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Swashbuckling for Landlubbers: Why you may already be encouraging piracy!
by Alan Youngblood on 02/08/10 02:56:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

Yo-ho, a pirates' life for all your customers!
Here come the disclaimers now, cause they need to happen.  I intend to bridge the gaming co. exec vs gamer gap since I am currently both (albeit at a small start up for the exec thing).  I'll start by saying I do not pirate games.  I even look for ways like Steam to buy games at the price I want (if I want to be cheap about it) that still gives money to the developer, unlike buying used.  I do not condone piracy generally speaking (you'll see why I've qualified this soon enough).  My intent of this article is to shed light on something that you may not already see and help our industry to make smart decisions about piracy/anti-piracy measures.

So why is all this important in the first place?  Well, I know that talking to the business folks in our industry makes anyone concerned about piracy.  Sure, they want to cover their behind to get the most ROI as possible.  Unfortunately, they often decrease their ROI without knowing it.  

For whatever reason, I have recently started receiving Rolling Stone magazine in the mail.  It is a well written and exciting magazine to read.  I wish they'd cover games more (or at all, really), but that's not what I'm interested in talking about.  Rolling Stone recently had some good recaps of the past year and past decade.  I want to highlight the report on the music industry in record sales.  It is dismal at best.  Apparently vinyl sales have gone up, which is a phenomenon that has a similarity in the game industry (the 'retro-fetish' or buying old games on a new system or for the dusted off old console).  In the music industry, this is the only sales figure reporting growth.  Everything else has rapidly shrunk with figures so low I'm starting to worry about the RIAA moguls' ability to continue affording to gold plate their toilets(sarcasm here).  Why have I already wasted so much time talking about the Recording Music industry if my point is about piracy in the game industry?  Well, here's why: it is the single biggest warning flag we could have.

Ever since Napster came on the scene at the tail end of the 90's the RIAA has been acting like idiots and not adapting to the changing market place.  The music industry has even done things as dastardly as taking their fans to court and suing them for incredible and unpractical fines.  What has all this done?  Killed the industry.  Make no mistake.  People will continue to make music, people will continue to make money making music.  But the industry is by and large dead now.

I don't always want to point up and say the sky is falling, but when it's moments from impact I at least want to be kind enough to say duck and cover.  Let's be fair to ourselves and say that the game industry isn't quite dooming itself like the recording music industry has...yet.  But we are doing some key things that wave the black with white skull flag of piracy if not the white flag of surrender.

Let's take a look at those contributing factors to piracy:

Abandonware.  I can't begin to count how many insanely awesome games were made in the past and for whatever reason have no feasible legal way to purchase and play now.  An example: I have played many games in the Suikoden series and generally really enjoy it.  I have heard from many people that Suikoden II is the best.  I missed out on it while it was in retail for whatever reason and now the only officially sanctioned way for me to play it is to track it down on ebay and pay an absurd price tag that exceeds $100 for a used game that will give no extra pennies or yen to the developers.  Sony and Konami, you can thank me for restraining the irresistible urge to pirate that game.  I wish that was the only game that was like that, but sadly there are many out there.  And with great services like, VirtualConsole for Wii, (Virtual Console that should be on)DSiware, PSN store (Psone games can be played on both PS3 and PSP!), XBLA, Steam, D2D, Impulse and others there is no excuse.  So many great old games can be run on almost all or any current hardware.  Even the DS or iDevice (which, correct me if I'm wrong represent the lower end of hardware power) can run games that were on the NES, SNES, Genesis, N64, etc.  So, I'm missing the reason why we don't have a full back catalog on one of those platforms (I can cut a company, let's say Nintendo, some slack for not wanting it's games on Apple/Sony products, but why not on the Wii/DS?)  Again, this frustrates me, but any logical sane human would just go directly to pirating.  

High Prices.  Really guys, really?  I mean do I even need to beat this dead horse again? Yep, I do.  And it has a lot to do with money I shell out for games.  And every other gamer out there.  And how upper management at the bigs rewards themselves handsomely for learning how to mark up stuff and make people just angry enough that they don't care to do anything.  Let's not get this wrong, overcompensating won't help either.  99 Cents games just don't cut it either.  There's a middle ground where you can afford to pay your workers a reasonable living wage and not rip off the consumer.  If a gamer must spend his hard earned cash on gas/transportation expenses just to see that the local Gamestop wants too much for a game, he's not going to bother.  Piracy it is!  Why does any sane person pay $60+transportation+taxes+fees to get something in an inconvenient way when he could just kickback, relax and pirate it for free?  But if the marginal benefit outweighs the marginal cost, we can convince him to come to the store and give us his hard earned cash to become our hard earned cash.  Wouldn't that be better?

