More availability solution to videogame piracy, not digital rights management


When it comes to video game piracy, I have to admit I would have my picture in the dictionary next to n00b. I thought that game piracy had to do with cheat codes, hacking games for leisure or playing ROMs on your computer. In truth, video game piracy is taking a ROM of a game and distributing it to others to play on an emulator without requiring them to buy the game.

ROM stands for read-only memory. It is the file format that games come in so the player cannot make alterations to the game, like adding in insane power-ups or infinite resources.

Most people do not know whether or not ROMs are illegal because of a provision in copyright law for fair use. Many believe that you can legally have a ROM of a game you own. However, even if you have a physical copy of the game, it’s still illegal to download it, and it is also illegal to rip content from a DVD or a game disc. When you share it with others, you are certainly infringing on copyright by distributing something you don’t own.

Many assume that if it is a ROM of an old game, there is no legal problem. However, this is not true. The game’s age does not indicate whether the developer still has a copyright or not.

Rumors of the new Xbox, thought to be called the Xbox 720 but for now referred to as Project Durango, bring to mind what the industry is doing to curb this kind of activity. The big push to prevent privacy is via digital rights management or DRM, which forms the teeth of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, which took effect in 2000. In the form of DRM that is currently popular, the console performs a constant check via the Internet to ensure that the console is actually playing a legal copy of a video game. Currently, people hate it.

Two recent instances put the future of the constant Internet connection check in doubt. “SimCity 4” and “Diablo III” are two computer game titles that had massive issues because of DRM. The games couldn’t even run because the servers kept crashing from the sheer number of users and the computing power necessary to validate their games. Blizzard eventually fixed the issue with “Diablo III,” but it took about a week, leading to angry speculation about why the game’s servers weren’t prepared for the volume of traffic they received when the game launched.

Yet developers and industry officials are saying that it is a necessary evil.

“At the higher end, you can see 90 percent illegitimate usage to 10 percent legitimate,” said Christian Svensson of Capcom and the PC Gaming Alliance in a September 2011 Eurogamer article.

However, Rusty Schroll, co-owner of the local video game store Game Hounds, disagrees.

“DRM only hurts legitimate players,” Schroll said. “No amount of encryption can stop pirates. The uproar about ‘SimCity 4’ was bad, but it got worse when hackers posted the game code without its DRM a week later and the game worked just fine offline.”

This was contrary to what the game developers claimed. They said they made “SimCity 4” an online game to improve game play instead of just to implement DRM.

Schroll was also not pleased with the idea that another feature of the new Xbox would seek to remove the secondary market of used video games.

“When you hear companies and developers cite that used games along with piracy costs them sales, it’s absolutely not true,” Schroll said. “Retailers pay publishers upfront for copies of their games. By the time the games go on sale in stores, they already have their money. It is up to retailers then to sell them.”

Markus Persson, creator of the highly popular indie-game “Minecraft,” believes DRM can even encourage piracy.

“If you pirate Ubisoft games instead of buying them, they will work fine if your Internet connection goes down,” Persson said in the aforementioned 2011 Eurogamer article.

But what seems to be at the heart of the matter with most instances of piracy is localization. How do countries with poor Internet infrastructure play games with online-only DRM? If the game is not available to be sold, how would one get it?

In some cases, developers might have to admit that the amount of hassle it takes to get the game outweighs the idea of obeying the law. In many of his reviews, Ben Croshaw, well-known game critic of The Escapist’s “Zero Punctuation,” jokes about how he doesn’t get to play games because of the low release rate of many games in Australia. Perhaps if we fixed the problems in these smaller markets, DRM wouldn’t be such a big need for the bigger ones.

Patrick White is a junior in journalism and mass communications. Please send comments to