Tag Archives: Piracy

Is Game Piracy, as a form of protest, counter-productive? (A response to the Cynical Brit)

Image representing Electronic Arts as depicted...

So the Cynical Brit addressed the issue of the Mass Effect 3 DLC and touched on the issue of Piracy and how it will affect the dynamics of the situation if people Pirate the game rather than simply abstain from playing it. As expected from what I heard him say last time, he is horribly wrong on what effects piracy of Mass Effect 3 as a form of protest is going to have.

But lets take CB’s arguments one by one and see why they are flawed.

First of all, lets address CB’s proposed tactic, which is that people who dislike the Day 1 DLC should boycott the game on launch day and instead buy it later on when it becomes cheap enough1 :

The idea is extremely naïve. It rests on the assumption that people not buying the game, will send a clear message to Bioware and EA that the Day 1 DLC is the problem and they’ll have to change their act to make people buy their game. Unfortunately this ignores the reality of markets and how they are notoriously bad at transmitting information back to the seller. If a boycott was actually organized and it did actually get enough people sticking to it, then EA is still unlikely to understand where the problem lies. The only information they will see is less sales than their expectations, maybe (because it may be the case that their expectations were lower in the first place). This does not tell them anything more than that. Was it because of the Day 1 DLC? Of Technical Bugs? Of Misjudging the market? Of Changed gameplay? Or of Piracy?

You can bet your sweet ass that whatever the real reason of your boycott is, Piracy will be blamed if it succeeds. It doesn’t matter how many letter you send, how many petitions you sign, how many pre-orders you cancel (well, maybe, but pre-orders are the minority of purchases); In the board of directors meeting, the managers will blame Piracy.  You know why? Because it will absolve management of any fault! Managers will declare that Piracy dropped sales and that better DRM and lobbying for laws is needed to combat this disaster.

They will do this even if they have read thousands of letters announcing that it was the DLC (or bugs, or changed gameplay, or whatever else) that caused it and they will waste resources combating a boogeyman. Why? Because they won’t get fired. If a manager were to admit that they misjudged the DLC effect and take it back, they will be blamed for the “disaster”.  Why take the risk, when the convenient scapegoat of piracy is available?

“Geez, our market research indicated that the sales of ME3 would see a 33% increase compared to ME2, we have done market tudies which proved that the Day 1 DLC would only turn away 10% of purchasers but bring in 20% additional revenue. By gosh golly, we don’t know what happened! Look at the stats yourselves dear investors. It must have been rampant piracy! Oh and what do I see here? Here’s a BSA report from of how piracy increased 160% this year. That is surely the cause!”

The only thing that might actually make people stand up and notice a boycott, rather than blame piracy, would be a significant cancellation of pre-orders with an accompanying note informing them of the reason for this decision. Then they might receive the info they need and fix it before it’s too late (as is what happened with BF3, which is a special situation in itself). But if they don’t, piracy is going to be blamed anyway.

This has been shown again and again. The hilarious Modern Warfare boycotts are the most recent examples, where people would boycott, but the games had increased in popularity so much, that the boycott didn’t even register in the radar. Thus people said “fuck it” and bought it anyway. Then there is the boycott of Spore due to its draconian DRM. This even spilled over in Amazon with an incredible amount of 1-star reviews and other kinds of activism. Even in the face of all this, the publisher still refused to acknowledge the real reason why sales of Spore were atrocious (Draconian DRM and bad Gameplay), but rather conveniently blamed Piracy.

The Cynical Brit is incredibly naïve in this regard. He expects that Management of big publishers is both honest and competent and will take an objective look into the situation of a successful boycott and then take the correct action in the future. But except the fact that management is much more often than not completely incompetent (eg see: Bobby Kotick running successful franchises into the ground (among other failures).), they have no incentive to be honest either.

Next, CB addresses Piracy and how “having your cake and eating it”, in other words pirating the game as a form of protest, is actually counter-productive. The argument is that the companies are then going to ignore the boycott and blame it on piracy. It thus makes more sense (according to CB’s logic) to simply abstain from playing the game and show “backbone” in one’s decision, so as to convince the companies to change their ways.

But as I argued before, companies are going to blame Piracy in case the boycott is successful (or simply the game price is below its subjective value for most consumers, thus making them ignore it). A few thousand people boycotting the game on principle and sending impassionate letters are not going to make a difference. In face, this is very likely to lead to many to break their boycott simply because they are too eager to play. This form of tactic is in itself counter-productive, because it assigns the “pain” of the boycott, to the few thousand people who are the most passionate about the game2. This is a recipe for failure, as the Modern Warfare boycotts made painfully obvious.