DRM.  Not every case is as bad as the Spore fiasco.  Almost all cases are bad though.  The only decent DRM I've ever seen/used is Valve's Steam DRM.  It allows you to own your game, back it up, copy it, play it on a different machine (or the same machine after a wipe/reinstall of OS), re-download your game, and keep your game indefinitely.  But you can't pirate it.  Any other way of doing DRM is basically like yelling “Pirates, you just hit the mother-load of buried treasure, c'mon and get it!”  Why?  Well, let's briefly go back to the music industry.  Apple doesn't think that I can handle music data I purchase, so they reserve the rights to limit my use of my stuff with their DRM.  When it comes to buying music on iTunes, I simply think “Why?”  I'm old enough to be legally punished for my mis-use of my possesions, so why am I not also entitled to use them how ever I want to within the law?  I'd rather buy a CD (like I still live in the 90's) cause I can rip it and back it up for when something happens to that CD, or digital file.  Media are volatile.  All of them.  There will exist a time when I will no longer be able to use CDs, game cartridges, game discs, digital media, etc. because they exist physically in some form and nothing physical lasts forever.  I should be legally and digitally allowed to back things up.  DRM is like selling a car to someone with a 'boot' that towing companies use as standard equipment.  Sure, you won't be able to do bad things with the car, like perhaps vehicular manslaughter, but then again, what the heck can you do with it?  Not much.  Again, any sane person buys the car that doesn't come with the boot, or in our case the game without DRM.  DRM encourages piracy.

Generally stupid marketing moves.  This is a bit of a catch all category since it's hard to spell out all of these.  Basically, gamers that I know tend to be people of decent intelligence at least and can sniff out something fishy if it's there.  And what other reaction should they have than to pirate or boycott the game?  Things like milking gamers for money, withholding games due to stupid financial reasons (this is a grey area, but if it benefits you as a producer way more than the gamer, you are generally in the wrong), bad PR, and other things along these lines.  

Quick recap:  This isn't one of those OJ's book situations.  I'm not writing “If I did” like how I actually did it.  I don't like piracy and I do not practice it with games, no matter how much you make me want to.  I'm writing this because you make me want to be a pirate.  YAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRR!  It's hard to resist, but I will, and I trust that you will examine your own company for these bad practices and work to amend them so that not only I am swayed from the temptation, but others out there are too. Here's the best part: you get more money and more loyal customers!  Take a serious look at your price tag on games.  Just cause there's a de facto standard doesn't mean you have to, or should follow it.  Has your company been at it a while in the industry?  Chances are that's so because you've got a great back-catalog of games in your portfolio.  Chances are also good that gamers still want access to them and could compensate your porting/localizing efforts even on a small end user price tab.  DRM is evil.  Treat your customers like pirates and pirates they will be.  Be shrewd with your business and marketing practices.  Gamers will see through your BS if you throw it at them.  Be warned: they throw back and have great aim due to all the FPS's we have been feeding them.

Piracy is impossible to stop altogether, but please don't encourage it!  You've been warned and now know better, there's no reason to not expect a negligible piracy rate when you factor in what I've said and keep your ears to the ground.

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Tristan Pilepich
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To be honest, its impossible to encourage piracy, or discourage it for that matter. It just is... No matter how you market your product people will always find a means to justify piracy.

People steal things, that's life.

What developers should be asking is, what will the end player get by purchasing this game, that pirates wont (online services, superior support etc).

Arthur Kalliokoski
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I even look for ways like Steam to buy games at the price I want (if I want to be cheap about it) that still gives money to the developer, unlike buying used

Sales of used goods tend to support the prices of new items. Do you think Toyota wouldn't take a hit if there was a law against reselling them?

Matt Riley
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There's something drastically wrong with relying on people's morality here. There's a reason there are cameras in department stores. There's a reason many stores no longer accept returns. For a significant chunk of the population, morality is a luxury. No matter how you entice people, they'll still pirate, and that's been shown with the 99 cent iPhone games. What I'd really love to see, is for piracy to stop being taken in such a light-hearted manner. It kills me that my roommates will roll their eyes at me when I object to them downloading pirated games, but what can you expect when your attitude -- i.e. "The music industry has even done things as dastardly as taking their fans to court and suing them for incredible and unpractical fines" is the prevailing opinion?

