The games industry is plagued by some inconceivable traditions, things that are done out of habit or because everyone else is doing them. I sometimes wonder about the sanity of corporate executives.
Take, for example, copy protection. It doesn't work. I've had 10-year-old cousins of friends offering to burn me games, and these kids don't even have older siblings to do it for them. Now I'm not saying that games with prominent singleplayer components shouldn't have copy protection, but multiplayer focused games with CD keys just shouldn't bother. It's a hassle and annoyance that costs the developer, and thus the customer, money. Even as a game reviewer, where my livelihood depends a great deal upon the good fortunes of the industry, the first place I go to after receiving a game is GameCopyWorld to get a no-CD crack.
It's not that switching CDs is a huge chore, it's just that cracking the copy protection is far easier. It's too easy, in fact. I feel embarrassed for executives at publishing companies who insist that developers make disc-checking necessary. Inevitably, I think "are they really that stupid? Do they think it works?" whenever I debate the idea with myself.
Even more painful is the idea that these executives sign their names on contracts with companies like SafeDisc with technology that "prevents" burning. Come on already. When a $100 CD writer comes bundled with software out of the box that can defeat any SafeDisc technology, just stop already. If your copy protection doesn't even add the extra step of forcing the pirate (or archiver, as the case may be) to go onto the internet and search for a way to break the copy protection, it's just time to give up.
I'm also sure that I'm not the only one who has had to upgrade CD or DVD drives because of compatibility problems with copy protection. With the number of games I play, it's almost like an annual tradition. I should start a pool with the FiringSquad readers, so they can bet "which game will make Jakub upgrade his drive this year". Well, maybe I'm not being fair. I did manage to go through 2003 without swapping out my Pioneer DVD drive.
A far more elegant and user-friendly copy protection solution is being offered by StarDock.net for their Galactic Civilizations game. It's a singleplayer-only game with no copy protection, but it does have a registration key. If you register, you're free to download certain updates and expansions that come along.
Now the temptation for publishers is to make patches for only those gamers who've registered, and this is incorrect. As soon as you make something that's necessary work with this scheme, hackers will find a way around it. A better idea is to give incentives, like those expansions for GalCiv. Blizzard has a similar idea with battle.net, and after all these years - and it must be 7 years now - there still isn't a worthy, lasting competitor to bnet.