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Pirates of the Gaming Sea
Posted on Tuesday, June 17 2008 @ 21:29:25 PST

Piracy. It happens, we're all aware of it. Some people take a game that costs money, and uploads it to the Internet for all to download illegally and play for free. Lots of people have uploaded games, even more have downloaded them. I'm sure many of you reading this have. Hell, even I have.

We all know it's hurting the developers, because every pirated game or other piece of software, takes away one potential sale for the people who made it.

"What's one download going to hurt them any?"

One download, sure. But that builds up. Thousands of gamers later with the same mentality, the developers of the game end up with a few thousand bucks less for their next game than they would if these gamers had just bought a copy.

Now to switch sides: A new reason has recently been added as to why people pirate games now. To avoid the incredibly stupid extents to which developers and publishers try to halt piracy. SecuROM, the most infamous of them all. EA, and it's urge to give you only three chances to install a game, or make you re-activate your game every ten days. The only people that hurts are the people who bought the game legitimately, because the pirates remove all the crap that tries to keep it secure in the first place.

Developers and publishers, to put it short, are going about the wrong way to do it.
But how do we fix it?

Re-activate every ten days?
Only allow a certain number of installs to a CD key?
Put an anti-piracy chip in your computer?
They'll find a way around that too.

So how? What can we do?

I was talking with a friend about this very subject, the effects of piracy on gaming. In this conversation, I had thought of what I at least think is a great idea, and wonder why nobody has implemented it yet.

So here's the idea:

First, keep a log of every activation key shipped with every copy of the game. If someone generates a random key that does not match those on file, access will be barred to the game.

Require online activation in the game. Users who purchase the game shall make an account which is tied to their given activation key. So if the key code is stolen or randomly generated by coincidence, it cannot be used to activate the game.

Only the account owner may use the key code, but they can uninstall and reinstall the game as many times as they like. The account owner is given a certain amount of licenses though, so a pirate can't simply give out the account and key code and say 'have at it'. Licenses are used when a game is installed, but if the game is uninstalled, the license is reacquired, meaning a copy of a game can only be installed on a given number of computers. Each license is numbered, so say if a computer with the game on it dies, the account owner can go ask the developer to free up that specific license for use again on a new computer.

In addition to tying the activation key to an account, the disc also lacks an absolutely necessary file that the game can not boot without. This file is downloaded after activating a license under an account, and the file itself is tied to the account. When booting the game, this file will check for the proper account and key code. If it doesn't match, then the game will not run.

So, in short:
All key codes are logged. Keys are tied to an account and can only be used by the account owner. A necessary file is downloaded to run the game and is also tied to the account. The account has a set number of licenses that are reusable upon uninstallation or system failure and installations can not exceed the number of available licenses.

Now, I will say this system is not by any means perfect. Game piracy is not something that can be completely halted, but we can certainly slow it down. I'm sure there are ways that can get around this system, but I am willing to bet it would be much harder to pirate a game under this sort of protection.

Any holes around this system, feel free to explain here. I'm sure there are some bits I left out, but I write this hoping that some day a higher-up in the industry like someone in EA or others will catch wind of this idea and implement it. So here you go. If there's a hole in the system, please, say it here, and if you can, provide something that can help slow it down.

Something that protects games from piracy, while not being a total killjoy for the people who actually bought a copy. That's what I hope can be achieved by this system. If you like the idea, then please, by all means, spread the word.
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