We’ve heard this story before. Every time a major artist releases a record or film that doesn’t sell very well, they blame it on them damn dirty pirates. And I don’t mean those loveable, swash-buckling fellows, but those spectacle wearing, screen addicts who are often found in bed with their file sharing software and torrent websites.
Stereotypes aside, it’s been easy to criticise pirates for any failings in the entertainment industry, even if it’s just as likely that the poor sales are a result of a poor product. Yet when someone like Infinity Ward, a development company responsible for one of the biggest titles of the year, has a few comments to make, then you know things must be getting bad.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare made it to the number-one spot in the UK at Christmas, and was the biggest selling PC game earlier this month. It was also critically acclaimed, with some leading websites awarding it the game of 2007.
The game has been especially popular for its online play, so Infinity Ward has been able to monitor how many gamers are playing with cracked/stolen or downloaded copies of the game. And according to one unnamed member of the COD4 team, the numbers have been astounding.
This is not the first time the problem has been aired either. Last year Todd Hollenshead of ID software stated that up to 50 per cent of game sales are lost to piracy in the US, with losses in Eastern Europe, Asia and South America estimated as being over 90 per cent.
One year later and the PC format is almost ignored by leading publishers, with PC gamers struggling with shoddy ports of console titles.
“More publishers are making their full-priced efforts console titles, and retailers are stocking fewer full-price releases,” says Simon Reynolds, commercial manager at GSP.
So what’s the solution?
Unfortunately there is no easy answer. DRM style protection software has been included into PC games before but, like DRM, it caused complaints from consumers as it restricted the use of their product.
Some illegal downloaders have claimed the price of PC games is the number-one reason they download. However, games take a lot of time and money to produce, and releasing software at a budget level is not always a viable option.
Digital downloading could help rescue the PC gaming market, with services like Steam gathering, erm, steam. But this is hardly retail friendly, and isn’t enjoying the kind of success iTunes has had with the music industry.
The future of PC gaming is in the balance, and if there isn’t any protection soon, then there won’t be any PC games to illegally download.