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Opinion: Embracing piracy
Opinion: Embracing piracy
August 24, 2012 | By Daniel Cook

August 24, 2012 | By Daniel Cook
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Instead of looking at software piracy as an evil act, Spry Fox's Daniel Cook looks at it as a cultural opportunity for video game developers to explore different ways to make money from games. Reprinted with permission.

Last week, Ubisoft deigned to mention that it was seeing 90+ percent piracy rates and this was one reason that it was looking at F2P models. The gamer communities on the internet immediately erupted in a spasm of accumulated hate from years of DRM, poor customer service and that time they paid 60 bucks for a crap game.

Over the years, I've realized that there are things called 'polarized topics'. As soon as you hit one of these, thinking stops. Instead, as with the case of piracy, you get this spew of rote arguments. The word 'piracy' becomes a trigger to regurgitate. There is a 99 percent chance this will happen with this article. Stop... think a little.

Piracy as a fun activity

I was a pirate in my youth. Many of my fondest memories involve sorting through a giant stack of 3.5" floppies searching for that one diamond in the rough. I'm not exactly ignorant of the practice. In fact, I partially credit my current design chops to playing through such a vast range of hundreds of wonky and experimental games.

Being a 'pirate' was being part of a community. You and your friends shared games like social gaming gifts on Facebook. It didn't cost you anything to copy a game and give it to someone. A game was a social token to chat about, a gesture of kindness to reciprocate. A key takeaway from that time is that copying and sharing vast quantities of digital goods is a deeply fun, social and highly useful activity. This is a new thing, a new behavior in a post-scarcity world.

Hacking piracy for profit

As a young game developer, I believed that 'piracy' was the norm. The first game I worked on, Tyrian, used the shareware model. The essential assumption was that people love copying games for free, taking home a stack of 100 and then playing through them like it was Future Christmas. This behavior wasn't about ethics, morality, legality, etc. It was an observable cultural pattern of behavior that sprung quite naturally and innocently from technology and people mixing.

If you put out a pool of water and people start merrily flopping around in it, you acknowledge that this thing called 'swimming' exists. You can ban it as immoral, but I'd rather invent a sexy sandy thing called a 'beach' and get 2 bucks a head for admission.

With shareware, we hacked the copying behavior. People would play the random floppies and some of clever programs would say "Hey! Did you know that you can pay for this?" And a small portion of users did. 'Pirate' and 'consumer' are not mutually exclusive properties. In our capitalist society, almost everyone (with a few notable exceptions) is trained to buy stuff. People who like checking out new software for free are really just another audience of potential consumers.

Observing retail shenanigans from a distance

Now to the retail world, piracy is kind of philosophically shocking. For much of history, physical goods have featured an inherent production cost. I make stuff, I sell stuff and hopefully the resulting revenue pays for the cost of making all that stuff. This is ingrained... we don't even think about it. In fact in our specialist world, we've abstracted many of the roles and treat them as magical black boxes. Many engineers focus just on the 'making stuff' portions of the pipeline. "Oh, I don't sell stuff; I'm a maker" is the essence of their personal identity. When the rest of the black boxes don't magically perform 'selling' and 'making a profit', the world seems broken.

Over the past 30-plus years, we've witnessed multiple generations of business owners coming to terms with this wild new copying behavior. And it is hard. EA used to think of themselves as a company that sold boxes. That is their culture. They hire people that love selling boxes in the same way that engineers like 'making stuff'. Then they find that 80-90% of the people playing their games didn't pay for them. In physical goods, that situation doesn't even compute. Identities are at stake. The closest analogues are terms like 'piracy', 'counterfeiting' or maybe 'intellectual property theft'.

It has been a really confusing time for businesses. Some lashed out by labeling consumers as evil, some tried to protect the old ways with DRM. Relationships with customers...who see themselves as just having fun sharing cool stuff...became antagonistic. 30 years. When you raise kids in a warzone, they grow up parroting propaganda. No wonder the conversation is polarized.

Embracing the culture of free

I've never really cared much about piracy. Even the term itself is a construct of a retail mentality attempting to protect old business models.

Those business models may fail in the long run. I have zero emotional attachment to buying games at retail, collecting cardboard boxes or even more radically, preserving the existing forms of games that thrived in the retail world. If all 'sequels' aka 'excuses to get you to buy another box' stopped tomorrow, I wouldn't be overly upset. Detach yourself from the emotions of history. Give up the past forms of what games were. Adapt to the current environment with one eye firmly fixed upon the future.

People copying digital goods as an inherently joyful social activity is an opportunity. It is an artistic opportunity. It is a business opportunity. It is a cultural opportunity.

Art wise
What are new forms of games that thrive on free entrance and joyful social sharing? This means new genres, new styles of play all harnessed to our burning creative urge to forge meaning.

Business wise
What are new business models where we create a fair exchange of value so that players get to play and game developers can sustainably feed their family and keep making great games? This still means selling goods and services for money, but the range is vast. When I look at the bucket we call 'free to play', in reality what we are talking about are hundreds of possible business models all mixed together and overlapping in ways we are just starting to figure out. To keep it all straight, the exchange of value is important. What do we provide players? A willingness to pay flows quite strongly from delight and love.

Culture wise
What are our new social norms and values as a community. If beating boxes in order to buy new boxes no longer matters, what replaces this definition of being a gamer? Perhaps we have more groups that thrive on modding or building vast user-generated worlds. Perhaps we have intricate political systems. Humans are very capable of creating complex endogenous value systems independent of physical reality, yet still rich with meaning. Post-scarcity digital games are the new hyper-local hobbies, governments and religions of our time.

The drek

What about legacy retail-inspired distribution opportunities like consoles or single price downloads on digital storefronts? They still have issues with piracy and they still field the abusive customer-targeted weaponry of the past decades of war. Sell your games here if you must, but it is okay to feel a little dirty. For Steam, we launched a game as free-to-play. Players loved it. Valve does the same. Can you leverage the old to bring about the new?

What about the anti-DRM disciples that promote the anti-DRM religion amongst the indies and open source gypsies? I do not see the point in reacting against something broken. To be 'anti-DRM' supports the broken boxed forms while taking a small half step towards acknowledging the systems of inter-dependency in modern digital economies. Instead, build a new structure of value exchange between players and developers. Build a city on a new mountain instead of waging an unwinnable pissing war against an entrenched, desperate and degenerate opponent. There is nothing dignified here and mountains are plentiful.

In the end

'Piracy' is a concept that only makes sense relative to old ways of thinking about games. We should all pursue better and bigger dreams. Let's not lose more life to this lame, propaganda-ridden discussion. Yes, players love sharing, playing and talking about free games. What a wonderful (and powerful) thing.


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Comments


A S
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I don't mean to dismiss your argument, but I think this is essentially a strawman piece.

The point is not that piracy supports the old business model of boxed games, the point is that piracy violates intellectual property law. Whether the boxed game business model lives or dies is irrelevant, what matters is whether you respect the work people put into their games, or you don't.

The creator of the game has the right to give it away for free if they so wish, but a consumer has no right to steal it.

A S
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@Zack: Thanks for the reply. There is no fundamental law of the universe that says game sales have to confer "ownership" (whatever that means) rather than a limited term license to use. There is also nothing that says any work has to enter the public domain. These are legal concepts we as humans made up because we think creators should be legally justified in getting financial reward for their work.

If you have a moral argument why this shouldn't be so I'm all ears, but simply saying the law is unjust doesn't make it so, and on the other side there are quite a few moral arguments that say stealing is wrong, and make no mistake when you pirate you steal.

I am a software engineer. I do not believe software patents are unjust. Patent trolling is a serious problem, but the fundamental concept of patenting is sound.

Joe Wreschnig
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"There is also nothing that says any work has to enter the public domain. These are legal concepts we as humans made up..."

The public domain isn't a legal concept we made up. The public domain is the natural state of affairs. Exclusive copyright is a legal concept we made up.

Paul Laroquod
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What you think my rights are or aren't is irrelevant in the face of my undeniable ability to copy whatever I wish with almost no consequences. So you and others like you are just going to have to deal with that reality, sooner or later. You can't control me to pay; you can't force me; it's logically and mathematically impossible. Therefore, I guess you are just going to have to stop complaining and ask me nicely.

P.S. Pretending some law invented out of whole cloth in the 1700s is now a moral absolute and thus trying to make me feel bad about breaking it, doesn't qualify as asking me nicely. It just makes sure you get slotted into the 'never pay for anything by this person' bin. Welcome to the new world: sink or swim.

A S
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@Joe: Not really, it's a legal concept. I invite you to explain it to your pet.

@Paul: If you feel that way that's fine. However, I think it's pretty clear you don't have automatic rights to people's labor, including the labor of their minds. Hence taking that labor is a form of theft. I don't pitch pirates against creators, simply I personally don't want to be a thief, you seem down with being one. The moral absolute I would quote in this case is Kant's Categorical Imperative, not whatever law you are referring to.

E Zachary Knight
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A S,

The US Constitution states:

"[Congress shall have the power] To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for *limited Times* to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;" (Emphasis mine)

Copyrights and patents are supposed to be for a limited time. After that limited time, those works are supposed to be released to the public domain. As Joe already stated, the public domain was the default before modern copyright law was written. The Public domain is the inherent right of the people, copyright is the exception to that. If you think the opposite is true, then I am sorry.

Now, when copyright was first written here in the US, it was for 14 years, with the possibility of extension for another 14 years. Then it was upped to 20, years, then 25, then 50. Now it is the life of the author plus 70 years. Depending on when the author created their work (say when they were 20) and when that author died (say at 100) a work could be locked from the public domain for 150 years. Hardly limited.

On the software side of things, there is no reason for software and video games to have copyrights that far outlive their ability to run on modern hardware. Most computer games and software don't last more than 15 years before the hardware used to run them is obsolete. After 20 years, that hardware enters the public domain as the patents expire, but the software needed to run the hard ware, or the software that runs on it, does not enter the public domain. That is quite the conundrum for those that would like to preserve and expand on that work. That is the state of software we currently live in. That is not what the Constitutional clause grants the people.

Tom Baird
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Legal rights aside, we are almost completely unable to prevent copyright infringement through copying/traditional software piracy.

We are building consumer unfriendly systems that inhibit the people willing to support us.

We can continue to state "It's our right, we will enforce IP laws to the end" and could justify it by it being legally true and enforceable, but we are effectively attacking some of the very same people that can support us using a different model. We are inhibiting our own customers and making them jump through extra hoops and restrictions, therefore alienating them and making it more difficult for them to support us. And Piracy is still rampant. Is relying on the legal system effective, or even remotely constructive?

Maybe we should just find a better way, and stop looking at our legal rights, and start looking at the reality of digital products. We can't and won't stop piracy, and instead of chasing it at the cost of our paying customers, maybe we can find ways to work around it, and to create a model where it's simply no longer an issue that causes us problems.

We can vilify them, but that just creates an us vs. them mentality, which helps to lose those customers forever, and we can try to stop it outright, but that is like trying to plug a leaking dam with wire mesh, we can't even prevent a significant fraction.

I don't think current Free-To-Play is going to be the only, or best model, but it's an experimentation in how we can come up with ways to not have to worry about Piracy. Pay-What-You-Want is another available option that has traction, and shareware was an existing model that worked for many. These models are a starting point in showing us that we can sell our products in ways that do not worry or are not interested in piracy. Let's keep thinking and innovating here, maybe this route has even better options for providing the best products we can, where we are compensated for our work.

Just look at what combating piracy has done to the music industry.

"If you can't beat them, join them"

Jacob Germany
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Joe: "The public domain isn't a legal concept we made up. The public domain is the natural state of affairs. Exclusive copyright is a legal concept we made up."

AS: "@Joe: Not really, it's a legal concept. I invite you to explain it to your pet."


AS is right. Have you ever tried getting a dog to play with a Frankenstein squeaky toy? You can't. I tried to explain that it's long-since been in public domain, so it's fine to produce, sell, and play with it. But my dog refuses. He just can't understand public domain, no matter how many times I try explaining it, and he has too much respect for copyright that we humans realize has expired.

f fred
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It's not piracy if you give it away for free. Giving your game away for free and claiming that you're embracing piracy is just phony baloney hipsterism. It's called putting up a tip jar. I think everyone loves free games with tip jars, but the track record hasn't been great. The best games are built with plenty of human labor and then supported with DRM.

Hakim Boukellif
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Great, now we get shady freemium propaganda pretending to be other types of articles.

...anyway, while I don't agree with the author reducing attachment to physical media to mere sentimentalism, he does make a few good points. That said, I think he's forgetting about the other kind of "piracy" (for lack of a better word), the one that used to be exclusive to MMOs but will no doubt increase as more games go F2P: server emulation.

Keith Nemitz
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I agree with the essay's basic proposition, examine the social aspects of piracy to find opportunities to monetize it. Not everybody has to do this, but it's a valid and creative approach.

Me, I just want to make and sell games. So far, doing okay on the former, not so hot on the latter. I should pay more attention to articles like this.

A S
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Hey Keith, your post piqued my curiosity and this is what happened.

I clicked your profile and determined there was no link to your studio I could see.
I googled you, but your name wasn't in the Mousechief teaser, so I wasn't sure it was your studio.
Clicking the studio, the page looked weird in IE, but I determined it was yours from the About page.
Lastly, I checked out the first game linked "Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble." I don't mean to sound offensive, but the way it is described is creepy. However clicking on the screenshots showed it was more ironic and campy (if I still felt creeped out I wouldn't be posting).

So based on my experience as an interested consumer, here's 4 things you can do to help sales.

1) Link your studio in your profile (and everywhere else)
2) Get your name in the Mousechief teaser
3) Get the page working well in IE
4) Maybe consider rewriting how you describe your games, or just rely on images for impact

E Zachary Knight
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A S,

As a web developer, I take issue with your 3rd point. Trying to make a website look and run well in IE (especially when you have to do completely different tricks and hacks to work in IE 7,8, and 9) is a monumental pain in the butt. If his site does not look right in IE, that is a weakness in IE not his site's code. I have been to a number of sites that look incredible or at least passable in Firefox, Chrome and Safari but look like crap in IE.

That said, your other points are spot on.

A S
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@Zach: I know it's a pain but its gotta be done, at least but until FF or Chrome kills it for good.

@Everyone else: Check out this guys games for something pretty unique and interesting!

