Sega has recently announced through their forums that Football Manager 2012 will require a mandatory installation via the Steam service for a game that they claim is “80% pirated,” according to a Develop report.
The game, which has been developed since its inception by London-based Sports Interactive, will require a one-time online activation, and that no further tracking will be done to the player or to the installation. After the game is activated, the game can be played in Steam’s offline mode. Sega justified the move as being the best balance between protection of their property and user convenience, and that Steam is “ever improving and gives Football Manager players a good service of free auto-updating, achievements and other great benefits without cost or hassle.” They also claim that if a quarter of the people that pirate the game switch to purchasing, worldwide sales would “more than double.” There was no indication where they or Develop reached the 80% number.
Previous versions of Football Manager have used Byteshield protection. Sega has been using Steam as an alternative form of verification for a few years. Purchasers of the physical copy of the game have had the choice of either using Steam activation or a lack of online activation, with the disc being required to be in the drive to play the game in this option. The latter option will no longer be applicable.
User reaction so far has been largely negative, with users on the forums threatening to never buy the game again.
Despite issues with piracy, Football Manager has routinely been at or near the top of Chart-Track leaderboards for physical sales for years in the UK. The series was formerly known in North America as Worldwide Soccer Manager.
Analysis: As usual, piracy numbers are virtually impossible to justify, as is the case here. I’m highly sceptical of the 80% claim, as well as the claim that a quarter of pirates would indicate double sales. Simply put, if they’re using torrent statistics, they aren’t 100% “pirates” in the classical sense. No-CD cracks are plentiful and are sometimes used just to get rid of the requirement that the CD be in the drive to play the game. Still, the end result is the same: a cracked .exe can be put over the regular one that changes the game’s fundamental code whether the game is legitimately owned or not.
Personally, I’m a rare bird: I’m someone who historically imports a physical copy of the game—at additional cost for shipping and VAT—because the American SKUs tend to be gimped in both updates and compatability with editors, which I use on occasion. So I’m definitely a customer that Sega likes. As one of those customers, I see this as a good thing ultimately. They tried to please too many people, most important among them their beancounters, and pleased very few because—let’s face it—Football Manager is easy to pirate. Byteshield was bad tech, and they had so many options for verification and updates that it was hard to know what would be the “preferred” version of the game by modders, a key element for serious FM players and especially those who like 100% accurate rosters with picture and logo files. Now, there’s no choice: Steam or get out. The people screaming on the forums are a silent minority, and if game companies that treat their players much, much worse are any indication, they will buy the game anyway because gamers have collective Stockholm Syndrome.
I do have to say that this will not work as a piracy deterrent. The method of choice for installing a crack for this game is the No-CD/cracked executable crack, and that’s not going to change. Steam is just a method of authentication for people that purchase the physical copy of the game. It’s good for what it is, but it’s not the end-all solution. Unfortunately, the end-all solution for Sega would be to do what Ubisoft has been doing, which is effectively telling their PC users to sod off. Then, and only then, would people have a right to complain.
I’ve always viewed the complaints against Steam as a verification service to be lacking. The alternatives are much, much worse (hello, Origin), and a free-for-all society is simply not going to happen. Plus, Steam gives a lot of perks to people like achievements and a thriving community. The only real negatives, outside of “THEY’RE WATCHING ME!!!111!” bogeymen, is that Valve is hard to deal with. From a consumer standpoint, the positives well outweigh the negatives, and I wish other companies would learn to trust Steam more as their authentication/DRM manager. EA’s a lost cause, but Ubisoft would do well to pay attention.