Gamers expectations of top gamers are getting greater and greater. As a result, production budgets are becoming larger and larger. An average game cost around 250k in 1992, it now costs upwards of a couple million. At the same game retail prices have remained constant, if not down some.
To recoup costs and make up for game failures, publishers need games that expand beyond the core gamers and reach a mass market. Most of the sites that are listed in the boycott are generally for the hardcore gamer.
Activision for offering Gamespy an exclusive got in return a large amount of publicity on the site, which reaches a mass audience (upwards of a million). If every site gets the download simultaneously no one site has the incentive to promote the download, because it is available everywhere. The hardcore fan will know about it because he/she will likely have followed the development process and be awaiting it. However, the mass/casual gamer will not necessarily be on the lookout for it.
Consequently, Activision must pay Gamespy or another site to promote the demo. This same amount of advertising would have provided for free if the demo had been exclusive. This reduces the corporate profits of Activision.
Now you may say screw Activision. If Activision can’t show a profit that other companies (outside the gaming industry) can, then investors will sell their stock, the company won’t be able to afford the salaries that top developers demand, and Activision will struggle as a company. If this continues there will be in effect one less company producing games. The less companies producing games, the less product coming out. I for one don't think the world would be a better place if there was only EA publishing games.
Even beloved community friendly developers like Blizzard wouldn’t be able to succeed in a current market without their strong brand awareness to attract the mass gamer. A Blizzard game is nearly guaranteed to sell 1 million units. But if it was an unknown entity without brand awareness the mass market wouldn’t immediately flock to it. Employees are generally willing to take less salaries at Blizzard just to work there. They aren’t willing to do this to work at unknown companies. Plus, if Blizzard employees get equity stakes in their games, the equity wouldn't mean as much if Blizzard was a total unknown.
No one is willing to give away his or her services for less than what the market offers. Why would you work at McDonalds for $5/hr if Burger King pays $10.
Producing multi-million dollar original intellectual property is a risky business and needs its costs offset. Gamespy can do this by providing additional free advertising to the publisher. This in effect helps to a small extent to subsidize marketing costs for publishers.
When publishers make money and thrive, it only attracts more people to enter the business and produce greater and greater games. If companies start failing, you will see less games, greater consolidation, and more sequels to already popular titles (Madden 2040).
You can boycott Gamespys of the world and make it more difficult for the publishers to reach mass market audiences. But, you are not helping game quality in the process and you are ultimately hurting your self. If you don't want to pay to be a Gamespy subscriber then wait the week for the demo. There are those who are willing to pay and the exclusive terms is only for a few days to a week anyway.
Sure it may be iritating to have to wait a week when you know something is done. But as with most material things, there is a monetary price associated with it. Somehow it has to get paid.