A S
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Hi Anthony, obviously I don't agree, but you are welcome to your opinion. Regarding piracy I haven't replied to Zach's post about the legality of extended copyright because it's not really the letter of the law that concerns me. I personally have a moral conviction that broadly piracy is theft. Just cause you can, doesn't mean it's ok. I'm also not afraid to say it, and call out people who are pirates. If you have a good argument that shows piracy to be not immoral, I truly am all ears.

E Zachary Knight
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A S,

"I personally have a moral conviction that broadly piracy is theft."

That is nice that you feel that way. However, the law does not agree with you. Piracy is copyright infringement. Theft requires that someone be deprived of their property. When someone copies a movie, game song or whatever, the owner of the copyright still has their copyright. They still have their creation. Their right to control distribution as outlined by copyright has been violated, but no theft occurred.

"Just cause you can, doesn't mean it's ok."

That is absolutely true. However, there are certain situations where a person may feel morally justified in committing copyright infringement. Whether you agree with their justifications is of no consequence.

"If you have a good argument that shows piracy to be not immoral, I truly am all ears."

Honestly, I think that is the wrong request. Getting all caught up in the morality of the situation just distracts from the realities that this article is trying to convey. This isn't about whether copyright infringement is moral or not, it is about how you should go about working within the current framework of reality to succeed.

Morals change from generation to generation. 60 years ago, it was immoral to show a man and woman kiss on tv. Now, we show them having sex (albeit on Network television, nudity is still taboo). Look at history and you will see a plethora of morals that have changed from generation to generation. As today's generation grows and becomes the leaders, what we call copyright infringement will not be as a big of deal as it is today. Why? Because morals change. That is a fact of life and civilization. If you don't like it that is fine. Just keep your kicking and screaming to a minimum as you are dragged into the future.

A S
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Hey Zach,

Alright, fair enough. The use of the term theft is incorrect in this situation under US law. Here's the relevant case http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dowling_v._United_States_(1985) . I have a question for you. Based on your post above (sorry for making this thread go all over the place, feel free to reply above if you want to consolidate it) you feel copyright is overly long. Do you support the concept of copyright in general?

"That is absolutely true. However, there are certain situations where a person may feel morally justified in committing copyright infringement. Whether you agree with their justifications is of no consequence."

Well yes and no. Firstly, I can talk about it and maybe alter viewpoints. Secondly, I can vote (with my feet and literally). We discuss these things, hopefully, because we have points of view we feel are correct and wish to spread them. I don't particularly want to argue with people I've never met, but in this case I feel the assumed narrative is overly supportive of pirates, and I dissent.

"This isn't about whether copyright infringement is moral or not, it is about how you should go about working within the current framework of reality to succeed. "

Ya I probably reacted to the wrong part of Daniel's article, I have no problem with him suggesting ways to succeed in an environment where piracy is rampant. What I take issue with is characterizing piracy as a reactionary viewpoint to protect the retail model. It simply isn't. Creators should have their work respected. The level of protection offered (your point regarding the length of copyright) is fair game for discussion, but denying their rights is not.

Regarding your last point about morality being flexible and changing with time. Yes some aspects of morality are flexibile, but some are not. Obscenity clearly changes with time, but for example the concept of property and ownership doesn't. Using something that isn't yours is the core action I object to, I doubt that this is going to change dramatically in the near future.

@Anthony: Honestly, I wasn't trying to discredit him. He says he wants to sell games, so I tried to find his games to see if I wanted to buy them!

Adam Bishop
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@ E Zachary Knight

Internet Explorer is either the most or 2nd most popular web browser depending on whose statistics you use. It still has a huge market share. I would consider it to be incredibly poor customer service to not support it. And I say this as someone who writes web code and wishes IE would just disappear. Yeah, it's a pain to support, but it's what a huge percentage of your potential customers/clients will be using.

David Peterson
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@A S: Not wishing to troll, but the concept of what is property and can be owned has definitely changed over time. People, for example, used to be considered property. Not so much any more, in most places.

I'm not equating software piracy to slavery, just pointing out that the definitions of almost everything are subject to cultural change over time. It will be interesting to see what the norms are two decades from now in that regard.

E Zachary Knight
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A S,

" Obscenity clearly changes with time, but for example the concept of property and ownership doesn't. Using something that isn't yours is the core action I object to, I doubt that this is going to change dramatically in the near future."

Yes the concept of property changes over time. I recommend researching Homesteading and the subsequent homestead act.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homestead_Act

I also recommend learning about how different cultures view the idea of property. For example, many Native American tribes did not view land as something personal or something owned. They considered it a shared resource.

For another example, Oklahoma is reconsidering what it calls "intangible property" for the purposes of taxation.

https://www.sos.ok.gov/gov/proposed_questions.aspx#sq766

As David pointed out, even human beings were considered property at one point but are no longer.

The concept of property changes over time and so does the purpose of copyright. When the US originally wrote copyright law, it was only for things like maps, charts and books. At that time, US copyright law did not extend to works created outside the US. Copyright changed to include a great number of things over the years.

Now, do I support any kind of copyright? Yes. It can be a useful tool for those who want or need it. However, it must be properly balanced against the end goal of expanding the greater culture of mankind.

Right now we have movies rotting in vaults because those who own the copyrights do not feel the need to preserve them because it is not profitable. We have games and other software that were culturally relevant 20 years ago dying because the copyright owners will not release them. We have a great dearth of literature starting in the 1920s that is not available to the public because they have been orphaned and forgotten. We have laws in place that tell people that they do not own their computers and phones and other devices because the creator of those devices puts DRM on them. All this and more is the symptom of bad copyright.

A S
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Hey Zach,

I think we've reached the point of fundamental disagreement here. I'm gonna skip over the slavery and native indian comments, suffice to say Indians had the concept of property, some tribes shared hunting rights, but there were also those that didn't (see Delawares).

"Right now we have movies ... All this and more is the symptom of bad copyright. "

Sorry for abridging your quote, just trying to keep the post legible. It is not a symptom of bad copyright. It is doing exactly what copyright is supposed to do. It is sad that these cultural artifacts are not available but it is entirely the right of the copyright holder to do not make them available, because they retain ownership. You can make a persuasive argument that copyright limits are too long, but it should exist.

E Zachary Knight
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A S,

" It is not a symptom of bad copyright. It is doing exactly what copyright is supposed to do."

Letting culture rot in a vault is hardly promoting the progress of science and useful arts, what copyright is meant to do.

Keith Nemitz
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Heh, I'm gone for a day, and the internet moves right along without me!

A S
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Hey Zach,

You are confusing patents and copyright. Defects in the patent system do not have any logical relevance to your disagreements with copyright. Copyright is not impeding "science". Also the purpose of copyright is to protect ownership of IP, not to drive the creation of new artistic works.

E Zachary Knight
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A S,

The US Constitution states:

"[Congress shall have the power] To *promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts*, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;" (Emphasis mine)

The purpose of copyright as outlined in the Constitution is NOT to protect intellectual property. The purpose of copyright is to promote science and useful arts. Copyright is the tool we currently use to achieve that end. Right now, I don't think that tool is in any way effective at that purpose though.

A S
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Last I checked it isn't 1787, and we have 225 years of statute law that has expanded on this topic. Part of this statute law deals with the clear difference between things such as "effective methods to produce Insulin" and "Moby Dick". These things are meaningfully different, and so are meaningfully separated by law.

Secondly, your quote explains exactly how the constitution intended to do this, "by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries". If you're going to try to bring an originalist argument to this discussion you can't then ignore the second part of the very sentence you quoted.

So we come down to the same point you've ignored about 3 times so far, which is that the core of your argument is that your definition of "limited" is different from that of current legal statute. It is perfectively clear *from your own quoted support material* that copyright is a valid legal instrument.

E Zachary Knight
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A S,

Do you really think that a potential 150 year copyright term meets any logical definition of "limited"?

And I have not ignored your arguments. I have simply stated that current copyright law has far exceeded its original purpose. It is not longer limited. It fails to promote science and useful arts. The punishments for copyright infringement are unconstitutionally excessive. The DMCA's anti-circumvention clause is a horrible infringement of personal property rights. Current copyright law fails all around.

Despite what you think, there is a major backlash against this excessive grab for power by power copyright lobbyists. What is being expressed in this article, the growing use of Creative Commons licensing, the over view from consumers that sharing games, music and movies is not morally wrong. While copyright lobbyists are growing in legislative power for the time being, they are losing the cultural war. It will cost them if they don't adapt.

A S
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>Do you really think that a potential 150 year copyright term meets any logical definition of "limited"?

I understand you're trying to say it's too long, and if you'd said "reasonable" I'd agree with you here, but logical, well you know the answer - yes it does.

>And I have not ignored your arguments. I have simply stated that current copyright law has >far exceeded its original purpose. It is not longer limited. It fails to promote science and >useful arts. The punishments for copyright infringement are unconstitutionally excessive. >The DMCA's anti-circumvention clause is a horrible infringement of personal property rights. >Current copyright law fails all around.

The problem is, I look around at the fastest moving technological period of time humans have ever lived in, as well as the democratization of creative tools (think ProTools, cheap video editors, distribution channels such as YouTube) and I'd have to say - things are pretty good. Yeah they could be better, but you're way off to suggest our current society is somehow doing poorly. There are challenges, but the system works remarkably well.

>Despite what you think, there is a major backlash against this excessive grab for power by >power copyright lobbyists. What is being expressed in this article, the growing use of >Creative Commons licensing, the over view from consumers that sharing games, music and >movies is not morally wrong. While copyright lobbyists are growing in legislative power for >the time being, they are losing the cultural war. It will cost them if they don't adapt.

More power to you, I love citizen action as it is what keeps democracy functioning. However *none* of the above has any effect on the core point - which is that copyright infringement in the form of piracy is wrong both legally and morally, and there are no real good reasons to do it except for "I can, and you can't stop me". Whether creators should adapt or fight is really a separate issue, like in a lawsuit, you *should* fight it but most of the time it's better to settle.

Mihai Cosma
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A decently inspired and intellectual article. We're in an age where definitions matter a lot less than experiences. We're still half a generation away from true new-age digital prospecting and monetization, so for the moment, we'll struggle through retail identity crisis and digital gauging. An old chineese curse that i always considered to be a good-wish phrase is "May you live in interesting times", and it appears we'll all be under that 'curse' for a decent while.

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

Lars Doucet
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I don't disagree that the single-priced "retail inspired" model is broken in many ways and can be improved upon, but Free-to-play has some serious problems that need addressing, too, above and beyond the monetization debate. Nothing is perfect.

My main concern with Free-to-play is that it embraces the "software as a service" model, which causes two problems.

For one, it means I don't actually own the software. This restricts my freedom to do what I want with it. I like the ability to tweak it, modify it, and most importantly - know that I can get it to run in 10 years if I feel like it. And if I want to play starcraft over a LAN with my friends, or hack my local game settings in Diablo to rebalance the game or make it accomodate my disabilities, why should anyone stop me? Why should Apple have the power to tell me what software I can and can't install on my own device? Why must I always be online to play a single player game?

You don't even have to open source your game to fix most of this, you just need to not load it down with restrictions, and open up the data format to modifications. Of course, open sourcing it a few years down the road is a major plus.

Second, software as a service is a threat to archivalism. Video games ALREADY have a huge problem with archivalism and video game history, as Jordan Mechner and Frank Cifaldi have demonstrated on this very site.

I like knowing that I can go back and play the original version of a game if I choose to keep it around. You just CAN'T play the original version of Ultima Online anymore, and in 20 years it's unlikely you'll be able to play any version of it at all.

David Peterson
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Technically, a lot of software that you buy is only licensed to you to use. You do not actually own it, and the developer could technically revoke your right to use it. Ironically, there's not that much they can actually do to prevent you, if you really want, so it's really just about keeping the honest people honest...

Lars Doucet
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@David:

That's technically true, but as both a consumer and a developer, I don't like that model. As far as the games I sell go, if you pay for it, you can do pretty much whatever you want with it. That doesn't transfer the copyright to you, of course, but I'm not going to artificially restrict your right to use software you've bought and paid for.

If you buy a book, for instance, you don't have the right to plagiarize it and claim it as your own, but if you want to read it, eat it, burn it, use the sheets for toilet paper, etc, that's your right. The same should go for software, even if that's not currently the law in the US. And if others don't want to do it, well, I can.

In the EU, the high court has ruled that a software license cannot restrict the purchaser's right to first sale:

http://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=12
4564&pageIndex=0&doclang=EN&mode=req&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=52
13884

Even though I'm in the US and technically have the legal right to restrict transferring software license ownership, I won't enforce it on my products.

Alfe Clemencio
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What? You guys haven't made a game where people buy it after they pirate it?

I'm an indie developer self-published. I've had a few people walk up to me at conventions, tell me they pirated my game, then buy my game in front of me. Weirdest experience ever.

Triple-A devs should be able to do that though too.

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Alfe Clemencio
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I just think that piracy is sometimes used as an excuse for poor sales. Also a Japanese government organization said that if it wasn't for fansubbers there wouldn't be a market for anime in north america.

Also what about merchandise? If people really enjoy your game, won't they want to buy merchandise? What about trying to make a timeless classic DRM free game that will go down in history and worthy of people asking for it to be signed by the creators? A game that has such a large effect on the player that a key moment will forever be burned in into their hearts and minds?

Are we still trying to aim for that today?

Nicolas Lopez
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> I've had a few people walk up to me at conventions, tell me they pirated my game, then
> buy my game in front of me. Weirdest experience ever.
I've personally done that a lot with games and movies I enjoyed. For example I remember myself finishing a pirated copy of Metal Gear Solid 3 on PS2, and then buying a legit copy straight away (copy I would never play) just to "support" the developer.
I don't see buying as a way to own things, but more as a way to support developers we like. To me, It's more like a vote.

John Tynes
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Part of what drives people crazy about piracy is the sense that pirates are committing immoral acts and getting a free pass because they're only stealing digital data. If I steal your boxed copy of NBA 2K12, the police will arrest me. If I borrow that boxed copy and, without telling you, rip it to my hard drive and then return the boxed copy back to you, the police don't care. But the distinction there seems semantic. Isn't wrong, wrong? Being told that the latter case is fine but the former case should be a crime makes some people's heads explode.

Just because something is easy doesn't mean it's right. Digital data is the ultimate solution to the tragedy of the commons -- because data is a post-scarcity commons and there is always more grass for everyone's cows -- but the fundamental human behavior that leads to the tragedy of the commons as well as to digital piracy is still pretty repugnant and selfish. Isn't ugly, ugly?

That said, there are good reasons to embrace F2P as a business model that have nothing to do with piracy.

