The demographics of piracy, PCs and consoles

Game Companies think that by focusing their energies on consoles instead of PCs they’ll be making more secure profits from piracy. If only they understood their audience…

Rally in Stockholm, Sweden, in support of file...
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As TweakGuide’s examination of piracy continues, he takes a look at some of the numbers around file-sharing for each platform and find correlations from there. I will not attempt to dispute the numbers themselves, even though one can make some very valid criticisms about his methodologies which many went ahead and did here ((Simple Example: His number for downloads from Mininova is way, way off. This is the times a .torrent file has been downloaded, not the number of times the full, working game has been downloaded. Very often a particular torrent will not include a working copy, or its swarm will not be fast enough, or simply another torrent will look to be of higher quality. Add to that the file scrapping that Torrent search sites do with each other all the time, and you figure out that his numbers might easily be 1/10th of what he thinks they are. The Torrentfreak numbers are a far better indicator but of course, he interpreted them absolutely wrong.)). The reason there is no point is disputing the numbers is firstly because it’s the impression that game companies have of the numbers (and that would be similar to the author’s) and also because I’ll attempt to show that even when the numbers stand, it’s his analysis of what they mean that is flawed.

The reason for this is that TweakGuide does not seems to realize that the dynamics of the crowd of PC gaming are not the same as of consoles or how those dynamics change when these two overlap. Before one can analyze the situation, they need to recognise the difference in demographics between those two markets and how it affects puchasing behaviour and the rate of perceived piracy.

Here’s what we need to consider

PCs are proliferated all over the world

The fact of the matter is that not all the world has such a big middle and upper-middle class as the USA has, and this means a few things.

First there quite a lot of PCs that are capable of gaming but not purchased explicitly for this purpose. It’s quite often that a family will have a PC purchased for the use of everyone (business, online shopping, social networking, studies etc) which can then easily be turned into a gaming-capable machine by the simply addition of a decent graphic card. Since the need for such a PC can very often be necessary (say for business or school) it’s something prioritized over an explicitly gaming console, plus it’s not out of the budget of most families, even in developing nations ((This information shows that even in the poorer nations, 1 PC per 10 people is not uncommon. Thus Their middle class is very likely to own a gaming-capable PC)). This means that quite a few people who want to game have primarily access to a PC rather than a console.

However most of those people are not wealthy enough to purchase games to go with it. Especially teenagers which are on a limited budget but have an insatiable appetite for new games, not to mention for playing whatever their friends are, are left with the only option to pirate. Usually this is done locally and not via Downloads, although with the proliferation of high-bandwidth lines even in poorer nations, this is changing. Think of it like this, if you have a PC at home only and enough money to buy the latest-greatest game per month, would you give up all the other games? Even when salivating adverts about them are all around you?

That is exacerbated even more when we consider that nations outside the 1st world have far smaller incomes while the prices of games do not tend to drop accordingly. This forces gamers to turn even more starkly towards piracy as a means of getting their gaming fix. This is only to be expected as price is indeed the main reason most turning to file-sharing and not the infantile argument anti-piracy lobbyists use of “they are just immoral free riders”. This is the reason why piracy is largest in the more cash-strapped nations in general.

What I mean to show by all this is that the reasons PCs by far lead the numbers in piracy is because there’s far more PCs available in the poorer countries than consoles and because they are poorer and cannot afford the exorbitant prices of PC Games, they turn to piracy. Thus the numbers of downloads we see  are representative of the fact that people download all around the world and not just from the developed nations and primarily for the PC.

Consoles are primarily owned by those with spare income

While a PC is becoming more and more of a necessity in everyday life due to the increasing importance of online communication and services, consoles are instead becoming more and more of a luxury. It has always been the case that the console itself was cheap because it was making the money up via the license for the games sold but the recent consoles have not only steadily increased in price by themselves (to the point where you can get an OK gaming PC for a comparable price) but in order to take full advantage of their capabilities, you currently also need an HD TV, which relatively few can afford.

