The Needles

The Needles: Michael Pachter, Ubisoft and the Perils of Rights and Wrong

Andy Chalk | 2 Jun 2010 10:35
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Is it any wonder that Pachter's comments were so incendiary - or that they were so readily (and, I might add, gleefully) misconstrued?

Within the confines of the law, game companies can do whatever they want to combat piracy. Ubisoft is at the hard-ass end of the scale, with a system that's laughably wrong-headed and punitive, while those like Stardock are at the other extreme, throwing their hands in the air and trusting to the whim of good fortune to carry them through - a surprisingly successful strategy so far. The middle ground is firmly in the grip of Valve, which has apparently stumbled upon the holy grail with Steam, the one DRM system that keeps (just about) everybody happy. Three different approaches with one commonality: Each reflects the right of the game companies to use whatever systems it feels are necessary to protect its games.

When perceived rights run up against real ones, vicious circles have a way of appearing as each side ramps up its response to the other. Pirates see tighter DRM as a challenge and work harder and more enthusiastically to break it, leading publishers to get tougher and tougher with their restrictions and requirements until things eventually reach their logical conclusion and the only people who end up not being able to play the games are the ones who are trying to play by the rules. And if that sounds hyperbolic or hysterical, bear in mind that we've already hit that mark. I'm just pointing at it.

Does that make pirates "right"? Absolutely not. Right and wrong is rarely a zero-sum game but when it comes to illegal game copying, pirates are wrong and videogame companies are right and, yes, it's really that simple. The trouble is that in being right, and in exercising their rights, a lot of game companies also insist on being rather shockingly stupid. Aggressive copy protection accomplishes nothing beyond the occasional alienation of legitimate customers; even Blizzard co-founder Frank Pearce recently declared that relying on heavy-handed DRM is a "losing battle." Like so many things in life, "because you can" doesn't necessarily mean that you should.

Welcome or not, the firestorm reaction to Pachter's outspoken attitude is proof that the DRM debate is far more about bad behavior, stubbornness and itchy trigger fingers on both sides of the coin than it is about rights, right and wrong. If we're ever going to be able to have a meaningful dialogue, we need to get past the point where hearing the words "DRM" and "right" in the same sentence automatically sets off our attack-dog instincts. Cooler heads, people. Michael Pachter was right. That doesn't mean Ubisoft is.

Andy Chalk has the right to remain silent, but he never seems to.

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