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Hoist the colours!
by Timo Heinapurola on 11/03/12 10:23:00 am   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.

 

If there’s something you learn when working in the gaming industry it’s that pirates are everywhere. Regardless of what we do about the situation they can’t be rid of. Even worse, we tend to hurt our legitimate customers in the process of going after these people. Solutions like online DRM have angered players around the world and have really done nothing to prevent the actual targeted activity. Tyler York also recently wrote about four different methods to combat piracy (http://www.altdevblogaday.com/2012/10/11/4-simple-tips-for-combating-game-piracy/). The ideas in the post are ones that have been employed time and time again with freemium being perhaps the most effective whilst the others have fallen short and done just what pretty much every online DRM has done, and that is hurt the real customers.

This is a real issue, no doubt about that. There’s a significant base of potential customers who are not buying the title but are still playing it. Many of these people are lost customers, in that they would not be playing the game had they been in some way forced to pay for it. On the other hand, these people will spread the word on the game, regardless. This means that they are actually helping you out in reaching more customers. No I am not supporting piracy, by no means!

The problem with the internet is that it’s like a shopping mall the size of Ohio with only a handful of people looking after it. Some of the people visiting this mall are also very creative in finding ways to pick things up without any money changing hands and then copying that modified product to other people who do not necessarily have the required technical skills to pull it off on their own. One of the biggest problems is that the products changing hands are just bits stored on a hard drive. How could you even think protecting that kind of material?

We live in a very different world with the internet at the center of it. Piracy is something that’s very hard to control because humans really are more than just apes when it comes to our brain capacity. We are hitting the wall by treating intangible products as something tangible that can change hands.  Sure, you have EULAs that just give you a license to use the product, but what if you don’t care about that EULA? That’s just what pirates do. They don’t like paying for stuff that they can get for free and a simple legal contract is not going to stop them.

Luckily, people on the other side of the fence have not been standing idle either. If we can’t battle piracy, then why not just change the way we operate? Subscription based games and free-to-play games have shown that treating games as more of a service than an actual tangible product allows us to make money and not need to control the actual software product. We control the service. It does not matter who gets their hands on the actual game client if the only sensible way to play it is to log on to a service where all the other players are. Pirates might create their own networks where you can play for free, but those networks will not have all the benefits of the legitimate one.

To be honest, I would like to see a solution that would not require every single player game to be forced to adopt being online just for the sake of copy protection, but we are really at a crossroads here. It’s easy to say that this is not the right way to go, but do game developers have a choice if everything we do is to suffer from 99% piracy rates? Most of us can’t make a living on forging pick axes anymore while it might have been a lucrative business in the 18th century. I’m sure this is a very flammable topic. I would love to hear opinions about the topic, as usual! :)


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Comments


Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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"It’s easy to say that this is not the right way to go, but do game developers have a choice if everything we do is to suffer from 99% piracy rates?
Most of us can’t make a living on forging pick axes anymore while it might have been a lucrative business in the 18th century."

Every time I hear the 99% piracy rates in conjunction of how bad the developers are off i ask the same question:

If 99% is indeed the piracy rate (question: rate of what?) how is it that the industries with those piracy rates -still- make a healthy profit? (overall)

How can this be possible?

The music industry isn't dying, hasn't been for years, and it has purportedly the highest piracy rates ever. The software industry seems to be doing pretty well also, even on the dreaded PC, the hellhole of piracy (according to everyone).

Piracy has been around for ages, in its current digital/internet form since ~1997 and before that piracy existed on sneaker-net since ~1970 (over cassette-tape, VHS to floppy and CD-ROM).

And during all this time, the (apparent) impact of piracy on the relevant industries is negligible on the large scale.

Sure, there are always the (localized) horror-stories like Trine (even though it didn't stop Trine 2 apparently), but on the large economic scale there seems to be close-to-zero impact.