Piracy however can combat this. People can get their “fix” of the game and avoid rewarding the company for a substandard product at the same time. The “pain” of bad decisions is immediately transferred to the company making them, and thus it allows even more people to participate in a boycott, without having to battle with their own drive to play their favourite franchise.

In the end, pirating the game and simply abstaining from buying the game are going to have the same exact results. Piracy is going to be blamed anyway. Protesting people will “vote with their wallet”.  You can still buy the game later on, when it’s price has dropped to its true value given DLC and DRM restrictions. You can still cancel your pre-order and claim that Day 1 DLC drove you to do so.

If everyone who boycotts the game pirates it instead, you’re going to have a few extra thousand downloaders in the stats. This is among millions that are going to download the game anyway because they can’t afford it or can’t purchase it through legal means. Whether you show “backbone” or not, is not going to make the slightest difference in the rhetoric the publisher is going to use whether the game is successful or not.

So do yourself a favour, if the Day 1 DLC is a deal breaker, vote with your wallet and pirate the game until the price goes down to an appropriate range. Then the only one suffering will be the one deserving it, the publisher.

 

  1. CB also makes some classic anti-piracy arguments, such as the idea that Piracy is unethical or that it is killing the PC Game industry. I’ve already addressed these in length in my series on Piracy, so I won’t repeat myself in this post. []
  2. and let’s be realistic here, the only people who care about that stuff are the ones who care so much about the story, i.e. the hardcore fans, who are a small minority []

Finding an apt analogy for piracy

Piracy

So my article on the ethics of piracy was posted in the /r/games subreddit and the thread pretty much exploded in arguments. I only saw it half an hour before I had to go to a Faun concert (and then straight to bed because I was working early next day), so I could only properly respond 16 hours after the fact, at which point everyone had already moved on. Still I did leave some answers in that first half-hour but I quickly found out I could barely get a word in sidewise, before being downvoted below the viewing threshold. Oh well, not unexpected I guess (albeit mildly ironic, given how anti-pirates are under the delusion that their opinions are unpopular). And it wasn’t just me, anyone who wasn’t explicitly negative toward piracy, was downvoted, even for simply stating facts.

Anyway, one of the classic problems when discussing piracy is finding an analogy that approximates the same dynamics. Anti-pirates will insist on using analogies relating to physical theft, such as shoplifting, car theft and so on, while pro-piracy people try to use analogies that simulate the zero harm caused to the current owner. It almost impossible to see eye to  eye on this between these two camps, but on the aforementioned thread, someone did make an analogy that I think is compelling in pointing out how piracy disrupts business models.

Quoth mrbobgray

Essentially, the current business model of video games is like this:

I paint a picture. It is a wonderful picture, and everyone loves it. I realize that people will pay me to see it, so I put it in a closed off room and charge people to come in and see it. This works fine for awhile, and I make a lot of money; then one day, everyone on earth develops x-ray vision. This sucks for me, because suddenly I realize that people no longer need to pay me to see my painting; they can stop by any time they like and see it.

What’s an artist to do? How can I possibly make money from my work?

What the video game industry currently does is simple; they ask the government to make it illegal to use x-ray vision on the walls to my house. Ta-da! Everyone has to pay me to see my painting again.

There is a problem though; it is essentially impossible for the government to tell who is using x-ray vision to look through my walls, and who is merely looking at my house. Thus, some people choose to simply ignore the government, and view my painting using their x-ray vision. There is nothing to physically stop them, and it doesn’t prevent others from listening to the government and paying to see it. I can say that I have lost money from those illegal peeping toms, but have I? How much? Neither I or the government know, because we have no way to tell who of the people using x-ray vision would be willing to pay to see my painting.

The problem with this system is obvious: it is reliant on an old, out-dated set of assumptions; namely, that people don’t have x-ray vision. Instead of adapting to new developments, a law was passed to simply pretend those developments don’t exist. This is where we are with digital goods and copyright laws.

Computers and the internet are truly incredible, amazing things. The ability to store and transfer incredible amounts of data near instantaneously has changed humanity as we know it. So why are we fighting it? Why do we pretend that it doesn’t exist?

The idea is not to prevent people from using the new, amazing developments we have as a society; the old model is fundamentally broken. What has to happen now is finding ways of utilizing these new developments to create even more value. Don’t ask me what that is, because if I knew, I’d be busy counting my millions.

 

"Here's the problem Bro, sounds like you've never been outside of America."

Oh gawds, this is the phrase I could say to most of the people I see moralizing against various stuff in Reddit. It’s especially relevant when people criticize video game piracy. In specific, this is the phrase that someone used to put some anti-piracy moralizer in his place. The moralizer said.