Christopher Wragg
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The point is that the music industry focused on ways to prevent piracy, and it has done them no good. What cheaper services (like the app store and steam) have proven, is that despite piracy accessibility and price play crucial roles in attracting valid buyers, with little impact to retail (retail is growing, while the online services markets are also growing).

"Some people steal things, that's life."


Not everyone steals, but many people who do, do so for a reason (admittedly there are far more who just do it for the hell of it). The point being (using a generalized example) that if 1% of people buy a game, 1% pirate it for a reason and 98% just pirate because they can, then removing the obstacle to that 1% who pirate for a reason double's your sales.

Dave Endresak
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I enjoyed reading your somewhat humerous post, but I'd like to point out a couple things that you do not cover, and one point in particular that always seems to be skipped in the piracy issue.

First and most important, in my view... people who pirate anything that is an executable on their PCs fully deserve any and all problem consequences that may crop up later. This is analogous to eating food without taking appropriate sanitary precautions (as long as they are available, of course) but then complaining when you get sick. You asked for it, you got it. It's not worth the risk, so don't do it.

Now, prices... well, actually, people seem to forget that today's prices are cheaper than prices 20 years ago. Phantasy Star for Sega Master System, the very first cartridge game that allowed saving due to a built in batterym cost $70 SRP, and many people bought the SMS just for that game because it remains one of the greatest RPGs ever made. Same with Ys 1&2 CD on the PC Engine (TurboGrafx-16) - many people paid $50 for the game and $300 for the CD attachment (plus $150-$200 for the base console unit) just to play that game. Genesis era saw various battery cartidge games like Gaiares at $70-$80. Phantasy Star II was $70 SRP. Going back to Atari era titles, games like Adventure were $30 SRP circa 1980. Etc. $60 for a new game today is cheap in comparison, and the used game market really didn't exist until the early 1990s so people back then (1970s and 1980s) paid full new price for most games they owned. Same comparisons can be made for hardware of course. I do not buy new very often at present because I am unemployed and a PhD student, but I never did accept the price tag argument because it just isn't true if we review history.

DRM... well, having a disk check is not bad and has been very standard ever since games were on disks. Digital services like Steam may be preferred by some, but I don't generally prefer them myself. I believe Gamasutra even published a survey stating that the majority of consumers prefer physical media over digital only products. There are some very common sense reasons for wanting your purchases in physical form. Also, you mention that physical media wear out eventually and won't last, but the same can be said for digital only copies. We can add the fact that it's much more difficult to preserve digital only media than physical media (or much easier to damage or delete it, whichever view you want to take, I guess). Think about it: 20 years ago, Valve did not exist. When Valve first released HalfLife 2 and Steam, I was arguing with all the naysayers who were ticked off and felt that Steam was violating their privacy or other complaints (because it's no different than using antivirus and obtaining regular updates from an antivirus company, for example).

Abandonware is a problem, but that's true for all media, even for scholarly archives. Humans have been terrible about recording and maintaining our history, so this issue isn't exclusive to games by any means. As for specific examples and why companies do not maintain a library, a lot of it has to do with cost and licensing complexities. Same thing in print and film media, for example, or even music. Capitalism principles undermine such endeavors because all that matters in capitalism is profit, and mainly short term profit.

Jamie Mann
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On the abandonware front: the issue is most often due to legal issues: people may associate a game (e.g. Bomberman) with Nintendo/Sony/etc but it was actually produced by a third company (e.g. HudsonSoft). And in many cases, these companies have since gone bankrupt or been bought out by other companies, which in turn will have gone bankrupt or been bought out, and which in turn...

You therefore end up with a twisted mess, where the ownership of the IP is unclear and the cost of clarifying it is likely to be excessive.

There's also the secondary issue: there's a cost associated with getting old games tested and localised, which is likely to be unjustified for 90% of abandonware (unless the IP owner is able to go down the bundling route - e.g. Namco museum, Capcom generations).

And then there's a tertiary issue: loading too much content onto a store can actually reduce sales, as people may simply walk away when presented with too many choices.

