EDIT> See the TechDirt link in the comments section for a good, serious read about game piracy.
So that article on the "free" version of BF3 got me thinking about the DRM trends in gaming, and how they're pretty much going the opposite direction of the music industry. "Always online" sucks, but the model makes sense, the easiest way to authenticate a license is to make it talk to a server that's authenticating all the other licenses - but booting people out of a game because Verizon has a hiccup, that's just too intrusive. So I have 11 suggestions for new forms a DRM the gaming industry could latch onto for the next generation to discourage all those nasty pirates out there.
11. Cartidges: Think about it. Gaming piracy was unheard of in the days of the Super Nintendo. The closest you could come was trading games with a friend or failing to return a rental and then never going to that Blockbuster again. With the advent of the Playstation, optical media based games provided the in for super easy piracy. All it took was 3 inches of duct tape, a pen cap and a $20 gameshark. On PCs the problem is, naturally, even worse, with games running from full installs on the hard drive in the interest of response time. Response time was never a problem with giant, clunky, proprietary, expensive to produce cartridges. Lets bring them back, and put them everywhere. Game developers should have their own proprietary drives that gamers need to connect (via USB 3, of course) to the PC in order to play the game. No drive no play, no physical cartridge no play, no pirate no play.
10. Dongles: Everybody loves a good dongle. Just think of all the manufacturing jobs that would be created for people needing to pump out those useless bits of silicon and plastic. They could have game-centric artwork and LEDs on them, thus making them coveted collectors items in addition to pirate busters.
9. Interns: Change the "always online" model into an "ever online" model, wherein the first time the game senses an active internet connection it sends out a beacon message containing private bits of information on the PC on which it is installed, along with IP and ISP information and a unique serial number for that copy of the game. That information will be aggregated at a data center and an army of interns will wade through it day and night, red flagging any suspicious entries (multiple serial numbers from the same PC, multiple uses of one serial number, serial numbers that don't match up to a database of serial numbers of all of the copies of the game that have ever been sold) and sending a group of armed guards to the houses of those suspected of piracy.
8. Satellites: Like #9, but not requiring an internet connection. Once installed on the PC the game would dig into the CIM of the computer and make the power supply spit out an elaborate pattern of spikes and troughs into the power grid. A specially designed satellite, or contract with the local power company, would monitor the entire planet looking for these installation flags. Armed guards would likely have to visit every house to confirm, though, and laptops running on battery (who runs a decent game on a laptop on battery power?) would likely be immune.
7. Fake releases: Every physical copy of the game comes with a fake game and a set of instructions that are both unique to that copy and elaborate, sending the purchaser on a treasure hunt to retrieve the actual game.
6. Source code: When people buy the game they get a set of giant binders full of source code and no media. After a couple hundred hours typing that stuff up no one's going to feel like seeding that torrent.
5. Demotivation: Flood the torrent sites with tens of thousands of "cracked games" that are actually borderline illegal pornography or old versions of software suites that no one wants in the first place. Dilute the concentration of actual stolen games on those sites to such a low level that no self respecting pirate would waste the time required to wade through the filth and find the real stuff. It would help if they made a whole bunch of troll accounts that made "Awesome rip!" comments.
4. Free Games: Remove piracy from the table entirely by making all video games free. Then just load them up with a RIDICULOUS number of product placement ads, to the point where they're almost unplayable so game companies can still get their buckets of money.
3. Radiohead: You pick what you pay, and are compensated accordingly. For $1 you get a crappy, low res version of the game. For $5 the HD version. For $10 you get the optional content too. For $25 they send you a t-shirt too. For $30000 they release a patch that renames the main character to your dog's name. Give the consumers motivation to buy in at the level of their interest and history has shown that they do.
2. Emotional Plea: This could come in several different forms. A video of a sobbing executive begging you not to pirate embedded in the installation of the game, public service announcements with much the same content, a high profile news story about a developer buying up dozens of puppies and executing one on streaming video each time a copy of their game is stolen. The human heart is a powerful thing.
1. Give up: In the end, the people who are going to pay for they game and the people who won't play it unless it's free won't play it unless it's free. Complicated DRM models alienate customers and cost buckets of money to implement, while they only serve to make a few skillful pirates crack the codes ever more gleefully and then distribute the crack to the pirating public.