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E Zachary Knight
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The big difference is something you pointed out. In scenario A, you are denying a person of property. In scenario B, you are not. That is why you cannot equate copyright infringement with theft.

Aaron Casillas
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You can equate the loss of monetary property due to Copyright infringement, as you can see this kid is in a world of hurt..

http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-19370862

E Zachary Knight
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Aaron,

There are very good arguments for why such a fine for sharing 30 songs is unconstitutional.

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120823/16473120140/district-co
urt-675000-non-commercially-sharing-30-songs-is-perfectly-reasona
ble.shtml

Of course speculating that you lost thousands or millions of dollars to copyright infringement is hardly the same thing as saying that thousands or millions were actually stolen.

Matt Ployhar
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1st off - There is no 90% Piracy rate going on. (This CAN be proven).
2nd - Most of the masses are either not savvy enough, know how, or where to go to pirate games.
3rd - The folks that are savvy enough to pirate games - often still buy the game legitimately but crack the DRM off of it for 1) Better perf, & 2) To create a Digital copy of their own game.

I don't buy the 90% one bit.

This begs the question - can a game ISV claim piracy as a loss, & able to write it off? I've seen some games up on the TorrentFreak Stats & I'm like... really? Who would go through the trouble?

I've never encountered a situation, where 9 out of 10 people are 'pirating' something. It tends to be the other way around. To be fair -- I've seen data where Piracy rates can be super high in a particular Geo -- but that was so 90's & early 2000's. Welcome to Free to Play. The Piracy that does occur in those Geo's now occurs with Fire & Forget - Shrink Wrapped - DRM products.

I'd be more concerned with what's been occurring on Console where there REALLY is a triple jeopardy effect going on. 1) Rising Piracy + 2) Seconary Sales + Game Loaning = 70-90% losses.

Adam Bishop
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"There is no 90% Piracy rate going on. (This CAN be proven)."

OK, then prove it.

Tom Baird
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I too would like proof.

Also for #2, at this point, it's often just Googling '[GameName] Torrent'
And #3, do you have any evidence or reasoning that would support this, outside of gut feel?


Don't forget that piracy rates are international values, and comparing against a small group of North American/European/Australian/(Wherever you live) acquaintances of someone interested in game development does not constitute the values and situations in other parts of the world and other demographics. China in particular has very minimal concepts of intellectual property, and therefore can see significantly higher rates of piracy on average, weighting the percentages relative to your anecdotal experience. There are also some countries with heavy amounts of commercial piracy (Brazil for one, China as another), where a single person is creating a multitude of copies for resale, also jacking up piracy percentages.

Sherman Luong
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Looking back at my old titles with Analytic. The amount of new user created versus amount of purchases recorded, it is about 90% of people pirated my game. Granted .99 is too expensive on iOS, still would been great if it was down to 75% piracy rate.

Jason Wilson
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Does anyone stop to wonder whether capitalism is the problem? If no one needed money to live there would be no concept of game piracy what so ever. The creator would enjoy the fact that people are playing their game no matter where the get it or how they get it.

Intellectual Property is a post scarcity commodity, but we still live in a world driven by scarcity. Hopefully when humankind moves beyond scarcity we can abandon this system entirely and then none of this would matter.

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Jason Wilson
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Obviously this potential future is quite far off at this point in time but it seems to me that intellectual property law and the fight against piracy are really just the world trying to struggle with regulating a limitless resource so that it behaves like a limited one.

As more of the "goods" we produce as a civilization become of this limitless variety we're going to come to a point when we have to decide whether the systems we have put in place really make sense.

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Russ Menapace
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I'll be inclined to jump on board when I can get my groceries for free.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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I second Russ. I would love to give my games away for free as that should get more people to enjoy them and introduce more happiness into the world -- but I can't then explain that to the grocer and expect to get food for free :).

Gregory Booth
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I would love to live in this perfect world.

I guess when the replicators come online...wait, in this perfect future is energy also unlimited?

@Dave, Russ, Jeffrey
Exactly!

Emppu Nurminen
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Yeah, sure, it's capitalism's fault that the ration of good vs. god-damn-awful products is in favor for latter one. This is the common, yet disturbing phenomena among any cultural industry you have on earth, and you can see quite clearly, how suddenly, the actually pretty good ones have capitalism as one of the motivator to do the good products.
I do agree that capitalism is broken, but what is more broken, is people consuming the media. That's also one problem we should tackle with rather than washing our hands of as creators and consumers.

Aaron Fowler
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I don't think MineCraft would be as popular or anywhere near where it is today, if it wasn't for people pirating it.

It has sparked so much word of mouth, even from the people who pirate the game. There are still people who buy the game too. And perhaps some of that might could be attributed to the excitement from the people who have played MineCraft (Legit, and not). After all the pirates still stream and make exciting YouTube videos about MineCraft.

That is what I call embracing piracy. It has nothing to do with trying to make up excuses or find a perfect solution (Because there isn't one), but by simply adapting to it. Pirates will continue to pirate. And if a solution does arise to stop piracy. The pirates just won't even bother with the game, period. And companies will wonder why there are so few players playing their games than there used to be years ago.

In my opinion, it's better to have a strong community than a 100% legit one. If you have a strong community there will be some pirates that will simply make the community stronger by word of mouth, videos, streaming, etc. Legit buyers will still come through and purchase the game.

It has almost come to a point with the saturation in this industry that word-of-mouth will be the most valuable and effective tool for marketing, and pirates could have a big impact on that.


I'm not saying that piracy should be "endorsed", but it should be embraced as a truth. You're only fooling yourself if you think otherwise.

Aaron Casillas
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http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-19370862

E Zachary Knight
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Aaron,

There are very good arguments for why such a fine for sharing 30 songs is unconstitutional.

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120823/16473120140/district-co
u rt-675000-non-
commercially-sharing-30-songs-is-perfectly-reasonable.shtml

Of course speculating that you lost thousands or millions of dollars to copyright infringement is hardly the same thing as saying that thousands or millions were actually stolen.

I will add that had he stolen 3 cds from Walmart, the analog equivalent of 30 songs, at most he would have seen a $1000 fine and possibly some time in jail, but no more than 5 years.

Instead he will be paying a debt he can never repay. He will become the financial slave of the RIAA for the rest of his life.

Ed Macauley
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Oh boy, this discussion again. I used to think software piracy was awesome too. Then I grew up. Seriously. I grew up and learned that stealing software (like stealing anything else) was legally and morally wrong. I didn't know any better. This is a BS argument, "Piracy is inevitable! Let's just embrace it."

E Zachary Knight
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Equating copyright infringement with theft is a BS argument.

Theft - Depriving someone of their property.

Copyright Infringement - Making a copy of something against the wishes of the rights holder.

Very different things.

sean lindskog
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I appreciate your distinction between theft and copyright infringement.

But I think the practical result is the same. If the people who play my game don't pay for it, I lose money. If somebody steals my stuff, I lose money (assuming I need to replace it, and have no insurance - if I do have insurance then theft is actually less bad than piracy for me).

The scenario I find most offensive is this. A dev makes a good game. A bunch of people play and enjoy the game. The dev runs into financial trouble (probably preventing him from making more good games) because many people who enjoyed his game pirated it. It doesn't seem fair, and I find it hard not to look at pirates as assholes in this situation.

E Zachary Knight
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Sean,

So when someone plays your game without paying, your bank account loses money? Every time? How does that work? Personally, if that were happening to me, I would be more concerned about the security flaw in my bank than someone infringing my copyright.

See, this is the problem with trying to equate copyright infringement with theft. In copyright infringement, nothing is stolen. No property was taken from someone.

Now, it does suck that some developers can't succeed in spite of piracy. All these same though we have numerous developers who are succeeding in spite of it. Why not just learn from those developers and keep trying? Isn't that what Spry Fox is trying to do with this article?

sean lindskog
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Hey Zach -
I figure we both have some solid footing for our arguments here. But let me answer this way:

"So when someone plays your game without paying, your bank account loses money? Every time? How does that work?"

I say it's practically the same.

Example 1: Sean's bank account (Theft)
Work wages: +100
Theft: -100 (to pay for stolen stuff)
Net: 0

Example 2: Sean's bank account (Piracy)
Work wages: 0 (no wages because people pirated my game)
Net: 0

Is it unreasonable to believe I should be paid for my work? Isn't that how capitalism works?

This is simplified - there are good points to be made that not every act of piracy is a lost sale. But it's unreasonable to believe piracy does not affect revenue in a fairly significant way. As is often pointed out, the music industry is a good case study here.

E Zachary Knight
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So when someone infringes the copyright on your game, your employer refuses to pay you?I would certainly hate to work for that company.

That said, I assume you are working from the angle that the games you sell are your wages. Well, I would counter that with making the game is only half your job. The other half is convincing people who are willing to pay for it to do so. That is completely possible even with the proliferation of piracy. The Humble Bundle guys continue to bring in 6 or 7 digits every bundle. GOG is still in business. Steam is too. All these companies have to deal with piracy, but have found a way to convince people to pay money for games.

The same is said for the music industry. While the *recording* industry may be losing revenue, overall music revenue is up.

http://www.techdirt.com/skyisrising/

sean lindskog
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> "So when someone infringes the copyright on your game, your employer refuses to pay you? I would certainly hate to work for that company."

I'm a self-published indie, so game sales = my wage.
Even in an employee situation, the success of my company (thriving, breaking even, or going bankrupt) would likely affect my wage.

For sure, success is certainly possible in spite of piracy. My point is that when you pirate a game, you are contributing to depriving the dev of his/her livelihood. While legally distinct, in terms of "badness" this is nearly equivalent to theft.

> "The other half is convincing people who are willing to pay for it to do so."

You're right. But this sucks. In most other product or service industries, if you use the thing I made, you pay me for it. It's purely through a quirk of technology (digital copying) that my craft allows people not to pay me. It's a reality, but an unfortunate one.

E Zachary Knight
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Sean,

"You're right. But this sucks. In most other product or service industries, if you use the thing I made, you pay me for it. It's purely through a quirk of technology (digital copying) that my craft allows people not to pay me. It's a reality, but an unfortunate one."

The alternative, is that no one plays your game or pays you for it. Yes it sucks that you aren't making as much money as you would like to, but you are not entitled to what you want to make, but only what you earn. Earning money is hard work. It was never as easy as you make it out to be.

sean lindskog
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Sorry, I don't really understand what your "hard work" comment has to do with piracy vs. theft. I think most game devs work very hard. Are you intentionally changing topics here, or did I miss something?

E Zachary Knight
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Sean,

My comment was in response to the overall theme, or at least what I perceive to be the theme, of your comments. That you are somehow entitled to a specific outcome of your choosing regardless of any effort you put in. However, there is never any such guarantee.

If you choose to make money via your games, then you have that right. However, just making that choice does not guarantee that you make money. There are many obstacles that stand in the way, piracy being one of them. How you choose to face that is your choice, but not all of them result in more income. Many of them result in less income.

You talk about people going out of business due to piracy. I simply responded that it is because they did not do enough to convince people out there to buy their game. Those developers should have done more work in order to connect with their fan base and give them a reason to buy. The fact that numerous developers are able to survive is a testament to that fact. If piracy were as big a problem as everyone likes to claim, there would be no games industry. There would be no music industry. There would be no film industry. No Literature industry. We know that is not the case. So why are we complaining about piracy? It is like complaining about the weather.

Russ Menapace
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@Zachary

"Equating copyright infringement with theft is a BS argument. "

If you want to split hairs, then copyright infringement is a violation of my privacy. My game is a chunk of information I created to share only with people that pay for it. Anybody that plays it and hasn't paid for it is violating my privacy.

"So when someone infringes the copyright on your game, your employer refuses to pay you?I would certainly hate to work for that company."

I'm an indie. The people that play my game are my employers, so yes, and it does suck. Even if I wasn't, an employer isn't somebody with a magical bucket of money delivered by unicorn each day.

"See, this is the problem with trying to equate copyright infringement with theft. In copyright infringement, nothing is stolen. No property was taken from someone. "

This argument implies that people have infinite time to play games. Time spent playing a pirated game is time not spent playing any legally acquired game. When somebody is playing a pirated game, everybody that makes games gets screwed... even the people that put out games for free, and get value from simply knowing their games are being played. It puts devs with no budget up against multimillion dollar budgets, with no price difference.

Piracy can't be stopped, but it can't be justified, either.

sean lindskog
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> "That you are somehow entitled to a specific outcome of your choosing regardless of any effort you put in."

Really Zachary? This is what you took away from my theft vs. piracy comments?

This is not even close to anything I've been saying. We can't have a serious conversation here if you're just going to make up ridiculous statements to argue against. Read your quote again. Who would ever say or believe that?

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"> "That you are somehow entitled to a specific outcome of your choosing regardless of any effort you put in."

Really Zachary? This is what you took away from my theft vs. piracy comments?"

He did the same thing to me in another article. I don't think he's trying to be deceitful, but I do find it an annoying tactic to try to make a developer feel bad for wanting people who enjoy their game to pay for it by converting that to the strawman of a developer wanting money regardless of how good the game turns out or whether people want it in the first place. I think it is dishonest and below his intelligence (from how well he speaks) to "accidentally" switch our arguments out for this strawman, but I think he has good intentions (Defending against overly long copyright protection) that simply lead him down this road. I respect talking to you Zachary, but I hope this tactic of shaming developers for wanting honest pay for honest work will stop, whatever the cause or purpose.

Anyway, I will just flip that around and say that a pirate is not entitled to the fruits of my labor for free.

E Zachary Knight
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Sean, Jeffrey,

Sorry if my argument came off as a strawman. I try to avoid doing anything that would be construed as a fallacy. However, my point has founding in Sean's comments.

"But I think the practical result is the same. If the people who play my game *don't pay for it, I lose money.*"

That is not true in the slightest. If a person who downloads a pirated game, plays it for 10 minutes and decides they don't like it, are you losing money in that case? No. What they did was no different than playing the game at a friend's house. There are many other similar situations.

Again, just because you made a game, doesn't mean you are entitled to be paid every time someone plays it.

"The dev runs into financial trouble (probably preventing him from making more good games) because many people who enjoyed his game pirated it."

IF the game is that enjoyable, then it should be a lot easier to convince people to actually pay for it. But you have to work at that. As an indie developer, you cannot escape the requirement of marketing your game. You have to get out there and convine those people that they should pay for it. Will everyone pay? No. I have never said otherwise. But if you play your cards right, get to know your fan base, you can do it.

"Is it unreasonable to believe I should be paid for my work? Isn't that how capitalism works?"