In any case, I'm not sure that piracy of Abandonware is a major factor: as with movies and music, the big money is in the initial first-month sales, and it's here where anti-piracy measures need to be focused. Pirated abandonware effectively falls into the same category as secondhand games, freeware titles and game demos (plus non-gaming factors like music, cinema, etc): everyone has a finite amount of time and money to spend and there's a lot of competition!

Regarding high prices: there's something to be said for increasing demand by lowering prices, but the cost of games has pretty much remained static over the last decade or so (taking inflation into account, the prices have actually dropped!). Personally, I'm not convinced that there is any way in which prices can be dropped for blockbuster games - and the iStore has shown what happens when the market becomes flooded with cheap games.

DRM: absolutely agree, though developers/publishers do seem to be getting smarter now. It's also becoming more of a moot point, as increasing levels of value-add are migrating to the internet (e.g. additional skins/in-game content, advance access to DLC, multiplayer), reducing the appeal of piracy in the crucial first-month sales period.

Marketing: stupidity comes and goes in waves, with Akklaim's dying efforts probably being the icing on the cake. On the other hand: word of mouth seems to have more of an effect than anything else these days (see Nintendo's success) and some marketing campaigns are simply in the wrong place and time - Sega's European "why don't we all play together" scheme for the Dreamcast seemed ludicrous at the time thanks to the way it focused on non-gamers doing non-gaming things (e.g. racing to complete a haircut), but it's not all that far from Nintendo's highly successful targetting of the newly discovered "casual" demographic!

E Zachary Knight
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Personally, I would add The Lack of Demos to the reasons people pirate.

For any game these days, there is no reason to not have a demo (except for the Wii as Nintendo has yet to release demos for disk based games and the Wiiware demos are limited). The PS3, PSP, 360, DSi, PC, etc all have the ability for the player to download and play a demo. Why are we not using that?

Some people that pirate, pirate so that they can try the game before laying down $60 for the game. This is especially true for new IP. If they had access to a QUALITY demo, there would be less of a reason for them to pirate the game.

Jamie Mann
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@Andre: I'd argue that the quality of games on the iStore was directly impacted by the "price war": as the number of titles grew, developers attempted to use price as a differentiator, which in turn led to reduced revenue projections and hence lowered the amount of design/development/test resource which could be allocated to a given project. Hey presto: low quality games!

Also, while I absolutely agree that pricing is the key to market acceptance, there's a highly important factor to consider: is the market size flexible?

For instance, music and movie blockbusters (e.g. Avatar) tend to appeal to multiple overlapping demographics (e.g. sci-fi/fantasy/drama/romance) and can be accessed without any prior training or expensive/branded equipment.

Conversely, blockbuster games tend to appeal to specific demographics (sandbox/fps/puzzle/music), often require prior experience of similar games [*] and require expensive, branded equipment (X360/PS3/Wii).

I'd therefore argue that the market for 99% of all games is relatively static and more concerned with game quality/branding than cost - i.e. reducing the cost of something like God of War 3 is unlikely to result in a significant influx of new players. There will be people who buy a PS3 just to play GoW3, but the vast majority of buyers will be existing PS3 owners.

So: for most games, dropping the price will only increase sales up to a point thanks to the fact that the market size is static. Going down this route therefore vastly increases the risk associated with a releasing a high-value production.

As regards the razor/blade model: the current wave of consoles couldn't be farther from this: Nintendo sells the Wii and DS at a profit and while Sony/Microsoft may have attempted to subsidise their consoles, the boost in sales which accompanies each price drop indicates that people do not consider the consoles to be "free"...

[*] My girlfriend has recently started trying to play console RPG games - it's been an eye opening experience for both of us. There's so much I take for granted - e.g. controlling the camera, 3D movement, button layouts, in-game object manipulation, quest management, map reading, story progression - that she simply has no prior experience with and therefore has issues managing. The majority of game tutorials generally act as a refresher for people with prior experience in game playing: they do not assist complete newcomers.

Alan Youngblood
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@Everyone: I really appreciate the comments. All of them. Even when we disagree, I still like to hear other people reading mine and thinking and discussing them. This is a healthy discourse about a relevant topic.

@Ephriam about Demos: great point. I obviously didn't cover everything, and I really like your addition. Demos would help with piracy prevention and sales increase.