They can spend hundreds of $$’s for the original console but can’t afford $10 for a used game?

If it costs an arm and a leg for a new legit game, it must cost them several bodies for a console itself.

It all comes down to buying games you can afford. If they can’t afford MW3 because it is $60, buy older games that are $10.

To which the user pikatu replied:

Here’s the problem Bro, sounds like you’ve never been outside of America. Games in Australia are $100. Do you know how much games in Brazil Cost? 6 month old games are USD$140 [Citation]. What does the average person make in salary in Brazil at USD?

The minimum wage set for the year of 2011 is R$7,080.00 or R$545 per month plus an additional 13th salary in second half of December. Wikipedia

This is why piracy will never go away. Most people play games, will not have money to buy a new game Finally, seeing as how the xbox 360 costs them 581.1743 US dollars Walmart. 4 games cost as much as 360. Older games. With the income they make, they cannot afford it. Piracy is huge in Brazil AND in China, and other third world countries. You talking complete shit while ignorant of how economics works isn’t going to help at all.

So succinctly said and such a great example to point out where most of the piracy is coming from and why.

This kind of mentality – of the clueless First Worlders who projects their own social status on the rest of the world – is frustratingly common. I encounter it almost daily online, and most often than not, it comes from the most moralizing and least empathic people available.

The original commenter then replied

I’m from New Zealand actually. Games here are between $120 and $150.

I’m a student, so I buy games that I can afford. The only brand new game I’ve actually ever bought was Starcraft 2, which I saved up for over 4 months.

I make about $4,000 a year so I don’t buy new games, I buy old games for $5 or $10, and I make less than the average wage of a Brazilian. Granted, though, the games are easier for me to procure in New Zealand.

Which points out the second class of people who like to moralize. The masochists. And if there’s anyone better at moralizing than the privileged, it’s the tools. The 53 percenters and the oppressed who can’t tolerate those more oppressed by themselves jumping up the privilege ladder. Here is someone who had to pay something like half his allowance to buy one game and instead of thinking there’s something wrong with that, and how they’re being excluded from popular culture just because of their economic situation, they’d rather that everyone else is excluded as well, only more so.

It’s the absurdity of not finding ways to improve your own shitty situation, but making sure those in a shittier one don’t get to bypass you.

Are used game sales harmful to the video game industry?

Video_Gaming_Industry

Someone opened a question in reddit concerning used game sales, and the usual privileged moralizing was not slow to appear in force. This whole discussion is a prime example of how people go against perfectly fine practices for no other reason than that they perceive them to be a danger to their hobby…because those providing such hobby tell them so.

It’s no secret that the video game industry simply hates the used game sales, with as much and possibly more passion than they hate piracy. That hatred is of course misguided as much as it is when focused against piracy, but you can’t honestly expect much more from brain-dead executives who think that used game resellers are ripping them off. However one would hope that actual gamers, who are the ones benefiting most from a thriving second-hand market, would be more positive.

And to an extent it is, usually the highest comments are supportive of second-hand markets, but I’m seeing more and more upvoted comments and posts, condemning used game sales. Granted, a lot of this hate goes specifically towards GameStop, which people do have significant reasons to dislike, but then again, you also get a lot of comments strongly against used game sales for no other reason than the usual “It harms the developers”. The following is an archetypical comment:

Let me preface this by saying I’m very strongly against used game selling, as the basically the entire profit made from used game sales goes to the retailer.

These two are very, very similar, and shouldn’t be treated as separately as you are treating them. The key difference between piracy and used game purchases boils down to the buyer. When someone buys the game used, they aren’t supporting the developers, however they are still paying at least something for the game.

Pirates, on the other hand pay nothing. Pirating a game is playing a game illegally. That is it. Pirates can try to justify their actions all they want, saying they are just trying the game or will buy it later. This does not change the fact that they are playing the game illegally until they pay for it. There are no exceptions, no excuses for playing without paying.

One additional point is that you are assuming that people who frown upon piracy approve of used game sales. This is very, very rarely the case. Both are detrimental and would be best eliminated, it’s just that one involves taking something for free and one involves the slightly shady business practices of some stores.

And Finally, you are neglecting the absolute most important piece of information: you are assuming all customers are aware that no profit from used game sales goes to the developers. Most people are simply casual players, and won’t give a second thought about their purchase. To them, a used game is simply a cheaper version of what they were going to buy. It doesn’t change the fact that the developer is cut out of the sale, I just want to clarify some important gaps in your initial complaint.

