While these systems made copying more awkward, they did very little to stop piracy. Also, it didn’t take long for legitimate buyers to begin noticing something strange. For some reason, games with copy protection errored more often when loading than games without it.
Fast forward more than 30 years and technology is almost unrecognizable from those early 8 bit days, but perhaps surprisingly today’s copy protection – or DRM as we now know it – is still producing conundrums similar to those of three decades ago.
People who use pirate copies these days are generally unaffected by DRM since it is removed in advance, whereas legitimate buyers often have to jump through several hoops in order to get their products running as expected. This punishing of ‘honest’ customers is at the root of most DRM complaints.
Still, many of the world’s games developers see DRM as a necessary evil, claiming that without it copying would continue completely unchecked and as a result sales would decline. One such company is Square Enix, the gaming giant behind Final Fantasy and many dozens of other iconic cross-platform titles.
Adam Sullivan, Square Enix America’s Senior Manager of Business and Legal Affairs, informs TorrentFreak that the company’s choice to include DRM in its products has its roots in a simple concept – maximizing revenue.
“The primary benefit to us is the same as with any business: profit,” Sullivan explains.
So does DRM really work?
“We have a well-known reputation for being very protective of our IPs, which does deter many would-be pirates,” Sullivan adds. “However, effectiveness is notoriously difficult to measure — in short, we rely on the data available to us through our sales team and various vendors, along with consumer feedback.”
Of course, consumer feedback in the Internet space often includes fierce criticism of DRM, especially when it goes catastrophically wrong, as it has done on a number of occasions in recent years. So has Square Enix learned from these mistakes?
“The key to DRM is that it can’t interfere with the customer’s ability to play the game,” Sullivan says.
“It’s not uncommon for people to get a new computer every few years, or to have multiple computers. Sometimes they don’t have reliable internet connections. There’s no perfect solution yet.”
But while the problems persist, Sullivan says that Square Enix will pursue its anti-piracy strategy while considering the factors that are most important to the company and the game’s target audience. So is DRM here to stay?
“This depends on your definition of DRM, but generally yes — I think DRM will be essential for the foreseeable future,” Sullivan explains.
“When F2P [free-to-play] began trending, lots of people thought it would be the death of DRM. I remember talking with one F2P developer who couldn’t imagine why hackers would want to attack his game, since it was free and all. Two months later they were barraged with several hacks.
“So long as we’re concerned about things like data privacy, accounting sharing and hacking, we’ll need some form of DRM,” Square Enix America’s Head of Legal concludes.
More of Square Enix’s thoughts on anti-piracy and DRM initiatives will be heard during the Anti-Piracy and Content Protection Summit in Los Angeles this summer where Adam Sullivan will be a guest speaker.