@Dave: Actually, now that you mentioned it I do remember paying (or getting my folks to buy for me) 70-80 dollar price tag NES games. While that's a valid enough point, it doesn't take in other factors. Those games tended to have more replay value than modern ones in my opinion. Also, games are produced more frequently and the consumer has more options to consume quicker and throw away. This depreciates the value, and also should lower the price if we want our customers to buy the larger quantity of games we are presenting them with. But that aside, the biggest problem with game prices is the great recession and the current world economic status as caused by a few stupid rich people in the US. We can debate that all we want, but I'd rather not. The point is, people have less disposable income. And with the core market still being predominately male, we must look at how the economic situation has hugely affected males and their ability to have/keep gainful employment. In other words, men are a huge chunk of the market and many have been forced to near poverty because of the economic climate. In other words $40 games might be ok right now.

@Everyone: I think I already stated that I acknowledge that things like piracy and stealing will happen. And like yall I do not condone those actions. But I know they happen. The point I'm making is that people always have motives, and if you can reduce those as low as feasibly possible piracy becomes a non-issue because it's been solved as best as humanly possible. The logic behind stealing isn't because they are bad people. Generally speaking, people always make a decision like stealing/piracy because it is their best live option. If you give them a better live option that involves purchasing the game and/or somehow giving you money, everyone wins.

Anyways, keep the comments coming, I like to hear what people think and enjoy trying to persuade you that my thoughts are at least worth 2cents, lol.

Jonathon Walsh
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Nice article Alan!

The key to remember is what you are selling and what makes it worth buying. A bunch of executable code, art assets, and sound files are worthless. What you're selling are the services and experiences around your product. The ease of distribution, the access to multiplayer servers, the easy access to patches, the physical disc, and so on. These are the things you sell that have worth.

The way to prevent piracy is by combining a reason to buy with connecting with your fans. If you connect with your fans as a person you make them want to buy your game to begin with. All of the problems listed here are problems precisely because they alienate your players. No one wants to buy DRM. No one wants to support demeaning marketing campaigns. If you instead connect with your fans in an earnest way they'll appreciate it much more and will WANT to buy your game. This is where the second part comes in.

Rather than think of piracy as a problem with your own product think of it like a competitor. There are clearly ways to compete with free, companies have been doing it for years and years. What you need to do is provide a better experience than piracy.

That said there's always a sect of people that will pirate a game. These people are worthless of your time. No matter what you do they WILL pirate your game. Too many companies go after these people with DRM or other tactics. All the ends up happening is they inconvenience their paying customers and do nothing to stop the piracy. Why bother in the first place? All that money would be better spent making the experience better for the people willing to play.

Joshua Sterns
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In regards to DRM's.

I treat video games like books or movies. I'm poor, and most of my peers lack a significant amount of disposable income (poor too). Thus we find ways to enjoy books, movies, and games without spending too much money. If I'm finished with a book, and a friend wants to read I let them borrow it. Same goes for a console game, CD, or DVD. I love buying ODST, playing the game till my eyes bleed, and then temporary swapping it with a friend for Batman: AA.

PC games are very annoying. The DRM's screw up my friendly trading network. As a result I don't buy PC games. I also don't pirate them because of the bugs, viruses, and other random crap that can mess up computers.

I feel like the anti-piracy practices hinder traditional legal social networks. It's not horrible on consoles, but it's pretty bad on PC's.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Maurício Gomes
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Here we have some wonderfull stores that accept returns, sell for a just price, localize the products, do reasonable marketing, give phone support that is not annoying, and even give you warranty in case of damaged media. Also these stores are plenty, easy to find, well organized, have a extensive catalog, and all their workers are usually sociable people that like to talk with costumers and recommend products.

I just described our piracy dealers. Now tell me, why should a person should not go there?

Maurício Gomes
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Here we have some wonderfull stores that accept returns, sell for a just price, localize the products, do reasonable marketing, give phone support that is not annoying, and even give you warranty in case of damaged media. Also these stores are plenty, easy to find, well organized, have a extensive catalog, and all their workers are usually sociable people that like to talk with costumers and recommend products.

I just described our piracy dealers. Now tell me, why should a person should not go there?

Maurício Gomes
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Here we have some wonderfull stores that accept returns, sell for a just price, localize the products, do reasonable marketing, give phone support that is not annoying, and even give you warranty in case of damaged media. Also these stores are plenty, easy to find, well organized, have a extensive catalog, and all their workers are usually sociable people that like to talk with costumers and recommend products.

