So much for Electronic Arts' open palm approach to video game piracy. The game maker nixed its draconic digital rights management (DRM) for The Sims 3, and the game's already on track to being pirated more often than Spore — counted as the most pirated game of 2008.
The game's official release isn't until June 5 but leaks were spotted on torrent trackers as early as last week.
Between May 18 and May 21, The Sims 3 has been downloaded on file-sharing sites more than 180,000 times according to P2P bean counting firm, BigChampagne (hey, we didn't name 'em). That figure represents about $9 million in theoretical sales — emphasis on the theoretical.
The game maker claims in the Bloomberg piece that the pirated version of Sims 3 is a "buggy, pre-final build" with half the world missing. A few nasty little birdies tells us this isn't the case anymore. (Note: We haven't confirmed the downloads ourselves).
EA's previous mega-franchise to hit the streets, Spore had a track record of about 400,000 illegal downloads over three weeks, according to a report on Bloomberg. That's about 133,000 if you chop it down to a per week basis for a better comparison.
Many (including El Reg itself) argued that DRM restrictions in Spore were not only completely ineffectual in curtailing piracy, but singularly punished its legitimate paying customers. While retail copies were stricken by install limits, online activation, and the notoriously shady SecuROM PC monitoring software, pirated copies were cracked and distributed easy as you please without DRM.
A further leap in this line of logic is that DRM actually leads honest folks into piracy. That well may be, but removing overbearing DRM didn't seem to do the trick in this case either.
It's doubtful a majority of those who pirated the game will purchase a retail copy on release, but some will. And surely a good number who illegally downloaded Sims 3 won't purchase the game even if a pirated copy wasn't available. It boils down to the fact that the effects of software piracy isn't anything near an exact science. I's important to have an eye roll ready whenever you hear someone equate illegal downloads directly with lost sales.
EA is doubtlessly going to make a bundle on the game, piracy or no. But here's the hook: The company is under no obligation to base its DRM policy on facts. Rampant Sims 3 theft could be the perfect justification to dial the DRM restrictions to 11 in future titles.
Essentially, for the buying customer, it's bastards at both ends. ®