Yes that is how capitalism works. However, just making the game is no guarantee that you will make money. You have to work to convince people to buy the game. That is what I am getting at. If you cannot convince people to pay, then you are failing capitalism.

"My point is that when you pirate a game, you are contributing to depriving the dev of his/her livelihood. "

Again, that is not true. There are a number of reasons people pirate and many of them result in those people paying for either future games or the game they pirated. There are also many reasons why someone will not pay. But again, all those reasons tie back to what you as the developer do beyond just making the game.

My question to you is this, if you made a game and no one pirated it, but no one bought it either, would you claim that you lost money or that money was stolen from you? No you wouldn't.

But as this article is talking about, it is up to you how you deal with pirates and what you can do to turn them into paying customers.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"Sorry if my argument came off as a strawman."

No problem :).

"But as this article is talking about, it is up to you how you deal with pirates and what you can do to turn them into paying customers."

I guess I see some of the means of dealing with piracy as "giving in". I don't think we should have DRM but we shouldn't lose site of the power that we have as the actual creators of content. That power is real, but it has been drained from our hearts by letting suits control us in the industry and pirates control our work outside of it. If "the system" is being twisted to fulfill the interests of others so we don't get paid well for our work, then we should do something (even if it's just public service announcements) to fight it or it will become unsustainable.

So I like the idea of being DRM free, and can get behind embracing TPB as a distribution channel or using kickstarter and delayed releases (play the demo, and if enough people contribute to my kickstarter we will actually finish the game). But I also feel that developers publicly "accepting" piracy will have causal repercussions down the road as people say "see? they don't mind; they even expect piracy!" which will cause piracy to get worse.

Also there is a huge difference to me between a game failing to make money because I did not advertise it and a game failing to make money because I advertised it and people just disregard my livelihood and feel entitled to pirate it anyway, so I don't think that connection is valid.

"If you cannot convince people to pay, then you are failing capitalism."

If piracy becomes socially acceptable, it will be harder to convince people to pay.

Regarding the duration of copyright, it may be too long but in my opinion that is a trivial issue compared to developers not being able to create excellent games under the security of knowing that (assuming people hear about and enjoy the game) they will be rewarded fairly for their effort.

I'm starting to think that the dividing line should be redrawn in such a way that acknowledges that there can be good piracy (someone in a country that can't pay for my game downloading it and playing it at least increases their happiness) and bad copyright protection (this is harder for me to imagine, but I guess the estate of some author who only has one copy of a book deciding not to print any copies or let anyone see it, thus causing it to be lost to history? Maybe cracking down on harmless fan fiction?). What is this dividing line, in a way that is less nebulous than "good" and "evil"? :(

sean lindskog
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Let me put a couple things to rest.

Zachary> "IF the game is that enjoyable, then it should be a lot easier to convince people to actually pay for it."
Seems obvious. I agree.

Zachary> "As an indie developer, you cannot escape the requirement of marketing your game."
Seems obvious. I agree.

Zachary> "However, just making the game is no guarantee that you will make money."
Seems obvious. I agree.

Here's where I have a problem. Game devs make stuff. When people make stuff, they get to decide how much to sell it for. There's almost nothing outside of digital media where this isn't true - where people can just take these things for free.

I do agree there are some borderline cases - nasty DRM, or games with no demo. However, just like with any other product, a consumer should take the time to read reviews and educate themselves about a product before purchasing. If a game flat out doesn't work (always a concern with software), most purchasing channels will refund this.

For my case in particular, my game is DRM-free, has a free demo, and has an informative website describing the game. There's enough independent reviews to get a good feel for it, easily dialed up on google. So likely, the major source of piracy for my game is people who would rather get something for free than pay for it.

There are practical realities about piracy I am not denying. Among them, that not every pirated copy is a lost sale (I said this above). But it does not mean I accept piracy as a victimless crime. There will always be some percentage of people who prefer to pirate a game in order to avoid paying under any circumstance. The more pirating is viewed a victimless crime, the more people will pirate, the harder it is for a game dev to make a living.

Jeffrey> "If piracy becomes socially acceptable, it will be harder to convince people to pay."

Well said.

Bart Stewart
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So presumably those who defend software piracy, on coming home to discover they'd left their front door open and all their nice stuff was gone, would smile and say, "Well, being easy to do makes it OK."

Guerric Hache
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Much as I oppose software piracy, this kind of argument seems disingenuous; we all know that software piracy doesn't deprive copyright holders of their property, which is what most people find objectionable about actual theft. If someone were to break into my house and clone all my possessions, leaving the originals intact and in their place, I would only be somewhat upset, and most of that would come from the fear of what might have been if they *had* taken or broken something (or hurt someone).

If you need a heinous-crime analogy, I guess stealing and sharing state secrets would do; or unwanted voyeurism; or breaking into a bookstore and copying all the books.

Come to think of it, while not violent, try going into your local Chapters (or other bookstore) for several hours a day and just reading the books there, without ever buying one. I know for a fact the people working at Chapters don't like it when potential customers do that, and it frankly does seem to mirror the situation more accurately. When I was a kid, Chapters had tons of sofas and chairs sitting around; today, there are hardly any, and kids sitting on the steps reading books get nasty looks and harsh words from employees.

E Zachary Knight
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Please see my comment to Ed Macauley above.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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Yeah c'mon Bart, you are better than the argument ad theft for piracy.

Adam Bishop
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Bart, if someone could copy my sofa without depriving me of it I would be totally cool with that.

Steven Christian
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@ Bart - 24 Aug 2012 at 12:29 pm PST
If I left my front door open and came home to find that I had lost nothing but someone had gained a copy of all of my possessions, I would call them for a friendly chat to see which parts of the copy of my possessions they enjoy the most, and if we can somehow come to an agreement for mutual benefit, since we both like the same things :)

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E Zachary Knight
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Because they like the developer and want to support their work? Because the developer made a clear case for why buying from them was better than getting it for free somewhere else?

Valve seems to be doing fine in this era of "90-95% piracy rates", to take a quote from Ubisoft.

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Aaron Casillas
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The problem is that most people who defend the practice of piracy as a right because it's in public domain see the code or game as an ephmeral entity without corporeal being, which they are wrong. Second that the game was in public domain is also incorrect, if you goto to a digital store it's not different than actual store..

Maybe piracy is health for virality? But it sure hurts the lowly developer, if you copy and sell someone elses work in any form you are depriving property in the form of monetary sales to the holder and owner of that property, thus it is theft.

Th pro piracy arguement (is kind of nuts) can be made that adding a zero to my bank account is ok as well, the digital format of my bank account exists in the internet and I'm not deprieving the Federal Reserve or Govt of anything, in fact I'm adding....

E Zachary Knight
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Aaron,

Me sitting here arguing with you is costing me millions of dollars in lost productivity. I think I should sue you to get back that money you stole from me by posting such inane comments.

Does that actually make you a thief? No it doesn't. Just because a game developer says they lost millions of dollars of *potential* revenue, that does not mean they had money stolen from them. Does Walmart steal money from Target when people choose to shop at Walmart? No. Piracy is much like that competition, but much more unfair in many ways. However, it is still competition. Just like any other form of competition, you adapt in order to succeed.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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I think Aaron made a good point. In fact, why can't I copy the paper money that I have? "Counterfeiting" isn't "theft". I'm just creating something, not taking something from anyone.

E Zachary Knight
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Jeffrey,

Without getting into the nitty gritty details of a fiat currency system, there is a big difference between counterfeiting money and copying a game.

When you counterfeit money, you are adding bills to the total pool, thus deflating the overall value of the money pool. That is why we have inflation. That is why it costs $80 today to buy something that cost $1 100 years ago.

When you copy a game, the game still retains its original value. However that value is flexible in that the customer controls the price just as much if not more than the developer/ publisher. The customer gets to decide when the price is right for when they buy it. So if a customer waits a year to buy a game at $20 when the game first released was $60, would you say that customer stole $40 in revenue from the developer? No. That would be a completely stupid argument to make.

Same thing with piracy, some people have decided that a game is not worth paying money for at all. However, there are still plenty of people who have valued the game and have paid money. The key is to turn those who value the game in some way into paying customers. That is what this article is about.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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Right, counterfeit lowers the value of money in a way that puts the citizen in power just as much (or more than) the government. I know there are differences, but I disagree that they are differences of principle (merely differences of degrees and flavor).

I disagree that copying a game causes the game to retain its value; basic supply and demand dictates otherwise, though I admit that I'm not sure what sense of "value" you're using. But infinitely copying games lowers their "value" to zero in the same way that inflation lowers the value of the dollar. There is room to discuss the flip side to this, the $60 or 99 cent price fixing in our industry for sure. Also there is room to discuss the difference between a rich brat pirating games because they don't understand or respect the balance that must be maintained for their hobby to continue to exist vs a poor person in a country where the game isn't even being shipped or localized.

"The key is to turn those who value the game in some way into paying customers. That is what this article is about."

I agree with this. My studio (indie developers and friends, so we can make this decision) are talking about putting our game up on Pirate Bay, with no tricks viruses or glitches, and simply add a message explaining that we would appreciate being paid but that we also would be happy if people enjoy our game. But if everyone pirates, then the software engineering and other IP fields will be forced (in my opinion) into a position of diminishing returns for humanity as a whole as less entertainment will be made. I am curious if you disagree, agree but think this is simply unavoidable, or agree but think this is ethically okay (or whatever option I missed). I feel I can best serve the topic by accepting the reality in my business plan but doing what I can to try to spread the attitude of respecting the work of others so they are rightfully compensated. Positive and normative are both valid forms of rhetoric, and are both valid strategies to act through.

E Zachary Knight
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Jeffrey,

That is pretty cool that you plan to use the Pirate Bay in such a way. I recall a couple of developers doing just that and getting a positive response from their fans.

"But infinitely copying games lowers their "value" to zero in the same way that inflation lowers the value of the dollar."

Bu tis that piracy doing that or the digital technologies we are using today?

As for what I think overall, I think that copyright is not necessary to succeed in the marketplace of ideas. Shakespeare became the renowned poet and play write. He did all this in a world completely devoid of copyright. In fact it was this lack of copyright that allowed him to succeed. He was able to build o the work of others without fear of retribution.

Then we have a number of musical geniuses that we adore today that wrote their best work without the protection of copyright.

It is all possible.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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This is getting into the realm where I can only give opinion, but I feel copyright is still valuable. Maybe it lasts too long, but as much as I dislike patents I think copyright serves a good purpose. If we can somehow have creator protection as a moral framework instead of a law I would be okay with that too (probably happier as coercion is a last resort in my opinion). That would mean people attributing to the original author if they copy them for purposes of presentations or what have you as well as people behaving ethically enough to not copy-paste and try to outsell the original work of their own.

"Bu tis that piracy doing that or the digital technologies we are using today?"

I think both can be seen as the "cause" of such devaluation. But since I believe digital technology is beneficial and thus do not wish to get rid of it, I focus more on piracy. Admittedly piracy is not a concrete noun, and not all acts of piracy are unethical in my opinion. But as a high level "mantra", I think it is dangerous to support. Even though I described the business model we are considering of using TPB as a way of embracing instead of fighting the problem, I also anguish over the ethics of doing so... am I helping drive the value of my and my fellow developers' labor down to 0?

"Then we have a number of musical geniuses that we adore today that wrote their best work without the protection of copyright."

Can you go into detail here? As far as I know song lyrics and melodies are, like any other creative work, automatically protected by copyright, but I am not terribly familiar with the music industry. How did these people write without the protection of copyright -- did they explicitly give it up, or were they paid wages to write for a larger company (in which case that company would probably not have paid those wages if they did not have copyright protection to ensure an ROI).

E Zachary Knight
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Jeffrey,

I am talking musical geniuses such as Mozart etc, Music was not always copyrightable. It was only protected late in the 19th century.

William Johnson
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Do people actually buy paintings or photos? Why would anyone pay for art when I see it for free around my local city? The patrons paying for art are saps. Only a absolute fool would pay for art!

(I'm being facetious in case you are wondering)

Aaron Casillas
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"Me sitting here arguing with you is costing me millions of dollars in lost productivity. I think I should sue you to get back that money you stole from me by posting such inane comments.
"

Of course adaption is occuring all the time, most of them are unliked by players.

The lost productivity is at your own doing, unless you plan on commodifying your postings and then someone outright copying them...

And say you could commodify your postings and someone did come along and took them, including your identity, and if you were tracking your earnings and you saw a drop in them then you could identifiy a potential loss based on traction and curves. Then you would search an event and if you could attach it to the pirating of your postings and id them you could sue that person.

So Zachary, how are you adapting your products to deal with Piracy?

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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Let's say we do away with copyright laws. I am going to create a company whose business plan is to wait for other companies to release games, then infinitely copy those games and sell them for cheaper. I will do this to many companies and build up profits (remember, I did not have to invest in the R&D - YOUR company did when they made the game) that let me outmarket them for their own games. Maybe eventually enough companies do this that the price of a game drops to 0, so those companies can't stay around -- but neither can the original developer, as they are getting 0 bucks for their work but still have to pay for food and rent. Even developers who enjoy making games so much they would do it for free simply have to put less time into them as they must now work to pay for their food and shelter.

What should be done to keep this from happening?

E Zachary Knight
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The fashion industry is one industry that does not have copyrights or patents. Yet they thrive and grow from year to year. Why? Because they build brands and names that people recognize and want to buy from.

Can video games do the same thing? Sure. We are currently doing it, whether you want to accept it or not. Steam is massively successful despite every game sold through its service being on the Pirate Bay and any other number of pirate sites.

So what is your point?

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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A low-skilled copying of clothes can have flaws (lower quality cloth, poor stitching). Anyone can copy-paste bits. Brands only have value when the knockoffs are not as high quality, which is a legitimate concern with physical goods but not so much with digital goods.

Steam (and the games on steam) exist in a copyright climate so you really don't address my point regarding how companies could bring in profit without copyright protection. If not only did they have to compete with piracy (consumers sharing in a non-profit nonchalant manner) but with other companies throwing money into copy-pasting and distributing near free copies of the game for quick bucks, still profiting as they paid no R&D costs to make the initial copy even as the price (slowly, not immediately) drops to 0 -- what would drive games and other forms of IP to be made? Whether you think this scenario is ethical or not, I am just asking logistically what incentives would there be to make software -- are there enough hobbyists willing to do it for free that we will continue to see high quality games being made or would there be a significant drop? Are there revenue streams that can support game development without marring it (by infusing advertising for example)?