I just described our piracy dealers. Now tell me, why should a person should not go there?

Alan Youngblood
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@Bob: I for one acknowledge that piracy and stealing are different, hence the different words. We could go into those nuances, but I don't care to since dictionaries usually do that better than me. Also, I don't know if I want to speak politically for other posters on here, but despite that I may have come off as pro-capitalist, I'm very much not. Let me clarify this before we get in over our heads. What we have in USA (where you aptly noticed I live) is what I like to call 'crapitalism' which is short for crony-capitalism. Basically it's like capitalism should be, with almost everything screwed up because of greed. Some of you may like capitalism, or whatever current system the US has and that's ok with me. That's how (representiative-republic) democracy works. We have the right to have our own opinions, speak our mind and not be punished for it. To paraphrase and slightly change a great quote by Winston Churchill: "capitalism is the worst system for an economy except all those other forms." Things won't get any better unless we stick with the best working system and change ourselves and thoughtfully inform and ask others to change as well. Overcompensating never works.

Also, I like your point about id and open sourcing games. That is music to my ears. If more game companies did that, things would be much better. The majority of revenue generated by a game takes place in the first year after release and even used sales only usually extend about 4-5 years tops. So why not make the game free and open source? Point taken well on that!

@Jonathon: Thanks and I like the way you operate. Having a more personal and helpful(for fans) approach is ultimately the best way to go. I've probably already posted it here, but I must continue to recall Ed Catmull of Pixar's words from a keynote at Siggraph: "What is better, a great idea or great people to work on something? Many people say that you must have a great idea to break out and succeed, but they are wrong. It is always better to have better people." This is also paraphrased, but the point remains that focusing on the people (everyone from co-workers to customers to the custodial staff of your office bldg) is the best (if not only) way to success.

@ Joshua: That's a fun way to work things out when you are low on cash. Maybe I could learn from it before my game goes on sale and I start making money.

@ Maurício: Maybe there was an error that posted you several times, but I hear ya loud and clear. With a few exceptions. Piracy isn't a just price, it's the lowest price. Big difference there. The developers have to live off ramen/savings/family with a zero price point. And the support isn't always the best. Sometimes it is, but often there might be a whole feature that doesn't work due to an emulation tech problem or something. Also people should not go pirate things because (and I'm sure they are aware of this) the lack of funding to the developers will kill future products. Whether it is the poor stealing from the rich, or the rich from the poor it does not matter, at some point there is nothing left to take from others. Call it the ultimate anti-piracy, end of the world, anarchy, or just a theoretical condition that won't likely ever happen, but it's important to bare in mind.

Sean Currie
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What most entertainment companies tend to forget is that piracy is no longer simply an issue of file sharing or getting something for free. Piracy is wound up in a much larger debate about intellectual property, copyright and freedom of expression. You can be a glib as you want, but the fact of the matter is there are real differences between "pirating" and stealing. That isn't to say that the former should be completely legal because it isn't the later, but the complexities of information distribution in an age with the primary medium people interact with everyday (the internet) is based on the concept of copying and transmitting data is largely being ignored.

Case in point: I bought the first season of Carnivale on iTunes about a week ago. I wasn't really interested in watching the show on my laptop and instead wanted to stream it to my TV using an UPNP server. Of course, thanks to the restrictive DRM Apple places on its video content (to prevent me from "stealing") my media server hadn't a clue what to do with the file. My solution? I went online and downloaded a torrent of the content that I had just purchased - without DRM. Now, not only did Apple's absurd policies push me (someone who purchased content) to download a pirated version but according to US law I have now suddenly broken the law.

How does that make sense? I download a duplicate of the content that I legally purchased from a legal vendor and somehow that's stealing? Can someone explain that me? Of course not. Why? Because corporations and our justice system aren't interested in dealing with the nuances of digital distribution and content ownership. Because of Apple's attempts to fight pirates, they have now lost me - a legitimate consumer - as a source of revenue for their business.

And the pirates? Well, they just did the smart thing and downloaded the torrent in the first place.

Matt Riley
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These discussions always depress me. There are 3 ways to fight piracy:

1) gives consumers less of a reason to pirate. This seems to be all that is being discussed here.

2) enforce punishments better.

3) don't give the pirates anything to steal. (Look it up, piracy IS stealing).

