DICE: Valve's Newell Says Pirates "Way Ahead of Us"

Half Life 2 producer Gabe Newell doesn't believe pirates are out for freebies, they just hate handcuffs and standing in line. Who knew?

Keynoting the annual D.I.C.E. Summit, Newell fingered regional product availability and disruptive DRM practices as responsible for the rise in pirate activity.

Says Newell:

When it comes to...service...the pirates are way ahead of us.

Let's be clear: Piracy is illegal. Everyone knows what that means. Scribble all the "information-wants-to-be-free" manifestos you can muster...if you're caught, you'll be preaching from a cell block. Newell isn't exonerating pirates or excusing piracy, he's just trying to explicate what's driving otherwise law abiding citizens to engage en masse in legally criminal and ethically dubious behavior.

Since those people statistically have the coin to spend on pricey computer hardware, argues Newell, what's the trouble with a piece of $40-$60 game-ware? Answer: People hate waiting for region-limited releases, and despise playing in DRM handcuffs. Pirate sites offer movies and TV shows and video games immediately, sans copy-protection shackles.

Take release discrimination by region. I opined about this last night in response to Jeff Bertolucci's "It's Time for Pirate Bay to Walk the Plank." ABC's Lost airs on Wednesday nights in the U.S., but not until Sunday in the UK. Same deal (different days) for the SCIFI Channel's Battlestar Galactica. Reverse deal (airs in the UK first, and the US later) for the popular British sci-fi series Doctor Who.

Guess how many people outside the U.S. are downloading Lost Season Five, Episode Six, which aired last night, as I type this.

It's even worse with digital software distribution. Scan a service like Direct2Drive and you'll discover that certain games available at the dot-com site are inexplicably MIA at the dot-co-dot-uk incarnation. Like Black Hole's Warhammer Mark of Chaos. It's available here, but you can forget about it if you happen to live here.

Even Newell's own industry forerunning Steam distribution service has annoying region-related game excisions and release delays. If you're in the U.S., you can pull down Relic's Dawn of War II (Warhammer 40k real-time tactics) as I type this, but the UK version won't be available for another 12 hours, i.e. Friday morning GMT. Why? I'm guessing something inane to do with synchronizing retail and digital, since the game doesn't hit UK shelves until February 20th.

And when you have that sort of disparity, paying customers may be saying "I want this now...why should I wait?"

Is Newell right? Would piracy rates drop dramatically if content was available simultaneously worldwide and without restrictive DRM?

Matt Peckham's as miffed as you about legacy regional strictures that make acquiring digital content deplorably opaque. You can crib from him anytime at twitter.com/game_on.

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