Friday, November 11, 2011

Off on a Tangent: Piracy

I don't think publishers these days understand how good they've got it. They love to complain about piracy and used game sales, and are intent on redefining the concept of software ownership in order to “protect” their works. Compared to how things have been, publishers have the most control over their games than ever before. Consumers no longer own software, they own a license to software, and this license allows the publisher to basically make any restrictions they want on the product. It just annoys me that publishers completely ignore the negative effects on the honest consumer out of fear of theoretically losing money.

Compared to the way things were on PCs in the early 90's, modern day publishers got it easy. It was so easy to copy a game from an official floppy disks to the computer and to other disks that it was extremely wide-spread. I don't know how anybody ever made money on PC games back then. Even with copy-protection schemes like the use of passwords out of user manuals was only a mild deterrent. I remember that my grandfather, who is admittedly more technologically savvy than the average grandpa, had a spreadsheet of all the possible passwords for The Incredible Machine. I also recall my brother outright guessing passwords for Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?.

Later on, the industry switched to CD keys, and consumers went from owning a game to owning a key to accessing a game, and this gave rise to keygens. And that basically sums up how software piracy is. Hackers always find a way around copy-protection schemes, and there is always be people that don't want to pay for things. The way I see, this is inevitable and if publishers focus on it, it only ends up to the detriment of people that actually want to pay for games, and that makes no damn sense.

To me, and probably to most gamers DRM, digital rights management, is is a reviled thing. The funny thing is that it doesn't need to be. Steam has DRM, but nobody cares because it uses it in way that generally makes things easier for the consumer. Sure, the user can't be logged in in more than one place and play the same game simultaneously on two computers, but it also does things that are convenient for the user. For example, it is possible to log into that account anywhere and download games as often as the user wants, streamlining the install process, and in the case of some games save games and settings will automatically be there as well. Even if it has steps that curtail piracy, it also makes managing a library of PC games across multiple computers really easy, and that is how it should be.

The best thing publishers can do to minimize game piracy is to make things convenient for the user. The music and movie industries are currently seeing this with services like Spotify and Netflix, which make things more convenient for users while not allowing ownership of content. Even though these sort of things are keeping those industries in a financially successful they are still lobbying for more strict control over content, because they are apparently very stupid, much like the video game industry. If it is easier to purchase something for a reasonable price than it is to pirate, then people will do that, and that is why things like iTunes has done really well.

Probably the biggest misconception that publishers have about piracy is that they see every pirated copy of a game is a lost sale. That just seems ridiculous to me, because it has always been my experience that people that pirate shit either are the sort that don't ever want to spend money and would sooner just not play the game or are the sort that simply can't spend the money. Then there are people like me that publishers don't believe exist. I'm the sort of person that sometimes pirates games to try them out, then if it is something that I like I'll go out and buy it, and if I don't I'll just delete it. I don't think I ever would have just purchased Super Princess Peach based on the box, but after I played it and liked it, I did. This happened for me with a lot of games, like Mega Man Zero and Chrono Trigger. I guess, for me, I wouldn't need to pirate if demos were universally available.

I should also point out that there are certain situations in which I don't feel guilty about piracy at all. If I it is an old game that is not freely available on services like Virtual Console or Good Old Games or whatever, then fuck it. The perfect example for this sort of thing is Earthbound, which isn't available on anything other than the SNES in the US, and used copies go for exorbitant prices. If I download the rom, the only people that aren't getting my money are resellers. I like to support things I like with my money, and if Nintendo isn't going to take my money in exchange for Earthbound, then screw them, I'll pirate it because to me that is a morally neutral thing to do at that point.

1 comment:

  1. You speak directly to me when you say you pirate games to demo them. I do the same, but wish I didn't have to resort to criminal behavior in order to try it before i buy it. However, it has saved me from a lot of terrible purchases. I don't feel to bad because it's not like there is a return policy on games (also a huge pain). The idea that we should trust a developer has done a good job and fork over the money, but they don't trust we didn't make a copy it is absurd. I give everything a fair chance, but buying turds ain't none of my business.

    Good article.