#1 leads to artists having to make compromises. On Jonathan Walsh's comment, if we restrict the types of games made to those that the customer will feel compelled to buy, then we largely limit ourselves to all things multiplayer and server-side. Should the world be filled with WoWs? I loved FFVI -- how do you see someone effectively marketing that game at this point? And why should they have to make those compromises in the first place?

If we try to combat #1 by lowering price (as alluded to with Steam's price experiments), consumers simply begin to accept the lower price. As we try to make distribution easier, piracy efforts become more streamlined, sophisticated, widespread, and accepted. And please, PLEASE don't talk about making better games. Garbage is not limited to the game market; you're still forced to pay your >$10 fee to watch "From Justin to Kelly" in theaters.

As for #2, you can argue about the effectiveness of punishment, but I think it's hard to dispute that piracy is more common than sneaking into theaters, and yet neither "hurts" anyone. Go tell your friends that you snuck into a theater and they'll probably laugh at you. But tell them you pirated a game? They'll ask to play it. Why is one juvenile and the other is accepted? Since when were movie prices reasonable? I'm all ears to hear how changing the way we make and sell games is going to somehow reverse this perception, because as I see it, stricter laws are the only viable option.

But the way things have been going (and the RIAA is a perfect example), it seems we're destined for #3, where the pirates will have nothing to steal because the offline games will all be either free or non-existent. Can't wait...

Jonathon Walsh
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Dragon Age just sold 3+ million copies and Dwarf Fortress is pulling in ~$2500/mo on donations alone. There's more to supporting games than just offering multiplayer experiences. Companies are forced to make these compromises because they're trying to fight against the human nature of sharing. People have been sharing art for as long as there have been humans. Non-digital media got around this because they were selling the medium: a book, a cassette, a cartridge. Even then plenty of people pirated before the digital age.

Travis Zimmerman
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You seem to misunderstand Apple's DRM. As far as buying music from iTunes you have always been able to burn it to CD and once there you can rip the music into any format that you want. And songs listed as iTunes+ are all DRM free and can be played or re-encoded as you like.

If you are looking for prohibitive music DRM then try Microsoft's PlaysForSure, which didn't play for sure with their Zune.

Chad Wagner
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A struggling artist painter produces 1 beautiful painting a week, and sells them on a street corner. Right next to him is a person giving away color photocopies of his work. Compete with that! He's not stealing, he's just copying... Who are you going to support? What is the future of this situation?

Chad Wagner
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Here is an excellent article on the micro details of this issue:

John Gordon
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Nice article!

Personally I think all of the movement toward digital distribution will increase piracy as well. Digital distribution "in theory" would take money away from the second hand market, but I think the second hand market is a boon to gaming and actually decreases piracy. A lot of people like buying a tangible product. Also if they don't like the game they bought then they can trade it in. Used game stores make it easier for people to try out games that they normally might not try. All of these things help the game industry. All of these things give a reason for a person not to pirate software.

On the other hand digital distribution just puts the software in a form that is even easier to pirate. I know that piracy will always be an issue regardless of what preventative measures are used, but there is a big difference between 5% of players being pirates vs. 50%. I think it's smart to take every measure possible in order to reduce the frequency of piracy.

Tim Randall
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As a videogame publisher, you are in competition with pirates for customers, and you cannot compete on price; only on service.

Many consumers steal stuff. Some steal because they can, or because they think it's cool, or because they're incorrigibly cheap. You cannot dominate this market segment, and to attempt to do so is a mistake - particularly if it lowers the quality of your service.

And some steal reluctantly, because they are protesting something, or because they are poor. These are the people who would prefer, all other things being equal, to buy your game. These are the people you don't want to piss off. This is where the quality of your DRM can make a difference, for good or bad.

Brad McGraw
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I have a couple of issues with your write up, but overall I enjoyed it.

1) I'm getting the feeling you do not like the used game market. This is something some game publishers have likened to piracy or stealing. Its also why we are getting more account based games like what UbiSoft is going to do. I don't think this is to stop piracy, but rather an attempt to get around the 'first sale doctrine'. As has already been said, used games spark new game sales. My wife knows many peole who have bought a used copy of Sims, and then gone on to buy (new) every expansion and new release. Used gives us a chance to try out new publishers or developers too. I traded for Europa 1400: The Guild, and then went on to buy its expansions and The Guild 2. It got me interested in JoWood, whom I had never previously heard of. Now I keep an eye on them to see if they have anything else that might interest me.

