It’s Justice Week, so I’d like to bring to light to a growing injustice that most people don’t think about: software piracy.
It may seem like a recent problem, mainly eased on by the proliferation of the internet, But this is anything but.. Back in the early 80s it first came to light with one of the first personal computers: the Commodore 64, which by the way beat Steve Jobs’ Macintosh to market by a full two years!
When Nintendo came onto the scene in 1985 with its first home console, it went the extra step to include a “lock and key” mechanism: a specialized chip, “the lock” within the console that would check in the game cartridge for another chip, “the key.” Without the key in the lock, the game would not boot. This method worked… for about three years.
The pirates stayed ahead literally breaking through the lock chips. But by 1995, Nintendo had a new, creative way to beat the pirates at their own game.
In one of the last games released for the Super Nintendo console, “Earthbound” contained the usual locks and keys, but included other piracy checks scattered throughout the game that would make the pirate think they had won. But when these checks came up with something wrong, they began cranking up the game’s difficulty to nearly unplayable levels! Enemies flooded the screen!
And even if the pirate or pirated cartridge buyer managed to make it to the end, their last line of defense came into play. Part-way into the final battle, if the last piracy check came up positive, it would freeze the game. Then as the unsuspecting perpetrator reset to try the battle again, he would find that his game progress was completely erased!
All their months or perhaps years of progress were all for nothing. But, in a way, this is a perfect analogy for what software piracy does to the software publisher: it makes all their work mean nothing.
Nintendo’s fable against software pirates, while devilishly clever, didn’t last long. The pirates soon found the locations where the additional piracy checks took place, and crippled them.
Today’s publishers use complicated DRM, where players have to always be online when they play so that the game is constantly checked for piracy. No internet connection, no game. This is almost punishing to the consumer, and may even lead them to piracy themselves as new work-arounds are concocted, but as a developer it is a necessary evil, and yet another chapter in the ongoing fight against software piracy.
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