GameStop logo
GameStop is probably the largest and most known used games reseller. Also significantly hated by many gamers for shady business practices.

I won’t really bother to counter the arguments against piracy as I’ve done so already in multiple articles here, but it’s interesting on how a perfectly legal practice in the world, suddenly becomes anathema when in the context of digital goods. Kinda like how the practice of sharing, become the “evil” piracy when it is done with digital goods.

It is very perplexing how these people do not see any issue with second-hand markets on physical goods, which are not only established but also very useful in market economies. The same arguments one does here against used games, can be used against used TVs just as well. As much as a used game sale deprives its creator of potential revenue, so does a used TV sale deprive its creator of potential revenue. And the argument that items change hands doesn’t even apply here, since the entitlement of the creator to receive profit from each transfer of their product is not based on the concept of material transfer, but on the idea that they deserve reward for creative effort and to protect their business model. A concept that, needless to say, is very very wrong.

The fact of the matter is, as Techdirt has explained, is that second-hand markets in fact boost original sales at launch periods, by allowing people to take more risks with their purchases, knowing that they can recoup some of that cost if the game does not live up to its potential. It also allows people to buy originals at full price during launch periods, even if their value of the product falls below that price, since they can reduce the price via selling the game used. Finally it allows people who do not have the money to buy full price, to enjoy the game via used game sales which in turn helps the game to sustain the most-important community size and possibly spread more word of mouth, as a the lost of someone disgruntled can end up in the hands of someone enthusiastic.

The point is that there’s a lot of positive effects coming from second-hand markets, which are summarily ignored through the short slightness of game publishers who feel ripped off by used game sales. Unfortunately for them, second-hand markets for software have been deemed legal. Unfortunately for us, software companies have the capacity to implement ways to extract money from either resellers or second-hand customers via the use of Online Codes.

But while the gaming industry might think that Online Codes give them a cut from each used game sale, the reality is that this cost is usually passed over to the customer in some way. Because the value of a second-hand game without a usable Online Code is diminished, either the original customer will be able to resell it for less than they’d like and thus the original price for the game (and thus the risk) will be higher, which will discourage people from doing it, or the second-hand buyer will end up with a gimped game, and thus discover that the price they paid was not for a full product, leading to resentment. Another option is that the used games salesman like GameStop is going to take the hit by subsidizing the Online Code cost to its customers (and thus providing a voluntary “tax” of 10-30% or so to the creator on each sale they make), but this again has unforeseen consequences, as GameStop is so big and has such a margin that it can afford to do this, while smaller resellers cannot. If anything then, this practice plays into the hands of GameStop by allowing them an advantage which can improve their market share, perhaps to the points of monopoly, which would be great for GameStop and publishers (who only have to deal with GameStop after that), but disastrous for the customer.

In any case, the absolutely most frustrating thing when discussing such matters with gamers online is how often you see a stunning display of privilege from people who either don’t have to think about what to buy, or simply have masochistic tendencies. This comment exemplifies this attitude:

A sketch of a male face, sporting a neckbeardThe gaming world is full of cheap ways to get games – Steam sales, app gaming, web-based gaming portals, FTP MMOs, ‘Greatest Hits’ discount re-releases, etc. The gamer that cannot afford to but full-price top-tier games on launch day should not buy them; just as a person living hand-to-mouth shouldn’t be going out to eat on a credit card or buying a fancy car when the bus is available.

I.e. let them eat cake.

This is the kind of argument that really gets me annoyed. It’s not even enough to condemn pirates who, at least are doing something illegal, but now they condemn people who do something absolutely legal, just because they’re not rich enough to afford full priced games at launch day? It’s this frustrating attitude which implies that there’s either the very poor and the well-off in the world, and nothing in between. And if you belong to the former, then you don’t deserve to enjoy culture. This projection of privilege from smug neckbeards online is really starting to become a pet peeve of mine.

In closing, I’ll reiterate that used game sales are as much of a threat to the gaming industry as piracy. I.e. not at all. If anything, according to “executive logic” used game sales are worse than piracy since they are far closer to actual lost sales, since the people buying them are already ready to spend money and that money simply didn’t go to the developer. The actual reality however is that used game sales and piracy have various positive effects that are difficult to see and quantify and the more the industry reacts to things humans find natural, such as sharing or selling their stuff, the more resentment and reaction it will bring, which will ultimately be to their own detriment.

What are the ethics of Piracy?

The Jolly Roger of Barbossa's Crew, which was ...

