In their attempts to thwart pirates, most PC publishers end up pissing off paying customers with intrusive or bothersome DRM. All, that is, except for Bohemia Interactive, who the likes of EA and Ubisoft could learn a thing or two from.
Bohemia's games have long used a copy protection system called FADE, which is part-security device, part wonderful troll.
You see, most forms of DRM, or digital rights management, try to cut the user off at the source. Prevent them from ever booting their game up. This may sound good on paper, but once pirates get past the gates—and they always get past the gates—they're free to play the game.
But FADE lets pirates download a game and start playing. Start enjoying the title, seeing what all the fuss is about. It's only a few hours in that things start to go a little wrong. In Bohemia's ArmA, for example, your aim starts to get a little wonky. You'll notice the AI getting erratic. These glitches start to slowly increase in size and occurrence until, bam, you've been turned into a bird, or the screen looks like it's suddenly underwater.
Sometimes the pirate knows what this is and admits the defeat, but other times it gets even better. They take to official forums to complain, where they're revealed as pirates. Other times, because they've got a taste for the game, they'll do the right thing and go and buy a copy.
Once FADE hits this point there's no recovery, and to this day, a decade after it was first used, from Operation Flashpoint through to Bohemia's recent Take On Helicopters, there's yet to be a widespread means for pirates to circumvent the system.
If it works for Bohemia, and can even encourage sales instead of punishing legitimate customers, surely other publishers could give something similar a shot?
TAKE ON HELICOPTERS: Security for us secures the future for gamers [Gamasutra (Press Release)]