Originally things were different of course, when the first and second generation of consoles was coming out, PC were still quite expensive and not a lot of people had one at all. Thus to get a complete PC for gaming, including a monitor and peripherals could rise up to the thousands. A console OTOH required a few hundred in investment and you could plug it in your TV. It was a cheaper solution, especially in a time when piracy was not as easy or widespread. Roles now seem to have reversed somewhat, or at worst equalized. A Console along with peripherals and a few new games can easily take you to half a grand (and that’s by being generous and using current console prices), and if you include an HDTV in the mix, you quickly fly over a grand.

As weird as it may seem to those of you still living in a comfortable middle-class bubble, not many can afford this. An expenditure like this, can easily take up the whole recreation budget some have for the whole year. As a result, those who do get such setups, are also the ones who can afford to buy games legally just as well. And this shows in the rates of piracy of course.

Where Demographics collide

Of course, there’s a very big section of people who own both a gaming-capable PC and one or more consoles at the same time and here, the things get even more interesting.

Certainly someone who can afford two or more gaming stations has spare income to be buying games legally in the first place. Someone who gets a console is more than likely to get it as his “legal” and hassle-free gaming station since they also have the benefit that games just work out of the box and they don’t ever have to wonder about virii, serials and DRM, or their OS breaking. Of course the PC could still be used to be able to play those types of games that just don’t work that well on a console. If that person also happens to be a hardcore gamer who enjoys playing a lot of different games, it’s quite possible that he’ll reach time, if not money constraints at some point.

Now if that person is to pirate (To be able to play the game as a demo or simply to save money,) where do you think he would do it? Would he take his console to be chipped and risk getting discovered and losing access to many of the features of his console? (eg. multiplayer, warranty etc), or would he download the PC version which requires very little effort and risk to get working? I think we all know the answer to that. Thus, even though it’s the same person doing the pirating, and even though this piracy may eventually lead to a console sale (if he likes it enough to play it legally, or on a nice HD TV), the PC piracy gets inflated once more and talks about “economic loss” are once again brought up.

PC Gamers are more demanding

Finally one thing that deserves notice in order to understand why the PC Game piracy is higher is the increased  demands of the users of this platform. You see PC gaming had always different and more open standards than console gaming and this grew out of the nature of each platform. Consoles, from the begging have been extremely locked-down and locked-in, even to the point of special custom cartidges incompatible with anything else, modifications to the games adding extra value where practically impossible to make or distribute and in general user freedom was curtailed. This was counterbalanced with hassle-free gaming, low learning curves and initial low costs (i.e. if one does not take into account the increased costs of games.) As such, they tended to attract the kind of user who would be quite willing to sacrifice freedom for convenience. “I know my machine could do so much more, but I don’t personally care for them so I won’t demand it.”

On the other hand, The hackable nature of the PC allowed customization and expansion of games and empowered users to add extra value, far beyond the original. Furthermore, because PC multiplayer was inherently tied to the rise of the internet (as opposed to the living room split-screen in the case of consoles) it also inherited many of the aspects of the distributed, decentralized and free nature of the net. Thus individual servers for FPS, planets, modding communities, balance patches, and of course the more novel, demanding and complex games. All of this meant that the PC gamer had and still generally has quite high standards on what he should be able to do with stuff he is using. The rise in popularity of Free Software and of the more customer-focused companies has only served to increase their expectations.

So when a company attempts to introduce console mentality into the PC market, it is only natural that it faces a backlash which becomes only more intense if and when the company does an action which the PC gaming community opposes vocally. This can easily be seen by the classic by now example of Spore which instated draconian DRM and delivered a sub-par game, based on the notion that marketing alone was enough to carry them through. The most recent example was of course CoDMW2 which removed the ability for custom servers, something which they were warned would create a strong backlash. And so it did as the game soon became the most pirated game of 2009 within a few months. Not simply because it was good or popular, but also because PC gamers, quite explicitly, did it as a punishing act.

Look at the rest of the top pirated games of 2008 or 2009 and you’ll notice the same trend. The top games are those which are released for both PC and console and if anything include many options that PC gamers are not fans of. Restrictive DRMs, Missing basic features, Console-based control systems or setup, DLC-focused etc. This should point out the principled basis for this kind of piracy. It’s not based on simply wanting to get a game for free, but rather on the wish of PC gamers to make companies understand that their actions are unpopular. Unfortunately companies choose to interpret this a different way.