So, the moderators of /r/gaming in reddit have decided to make a grandstand against Piracy and as these things go, a big discussion spawned up around this announcement. I jumped in as well, and that turned out into a long thread about the ethics of pirating games. So I decided to expand and clarify my opinion on that point.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’re most likely already familiar with my general opinion on piracy (Long story short: I’m strongly supportive of it.). It is for this reason that I cannot stand silent when the usual moralizing against pirates crops up (with alarming frequency) on reddit.

There are a few common arguments for the moral condemnation of digital piracy which I’ll attempt to refute in this post.

Nobody deserves to experience a game or other intellectual property against its creator’s wishes.

The argument here relies on the concept that whoever creates a game gets to choose who is allowed to experience it arbitrarily. At the most basic level, it tries to shoehorn an intangible or infinite good, such as an idea or a specific expression of an idea, into the natural limitations of a tangible or finite good, such as, say, furniture.

This principle – that the creator decides who gets to use it – comes as almost a law of nature for tangible goods because it is built-in the concept of trade required before any use by another person can happen. In other words, before I can experience sitting in a chair, I have to acquire it from the chair’s creator which implies an agreement. The same is true for services rendered, which might be intangible as well, but are still tied to a finite good which is time spent by the one performing the service. So if I want to experience someone playing music to me, I need to have an agreement from them doing so.

The only reason why an exchange is happening in most of these situations, is because this is the norm for distribution we use in our current economic system and because the experiencing of these goods or services is a zero-sum. This means that if two people want to use the same goods or services, an exchange needs to happen to keep things fair and civil, or another socioeconomic system needs to be in effect, where sharing and communal ownership is an accepted scenario. For bad or for worse, the latter option is dismissed and outright, and thus by necessity market exchange become the only good scenario. To put it simply: If you want to acquire a good or service, the only moral option is to compensate its current owner (usually the creator) for it.

Given that for most people, this is the only moral way to acquire goods, it is not difficult to see why it’s immediately juxtaposed on something which does not need it: intangible and infinite goods.

In other words, the above moral condemnation relies in internalized moral values coming from an upbringing within a market system such as Capitalism where all other options for distribution are marginalized, dismissed and demonized. When market agreement for the acquisition of goods and services is all you know as morally acceptable, it is not hard to see why the acquisition of “digital goods” will be considered as immoral is such a market agreement did not occur beforehand.

It is because of this that for many people, even those who pirate themselves, it feels wrong to see people acquiring games without paying for them in some way. It is this feeling of moral condemnation, from which I believe most people start  and proceed to claim that it’s wrong for someone to experience (“acquire” ) digital goods without the agreement of its owner. But this moral sentiment has no basis because the same laws of distribution do no apply. There is no zero-sum game between current owner and anyone else. If anything, the concept of ownership itself loses its meaning when talking about intangible goods and we start talking about replication of goods, rather than exchange.

It is for these reasons that I cannot simply accept the above ethical proposition, which relies on nothing else than societal conditioning. However, most of the time, if you ask the person proposing the above “why”,  then a different justification may be presented.

Game developers expend tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars to create games. They deserve to be rewarded for their efforts and costs.

While I agree that someone who creates something very popular should be rewarded accordingly by society, the argument that someone doing something costly (in time or money) deserves to be compensated does not convince. I could bake very expensive mud pies but it would still not entitle me to money for them. If you’re going to support a market system, the whole point is to give people a reason to buy your product or hire your services. One cannot support a market system in one hand, and on the other claim that someone is entitled to reward for effort and cost extended

The main problem here is not that people are pirating games, but rather that the companies making them are still confused about what they are really selling. Copyright law allows someone to pretend that an infinite good is finite, by artificially limiting its supply. It is for this reason that game companies still create games with the misguided assumption that they are creating commodities, rather than services. This is a flawed business model which is built on top of a very flawed institution: Copyrights.

But copyright is realistically1 a law created and enforced specifically to support a specific business model: That of selling books in a technological level where printing books is not affordable for the everyday consumer.

So now we have multibillion dollar industries, built around a business model, relying on a law for a different technological era, applied on things it’s not meant to apply to (digital goods). There is no valid reason why any informed consumer should respect such a business model – and this is why the latest generations simply don’t.

A developer of an expensive game, absolutely deserves to be rewarded if their game is popular, but they do not deserve to rely on an obsolete business model, just so that they can achieve hyper-profits; because that’s what it boils down to. Business models relying on artificial state-granted monopolies such as copyrights are by design far more profitable than business models made with the digital age in mind. And there’s no doubt about it that the latter can be profitable as well. Any look at the MMORPG industry as well as the indie game industry will show that the latest trends are for free-to-play games which monetize their audience through other methods.

