned money on the games that offer true value. Also even though my pc meets the recommended spec for most games they only run at a low resolution. This is because the games are designed to run on custom chipsets found in the latest consoles and back tracked to run on the pc. To make the games run at the required level you need a £3,000 PC.
Digital restrictions (DRM) don't work any better for games than for other digital information such as music or films.
Hardware dongles are horrible things for the end-user, sometimes used by proprietary software of all types, not just games, but a "solution" that is always going to be detested by the customer a.k.a. victim who suffers it.
Is reverse-engineering a constrained program or cracking copy-restrictions wrong? Some might think so; on the other hand, there can be extremely good reasons for wanting to use a cracked program if one is available, even after legally purchasing the authentic original game.
One such reason are to be able to run the game without needing to put the original disk in the drive every time you play, with the likelihood that sooner or later you will inadvertently scratch or damage it - if it wasn't copy protected, then it's possible start by making a backup, putting the original disk safely away, and playing from the backup, which is no problem if it gets damaged.
Another reason might be to play the game at all in the first place, since copy protection inevitably can have false positives, and stop legitimate users playing the game they have purchased.
That happened to me with the title Civilisation IV - the only computer I had available which had the oomph to run the game was a laptop, with a DVD drive that would not co-operate with the copy protection. So I was not able to run the game I wanted to play and had purchased legitimately on my own computer until I used a cracked version to bypass the copy protection; was that wrong, then?
John Barron, Ely, United Kingdom
Id software are known now for their anti-PC views since Doom three. John Carmack was spouting this rubbish last year, telling PC games mags that the PC gaming industry was getting torched. All consoles have been cracked & piracy is just as rampant on those platforms as it is the PC. Companies like ID & Dell have a hidden agenda to kill the PC gaming industry. After ID chucked their toys out the pram beacuse the critical savaging Doom three very few gamers listen to their opinion.
Paul Delaney B.A. Hons/Dipsad, Bellshill Lanarkshire
The general perception is that the 'media' industry skim huge profits that rarely get to the hard working creator.
The best strategy for reducing piracy is keep prices low (read: stop ripping us off!!) and stop interferring with our equipment (read: don't install spyware/root kits without our permission).
James, Benfleet, Essex. UK