What's Missing From StarCraft II's Launch? Pirate Copies

StarCraft 2

StarCraft II has been circulating in beta since February 2010. A preload version's been downloadable for the past week. Boxed copies of the game went on sale last night at midnight. The game code's been hypothetically available, more or less in full, to software pirates for some time now.

All that, and still not a (successfully) cracked copy in sight.

That's not a little surprising, given StarCraft II's PC pedigree and offline play options.

Staying Alive

StarCraft II doesn't require an internet connection to plumb its solo mode. Unplug your computer from the net, fire up the game, type in your Battle.net account name, and once the game realizes it's been untethered, you're offered an offline play button. The game doesn't support local area network (LAN) play, and your achievements are obviously held local until you reconnect, but the solo campaign's all there and fully playable.

If other games have copy protection schemes more paranoid than pot-addled conspiracy theorists, StarCraft II's might as well be John Travolta strutting down the boulevard at the outset of Saturday Night Fever.

And yet all I've seen, poking around various torrent sites, are a few people claiming--after bending backwards to apply purported "cracks"--that they managed to play a mission or two before the game stopped working, or that Blizzard's StarCraft II updater "patched" the game and nullified the workaround.

No Big Deal

"Piracy really historically has not been that big of deal for [Blizzard]," Blizzard executive vice president Rob Pardo told IncGamers in August 2009. When it happens, Pardo says "for the most part [Blizzard] can shut down those services."

He's talking about Blizzard's ability to periodically disable huge swathes of accounts--in some instances, hundreds of thousands simultaneously--that fail to comply with the company's terms of use, i.e. those with ill-gotten serial numbers, or running illicit third-party tools.

But the main reason I'm betting pirates haven't leapt on this yet is Battle.net, for which a workaround will never exist. Without multiplayer, StarCraft II would be just another RTS--here today, gone tomorrow. By making Battle.net an integral part of the experience, Blizzard's essentially made StarCraft II into a massively multiplayer game, and playing it any other way less than desirable.

I'm sure some bored wizard hacker's going to come up with a way of leaping Blizzard's security fence eventually, but I can't imagine the company's worried. Not with Battle.net so vital to the experience.

And if I'm right, chalk up another victory for our besieged platform:

PC gaming 1, pirates 0.

Update: Softpedia reports that Microsoft is warning gamers to steer clear of "pirated" copies of StarCraft 2 on various torrent sites because they're harboring fake files loaded with malware, including a malware remote-loader (VirTool:Win32/VBInject.gen!DM) and a keystroke logger (Worm:Win32/Rebhip.A).

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