These may still be relying on copyrights to a larger or smaller extent, but those proto-business models are still evolving and it’s very likely that forms will be found through which one will be able to monetize even free software games.

If a developer wants to give their game away for free, more power to them, but if they want to sell it at 59.99$ a pop, we have to respect that.

This is a variation of the very first argument and relies on the same assumption: That the owner (usually the creator) gets to decide arbitrarily if and how we are to experience their product. I’ve already explained why this is an emotional argument and why it does not apply to infinite and intangible goods so I will not repeat myself.

I will however point the borderline schizophrenic way that this is applied to games (and attempted to be applied to other digital goods as well) where they want games to both be considered individual products, for the purpose of selling them to you as a package and at the same time want them to be considered services as well, for which you need to acquire a revocable license which you are not allowed to transfer to others.

In other words, the developers want to have their cake and eat it too. They pretend that the best part of tangible and finite goods (for their bottom line) apply, while requesting laws and moralizing against that the best parts of the same types of goods, so that the consumer cannot use them.

It is disappointing that opponents of piracy will gladly grant the creators of content the freedom to pretend whatever they wish, simply because they accept the above maxim. That the creator/owner gets to decide how you experience their goods.

But I see no reason why the creator/owner gets to decide which laws of nature apply.

If everyone got those games that costed millions to create for free, then the companies making them would stop.

I’ve dealt with this argument extensively in my analysis of the Economics of Piracy so I won’t go into detail. Suffice to say that this is a very flawed understanding of how content creation works within a supply & demand market economy. In short: if there is a demand, someone will find a way to make money fulfilling it.  If the previous business models fail to achieve this, then new business models will evolve to perform this task.

Consider this: 8 years ago, it was unthinkable that an MMO could function without monthly subscriptions. And yet, slowly and as the audience increased, MMOs have discovered that monthly subscriptions are less important than a large user base, and have slowly progressed towards a free-2-play model in order to attract more initial customers. The business plan has changed and now the demand is satisfied for high quality MMOs, while still allowing the companies behind them to make money.

Or take Team Fortress 2: In a day where most AAA games come out at full price with frequent and expensive DLC; TF2 has increased its profits tenfold by going completely free and providing all its (frequent) updates for free as well.

And these are only the beginning. It is completely false to say that if people could get the games for free, such games would not be made. What is true to say, is that the companies which refuse to change their business model to fit with the times and the advances in technology, will go down with them.

But it is not moral to respect the wishes of a company who wants to sustain itself on obsolete plans.

  1. Theoretically it’s a law created to promote progress and the arts, but multiple studies and the actual number of modern creative works prove that it is not only unnecessary for this purpose, but actively harmful []

For Parents: Another reason why piracy is the better choice

I just saw this video about advertisement targeted to children and I couldn’t agree more.

This kind of stuff simply disgusts me. If advertisements are is bad enough when targeted at adults, they’re even moreso when targetted specifically to pre-teen children who are far too moldable to external expectations and input. Having to deal with the question of whether I should let my future children watch TV and be indoctrinated by this shit, or act as an authoritarian and forbid TV altogether is one decision I do not look forward to.

Fortunately I hope by the time I have to decide, the question will not be relevant anymore. Hopefully entertainment will have primarily moved to a more interactive model such as gaming and the children will be allowed to choose the kind of things they like to play with, without feeling pressured by society’s expectations to like what “good little boys” and “nice little girls” should like in the most manipulative manner (meaning: even more than the gender-targeted shows do, eg He-Man for boys, Little Pony for Girls).

For those of you who have to make this decision now however, there is always an alternative: Switch to downloading the actual shows your children want to see directly, as a way bypass the averts they would be bombarded with on TV. This will provide you with a far vaster library in which you can find the shows of higher quality (as opposed to whatever the brain-dead schedule TV channels decide to throw at you), and if your children are peer-pressured at school to watch the same stuff all the cool kids are watching, then you can simply download those directly and avoid the unnecessary indoctrination around them.

Why do people pirate games?

In the conclusion section of the article examining piracy of TweakGuides, the author puts forth his basic explanation on why Piracy happens and it basically boils down to “People are immoral cheapskates” which as far as the rest of his analysis goes is a strikingly shallow and one-sided explanation that simply reeks of his personal bias against piracy. This is based on his frankly shallow correlation that because piracy still exists, even though things like Steam, demos, DRM and whatnot have tried to fight it, people pirate simply because they can.

If you are currently scratching your head on how on earth this follows from the premises, it doesn’t. The author doesn’t even make the effort to explain why the persistence of piracy means that it’s done because of people being cheapskates and not because the available options do not satisfy the demand as the piracy option does.