There are velocities to things like piracy; not everyone is going to become a pirate as soon as it is possible (it may take decades), but abolishing copyright and creating an environment where businesses can legally become copy-paste profit-turners would exasperate this scenario -- many people who feel guilty about pirating would probably not feel guilty or possibly not be informed enough to feel guilty about buying a cheap copy of my game (or your game) from a third party copy-paste shop. They paid for it, so what's to feel guilty about?

Gregory Booth
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Have to agree with you on this one Jeffrey.

And...there *are* some in the fashion industry lobbying for copyright protection claiming to at least suffer some degree of harm from it. (this is just one example)
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/arts-post/post/fashion-indust
ry-testifies-in-favor-of-design-copyright-protections-again/2011/
07/18/gIQAd2MuLI_blog.html

Either way creators **deserve** some degree of protection from piracy, in whatever form we can provide. It may not be perfect but we definitely *should* try.

I realize this may annoy pirates and their supporters.

E Zachary Knight
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Gregory,

Yes there are some people within the fashion industry who *think* they need copyright. However, hundreds of years of precedent shows they don't actually need it.

As for protections, there are already plenty that you can do. But I don't think that doing stuff such as adding DRM and other crap that only harms paying customers is doing anything positive for the industry.

Jacob Germany
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Why must it be "low-skilled copies"? Plenty of people have the skills to replicate designer clothing, but still can't sell it for the same prices because it's not authentic. The same is true in the art world. Throwing out qualifiers like "low-skilled" may sound good for your argument, but that doesn't mean it applies.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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@Jacob The point is that it takes more effort to recreate clothes than to ctrl+c, ctrl+v binaries. Even the initial hack to remove DRM (when needed) is done once and the resulting DRM-free binaries can replicate effortlessly via torrents. Maybe when 3-D printer technology is more advanced the fashion industry will have the same problem. You're ignoring the central issue; how is it fair for a person, people, or company who put hundreds, thousands, or hundreds of thousands of man hours into something that brings joy to hundreds, thousands, or hundreds of thousands of people to then see no compensation as their competition copy/pastes the years of work then mass distributes it in no time? Or, if you don't care about "fair", then how is it sustainable?

Quibbling over the fashion industry is a desperate attempt to ignore the realities of our own industry.

Jacob Germany
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I'm not ignoring anything. I'm not even talking about software piracy. E Zachary Knight made a point about the fashion industry having the ability to "pirate" designs, and how branding fights against that in a large way. You said "Nuh-uh, cause those pirate clothes are worse". I pointed out this isn't true, further validating E Zachary's point.

Yes, clothing takes resources, and is easier than copying code. But you're the one ignoring E Zachary's point, here, not me. It's not quibbling to note that he makes a good point in that the industry has "knock-offs", yet isn't paralyzed by them because the importance of branding and socialization of "authenticity", the same reason a painting by a famous painter goes for more than a perfect reproduction by "that guy".

His point that this could apply to the game industry is valid and interesting. Your point of "Nuh-uh, stop talking about clothes" isn't. I think you're seeing enemies where there aren't necessarily any. Who is advocating doing away with copyright laws? Who is advocating legalizing and encouraging piracy rampantly? What I've read is an attempt to deal with a reality that it exists and cannot be "defeated", and thus must be dealt with as a permanent fixture in the industry.

Branding is easily seen as one possible solution to that fixture.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"Who is advocating doing away with copyright laws?"

E Zachary Knight seemed to be, and you seemed to be defending him. If I am mistaken then I apologize.

So with less emotion, brand loyalty implies at least trademark protection. Is this really enough? What if I set up a company or even a hobby group (again my initial post which all of these are in response to is assuming we do away with copyright law) that creates its own well-known brand of copying and distributing torrents of popular games (profiting via ads if the price is pressured to 0). A few people might buy from the original developer out of guilt, but I find it an almost immutable aspect of human nature that it is hard to do the "right" things when you feel like you're not making a difference and no one else is doing the "right" thing. That is, if I'm the only person not pirating a game, is the developer going out of business anyway? With laws in place, at least I can have more confidence that others are helping me help the developer. I mention this because it seems like good faith is needed for branding to work, because if I'm a stereotypical agent of rational self-interest trying to maximize my well-being with no regard to others, then I have no reason to go with Brand A who does the R&D and charges money over Brand B who Ctrl+C,Ctrl+V but puts in nothing up-front (assuming Brand B has gained my trust as not being a potential source of malware, which does take effort but as Brand A also has to gain my trust I would argue that Brand B, the Pirate, only has to put forth a subset of effort that includes branding but does not include coding, art, music, design, starting over when the game feels like a dead end, etc).

Another argument that seems to be made is that "so and so still exists despite blah"; for example, the fashion industry still exists despite not having copyrights (I am assuming this is true and taking Zachary's word for it), and Mozart was successful despite copyrights not being around. Maybe, but maybe the fashion industry would be more successful with copyright, or maybe more musicians would have been successful with musical copyright catching on earlier. Or maybe in Mozart's time, copyright was implicit as a moral understanding (and piracy was harder to pull off). A quick google search showed that Mozart made money by touring, which is still common in music today -- but what is the equivalent for game developers? I doubt I could get an auditorium to pay to watch me fix bugs, but I don't think that the fact that the fruits of my labor are not "performance"-related invalidates me from deserving compensation (and I am assuming I do a good job making a game that people want, not saying that everyone who makes a game no matter how crappy deserves money -- so let's not bring that strawman up).

E Zachary Knight
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Jeffrey,

"E Zachary Knight seemed to be, and you seemed to be defending him. If I am mistaken then I apologize."

I don't advocate abolition of copyright. I advocate bringing it back in balance with its original purpose of expanding the public domain of information and culture. Would the games industry really suffer if copyright lengths were 14 years with an option to renew for another 14 years? Most games have a life cycle far shorter than 14 years as it is. As I mentioned above, most hardware will lose their patents after 20 years, but the software needed to run that hardware will not be available for 95 years at least. That is hardly balanced.

Then there is the DMCA. Will it really destroy the games industry to allow bypassing DRM? All the tools to do so are available right now to those with an inclination to do so. Even with the minor exception that jailbreaking an iPhone is legal, we do not see widespread piracy throughout the iPhone market. Yes I understand that some developers report 90% piracy rates and such, but even with that, the total users, paid and not, are still a fraction of the iPhone market.

"A few people might buy from the original developer out of guilt, but I find it an almost immutable aspect of human nature that it is hard to do the "right" things when you feel like you're not making a difference and no one else is doing the "right" thing. "

Do you really think guilt or an unwavering desire to "do the right thing" are the only motivators behind people paying? If so, I am sorry. The reasons people pay are just as varied as the reasons people don't pay or just do without. Talking with those who have paid is a great first step to learning what else you can do to convince more people to pay.

"That is, if I'm the only person not pirating a game, is the developer going out of business anyway? With laws in place, at least I can have more confidence that others are helping me help the developer."

I would counter that overly strict laws and copyright infringement fines of 6 and 7 digits actually erodes the ability of law to prevent infringement. People have severe adverse reactions to things they feel are beyond reason and tend to reject them. That is not good for current copyright.

"Another argument that seems to be made is that "so and so still exists despite blah"; for example, the fashion industry still exists despite not having copyrights (I am assuming this is true and taking Zachary's word for it), and Mozart was successful despite copyrights not being around. Maybe, but maybe the fashion industry would be more successful with copyright, or maybe more musicians would have been successful with musical copyright catching on earlier. "

I am going to respond only to the fashion industry comments right now. Do you think the world would be a better place if fashion was locked down for 95 years at a time? Do you think the world would be a better place if knock offs didn't exist, that only the rich could afford to look anything above peasantry? Knock offs actually have a very positive impact on the fashion industry. It allows the designs of major players to become more well known.


"Or maybe in Mozart's time, copyright was implicit as a moral understanding (and piracy was harder to pull off). A quick google search showed that Mozart made money by touring, which is still common in music today -- but what is the equivalent for game developers? I doubt I could get an auditorium to pay to watch me fix bugs, but I don't think that the fact that the fruits of my labor are not "performance"-related invalidates me from deserving compensation (and I am assuming I do a good job making a game that people want, not saying that everyone who makes a game no matter how crappy deserves money -- so let's not bring that strawman up)."

I think people are doing similar things right now. If you check out many of the video game Kickstarters, many of them have tiers that give private developer room access to the community. They get to interact with the developers during development, ask questions get early access previews and such. Those tiers are highly popular and people pay top dollar for them. That is one thing that could be considered a game development tour.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"Would the games industry really suffer if copyright lengths were 14 years with an option to renew for another 14 years?"

That seems fine to me. But I also don't immediately care if copyright protection lasts 1000 years, although you might be able to convince me to care. I don't need to use the source code to Mario or the plumber's sprites to make a platformer, and since copyright is very specific (as opposed to patents, which I loathe and think should be abolished at least from the software field) it does not take away much from the space of things that I can make. If I had to pick between copyright protection that is too long and no copyright protection, I would pick copyright protection that is too long in a heart beat.

"Will it really destroy the games industry to allow bypassing DRM?"

I have no ethical problem with bypassing DRM (when done to make the game you purchased less of a headache). I don't know that I've done this, but I would have no problem with someone buying a game that requires them to be online (ensuring the people who made the game get paid) and then downloading a version that lets them play offline. Really what I do is simply boycott such games because that is a practice I don't believe in.

"Do you really think guilt or an unwavering desire to "do the right thing" are the only motivators behind people paying?"

No. If I did I would believe that we don't need copyright protection because all people are respectful of our work :). It is because I don't believe everyone will do the right thing (that which maximizes happiness for others and not just themselves, perhaps even in a way that will long term benefit themselves) that I believe we need laws. If I believed everyone was perfectly ethical and caring about others I'd be ok with getting rid of all law: copyright, murder laws, etc.

"I would counter that overly strict laws and copyright infringement fines of 6 and 7 digits actually erodes the ability of law to prevent infringement. People have severe adverse reactions to things they feel are beyond reason and tend to reject them. That is not good for current copyright."

Since I agree with this (thinking of some of the RIAA's victims), I don't think it counters what I believe even if it counters what I said. To that I will simply say the punishment is too high, though if it was a for-profit company (ironically, see this article's author's release Triple Town vs Yeti Town, which in my opinion is the same "type" of wrong as piracy and which I would love for Daniel to relate to the topic if he is comfortable doing so), a seven digit fine doesn't seem unreasonable. If the fine for copyright infringement is too low, then unethical businesses will simply consider it a cost of doing business. Also worth noting is that the RIAA sues people to put more money into the pockets of lawyers and CEOs, not musicians, so I think it's another head of the serpent of entities trying to profit off the works of creatives who can't defend themselves very well.

"Do you think the world would be a better place if knock offs didn't exist, that only the rich could afford to look anything above peasantry?"

I know so little about fashion (I wear the first thing my hand grasps in my closet ;) ) so I don't know how to address this. I will start from the point of view that labor deserves reward, and that copying something is less work than creating the original (and coming up with the design, actually making several versions of the final product before settling on it) and this difference in work needs to be accounted for if we are going to fairly reward people. I will also concede that the rockstar effect in creative industries can cause individuals to feel entitled to far more than they deserve (ignoring the small things that many people did to help them get there), so you won't necessarily find resistance there. Regarding the rich vs the peasantry, I think that is another issue with our society -- the effect of the rich getting richer by controlling the -- and I always hate bringing up communism in a country that still suffers the repercussions of the red scare -- means of production and avenues of advertising. If people are rewarded fairly for their contributions to society and given equal opportunity to profit (that is, the only thing keeping them from being richer is hard work, and not arbitrary social status or lack of having friends in government or how much/little money they inherited) then the class divide issue goes away.

"If you check out many of the video game Kickstarters, many of them have tiers that give private developer room access to the community."

That sounds awesome :). I am really looking forward to the democratization of crowdfunding, even though there will be bumps along the way. I hope it turns out well.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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Internet post-scarcity colliding with real-life economic scarcity models.

The outcome is already decided and inevitable.

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

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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Post-Scarcity always wins.

The evidence lies in ~15 years of file sharing online and the complete failure to police or control it in any meaningful way whatsoever.
Digital goods can never have scarcity, even if you make a product a service, someone can copy the service as well.

Generating scarcity with digital goods would only work in an Orwellian scenario, and even then, chances are you will not be able to police it (90% of young north koreans file-share south-korean music with usb-sticks, and NC is as orwellian as it gets).

File-sharing is here to stay, and people need to accept that as the reality of the situation.
No matter how many laws you pass, how much DRM you slap on your software, you can't stop it, no matter how hard you try.

Unless there would be some kind of future magic technology, i don't know, autonomous AIs that automatically police the internet with full government authority.
In fact this would make an excellent cyberpunk novel.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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I'm starting to think the problem is developers playing their hands too soon. I go into this farther down, but consider how kickstarter turns things around so people are paying for the game to be made, not paying for a copy of the game (or a license really) after it is made. This way those investing time into making the game (the time it takes to make the game, time spent in college, cost of college or books or whatever to learn the trade) aren't the only ones with skin in the game. In other words, if customers won't respect the fruits of your labor when it is post-scarce, turn it around so they must pay for it when it is still scarce (existing only in your head) in order for it to be made post-scarce. It's easy for a pirate to Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V but harder for them to make my game from scratch (and really if they do that without seeing or knowing about my game, that is their labor and their right).

I guess the reason I'm saying this is because I believe what you believe Aleksander about post-scarcity, but I don't believe that games (or other forms of IP) are really post-scarcity artifacts as they originate as the dream and effort of talented people and it is in those people's hands whether or not they get made into a form that can be infinitely distributed. Before that happens -- and we decide when that happens -- they are precious and scarce. We need to realize the power we have and not let ourselves be first off the cliff of post-scarcity if we can help it. By that I mean that the fruits of different forms of labor will become devalued at different rates that might move humanity forward long term but in the short term screws over certain laborers more than others. I mean, if my groceries and rent become free the same time my labor does, I'm okay with that, but any latency where I'm expected to continue paying for food (and the student loan I took to make post-scarcity artifacts in the first place) while others are not expected to pay me for how I enrich their lives is not very appealing.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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Jeffrey, that is in fact the collision I am talking about.

I think you raise an interesting and very accurate point.
The only shift that can be performed to "combat" file-sharing (i refuse to use the term piracy) right now and to make the product not rely on artificial scarcity is to make your -labor- scarce.

Ideas by themselves are not scarce, everyone has a billion good ideas for games, what is scarce is the ability to create them.

Right now, you are right, the labor/skill is sufficiently scarce to warrant websites like Kickstarter to be the preferred method for creation (for the reasons you mentioned).