2) Abandonware. I agree, we should have access to this back catalog of great games. I'd love to be able to play games like Planet's Edge, Megatraveller 1 & 2, Space 1889, etc... And I actually own boxed versions of these games already. There are a number of games I currently own that will not run on my XP machine that I would buy if they ever came to But I do agree with you that alot of the problems with this is finding out who owns what. I do believe there is a large untapped market with a lot of these older titles.

3) High Prices. Again I agree with you here. In a down economy high prices make it a lot harder for people to afford the games. The only games I have bought are ones that have come out on sale through Gamersgate or Direct2Drive. Steam's report a year ago where they saw a 500+% rise in profits is a great push for owering the price of games. Better yet though is Gamersgate's 5500% profit rise with sales. Not only did they see increased sales of products on sale, but they also saw a increase in sales when it went back to full price.

4) DRM. Steam as a decent DRM system? Not in my eyes. Since I cannot trade or sell the game I do not own it. Steam also datamines your computer, not something I like, which is why Steam will never be on my system, I think its an incredibly restrictive service. Not quite as bad as Ubisoft's new system where you HAVE to be online to play a game, but it's almost as bad. Steam is also paired with another DRM system, so its not teh only thing you have to contedn with. Byteshield's DRM system is pretty good, Starforce is ok although they use activation limits, Securom's DRM on Bad Company 2 is actually pretty damned good, although they have a horrible reputation that new system seems pretty good.

However I do agree that more people becoming aware of DRM is an excuse people use to pirate. I don't agree, I simply do not purchase until the DRM is removed. DRM is a growing concern for a lot of people and rather than go for more restrictive measures there should be a common ground where publishers feel safe, yet it doesn't treat the gamer like criminals. Because really only the honest gamer (the majority) are effected by DRM.

5) Marketing Moves. Even bad marketing gets awareness of a product. Look at Dante's Inferno and EA's idiocy on some of their marketing. (except when EA Rick Rolled Yahtzee, that was bloody hilarious) However one marketing move which really pisses us gamers off is when you know you are going to sell DLC so what you do is release a bare bones game (for full price), and then hope people buy DLC. Sims 3 is an example. If you are going to release a bare bones game, at least price it at expansion prices. However publishers know that gamers are sheep. They'll complain for months before a product is released, then rush out to by it, and complain every day they own it. But they've still bought it. Until gamers grow a spine and actually stand up against a lot of what game companies do, nothing is going to change.

Sorry for the long reply, I just kinda got into it. lol

Sheridan Layman
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I'd like to echo the price point comment. Not that I think it encourages piracy, but that there really is no reason today to spend $60 on a game. For console gamers there's Gamestop, Craigslist, Garage sales, etc. Consoles have always been a hobby for me and I've always been one generation behind. I can get the console for $50 and I've never paid more than $5 for a game.

The PC is a little more serious hobby, but still just a hobby. For that I have Steam and for the last 2 years I've never spent more than $10 on a game. Even when I bought them in a store (gosh, the phrase just sounds so archaic now-a-days!) I never spent more than $29.95 on a game [yes even 20 years ago]. Most of my games that cost more than that came as presents at 1 or 2 a year - which by the way is about the amount that I consume in a year.

The most money I've spent on games has been in the MMORPG market. Vast content which I could never explore all of in a lifetime of two to three 3 hour gaming sessions a week. Although recently I've been gravitating to the free to play market - and I don't buy items or do other microtransactions.

So what does this have to do with the whole piracy discussion? Not much except to say that publishers should be more open to the digital distribution model and if they already are, they should be moving a majority of their sales to digital. Secondly, publishers should be considering ALL price points in their product life cycles. Go ahead, if you feel you have to, and try to sell games in the stores for $60. Consider also that when that product can no longer compete for shelf space selling it digitally for $40 and drop the price by five bucks every 6 months or so. Produce smaller games for the portable platforms, the web, etc for $1 to $5. Dust off some of those archives, make some minor modifications and sell them for $5-15. Consider even converting some of the older console games for $10-20. Aim for several different genres AND price points. I think you'll do better in the long run than just focusing on one or two genres at $60 a pop and releasing half a dozen in a year. How bout one AAA a title per publisher a year and ten of the AA or A (or whatever you want to call them) and see how it goes. Mix it up and run several models in parallel.