To this end, I’m going to present a few reasons why piracy still persists and seemingly increases. Starting with the mean reason of course which as you’d expect is…

People Pirate because they can’t afford the games.

It’s really not difficult to grasp the concept that there’s poor people in the world. It’s also not difficult to grasp that because PCs are becoming increasingly necessary or useful during one’s daily tasks, that one will be available for many middle and lower-middle class families. Take places like India or China which have a very very large lower-class populace and yet their PC and internet use is increasing. There’s a lot of people with capacity to play games who can’t really afford them. When one takes into account the price gouging that also happens between countries in the gaming market1 it’s not difficult to understand how legal gaming is outside the budget of those capable of it.

So all those people, who can’t afford the games will still want to play them due to the extensive marketing campaigns around them. And piracy provides this option. Where piracy not an option, these would not become customers. They would turn to something else. This is like the most obvious realization one should be able to make about people who do not have a lot of disposable income really. It is a fallacy of a monumental scale to claim that just because someone got the game for free, they would be willing to buy it if they couldn’t.The reason is simple, people try to find the games that are of the highest quality and within their capacity to buy them. Let me repeat this:

People try to find games that are of the highest quality and within their capacity to buy them.

This means something very specific. If one’s highest quality game is prohibited due to price, they are simply going to go for the next best option. If it ends up that the highest quality game they can afford is an indie game, they’ll play that. if it turns out that it’s a free browser game, they’ll play that instead. At no point will their inability to pirate a game increase their capacity to buy them. This means that even if piracy where to disappear overnight, the sales of PC games is unlikely to increase to any significant degree. The end result (companies not making as much profit as they think they deserve) will really not change.

Are these people cheapskates if they get to enjoy something they wouldn’t be able to afford anyway? Are they cheapskates because they didn’t prioritize games over food, rent or necessary socializing (eg going out for a beer with their friends)? Only by the very tortured reasoning of very privileged people.

It’s the kind of reasoning which assumes that everyone’s situation is similar to one’s own. That everyone has similar opportunities as a middle-class US American. That everyone certainly has enough money to buy their games but are just too cheap to do it. It’s simply ridiculous when you then see this reasoning used with a straight face to make an statement like this:

The purely self-serving nature of the arguments people use to justify piracy has become quite galling, and frankly is an insult to the collective intelligence of all internet users. Whether you pirate games or not is ultimately none of my business, but at least have the decency to be honest with yourself and everyone else about the real reasons why you’re doing it.

It almost sounds like a Theist who’s confidently declaring that the only reason some people are Atheists is because they’re angry at God. And is as convincing.

People pirate because it’s more convenient

If we move to those people who can afford to purchase some their games, it’s quite common to discover that many still pirate because Piracy is still the better option. Whereas a normal buy would require the whole issue of trekking to the shop, buying the game, wrangling with restrictive DRMs and whatnot. Pirating can be done from the comfort of one’s own house, usually within hours for the most popular games. And if it’s not obvious already, people value their comfort as well, especially when it’s about a hobby.

This whole thing can easily be seen in many different ways. Take Steam first of all. In regards to the wealthier pirates, it is the primary reason for them becoming legitimate customers by giving them actual reasons to buy and making their service far more useful than a torrent download. Automatic updates, free re-downloads (at fast speeds), community/social networking services  etc. All of these make buying from Steam a higher convenience than simply getting it for free, and basically smashes the pathetic people-are-cheapskates argument of the author. If people are willing to shell money for Steam even though there’s a free alternative just around the corner, doesn’t that make you rethink that argument? Or are those in Steam only the noble ones?

Don’t like the Steam example? Take good ol’ CD Piracy which is still extremely popular in the poorer nations. Why does this still exist when so people now have the capacity to either download the files directly or find someone who can? Even in the most of the poor areas of the world, you usually find internet stations with high-speed connections which can easily be used for people to download what they like. How can CD/DVD Piracy still be a million, if not billion-dollar industry? The answer again is convenience. Amongst those who do not have a lot of money to spend on gaming, paying something like 4$ is low enough of a price for avoiding tedious download periods, shady cracks and possibly non-working copies. CD/DVD pirates know this and thus provide copies that are generally working out of the box pretty well, which is especially important in a word-of-mouth kind of job they work in.

Piracy is working so well against normal purchases because it provides some very good advantages other than price. It allows people without credit cards to get their games online. It provides quicker service (not have to wait for weeks or even months to get the game in your own country). It avoids having to mess with physical items or DRMs. Services that wish to compete with Piracy for the people that can afford to purchase legally need to also hit on these points as well or alternatively provide other advantages to give people a reason to buy instead. Services like Steam and Impulse understand this and the fact that they also drop their prices temporarily to grab all those without a big gaming budget as well does not harm either.