Bringing it all together

How does this all affect the arguments of TweakGuide? He’s basically saying that because of the disparity in the ratio of piracy to legal PC games and piracy to legal Console games, PC game developers are starting to switch their efforts to consoles and even making them their primary development platform. Accordingly we’re either going to stop seeing as many big-budget games for the PC, or they’re going to be developed with consoles in mind and therefore lose in quality, performance or taking advantage of the PC capabilities.

This is of course a bad move for their part as they are only going to worsen their sales and piracy, not increase them, and this of course will further exacerbate the issue, leading to them publishing even worse PC games, leading to more piracy and less sales etc etc.

You see, those who make the majority of pirates, the ones who simply cannot afford the huge prices for games, will not suddenly discover the money to buy a console. They will simply keep looking for the highest quality game they can get for free or for a price they can afford. If the big budget titles move exclusively to consoles, then they’ll simply won’t get them and settle for the indie and open source alternatives. If the big budget titles remove features and worsen the customization, the free or low cost alternatives are simply going to look as a better thing to play. The poor are simply incapable of getting more money for games. Naturally this means that those gaming companies have shot themselves in the foot since even the poor will shell out some money if you give them a reason to buy and the correct price. If you are not willing to do it for fear of losing control, then someone else will. Whatever happens, you’re not going to be making money out of them but rather facilitating others to doing so.

On the other hand, by focusing all their energy on consoles instead, they will start to over-saturate an already full market. Console gamers may have more disposable income but they are relatively few and have only so much time they can spend on gaming. Start churning out more games for the consoles and you’ll quickly find out that it’s the sales per individual game which start to suffer while you’ve now lost all income from the PC market. Sure, some PC gamers will switch to consoles so that they may play the big budget and exclusives but only the ones who can afford to in the first place. I doubt it will be a significant amount.

For those who have already both a gaming rig and a console, not much will change. At best they’ll switch to playing free games, or those who are given at an appropriate price for their value, or they’ll simply chip their console or buy a secondary chipped one so that they may keep pirating for demos or gratis. If anything, console piracy will increase.

And finally, those who are simply demanding of the stuff their games provide, of the modding capacity and the free support and quality service, if anything this will drive them even further away from console-type games and they will turn instead of those companies who know to give them what they expect. Companies such as Valve and Stardock and Runic and Blizzard. And if those alternatives are not enough, perhaps they’ll finally discover the possibilities of Free Software.

The large companies may think they’re protecting their interests and punishing a disloyal crowd, but their inability to understand their demographics is only going to hurt them in the long run. Naturally they won’t realize this as it’s nice to be able to say that the percentage of piracy is low, even while your total profits are lower. After all, they are misguided enough to whine about piracy hurting them…while recording record sales year after year.

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The reverse fallacy of impartiality

The use of impartiality when one attempts to argue his position is nothing more than an implied ad-hominem.

Today I went through this article which basically attempts to prove that the sole reason for the degradation/change of PC gaming is Piracy and it made some quite compelling arguments for his case, based on the heavy use of facts and the neutrality of the autor. The article was well written and made some strong points against piracy and I found it via a link on Reddit by someone off-handedly pointing to it as the explanation of the Death of PC Gaming, (which, much like Linux conquering the desktop, is perpetually just around the corner it seems) showing how effectual this article can be as an argumentation hammer.

As a supporter of file-sharing the article hit a nerve. While it was sufficiently well written, I did find quite a lot of objectionable claims inside which should be challenged in order to show the cracks of the general argument against file-sharing. To this end I’ve decided to start a small series to analyze the bad aspects of piracy, whether it is indeed destroying the PC game industry and hopefully provide a stronghold in case this 30.000 words monstrosity is thrown at you as a counter-piracy nuke.

And I’m going to start from one of the first things the author attempts to prove. His impartiality.

This is something that I very commonly see used as a way to grant more credence to what one writes but then abused in order to hide the very real biases which lead to uncharitable interpretations and simply negative light on the way one presents the facts. In this case, the author begins by pointing out how disconnected he is from the game industry or from the file-sharing networks.

