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I think we can all pretty much forget about Duke Nukem Forever. The demos may have looked impressive at the time, but the rest of the industry has been there and done that a dozen times over. Half-Life 2 has the most impressive engine I’ve ever seen. The game was technically superior but IMHO it was just a fun tech demo. What will be really impressive are the games that will come out running on its engine.
I forgot to mention one other thing about Steam: Accounts or games within accounts are _NOT_ transferrable. That means if I’m done with HL2 and I want to sell it, I can forget it. So much for the right of first sale.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First-sale_doctrine) Isn’t it interesting how content providers only follow copyright laws when it’s convenient for them? That leads us to the subject of piracy.
I’m not completely sure piracy has everything to do with ethics. As everyone knows, lately it has been more rampant than ever because broadband is widely avalable. Before, casual piracy was kept mostly in check by the lack of a distribution system that anyone could use. But now, with broadband and p2p programs everywhere, that has changed. The problem now is that content providers are refusing to change with the times, and instead of adopting new and innovative ways to get payment for their creations, they attempt to change the laws and criminalize casual piracy to the point where actual prison time is involved while clinging to the old ways. There is an old Chinese saying that goes “The more laws and regulations there are, the more thieves and robbers there will be.”
The reality is that people are no longer interested in paying $20 for an audio CD with 14 fluff songs and the one good one they want to hear. Instead they hit Kazaa, or what have you. They are not interested in buying a $50 game that sucks or can’t even play and then having the software vendor refuse to refund their money because of the practically universal open-box policies they have. They are tired of being told they are not allowed to make backups, that they are not allowed to play their music or DVDs off of a duplicate in order to protect their originals. Jack Valenti, the head of the MPAA, insists that when you buy media you get a license to the content and are not buying the media itself. However, in the same breath he also says that if the media is damaged or destroyed you have to buy a new copy. Software is no different. Read your EULA sometime. It says the same thing, but have you ever tried to get replacement media when your originals have been damaged? Software companies are exactly the same way, and it perfectly illustates the duplicity of content providers.
The end of the story is that the only people nowadays who have the control granted to them under US copyright law over media they have legitimatly purchased are those who the industry considers “pirates”, or violators of the DMCA.
In light of all of this, the reason casual piracy exists the way it does today goes far beyond simple ethics:
1) It’s more convenient than buying the product legitimately
2) Content is bundled with other things end users don’t wish to pay for (audio CDs)
3) An act of rebellion against a power grab by content providers
4) Seeking replacement of damaged originals
5) Content is overpriced
IMHO, Combating piracy can be done in the following ways
1) Set reasonable prices for content
2) If content is damaged or destroyed, allow easy and hassle-free replacement
3) Allow the user to make backups
4) Ensure content will continue to be accessible in the event provider goes out of business
5) Allow content to be transferrable.
Obviously, in order to allow these things, and in fairness to the content providers, a form of DRM would have to be implemented, but not the sort that would allow the provider to arbitrarily yank your access from the content you paid for, as is possible with Steam. Put simply, a balance must be struck between the interests of the end user and those of the content provider. I think Apple’s iTunes service is a step in the right direction. It’s not perfect, of course, but with time it will be far more acceptable than current methods of content distribition.