People pirate to avoid unnecessary restrictions or delays

Compared to the previous two reasons, this is a relatively minor cause and most often than not, it does not change the number of people who buy (i.e. those who pirate for such a reason are likely to have already bought the game as well). Still it does increase the number of perceived downloaded copies which is used by people like the Author to boost their anti-piracy arguments.

These are the people who download a game in order to be able to play it in an uncensored version (with blood. With sex etc). If you consider how many countries, even rich ones like Germany, have ridiculously restrictive policies on this, it’s not hard to understand how it matters. I’ve done it quite a few times on games I have legally bought, just because I hate having to play a lobotomized game because some politician listened to the puritan lobby.

Then there’s those who can’t wait until companies get off their restrictive butts and release worldwide when the capacity exists. Some can’t wait until the game is translated or censored first and just want to play with their friends ASAP. Some know that the game is never going to be brought to their country because of ridiculous laws (coughAustraliacough) Most often than not, they end up buying the game when possible in order to get all the legal features as well.

People pirate on principle

While the author is quick to dismiss and belittle this attitude, it is not only true but getting stronger the more annoying the anti-piracy measures and lobby becomes. People pirate to teach companies a lesson.

You see, price does not give a complete signal to the companies, when the number of copies sold for a particular game are low, the company has no idea what the reason was. Perhaps the game was too bad. Perhaps people didn’t have money in that period. Perhaps it is because everyone’s a cheapskate pirate. And because companies don’t know why the game didn’t sell as much as they expected (or as much as they wished) they cannot fix the issues with it. However, when their customers explicitly and in very clear terms point out before-hand that they will refuse to buy the game if their favourite features are taken away (dedicated servers, lan play etc) or restrictive measures enforced (eg heavy-handed DRM) and the companies still go ahead and do it, how can they act surprised that their piracy rates skyrocket?

If you notice the top pirated games of the last years, you notice the same trends. Spore at the top of 2008 with its heavy DRM. CoD:MW2 at 2009 with its lack of dedicated server support. It’s not difficult to imagine that many of those pirated copies were done as a punishment for the companies from people who refused to buy. The more companies insist on going against their customer’s wishes, the more those customers will refuse to deal with them and will go to the next best alternative. And this is good.

Consumers have very small bargaining power compared to the megapublishers of games. Thus by refusing to play the games at all, they punish themselves just as much. Piracy provides the alternative which makes only the companies feel the pain of their bad management and provides a miniscule advantage (in the grand scale of things) back to the consumer. And even that is usually not enough as hardcore gamers are enough of an addict to shell their money even when they swore they wouldn’t. Thus the amazing success of MW2, even with a severely lacking multiplayer and a hostile PC community.

Piracy, much like union funds or other social nets, provide a needed counterbalance to corporate power.

In Conclusion

Speaking from myself, as someone who wholeheartedly supports the existence of piracy while currently doing very little of it myself, I can easily fit in all of the reasons I provided above. I was a heavy pirate when I was younger, poorer and without a job and this helped me actually develop a far better personality than I would have without it. Once I started having some more money, I used cut down on piracy heavily, unless it was more convenient to do so and with the advent of Steam, even that was basically reduced to zero and any times I do it now, it’s because I’m trying to get around restrictive bullshit laws of the country I’m in, for games I generally buy anyway.

I could probably list or expand on the reasons for piracy if I wanted to, but my main point was to show how amazingly short-sighted and downright insulting is the author’s analysis for the motives of pirates. It’s an extremely black&white view of the issue of piracy which is a handy way to ignore the real reasons why it happens. It’s far easier to decide there’s a good side and an evil side and those you do not like belong in the evil side. It’s like tribalism 101.

  1. Basically it goes like this: If the country’s currency is worth more than dollars, the game is priced in the local currency the same amount as in dollars, no matter the exchange rates. This is what commonly happens in Europe where 1 dollar = 1 euro for buying games. Now if the country’s currency is worth less than the dollar, more likely than not, the game is still sold in dollar price-range, making it far out of reach of most people. Sometimes you get the even worst results as is the case of Australia []

A new pirate's haven

Short notice. I’ve recently been made a mod of the Piracy subreddit and I’m trying to improve on it as well as to get it to be a bit more active. If you like all things Piracy, from “unauthorized” file sharing to High Sea Swashbuckling to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, then join us and submit any article of relevance.