So on my recent trip to Taiwan and Indonesia, I picked up various kinds of electronic equipment for friends and for myself: a microSD card, a reader for said card, a portable hard drive. This being Asia, invariably there were stands nearby selling all kinds of pirated DVDs, music, and video games. (On one of the occasions, I was wearing a suit, so it was a little weird walking through.)
I'm not going to talk about the benefits and evils of pirating. I'll make one quick comment and one long observation. First, quickly, Taiwan has really cleaned up its piracy issues. I remember several years ago walking along the night market outside my grandma's house as seeing DVDs everywhere. Nothing now.
Second, and longer, the experience in Indonesia especially got me thinking about some recent developments in video games. It's very difficult to copy-protect DVDs - sooner or later someone cracks it. But I wonder whether the recent trends of online play, constant updates and upgrades, and occasionally half-finished game releases aren't in some way tied to anti-pirating efforts. On several of the games, I saw disclaimers (in English, surprisingly) that you could not use the DVDs to play online. In addition, the ones where that was possible (I haven't obviously tested whether this is true) appeared to be older games that came out a minimum of 1-2 years ago.
And the reason online play is blocked is because the game developers can constantly check up on the legality of your copy. Most cracks to play games illegally require invasive changes to the executable file or core game files. That kind of thing is pretty easy to suss out. Similarly, constant file updates also make it very easy to catch crackers and force them to reinstall. Cripple your initial release just enough, string out your updates long enough, and you'll likely get all the people who were going to purchase the game to do so legally.
So, how plausible is this? I'm sure it's not the only reason behind buggy releases and constant updates with limited tweaks. But it could very well be a contributing factor to why certain types of games - especially single-player, offline ones - are increasingly being packaged with specific online features.