Before going further, I must explain some relevant facts about myself. At 37 years of age, I’ve been gaming for over 20 years now on a variety of platforms including the Atari 2600, Amiga 500, Nintendo 64, and of course, the PC. I currently game exclusively on the PC and do not own any consoles. I’ve written over 40 different detailed tweak guides covering a wide range of PC games and various versions of Windows over the past seven years. I am not sponsored by any hardware or software manufacturer of any kind. I am not involved with The Scene, nor do I receive any income from any piracy-related websites. I was not paid or sponsored in any way to write this article. In short, I have little incentive to write a biased article. I feel I’m as qualified as anyone could be to give a balanced view on this topic, free from any commercial interests in either side of the piracy debate.

And all of this is irrelevant. It is a distraction which attempts to give more weight to what he’s going to say later on and diminish the opinions of those who do not meet his standards of “impartiality”. It seems like what I’ll call a “Reverse fallacy”. The explicit notice he’s giving to his impartiality serves no other purpose other than to imply that what those who are related to the gaming industry or the file-sharing networks say is somehow less valid. That would normally be called out as a pure Ad hominem, as the connections one has do not in the least diminish the arguments they make. In fact that actual case may be that the connections one has, are because of the opinions they have on the matter as you wouldn’t really expect a strict anti-piracy pundit to be connecting with The Scene, nor is it likely that a file sharer would be leading an anti-piracy initiative (although of course, there are humorous exceptions)

However the author of the article, by simply pointing out his own impartiality deftly avoids any accusations of ad hominems while still implying just the same kind of fallacious reasoning to dismiss the antilogue. And the unfortunate fact of the matter is that this tactic works very well. In fact, it’s the favorite trick by which lawyers stack the deck against file-sharers which have geen sued by the Content mafia. When such people request a trial by jury, the lawyers methodically filter out any jurors who have any knowledge at all of file-sharing programs and culture, which naturally leaves only the most computer illiterate or those who have consciously avoided file-sharing in the first place. The audience is conveniently stacked towards those who are less likely to understand the complexities of file-sharing (eg. that a link to a link is not the same as distributing copied CDs) or already sufficiently swayed to one side of the argument.

You see, on some matters there is just no perfectly middle ground. While there is of course variation in the intensity one supports one camp or the other, they still support one side. The debates on Piracy are like that. You either support it, or you oppose it. You either consider it wrong, or you don’t. Even the ones who could validly say that they belong in either camp because they actually don’t know enough about it to express an opinion in the first place, end up practically  supporting the side which is in power. In our case, someone who does not know what piracy even is, is simply going to go with whatever the law says, i.e. whatever the corporate lobbyists say.

But the point is that whichever side of the argument one belongs to is irrelevant. My arguments are not going to diminish when I announce what I think from the start. On the contrary, their purpose is to provide the basis for my ideas.

In the case of the article at hand, the author can’t avoid but show his very strong pro-copyright, anti-piracy bias almost from the very start. In fact, as long as I saw the copyright notice on the footer of his site, I immediately knew where his support was going to lie (I mean, a vanilla copyright notice on a website? Seriously?). And his bias was showing quite a lot, no matter his announced impartiality. The way he pointed to torrent sites was in an amazingly negative light designed to create the emotional reaction one has to leeches. His dismissal of the possible motives of file-sharers and his boiling it down to “flexible morals” was halfway insulting. While it was true that he did avoid some of the classic emotional fallacies copyright-purists like to make (eg “Piracy is theft”), he couldn’t avoid marginalizing ((example: When discussing The Pirate bay, he put huge weight in the sources estimating the profits of TPB while providing one sentence showing the TPB’s side. Then he used on whole parahraph to doubt it and triumphantly posted addendums which he thinks support his cause, such as the loss of the first TPB trial and the selling cost of it to the Game Factory. No mention of the scandal of the biased judges or the general fact that any site in the top100 internet sites would sell for similar amounts.)) if not ignoring all the positive elements of piracy and grossly highlighting all the negative ((Take for example how he pointed out how he mentioned the large piracy rate of World of Goo while not mentioning at all the huge increase in sales during their “pay what you like experiment, or when dishing GNU/Linux users how he failed to mention that they were the highest paying during the World of Goo experiment. Hell, just the TPB logo with the dollar sign is a huge subconscious signal.)).