Timo Heinapurola
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Today, it's increasingly hard to break even with mid-range titles. Many publishers have a lot of titles that don't sell well and then a few that do, which helps keep their books on the green. The problem just is that even great games sometimes sell poorly even when there are a lot of people playing them.

Nowadays, your normal musicians earn most of their money with live performances. Only big names can make their living through record sales.

As I said, "Many of these people are lost customers, in that they would not be playing the game had they been in some way forced to pay for it." This means that you can't expect all the 99% of people playing the game to buy the game. The rate is very hard to estimate with Ubisoft saying it's about 93-95 but there are estimates of even higher numbers (such as the 99 one). The point is not the exact number but the scale of it and with modern internet speeds, it's eating at the general growth of the industry. We're growing because enough people are still buying the products. But some branches like retail are going down.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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"The point is not the exact number but the scale of it and with modern internet speeds, it's eating at the general growth of the industry."

Can you say with scientific or at least analytical confidence backed with evidence that without piracy (all other factors being equal) the growth would be "better"?

If the point is not the exact number (which it is, because accuracy is necessary to analyze the impact) how can we determine the difference of impact between a 50% piracy or 99% piracy rate?

"Today, it's increasingly hard to break even with mid-range titles. Many publishers have a lot of titles that don't sell well and then a few that do, which helps keep their books on the green. The problem just is that even great games sometimes sell poorly even when there are a lot of people playing them [...]

We're growing because enough people are still buying the products. But some branches like retail are going down."

Can you prove that this is -caused- by piracy? Because correlation does not equal causation.
Just because retail is going down or games are hard to sell doesn't mean that it is affected by exclusively one factor or that its even a major contributing factor (it could be market over saturation, etc.)

I am all for speculation, but then we should make clear that its just that and not treat our beliefs as fact. I'm generally ready to be persuaded, but my default position is that of a rejection of the claim until the claim has been demonstrated true (by evidence based reasoning).

The estimates by content holding companies or interest groups are insufficient to be counted as evidence as they are not impartial. I also am skeptical about the information from BSA/IDC (http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/cri_sof_pir_rat-crime-software-
piracy-rate) but at least their efforts are transparent and have their methodology attached to the statements.

In conclusion, you said it yourself, "we are growing because enough people are still buying the products". We can not prove if the rates would be higher if we (hypothetically) removed piracy (my educated guess is that they wouldn't; from studies on pirating behavior).

But lets ignore this for a second to tackle a different problem.
The problem with piracy (I prefer the term IP infringement) is that its presented as a social problem, which it isn't.
Piracy went into high gear with digital data carriers because in the digital space scarcity can not exist and scarcity is an economical foundation of business.
We have a collision of digital post-scarcity dynamics with scarcity in the Real which will not be resolved until the business models in the Real catch up.

F2P are in principle (economically) the same as piracy, where a few pay for the product but many use the product for free (except this time with legal permission).
I never spent a cent in Star Trek Online, someone else did it for me for the game to continue existing.

The post-scarcity model will at its core always be heavily socialistic, a few will pay, large amounts will not.
The trick is to accept this in a general sense, and with it, accept piracy, which is not without its own benefits (just as players that never pay in F2P games have benefits).

In essence the argument that piracy is detrimental to growth can not be true if F2P is largely embraced and profitable, as both function exactly the same way.

What it does change is the dynamic and feedback, as F2P services/products (including piracy) fail or succeed on their own merit (good game design, non-predatory business models, etc) rather than on coercive marketing and forced purchase decisions (I have to buy the product to experience the content whether I like the content or not)

I have a lengthy article that tackles some of the issues on my blog (its a response to another blogger): http://livewareblog.wordpress.com/2012/07/25/re-thoughts-on-pirac
y/

Timo Heinapurola
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I am very much aware that the situation is much more complex than is often admitted. I must quote myself by stating that "This means that they [pirates] are actually helping you out in reaching more customers." Piracy to some extent is beneficial and in F2P, as you said spreading the word on free products is essential.