However, consider this, what if your skill becomes less scarce?

We have already arrived at a point for several industries where the skill to create/craft the idea is already pretty common.
A good example would be the music industry, there are millions of people doing music today with easy to use tools like garageband or musicmaker, the entry-barrier is sufficiently low to create a servicable product.

Game-development/design isn't there YET, but given enough time, it will, the technological progress and automation is inevitable.

Yet the music industry is not collapsing and file-sharing rates are through the roof, in fact those were the first things to be shared.

The problem is in my opinion that we, as society, treat file-sharing as a social problem, while it is entirely economic.
Ethics/morals play into it at the level of gross commercial copyright infringement (selling shit you don't own the rights to) but not into file-sharing (free distribution of cultural artifacts).

I think that selling products is a thing of the past, and the current model of consumption needs to be revised on an economic level.
Your idea of, lets call it "crowd commissions", is a very good line of thought everyone should think to the end.

Jeremy Alessi
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I think we'll look back at the current f2p schemes as very short sighted. Games, being art, should be timeless. We're currently losing an entire generation of games due to the entanglement of business model and gameplay.

I can (and often do) go back and play the original Halo but I can no longer play Eliminate (the first iPhone game with IAP currency) because it wasn't making enough money to justify its own infrastructure.

I would think Daniel of all people would realize this problem, yet there seems to be a contradiction going on. On one hand he trumpets games as art that should be derived from sheer inspiration with no commercial influence. On the other he cherishes a financial model that makes the art impossible to appreciate once it's not making money.

Are games monetary tools or are they art? Pay up front and they can still be a timeless art. Go f2p and it's lights out once the game loses the ability to sustain itself.

Svein-Gunnar Johansen
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This is an excellent point. I have yet to lose complete access to a game that "meant something" at a certain period in my life, but I know the day is coming when this will be an all too common scenario. I guess the closest I can think of is Phantasy Star Online, a good game that was very popular in its time, but ultimately had to shut it's servers down for economic reasons.

Granted, you can still play the Dreamcast version single player, and there are server emulators for it... But the day will come when even the most popular "as a service" games like World Of Warcraft, will close down its last server. There is no single player mode there, so that's out.

And for those who say that the games will be too old to be worth playing anyway: Yeah... Maybe so. But I know I still like to play the occasional game of Donkey Kong, and that game is from 1981. I am pretty sure I am not the only one :P

Luis Blondet
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The reason the OP is wrong is because he has only considered software piracy in the lower levels of the industry but not on the upper levels like the game company Tencent from China blatantly pirating games and publishing them on their own.

Intellectual Property must be protected because Innovation must be protected.

Andrew Quesenberry
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http://www.ethicalhacker.net/content/view/45/2/
Chances are, if a game is difficult to get a hold of via a torrent, they'll just steal it, or hire someone to steal it.
Of course, saying that this detracts from sales or forces companies to lose money is also incorrect, as the game is not distributed in said countries.
Innovation seems to happen whether or not IP is protected(see Linux).

Jacob Germany
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Really? Because I think the game industry illustrates quite frequently that legally protecting intellectual property does little to inspire innovation. There are always ways to lack any semblance of innovation and still stay within the law. We must reward innovation, not punish a lack, in order to inspire further innovation.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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The problem with innovation in the game industry isn't the presence of this IP protection or the lack of that IP protection; it's the publicly owned, suit-driven mentality of ripping off whatever is successful.

This has been in the back of my head for some time while responding to comments here, so let me explain to you why I tell people to pirate games I've worked on in the past if they want to: Because I won't see a dime from any of the places I've been laid off from. Heck even if I was still employed, this industry has backed itself into a corner of no royalties and very tenuous bonus plans. I bring this up because the true game developer's biggest enemy lies in the industry: the suits that don't give a damn about the artform that crunch us just to take all the profit and throw us to the curb when it's done. That seems tangential so I did not want to bring it up, but it seems related to discussions of industry stagnation. As far as rewarding innovation, we need to band together to figure out how these suits embedded themselves in such catbird seats and how we can have more control over the games we make AND more profit -- and the great thing is that this is already happening with the indie movement. Interesting times ahead.

With that said, the Lack of Innovation in the game industry (knockoffs) is nothing compared to blatant bit-for-bit copying of someone's work, which (despite not having a time machine to study alternate histories) I feel safe saying would be more rampant if we did not have IP law at all.

Jacob Germany
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The problem is that IP law can easily go too far. The patent on mini-games in loading screens, for example, punishes everyone while rewarding almost no one, and certainly does not encourage innovation. I think a balance must be met.

James Margaris
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"Reprinted with permission."

Ha.

Gregory Booth
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Piracy is at once unavoidable and inexcusable.

If a developer can somehow harness the activities of pirates to increase awareness of a game
and perhaps increase profitability, then great!

I hope we can succeed in harnessing pirates as little marketing and distribution slaves.

I would however hope that if they realize they are being used as little pawns in a commercial endeavor that it won't bother them.

Wait, thats right, what pirates and their supporters think... "is of no consequence".

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

Jonathan Murphy
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When plenty of scurvy dogs be stealing the booty we shouldn't be making them all walk the plank, but adapt to address the root causes. Unless ye come to steal my treasure. Then ye walking be the plank! Yar!

Ian Stanbridge
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While some of the facts mentioned in this article are correct I disagree with most of the conclusions about how to tackle the issues, in particular that free to play is the answer to piracy.

Firstly, liking Shareware to piracy isn't accurate. Shareware was basically a way of distributing a free demo of a product before the internet became popular. Developers actively encouraged people to distribute and copy shareware products in a similar way to how they want as many people to download the free demos they provide today. Downloading a free demo is the equivalent of shareware not free-to-play.

Secondly while piracy may have been a largely social , not for profit thing in the past because you would have to borrow disks from someone before the internet that is no longer largely the case today.

The majority of piracy today is actually motivated by profit. Most piracy today occurs through people downloading torrents on the internet. Those torrent sites themselves are run as businesses ( they make money from internet advertising ) and there is nothing very social about it. Piracy no longer provides any benefits to developers that couldn't be better met by providing free demos.

Also a lot of the comments here seem to be from people querying or asking for proof about piracy numbers. I think the 90 % piracy rate is probably accurate but it doesn't necessarily mean what a lot of people think it does.

Most of these figures on piracy are recorded from the PC platform. On PC most users are asked to enter a code when they purchase a game. This code is then mixed with some identifier from the machine like mac address or something like that. When a user plays a muliplayer mode or something like that both these numbers are often logged. If that activaction code is received along with different identifier codes then it means that the same code is being used on multiple machines in different locations. At that point it is audited as piracy. While it isn't a full proof method by any means Id argue the results from it are probably fairly accurate. Here's why those figures aren't actually that surprising though.

If you argue for example that roughly 1 in 10 people have no problem with piracy in general. I'm just guessing at that figure but that seems reasonable to me.

The average up sell from a free demo of a game to a full paid game is between 1 and 2 percent according to a lot of developers. The people that are willing to play a pirated version are going to play the full version rather than the demo. As a result even though 90% of the population don't pirate there will always be a lot more people who will pirate playing the game than don't.

Companies see this and jump to the conclusion that if they can crack down on piracy then they will be rich but in reality even if they do manage it those pirates will just move to a game they can play for free or play the demo rather than pay for it. Companies would be better served concentrating on trying to increase the 2% of people that buy a game after playing a demo rather than obsessing over the 10 % of people that pirate.

Incidentally it's reported that the number of paying users of free to play games is also around the 2% range so free to play model isn't really any better than providing free demos and paid products separately. While a free to play game can often make more money from each of it's paying users , especially on mobile platforms it is very hard to get paying users to move from one game to another as Zynga has found to its cost. Paying users of conventionally purchased games are much more receptive to sequels with sequels often selling better than the originals. There are pros and cons to every business model but I don't think free to play is the magical answer to everything that some people think it is.

The real takeaway is that at present only about 2% of people that try a game are willing to pay for it. The industry needs to work at increasing this. Any industry that wants to survive needs to make its users understand that if they want it to continue they need to pay for it some how. The real danger of free to play in my mind is that it sends out the message to users that they should expect games to be free.

That's the mistake the music industry made. Artists started giving their songs away for free because in the short term they made more money. At the time the record labels made most of their money from the song royalties where as the artists made it from live performances, viewing CD sales as mainly promotional tools. Fast forward to today and now record labels take a cut from live performances as well meaning artists make less money. The outcome is that the music industry makes less money as a whole and most artists struggle to make a living. The artists should have been demanding better royalty rates or not relying on using music labels rather than sending out the message that copying their songs were OK.

The games industry needs to avoid making the same mistake.

If the industry wants to tackle piracy all it needs to do encourage better regulation of internet advertising. If you made it so that torrent sites couldn't use advertising to make money then most of them would close because most of them are setup with the view of making money.

Justin LeGrande
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Piracy is going to remain a legitimate excuse for people living in places where the economy is rock-bottom, and nearly no or absolutely no support for gaming exists. Defeating game piracy for good would require defeating poverty, disease, and famine.

....Or nukes.

Maria Jayne
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I really don't know what the solution is, but surely everyone can agree, it's not by pissing off paying customers with anti consumer DRM measures.

Looking at the way indie games profit with 100k sales without DRM and how triple A games selling 3 million units is considered a failure, I can't help but feel too much money is being spent too poorly, for some misguided hope of impossible sales targets. I feel publishers and developers would benefit far more looking inward on their spending and resource management than outward on some percieved "lost" sale to a pirate.

Jeremy Alessi
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"Looking at the way indie games profit with 100k sales without DRM and how triple A games selling 3 million units is considered a failure"

I absolutely agree. I was just telling a friend yesterday how games have a certain window. If you spend too little the game doesn't get fully realized and if you spend too much you face stagnation of innovation and diminishing returns. There's a sweet spot for games that doesn't require you to attempt to grab every player with omnidirectional design (f2p) or compete on sheer magnitude by spending $100 million (AAA). Somewhere between 50k and 5 million seems to work pretty well at generating good games and good profits.

Sure there will always be pirates but in my opinion f2p games are just as bad as DRM, if not worse.

Joel Nystrom
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Fun fact: that image is the first result in google image serach for "pirate flag". I know, I've used it many times! (My first game was a pirate game, for example..) ^^

TL;DR

Daniel Cook
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I challenge the few folks still reading this page to the following radical experiment:
- Respond to the ideas in the essay. Build off them. Explore what they mean.
- Don't repeat rote concepts that you've heard elsewhere. Firmly held beliefs with little evidence make for poor discussion.
- As an additional challenge, this essay has absolutely nothing to do with equating piracy to lost revenue. Nor is it about morality. Nor is it about copyright. If you are talking about these things, you likely failed to read the essay. Try again.

A few additional links
"Do people really pirate games?" Yes.
- http://2dboy.com/2008/11/13/90/
- http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-05/02/android-market-gam
e-piracy

"Surely, it is just because they are too expensive?" No.
- http://blog.wolfire.com/2010/05/Saving-a-penny----pirating-the-Hu
mble-Indie-Bundle

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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I had a long reply and hit backspace, while this textbox didn't have focus so I nav'd back in my tab history and lost what I was writing. I need to get ready to see a movie, but the quick version is that I think it is overreaching to feel entitled to control the discourse that emerges from your article, and I personally care 80% about the comment sections on gamasutra and 20% about the article, as a rough estimate. Democratic discourse is more important to me than the initial seeding argument, though I appreciate that too. I talked about morality and copyright, and read the article, so I also feel there is some pretentiousness in your accusation (this type of response obviously doesn't come from someone who read the article).

I will explain my thoughts more after the movie (I'm already behind schedule for getting ready) and then I will consider your challenge (it is a challenge and not a demand; fair enough). Until then, thanks for a thought-provoking article!

Ian Stanbridge
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Hi Daniel it might be an idea to not be so dismissive of other peoples comments. It's great that you wrote a post that started so many discussions. Most of the people that started discussing areas like copyright for example were themselves replying to other peoples comments rather than your article directly in the same way I am now replying to your comment rather than your article.

With regards to your article though I have a question. Do you think there are any benefits to encouraging piracy that couldn't be better met by simply encouraging people to distributing free demos ? I agree that companies should be more open minded about exploring different distribution and business models to encourage as many people to support games as possible, but just think that if you actively send out the message that people should expect to be able to play an entire game for free then that will be counterproductive. My issue with free to play for example isn't the business model so much as the name. If they called it IAP funded or something like that it would be fine.

Daniel Cook
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@Ian Demos don't seem to entirely solve the issue. Players treat them as a separate download and instead share and download the full version. My experience has been is that you need to reframe the problem and make very different types of games where the community and ongoing relationship between devs and players is more important than a copy of the code.

As long as developers try to make games that act like commodity retail boxes they'll need to deal with the social pain and costs that come from piracy. One thing that the comments in this post have demonstrated clearly is that players feel conflicted...you don't want up to 90% of your users feeling like they are breaking the law when they use your products. Not exactly a positive win-win relationship.

@Jeffrey It is a completely optional challenge. Looking forward to reading your thoughts.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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Okay, I'm back. I said "I will explain my thoughts more after the movie", and I guess the main thing I want to say is that I believe in ethics (as necessary and "good") and I believe that the discourse of piracy can not be done full service without mentioning ethics (not taking the challenge yet ;) ). I want to live in a world full of love, where someone loves me and my work enough to support me _if they can_. I also want to put love into my games, not worrying about making ends meet but knowing that if I produce something that makes people happy they will support me instead of picking off my work like heartless vultures. If they are poor I have little to no problem with piracy; same for select circumstances like they bought the game but deleted it and the original download site is down or they live in a country that does not have credit cards or what have you. But on the other hand I can't stomach the thought of some spoiled person indifferent to the efforts it takes to make a game and to my well-being getting so much entertainment for free. Furthermore I don't feel that these personality types are random quirks; I feel that they are taught to children (and adults) through discourses. Someone going to a developer site and seeing the developer say "okay piracy is here and we should not fight it" might make them feel that it is okay and socially acceptable, thus piracy apologetics act as a link in the causal chain that leads to more piracy.