This is not impartiality. This is a classic example of having one opinion and then being selective with the facts so that your opinion has more basis. I have an opinion too, and a biased one at that. I’m pro file-sharing in the sense that I do not consider it does any harm and that in fact it helps. The difference is that I do not hide behind neutrality as this only annoys. Rather I declare it proudly and then I explain why reality is such that my opinion is warranted. I see how things work and then form an opinion about the ethical rules we should have to optimize the good aspects. The author on the other hand seems to have an opinion already ((It seems to be: “PC gaming was better in the last few decades and should remain as it was”)) and this drives a selective bias in his interpretation of the facts and reality.

By pointing out his reverse ad hominem and his lack of impartiality, we thus begin on our journey to deconstruct the lengthy anti-piracy article, or any article for that matter, while keeping in mind that a lot of information has been negatively represented or simply omitted.

"To all those people promoting our game for free: Fuck you!"

Stardocks CEO believes all Pirates are thieves, even though they practically help him. I (not-so kindly) disagree.

Stardock Corporation, Inc.
Image via Wikipedia

This is basically what the latest post from Stardock’s CEO comes down to when he says the following:

But…but…what about those hundreds of thousands of pirates? Yep. Demigod is heavily pirated. And make no mistake, piracy pisses me off.  If you’re playing a pirated copy right now, if you’re one of those people on Hamachi or GameRanger playing a pirated copy and have been for more than a few days, then you should either buy it or accept that you’re a thief and quit rationalizing it any other way.

Emphasis mine.

So what exactly is pissing Frogboy off? That Piracy helped make his game stunningly famous even before it hit the stores? That file-sharing did free advertisement for Demigod to the scale that it catapulted it to the 3rd place in sales (possibly higher if you count online sales). That Pirates urged each other to actually support Stardock if they can, to promote this kind of initiative?

Frogboy should be on his fucking knees praising Pirates at this point for all the free publicity they gave the title, not simply by the fact that they gave the game to each other to try before it officially hit the stores, but also for the controversy this raised on popular news sources which brought further spotlight to the game.

And this is, in short, the reply: “Fuck you, you’re goddamn thieves! You piss me off!”

So how exactly are pirates thieves Frogboy? Do you subscribe that every downloaded copy is a lost sale? Do you not consider for a second that the people downloading games maybe can’t afford them (so they wouldn’t buy it anyway) but they still do free word-of-mouth publicity for you? Do you consider that perhaps for others the quality of the game does not validate the price but they may still buy it just because they are pirates?

I used to think that Stardock was enlightened enough to figure out that file-sharing is caring, that pirates are, as gamers, on their side. But this latest post makes me reconsider. I’ve become a big supporter of Stardock just because of what (I assumed) their take on Piracy was and as a result I’ve bought every game I wanted to play from them. I will reconsider that as well.

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Hypocritical D?

I was watching music videos of Tenacious D songs on [tag]YouTube[/tag], when my eye fell upon this one:

[coolplayer width=”355″ height=”288″ autoplay=”0″ loop=”0″ charset=”utf-8″ download=”1″ mediatype=”.flv”]


Now, this striked me as quite strange for two reasons. First of all I thought Jack Black was much cooler than this. Almost until the end of it, I honestly expected him to support piracy in some funny way. Needless to say, I was quite disappointed to see that he was actually serious on condemning it.

I wouldn’t be so annoyed by that per-se, as piracy, in the original sense of the word (cheap movies sold on the street etc) rewarded the wrong people, but in this vid, he seems to be against file sharing in general which is just wrong. There is just so much arguments to support piracy that I don’t even care to divulge on the point here. Let’s just say that if it was not for piracy, I would never support [tag]Tenacious D[/tag] and/or even know who the fuck they were.

Second, isn’t Jack an avid weed smoker? Isn’t it just a tad hypocritical to talk about right and wrong when he himself breaks the law without remorse? It is not that I am against drug use (far from it) but this shows that Jack Black realizes that the law is not always correct, and thus he chooses to ignore and break it. No, if millions of people who decide that file-sharing should not be illegal are “Douches” (especially since the facts are in their favor) then what does that make Jack, hmmm?

