Say what you will about Electronic Arts, the company has a knack for looking on the bright side of things. You've heard how PC game The Sims 3 was widely spread by software pirates and other electronic nere-do-wells, right? Well EA CEO John Riccitiello has characterized the leak as "a demo" for the game. "You identified our secret marketing campaign!" Riccitiello joked to Industry Gamers. "That was a very large scale – concentrated on Poland and China – demo program."
Although Riccitiello was joking -- The Sims 3 showing up on the internet before its official release was not sanctioned by Electronic Arts -- there's a germ of truth in his jibe. The pirated version of the game reportedly only included one of two cities available in the retail version. Overall EA seems to be changing their attitude toward piracy. The company has dropped the disastrous DRM originally included in Spore and is instead focusing on making piracy less appealing by selling services as opposed to programs.
"Here's the trick: [selling services] is not the answer because this foils a pirate, but it's the answer because it makes the service so valuable that in comparison the packaged good is not," Riccitiello said. "So you can only deliver these added services to a consumer you recognize and know; people don't pirate servers very often, but it has happened. So I think the truth is we've out-serviced the pirate."
Riccitiello went on to jokingly encourage pirates to rip-off EA's games:
"If there are any pirates you're writing for, please encourage them to pirate FIFA Online, NBA Street Online, Battleforge, Battlefield Heroes... if they would just pirate lots of it I'd love them. [laughs] Because what's in the middle of the game is an opportunity to buy stuff. I increasingly believe that's the way the market's going because that's how the consumer wants to consume. And by the way, [regarding] my competitor, do you think Blizzard gets upset when someone pirates a disc of one of their online games? While we don't want to see people pirate Warhammer Online, if they're going to give us a year's subscription it's not exactly a total loss."
In the past 30 or so years, there really hasn't been an anti-pirating scheme that has worked all that well, and that basically puts PC gaming companies in the place of having to find innovative ways to keep revenue coming in. The best example is Blizzard: While there are pirated World of Warcraft servers out there (I hear), they're nowhere near as popular or useful as Blizzard's pay-to-play servers. Gray market servers are often not maintained very well, suffer frequent down-times and don't see new content while it's new, so it really makes sense to pay for Blizzard's servers. But that's an MMO. Games like The Sims 3 have a steeper hill to climb. If you're only interested in playing a one-player game and never going online, a pirated copy of a game is as good as a purchased copy, traditionally. Which leaves companies in the place of having to decide exactly how much content and service they are going to "keep" for consumers to purchase later. It's a delicate balance: Hold on to too much stuff and no one will buy your game, but include everything and you'll lose money to the legions of pirates out there.