Last week I explained that DRM can't stop piracy. This led naturally to people asking what should be done it, if not DRM? After all, publishers have to do something, don't they? Being a strident non-pirate myself, I'm all for fighting it as long as that "something" isn't counter-productive. I have ten suggestions:
1. Drop the onerous DRM.
I know I've already beat this dead horse into paste, but just for the sake of completing the list: It doesn't wo rk. It pisses off paying customers. It costs you money. It just gives people another incentive to download a game instead of buying it.
Cut it out.
2. Make dev teams more public.
Gamers tend to connect with game developers. They admire John Carmack, Hideo Kojima, Sid Meier a lot more than (say) John Riccitiello or one of your forum mods. Developers are your karmic shield against the masses. Their faces should be out there from time to time to let gamers know, "If you pirate the game, this is who you're ripping off." One scrawny, unkempt game designer is worth a dozen slick marketing guys with a quiver full of buzzwords.
Some people are likely to think twice about stealing from a creative and talented developer. A giant corporation? Not so much.
3. Provide a demo.
The PC is not a single platform. The PC "platform" is an amalgamation of millions and millions of slightly different machines. They all have different graphics hardware running alongside endless permutations of drivers, diverse flavors of Microsoft operating systems with randomly-applied service packs and security updates, varying breeds of audio hardware, and unpredictable memory loadouts. As someone who writes software for a living, I can fully sympathize with the fact that it is an unbelievable bitch to build software on top of these shifting sands. People will cobble together Frankenstein machines of new and old parts and then have the audacity to expect you to write software that runs efficiently on the thing. This burden is inherent to PC development, and riding the technological edge only makes things more chaotic.
If you don't offer a demo, then you're proposing a gamer give you their non-refundable money and then find out if the game works on their machine. If it doesn't, they're going to rightly feel ripped off. And some of them might just adopt a "first strike" policy of ripping you off before you can do the same to them.
Giving them a demo will let them make sure the game will work on their mutant system before they put their money at risk.
4. Put out meaningful updates.
Stardock already does this, but you could do it, too. It's okay. It's not like they copyrighted the idea of paying attention to their games after launch. Just save a couple of those features that weren't quite ready by the time the game went gold and put them out a few months later. Paying customers get to upgrade their game with a nice patch and pirates get to fumble around on the torrents. If it's more convenient to buy than to pirate, then you're doing it right.
5. Be open about piracy.
The common tactic is for publishers to make outrageous claims about their losses from piracy. If you're going to talk about piracy, then at least acknowledge the basic facts which every gamer has already grasped: Piracy is hard to track, and most of your numbers are guesswork. More importantly, not all downloads are lost sales. If a million people downloaded your $60 game, you did not lose 60 million dollars. When you say things like this gamers conclude that you're either a bunch of idiots, or that you think they are a bunch of idiots. Either way, they will tune you out instead of joining you in your lamentations.