My initial opinion would be, unfortunately, that he has become a Sellout. Pity because my respect for him and his work just dropped considerably.

Can he not realize that it is file-sharing and word-of-mouth that empowered him to such a degree? If it wasn’t for thousands of people sending each other “that funny song” (Fuck her gently) and “that funny video” (Tribute) does he think that he would be as known as he is?
Would Tenacious D become famous in Corporate America, with this combination of music and lyrics and humor that they use? If you think that, then I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you…

Canada becomes Hollywood's bitch

It’s been building up for quite while now and it’s almost over. Canada has submitted to the will of hollywood studios and is passing the appropriate laws.

Ok, let me say that again.

A Sovereign nation has made a modification to their legal system in order to comply with the wishes of movie producers in another country!

Am I the only one who think this is starting to get out of hand? Certainly not, from seeing the reactions of other bloggers, but I do not see any reaction from the people of Canada itself. How can they stand by and let their own politicians and legal body be bullied by some lobbyists in the USA? Why are they not up in arms throwing rotten tomatoes on those sellouts that say they represent the people?

Something similar happened in Sweden not so far back before when the MPAA lobbied the US goverment to pressure the Swedish goverment to force the police force to perform an illegal raid on the Piracy Bay.
What happened? 3 days later the Piracy Bay was back up and because of the nature of the raid and who was behind it, the Pirate party became that more popular. The Swedes obviously did not see favorably the fact that their goverment was being shoved in the direction the entertainment cartel wanted.

Canadians, on the other hand, just sit and take the pimp slaps of the Motion Pictures Ass. of America.

So what if they take away the previews? So what if push back the releases? They’re only shooting their own foot by forcing people to download if they want to watch the new releases.
It was just a scare tactic. It is not in their best interest to lose the box office revenue of entire Canada.
So they bluffed and forced a whole country to change their laws in a knee-jerk reaction.

Is this how things are going to be from now on? Whenever Holywood says “Jump” we’re going to be asking “How high?“? I am aware that many goverment bodies, especially the US one, work mostly for the benefit of the corporations and hide behind rhetoric for the people. However I’ve never before seen such a blatant display of power from the true beneficiaries of recent copyright laws.

When are people finally going to realize that it’s not us who needs hollywood and movies, it is them who need our wallets so that they can continue to pay the extravagant salaries of their movie “stars” and studio execs.

Canada, wake up and smell the bullshit! You are being 0wned!

I hate it when I'm wrong

I just found out that I was horribly wrong on my interpretation of an error in a cellphone. Recently a friend of mine has been complaining that her cellphone had a caribe virus. I didn’t believe her. Needless to say that I had to offer an apology today after I searched the web and found this. Oh well, that should get me off my high horse. At least I found a way to remove it which should make her happy 🙂

Recent days have been a bit tumulus, I met this girl, we became friends and we have developed a good bond I think. I also found that my sister broke up and her ex that is also a personal friend of mine is really pissed. It seems I’m stuck right in the middle which is not somewhere I like to be.

I also started dealing in blogshares but I’ve already started to get bored with it. There’s only so much small industries you can buy and sell and the transaction limit is very low to get a good profit going. However I won’t spend 15$ for something I will get bored within 1 week.

I got a free Evanescence DVD from my boss, Anywhere But Home. It’s pretty good quality but I already had most of the music videos (other than the promo one). Best thing of course was Amy Lee. However that DVD motivated me to start downloading music videos again, Cthulhu bless mldonkey.
Speaking of which, mldonkey does work perfectly but I still have some gripes on the overall speed of the donkey network. I never seem to be able to get more than 16kb/s download at a time even when I’m downloading 30 stuff at the time. Good Torrents easily reach 40kb/s within a few minutes and stay there.
It also seems that it is not easy to find stuff in other networks like Gnutella2 and DC. Although I connect there, I rarely find anything there on my searches.
I also seems that The RIAA is getting into Europe in force, already there have been movements against British and German d/lers. I hope it takes them a good long while to get here.