Imagine there's no game piracy. While that sounds like the opening line for a modern revision of John Lennon's most well-known song, we might be looking at a future wherein game piracy is non-existent, or at least greatly diminished.
That's because the protection surrounding modern games is becoming harder and harder to crack. Whereas there was a time when super-hot titles would sometimes hit torrent sites before the official release date, lately pirates are having a rough time getting games online even weeks after their initial launch.
Just Cause 3, for example, still has the expert cracking group 3DM completely stumped, even though it hit the marketplace on December 1, 2015.
"I still believe that this game can be compromised," the 3DM forum founder, nicknamed "Bird Sister," wrote on her blog. "But according to current trends in the development of encryption technology, in two years' time I'm afraid there will be no free games to play in the world." One bit of the aforementioned encryption tech that's giving pirates a bad day is Denuvo, developed by Denuvo Software Solutions. Unsurprisingly, 3DM cracked Denuvo in the past -- but Denuvo Software Solutions simply adds tweaks and fixes that force hackers to start all over again.
Game piracy will never disappear entirely, but given the connected nature of the world, we can expect more extended tug-of-war sessions between hacking groups like 3DM and encryption software companies like Denuvo. That, in turn, means longer waits for cracked games.
Pirates have already had some of their teeth yanked out this generation. When the Nintendo DS was at the height of its popularity, buying games legitimately could earn you weird looks from your friends. "Why not just by an R4 card?" they'd ask. While R4 cards have been developed for the Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo constantly releases firmware updates that lock them out. You can get work-arounds to function if you're willing to be patient and commit yourself to the epic developer / pirate struggle, but the average person can't be bothered.
If this is truly the end of day-one game piracy, we can expect to see some interesting effects on the industry.
Most obviously, game developers, particularly smaller developers, will lose less money to pirates. However, while some studios blame PC piracy for poor sales and / or decisions to keep their games off PC entirely, there's been some speculation that it's a convenient excuse for shoddy work or laziness.
Either way, if piracy is on a serious downswing, a more solid picture about pirates' effects on the PC game market should be revealed over the next few years.
On the other hand, some anti-piracy techniques undeniably hinder the market. Invasive DRM policies erode trust between developers and legitimate buyers. Games that are always connected to the internet so that anti-piracy patches become useless if the servers go down.
Also, bandwidth is still very costly in some parts of the United States, so the constant conversations between a game and a server can put you in a bad spot financially.
Finally, game preservation and archival is already a serious issue thanks to server closures and digital distribution. Will the process be made even more difficult as anti-piracy measures become more intertwined with a games' code?
We'll find out as pirates and encryption software developers continue to try and outsmart each other.