I also already wrote that many of the pirates would not be potential customers but as I stated they are still beneficial as a whole. As long as piracy remains ethically questionable it's containable.

I think F2P is one way of accepting that piracy will prevail in the same way as accepting that wars will always ignite. It's going around our human nature. I, for one, belong to the group of people not usually paying for F2P games but I'm OK with it. But I'm not OK downloading a game that I should have paid for. And that's the great thing about F2P. It's just that not all games fit the model. Then again more and more games are finding ways to do so.

Another quote: "Most of us can’t make a living on forging pick axes anymore while it might have been a lucrative business in the 18th century." The industry must adapt if it wishes to increase its growth rate. It is already doing so.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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"As long as piracy remains ethically questionable it's containable."

Thats the question though, is it?
I tried to outline how the problem of piracy is not a social one, i.e. not an ethical one, but a business one.

If we look at our ethics as a gradation of harm, and harm can not be evidenced, on what grounds is it unethical?

Law is one thing, but laws do not dictate ethics or morals, so that can't be it.
No ethical argument can be made about your intrinsic entitlement of being paid for your labor, as this is argument would be contingent on the economic system (socialism/communism would not support that argument) and therefore a category error, so that can't be it either.

Our conventions and "etiquette" when it comes to purchase and consumption is entirely shaped by the capitalist economic system, not an inherent ethical basis.
There is no "Right to be paid" in the basic human rights.

We use this system and consider it "good" because our economy and the capitalist system (based on resource scarcity) is what -currently- works.
Your right to receive compensation for your work is a social contract and therefore a societal moral construct applicable only in the framework of the society an its system.

Except that the digital operates on a different system, post scarcity.

So we have a problem, since our two systems have no intersection yet still interact with each other, but it certainly isn't an ethical one.

The problem hence persists and can only be solved in three ways,

1) Acceptance: Reform IP and copyright law and just accept reality, treat every game as free to play (pay if you like)
2) Reverse Adaptation: Leave IP and copyright as is, make everything a service and centralized, give more power to the content holders
3) 1984: Increase surveillance, DRM and strict IP/copyright law, increase penalties for transgression, give more powers to the content holders

2) and 3) are anti-consumer with 2) being the lesser of the two evils. Nevertheless 2) will at some point fail because of the nature of the system. As more software switches to online services, a second layer of unofficial services will appear that will provide the same service for free (free streaming-sites/netflix situation).

i.e. 2) will make the system collapse slower, and will inevitably move towards 3).

The only option is to not only change the way you do business, but how you -see- and understand business and adapt not in the space of capitalism and scarcity but post-scarcity.

Maurício Gomes
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PIracy is old, very old.

Actually, I won a book that was written in 1600 or something like that.
The preface of the book is the author complaining of pre-release piracy:

He borrowed a third of the book to a friend (while writing the other two thirds)
That friend left that copy unattended, someone "borrowed" it, sent to someone with resources to do very fast copies of books, and returned the original copy.



The author lived in Italy, he went to a trip to Spain (remember, that was in 1600), when he arrived on spain... He was famous! Everyone was talking about his book (that was not even released).

First, he was "wtf". Then he figured what happened. Then he figured he had to write faster the last parts of the book (he was procastinating), and that he needed a good publisher...

His book sold lots of copies, he got rich and famous... And people remained pirating his book too.

And of course, now we have the documentation about piracy 400 years ago...


The book is "The Courtier" by "Baldassare Castiglione" if anyone is wondering :) Very good book by the way.

Hakim Boukellif
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Putting the ethics of full service-dependency aside for now...

The problem with treating "being a service" as a goal instead of a means (from a game design point of view) is that you're effectively limiting the kind of games you can make. Because if a certain kind of game has nothing to gain from being a service, but it's made into one anyway by adding a bunch of pointless features, then...

"Pirates might create their own networks where you can play for free, but those networks will not have all the benefits of the legitimate one."

...is no longer true. Unless, of course, you're pulling something like Diablo III is doing, in which case we're getting into ethics territory again.


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