I am not happy about the positive framing (what is) driving out normative discourse (what should be) that seems to be perpetuating our society. Even as recent as when I was a kid we talked about what is right or wrong, what hurts people and what helps people -- now we seem to all be turning into accountants, thinking whatever maximizes our self-interest is okay (and rehearsing excuses for when we do a disservice to people instead of feeling shame). You see this in politics and wall street apologetics all the time, and you're starting to see it in the discourse for piracy. "It's there, deal with it" is more a bending of good to evil in my opinion than a praiseworthy business plan, but then again I believe it is our duty to construct morals before it is our duty to construct business. I am only bringing this up because I don't think "piracy as a moral issue" is an outdated mindset to feel jaded and superior too; in fact I believe "piracy as a moral issue" is superior to defeatism and piracy-rationalization, even though any rationalization exercises deep parts of the brain that can give you an intellect high. Really Piracy and IP lie in the heart of the primary issue in our society right now, that which drives the hatred for wall street, the distrust of corporations and Washington, and the wealth divide in our world: are people really getting paid what they deserve for what they contribute to society, and if not how can we fix it? Daniel I hope you and others still want to talk ethics as I would be willing to go back and forth on it. It is more important to me than business, but since I am trying to start an indie company (I find the AAA companies I worked for disgustingly unethical with respect to readiness to crunch workers and lack of compensation/job security), I must put _some_ effort into thinking about business, so let's get started with the challenge.

==Challenge starts here==
Now, let's take the challenge and say piracy is here regardless of whether or not it "should" be. All we're interested in in this frame is maximizing our profits. I don't understand then how f2p (or, say, IAP) really addresses the issue. What is to prevent pirates from simply copying the items that cost money in your game? Without some sort of authentication (DRM -- which I think is a horrible idea, or running the game completely on your own machine a la OnLive, which can be done for traditional games and not just F2P), it's still just bits. If I give our game for free except for certain costumes or palette swaps, those can be copied as readily as a full game. Or how about shareware. If I put up the first episode of our 3 episode game on pirate bay, someone else will still put up the whole game the day it goes live (or sooner). Really from a business-perspective, artificial scarcity is what is needed to keep the market value of our IP up. F2P doesn't do this (please correct me if I'm wrong), it merely shifts the shape of the "costs money" silhouette of our game. Something else must guard us against the enviable competitor that is the "pirate" that will relentlessly copy/paste our bits to worthlessness and who our potential customers will go to as we are priced into unsustainability.

What I do think is going to help us against "piracy" -- or more specifically, help developers ease their financial angst so they can focus on good games -- is crowdfunding. Instead of creating the game and then hoping you can find enough paying customers that haven't yet been coddled into the mentality of piracy entitlement, you basically put up a demo and lock the rest of the content behind time -- it hasn't been made yet, and won't be made until a certain financial commitment from the audience is reached. I can put up a 1 episode demo on TPB but there isn't going to be a full game torrent on its heels because *I* haven't made it yet, and won't until interested customers also put skin in the game. I think kickstarter is just the tip of the iceberg; I want to see more of this, more of a back-and forth fund-as-you-go, watching the negotiation resolution go higher and higher (instead of "game first, then money" or "money first, then game", let's see many zig-zags of negotiation). I want to see longer campaigns, campaigns that last for a year or more. What are your thoughts Daniel? Do you have anything to say about crowdfunding? Was the challenge paradoxical as you end the article with "Let's not lose more life to this lame, propaganda-ridden discussion" ;)?

Keaton White
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Completely bypassing the discussion, I just want to say that Tyrian was one of the first video games I ever played, and remains one of my all-time favorites. After playing Episode 1 in the demo about 5,000 times, I finally convinced my parents to get the CD version (!) and have made it a tradition to play through the game at least once a year (now using DosBOX). Thanks for the hours and hours of fun!

Gustaff Neit
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Ok, let's keep the shoud-be's and could-be's and IP rules and laws aside and consider the following example:
A person, employee or entity creates a videogame that's as good as any, it's a huge hit among gamers whom 100% of them have "embraced piracy" thanks to people like Chuck and Daniel.

None of them pay up for the game, according to Chuck there is no loss whatsoever, according to Mr. Cook it should have a positive outcome...
I fail to see how the game developing entity will benefit from this, or how it will be positive at all for them.

But according to Chuck this entity lost nothing! they won't be able to pay their bills, or feed their families, but hey, no one stole from them which makes it ok! Yay for magical unicorns that deliver money in buckets! (Loved that comment from Russ)

Christopher Casey
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I think the argument from Mr. Cook is more along the lines that piracy is a natural result of distributing digital goods, and it makes more sense to further advance free-to-play into a mutually beneficial business model rather than wage an uphill battle against piracy.

Just to be clear, I haven't seen anyone here arguing that piracy should actually be encouraged -- only that it may be unavoidable. That seems fairly reasonable to me.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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How does free-to-play stop piracy instead of changing the nature of what (the paid items/characters/whatever) is pirated?

Michael DeFazio
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@Christopher
I'd agree, except the title to this article is "Embracing Piracy" which certainly seems like it is "encouraging" piracy rather than "accepting" piracy. Also with subtitles like "piracy is a fun activity" and the like it's hard to argue that this piece is not at some level "encouraging piracy".

On another note, I appreciate the fact that Mr. Cook is able to write about these controversial topics so that the community is able to rationally discuss the point.

My argument to against the piece is really two-fold:
1) Is the logical foundation of this argument a "bandwagon" one... or, hey it's OK to pirate because I've done it, and plenty of other people do it, and even though we've tried we cannot stop it (DRM or not)?... kinda seems so. and in that case, (whether or not we talk about the "ethical/moral/legal" ramifications) thats not exactly the kind of argument I'd want to stand on (people, and the general public accepted slavery for 100's of years, doesn't make it "right", "acceptable", or worth fighting against). At the moment I have a hard time distinguishing the reasoning behind why digital goods should be treated any differently from any other goods... the whole "it's all just 0's and 1's" argument is specious.

2) Because you (Mr. Cook) are able to "embrace piracy" and find ways of profiting from paying customers in the midst of a sea of pirates, doesn't mean this business model/product model is acceptable for everyone... Large studios have to make large upfront investments and try to recoup costs, and being part of a smaller studio, developing smaller budget games gives you an advantage, but using your logic it seems to beg that all studios should adopt the F2P or IAP model, (since we should assume that pirates will steal your product anyways)...

Overall I just don't think its healthy to give people the impression that they are only doing what is "logical/natural" by pirating... (I like our current model, and would like for people to "vote with their wallets" and support the artists who pour their heart and soul into games, as apposed to force only those studios who adopt a F2P or IAP version to succeed)

Daniel Cook
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For what it is worth, "Embracing Piracy" is a title the editors picked so I wouldn't read too much into it. The original was the less catchy "Thoughts on Piracy")

The essay is coming at the topic from the perspective of a game designer. In games, we see unexpected behavior all the time. The new designer has a tendency to say "Well, the player is just playing my games wrong. If they only played them correctly, we wouldn't have this problem." This is a moralistic or legalistic approach to designing human systems.

The experienced designer asks if there are deeper causes at work. Every emergent player action is a force that you can either attempt to subdue or rechannel. Is there jujitsu we can apply to turn what may be seen as a negative into a positive. Here's an observed behavior...how do we use it for good?

Shareware was one example of how this might come about. These days I'm using multiplayer community building. Consider a typical MMO. You can create an exact copy of the server, but many times the value of the game resides in the economy, the culture, the networks of friends and guilds and the history of the place. If the developer does their job well, the ongoing relationship between players and developers ends up being something that matters and is hard to replace. You could create a copy of Eve's servers but much like the copy of New York in Vegas, the result would be a pale imitation.

F2P coopts the people 'who want to play games for free' into become 'the masses that create a cultural hub' for the game. They are no longer the enemy. They a huge reason why other players strive for status and pay for goods and services within the game.

Within a virtual economy, you see some fascinating results. Players *can* duplicate items within an MMO. Yet the majority of players are violently against this behavior since it ruins the status and trade games that they love. So you see groups that voluntarily submit to artificial scarcity because it makes the game better. Like in the Matrix, we deal poorly with complete utopias.

@Michael True, not everyone can adapt to this change. But that is life. I have little pity for those that cling to old habits as the world changes around them. On a positive note this diversity of passions are rather healthy overall. It is the evolutionary benefit of regressive genes. (Who knows when we'll return back to the draconian and aggressively anti-developer retail structures that dominated the past two decades.)

All the best,
Danc.

Michael DeFazio
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@Danc

Hey Dan, first off much respect.

(edit... Oops done goofed edit...)

I considered that the title for the article was not your own... still certainly seemed like the general idea was "aww shucks... pirating games aint bad"... still remember cutting holes in the corner of disks back in the day so I hope you don't think I'm presenting some "holy-er than thou" argument.

As far as business models go, perhaps we agree that the industry might need to rethink the $60 upfront game... which really is difficult for some. Likewise I respect your opinion on the issue, and seeing as you have succeeded in making profitable games given current market conditions certainly speaks to your aptitude as a developer and businessman.

I like the ideas you talk about (with respect to adapting to determine where the customers/players find value and charging them for that) or how to turn a "negative" into a "positive".

I suppose the area where we may fundamentally disagree is in the sense that we ALL need to evolve and adapt to a world where piracy is rampant since the market demands us to. I have no ill will towards F2P IAP or the like, and it's great when developers make games in that space to hold my attention (my nephew is a sucker for World of Tanks). I think there absolutely is a place for these games, I would just like there to be a future and a robust market for games that are NOT F2P and do NOT have IAP. (I may deem these games "traditional" but I hope they continue, since I tend toward these experiences)

I think its a shame when a developer pours their soul in a game, and it becomes wildly successful and played, but they don't see revenue from it because it is heavily pirated and they opted to forgo charging for items in game or created artificial walls for the sake of locking off content. (those mechanisms always seem artificial and take me out of the experience as a player of games).

Anyways, as I said before, much respect, and thanks for putting your opinion out there to strike up this interesting debate.

cheers-
mike

Brian Stabile
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If you are on Gamasutra, most likely you have a job in the game industry, or are pursuing after one. Good luck keeping/getting a job if you fully embrace the ideal that no one in your field should be paid for their hard work. I urge you to confront your boss with your stance on piracy, and let me know how the job search is going! I guarantee you that everyone here who is pro-piracy is either A)has never worked on a released title, especially one where they only get paid a percentage of sales (a la many indie devs) or B)is making a decent income from a separate non-game industry job, so is oblivious as to what 'overhead' means.

So many pro-piracy arguments say that because it's virtual property, it's worthless. That's such an illogical blanket statement. With every item, physical or virtual, you are paying for R&D, as well as the amount over that the intellectual owner of the item wishes to try and profit on (that's the capitalist part). A car is the same thing as a piece of software, with just a slightly higher materials cost. If you melt a car down and isolate all of its components into raw materials, I guarantee you that they would be valued at 1/20th the cost of the final product. You are paying for all of the craftsmanship, ingenuity, intellectual concepts, and man hours that went into creating that car.

Back in 'the day', piracy was a fringe act - game companies could still make a decent profit, with no qualms. Now, since piracy has gone 'mainstream', the amount of potential profits lost is a much larger chunk, creating strain on developers who are unable to financially sustain their businesses. The worst part is that pirates do not target those making millions, they steal indiscriminately, including from indie studios whose audience is much much smaller than that of the major studios. They are relying on their niche audience to support them financially, so they can afford to devote most of their time to making the games that their audience wants to play, and it's a shame when another indie goes bankrupt because none of the fans of their high-quality game thought they "should" buy it to support them when they "could" get it for free.

Here's where most pirates want to bring up the argument that piracy actually helps spread the word in some cases (the Minecraft argument). One exception MUST prove that piracy helps more than hurts, right? Name me five other games that benefitted from it. Better yet, I'll name you twenty that didn't benefit from it. Just because one guy won the lottery doesn't mean I'm going to start buying tickets en masse.

Entertainment (all forms) are not a right. You are not entitled to them. You accept the terms that the IP owners set, or you don't engage in them. You could skip out on the bill at a restaurant, but you don't, because that'd make you an asshole. You could not tip your bartender, but you don't, because that'd make you an asshole. You can justify it however you wish, but please come to terms with the fact that if you pirate other peoples' hard work, you're an asshole.

Jane Castle
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I beg to differ with your analysis of "back in the day". Back in the day piracy was NOT a fringe act. Sure there was no internet but there were BBS's and the old trading of floppy disks. But if you think piracy was not alive and well back then you are so sorely mistaken.

Also game companies today can still make a decent profit just like they did "back in the day". The issue today is when game companies don't do well they fall back on the crutch of piracy as an excuse for their failure in the marketplace.

While I am most definitely NOT pro piracy as I do make a living selling software, I don't think there is much difference in piracy today as it was back in the day. It is pretty much the same as before.

Also it is a fallacy if you think that stopping a pirate will increase your sales. It won't, the pirate will just move on to an easier target. This is what the game industry can't get through their thick skulls, pirates want stuff FOR FREE, they don't want to pay, if they can't get it FOR FREE then they don't want it.....

Brian Stabile
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@Jane

Yes Jane, I'm sure everyone who played games in the 80s and 70s knew how to log onto BBS's and download games, and everyone in your circle of friends had one copy of every game you wanted to play to distribute amongst friends, and it was JUST like today, where you type '*insert game* torrent', and it's yours instantly, and due to modern society's reliance on the internet, even your casual computer user knows how to do it, and if he doesn't, he can google his question. There were nowhere near as a high percentage of people who like playing games getting games illicitly 'back in the day' as there is now- that's not even debatable!

I also completely disagree that a pirate only downloads things because they can get it for free. It's not like they are playing all the bad games out there as well. They're pirating the games that they are interested in. If they had no choice but to pay the cost, they would.

Please tell us thick-skulled developers how to profit off of our product when the culture of our audience has changed to where the majority of them refuse to pay anything? We could make vapid, farmville-esque clones to target the people who still aren't hip to piracy, but then you'd think us sellouts, right? The sales in the industry explain why there's so many terrible knockoffs and clones of things that sell flooding the software market - because the fans of 'unique'/'indie'/'alternative/whatever' games are all a part of pirate culture. Just because you know of five or six companies that are making a 'decent profit' doesn't mean there aren't fifty or sixty out there with a good game that are absolutely going broke because everyone is stealing it.

Jane Castle
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@Brian please list the 50-60 companies that are absolutely going broke because of piracy. This is a typical cop out of the game industry I am going broke because of piracy. It's ALWAYS the pirates fault. You know you can't quantify that statement with proof. Can you prove you are going broke because of piracy?

Also why is Steam still around? Shouldn't they close shop and declare bankruptcy? Valve is primarily a PC developer how are they even in business still? If piracy is so much more of a problem now than it was in the 80s why is Valve even still in existence when I can pirate all their games if I want.

Also the market for games has grown immensely since back in the 80s and 70s. So thanks to the internet the customer base is much much larger than it ever was back then. I'd like to point out this fact since you seem to have overlooked it. Yes there are more pirates now because the market is so much bigger than before.

As for your quip on the BBS. I never knew back then how to use them and I could still get every game I wanted. I just asked my friends and got a copy of any game I wanted..... Just like everyone else in my school. So the problem is the same back then as it is now, internet be damned.... Now I have money and it's easier for me to get something off Steam at a price I am willing to pay than to bother with the torrents. Actually because of Steam sales I purchase way more games than I can play. So your point is moot.

I will enlighten you on some simple economic principles. If you can't make money in the current market then perhaps you or your company shouldn't be making games in the first place. This for better or worse is a capitalist society, if you can't make money the fault is not with the pirates.

As for the fans of indie games being part of the pirate culture, wow talk about a gross generalization. I and many others purchase indie games, so to say that the vast majority are pirates is quite simply a lie.

The same goes for your comment that the culture of your audience doesn't want to pay for games. If that's the case then WHY are you making games then? For fun? It certainly isn't profit! If your audience doesn't want to pay for your games then STOP making them it is as simple as that. Complaining won't make them pay for your games. Of course it is more than likely that the culture of not paying isn't really a valid statement in the first place.

The same goes for your comment that piracy is the cause of the flooding of knockoffs in the current marketplace. Again this is a lie. The knockoffs are a result of the big studios wanting a sure thing with their investments. Making games is an expensive proposition in today's market so the studios are risk averse with these big titles.

Again you are in the league of developers who comfort themselves by blaming piracy. And it is fine if that is your view I respect that. But to me that is just an excuse. If you can't make money in this space the fault lies with the developer not the pirates.

On a final note if GamaSutra wants to beat another dead horse perhaps an article on how used game sales are crippling the industry is in order....

Brian Stabile
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@Jane

I'd love to show you sales numbers vs actual people playing my game. I'd love to show you charts published by many developers about how much budget went into their game vs how much they made off of sales, even though the critics and fans loved them. I'd love for you to realize that I'm talking about the MAJORITY of developers- not the five-ten AAA successful ones- ones that you've never heard of that make quality products at low low costs and for fringe markets, and you're using Valve as an example of how "all" game companies are unaffected by piracy. But I've got work to do, and you have Google at your fingertips. Have fun.

Jane Castle
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@Brian I figured that would be your response..... No constructive evidence of any kind from you. Just whining like many on this board. Well I guess I am one of those "lucky" developers who manages to make a comfortable living making my own games. I guess the pirates like me.....

Also I NEVER used VALVE as an example of how ALL game companies are unaffected by piracy. So please stop twisting what I stated to suit your agenda.

Your response pretty much sums up your attitude. All you want to do is complain and come up with ANY excuse as to why you are not successful. I am sure you responded to my other comment but I won't bother reading it as you have a defeatist attitude and nothing will change your mind. Have a nice day.

stephan maich
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after reading most of these posts, i can't help but notice that many attitudes towards this issue seem to be about whether piracy is "right" or "wrong". if a corporation's goal is to turn a profit (which is neither right nor wrong - unless you view the behavior of a limited number of people collecting a majority of the total wealth as debilitating the general population's ability to acquire it), it seems to me that any legal argument in support of its doing so should not come from a place of "rightness" or "wrongness".

since laws in this country (especially IP laws) are a result of special interests lobbying (paying) lawmakers to install rules that benefit their cause, this issue seems to be even less about what is in the public interest (as laws used to represent themselves as being) and more about what is of the maximum benefit to a certain group and their business model.

a small company (with an ethically-motivated creative desire rather than a strictly profit-motivated test-group polling "how much can i fleece a teenager for" desire) can choose not to participate in enforcement of what they consider damaging to the spirit of how they want the industry to function. or figure out less insulting or legal-department-requiring means of designing products or promoting sales (like, oh maybe a price tag under $70), or a free/nearly-free product with micro-transaction options. which is all i believe the author was suggesting.

i know i don't have the money to pay congressmen to magically nerf the motivation of large businesses to engage in cutthroat capitalist tendencies, but i can certainly refuse to participate in what i find distasteful and socially/game-culturally damaging myself.

stephan maich
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i don't need to make 7 figures yearly to be happy. 5 is fine.

Joachim Tresoor
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Those taking the romanticised view of swapping floppies in the '80s should have a second look at the MSX market of that time. Piracy in Europe got so bad that it was no longer profitable to translate and release some of the great games coming out in Japan at that time, games like Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake.

Gustaff Neit
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I have to agree with Brian's comment regarding the Minecraft example.

@Aaron and those who claim that "piracy = word of mouth marketing = no loss (or even unprecedented success) for the developers." Who died and made you marketing managers?
I would like to see the contract you received of "Valid for one free game for your word-of-mouth-marketing services."

Most companies invest heavily in advertising on ads, TV commercials, etc, and even after that, gaming websites rate a game (making them the word-of-mouth really) for your convenience on whether you should invest your time/money on a given game. Your "Word of mouth" claim is just a lame excuse to justify getting something for nothing.

Aaron Casillas
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@ Gustaff, I never said that in that manner, my comment was meant to be speculative, such as "perhaps it's good for virality?" I doubt it unless like Brian said you win the lotto.

In fact I'm against Piracy, I'd like to pay my bills and feed my children for my hard work. 40 years old, selling the house I can't afford, working out of my aunts garage, living with family with my family, so yes if you like my work I hope I can get paid.

Brian Stabile
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They incorrectly assume that they're the small exception, and it's ok, because all the other fans of the game will be purchasing it. Unfortunately, a larger and larger majority of fans are taking this exact same stance nowadays, and in the end, a very tiny percentage actually purchase. I've read so many articles and justified sob-stories on this site about games with a huge fanbase and userbase, but negative in revenue. (one example here: http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=17350)

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"piracy = word of mouth marketing = no loss (or even unprecedented success) for the developers."

I do wonder what's to keep this from being word-of-mouth encouraging other people to pirate. And I'm even okay with the "theoretical" situation where someone pirates a game and then buys it because it's good, or tells their friends who then buy it -- I'm just worried that the vector of piracy as acceptable is going to move in a direction where "responsible" pirating is outdated and it devolves into simply taking things you could afford and in fact enjoy but not paying because hey -- who's going to make you?

Jane Castle
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@Brian did you actually read the link to the story that you posted? With the fixed DRM the conversion rate of a pirate was absolutely horrible!!!! They obtained 1 sale for every 1000 pirates they got rid of.

Why didn't sales shoot through the roof now that pirates can't steal the game. The reason doesn't seem to matter the removal of the pirates had no substantial increase in sales.

After looking at this game on YouTube I have a better reason than piracy. It just isn't very good....

Brian Stabile
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@Jane

You also failed to remember this line:

"Though many of the pirates may be simply shifting to another source of games for their illegal activities"

Never mind the fact that the game had already been out for so long that those who wanted a copy already obtained one! Many pirates want things free to such a fault that they will do everything it takes to not purchase a game, even if the man-hours and expenses required cost more than actually buying the game.

And how privileged must you think you are to think that you have the right to steal a game, and then justify whether or not you think it's worth your money? If a game is mediocre, the studio is still deserving of what profits they would have made off your purchase. Especially when these indie (especially mobile and casual) games are NINETY-NINE CENTS. What constitutes a worthy NINETY-NINE CENT game to you? Many people who take the "i'll steal it because it's not very good" have a notion of "good" that disregards the price set, so if a $0.99 cent game isn't as fun and high-caliber as an XBox 360 game at 50x the price, it must be crap, so stealing it is OK, right? Go to McDonalds and complain that your $2.00 hamburger isn't worth the price, so you're gonna steal it. Just because every game isn't a 60+ hours 90+ Metacritic score game doesn't mean it was trying to be, and doesn't give you credence to take it.

stephan maich
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i do notice loads of refutation of one person's "opinion" with what is represented as "facts" - though backed with no statistics, studies, industry numbers, independent findings, or anything at all other than other opinions (constitutional commentary aside). truly enlightening responses.

Michael DeFazio
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"after reading most of these posts, i can't help but notice that many attitudes towards this issue seem to be about whether piracy is "right" or "wrong"."

"i do notice loads of refutation of one person's "opinion" with what is represented as "facts" - though backed with no statistics, studies, industry numbers, independent findings, or anything at all other than other opinions"

--i don't think this represents the comments at all
...who and where are people in these comments parading opinions as facts?
...who is framing this issue as a pure black/white right wrong issue?

some examples would be nice, likewise what is the point of making a statement like this to describe all of this discourse...you could:

1) respond and refute those individual posts directly with your own facts/counterargument

otherwise, if you disagree with the general consensus or direction that the comments are heading, add something intelligent to debate about... Don't comment on the quality of comments if you yourself have nothing insightful to say. (or you generally don't agree with conclusions and the opinions of others simply because they don't reaffirm your opinion).

stephan maich
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i was being glib (and inaccurate). this stupid thread's been sticking in my head all day. so, i apologize for inaccuracy and shortchanging the validity of people's arguments.

i guess john castle's...

"Also it is a fallacy if you think that stopping a pirate will increase your sales. It won't, the pirate will just move on to an easier target. This is what the game industry can't get through their thick skulls, pirates want stuff FOR FREE, they don't want to pay, if they can't get it FOR FREE then they don't want it..... "

...would qualify as one, but retracted anyway...

what makes this issue a "real" issue? i guess what i want to know is - by what standard do companies that suffer "losses" from piracy quantify the losses? one can obviously not have both sales figures (piracy free) to compare to separate sales figures after piracy. i realize that excuses have to made to investors about their poor speculation choices, but plenty of products simply do not sell what is anticipated (the new Max Payne seems as good a massively-marketed, apparently public interest-holding example as any).

that's obviously not to say that piracy has no effect on sales... of course it does.

i don't really have an opinion on the topic - not really. i just question its importance - especially to the small dev.

Gustaff Neit
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I have to agree on Mr. Cook's F2P statement above on being a good business model, but I would hardly consider a F2P game a pirate deterrent (to the gaming industry as a whole), or a way to embrace piracy as the profitable future of the gaming industry.

in a F2P game, the (partial) game is there for *anyone* to download and play, but if you want the nice things (or complete access to the game) you have to pay for it.
Piracy is deterred in this instance because in order to get the nice things illegally for free, they need to step up the piracy to hacking, which implies more skill, and determination to break the law (hackers being more prosecuted than pirates); as opposed to simply downloading a NON-F2P game via torrent, which as Brian states, almost anyone can do, even if they don't know how to, they just need to google it.

Benjamin Branch
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Copyright laws are archaic laws built for books that have been immorally adopted, modified and abused by the content industry out of fear by the individuals in the industry and the greed of the industry as a whole. This behavior has made a lot of people forget that public domain was once considered a RIGHT before it was lobbied out of feasibility. It is natural to copy the works of others. When you are growing up, you copy the speech patterns of others, how they move, how they dress, how they eat, how they sleep, how they spend their free time, etc. etc. etc.

The original intent of the laws was just to inhibit people from undercutting a new author because they were faster to the printing press with an idea. A person would have the healthy period of a decade to 15 years or so to make money off of their work and then it would go into the public domain for people to build on. It was not made so a company could hold on to their works and ideas exclusively and indefinitely forever, which is our current situation. It is not fair toward the consumer to say the least.

The aforementioned fear has been proven unreasonable after a decade or so of growth by the content industry, which one may argue with the help of so-called "piracy," has thrived in ways previously unimagined. So, since fear of profit loss isn't a valid reason to oppose piracy, that leaves greed as a prevalent reason, and yes, you could indeed use copyright laws to continue to amorally exploit your consumers, re release after re release for a profit, as that is the sum of what copyright and intellectual property laws are good for at this point.

The video game industry is a business. We all know that, but the bogeyman that is "piracy" hasn't killed it, nor is it killing it, nor is it fundamentally changing the way money is made in the industry. Still all that needs to be done is making a game that people like, are willing to support with their dollar, and have word of it spread as far as you can possibly spread it however you can spread it, which oddly "piracy" helps with that last matter.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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I'm not saying I'm going to disagree with you, but you need to help me understand something -- how is it unfair to the consumer for me to own the copyright to a very specific and detailed piece of work that I created for, let's say, eternity? What makes them entitled to it? We're not talking about patents, which often cover things that others have or will soon think of on their own; we're talking about a very specific arrangement of ideas (be it a novel, song, or game) that is incredibly unlikely to be discovered in exactly the same arrangement by someone else through any means other than copying. When you say this scenario is not "fair" toward the consumer, you imply an ethical stance where the consumer is entitled to the work that I labored to produce, but I don't understand how. That implies that I am harming them, that they're worse off for me making the work but not letting them have it for free than if I never made it in the first place. If I never made the work they would also be deprived of it -- so am I indebted through some cosmic force I don't understand to make the work in the first place? If not why am I indebted to release it at all, and then why am I indebted to release it for free past a particular point in time? If you believe the problem is taking away someone's freedom to copy the work after they purchase it, what if I only showed my work to people who entered a building (my property) and made sure they did not have any equipment to copy the work (other than whatever they can reproduce through memorizing the work and reconstructing it later, which would be much much harder than taking a camera into a theatre or copying bits) and specifically got them to voluntarily sign on an individual basis that they would not describe or reconstruct my work -- would that be wrong, even though it's my work, my land, and no one is being forced to agree to this commercial arrangement?

I feel something drawing me to agree with you, at least partially, as I think about how unappealing it is that "Happy Birthday To You" is still copyrighted, but I don't know how to frame what the actual problem is ethically.

Rory Madden
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Ultimately, I want the best financial model that allows for the creation of the games I like to play. Civ V, Mass Effect III, and Assassin's Creed II are a few of the games I have really enjoyed playing recently, and I haven't really seen anything with the same depth and graphics in the f2p sphere, so that leaves me dubious of leaving traditional models in the dust.

That's not to say I am not a fan of other financial models. F2P seems to work pretty well in the MMO sphere, for example, and I love playing Lord of the Rings Online, which has been f2p for a while now.

I certainly have no objection to paying up-front to buy a game if it's good enough. If that truly becomes unfeasible in the future, then I am happy to explore other models; I just hope we don't see a reduction in quality as a result.

Josh Rough
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It's amazing to me that any conversation around piracy somehow devolves into accusations that content creators and IP law are all a bunch of flawed greedy twats and dated draconian ideas. Isn't the actual factual problem that there are legions of people out there mindlessly stealing our work and justifying it in a myriad of ridiculous ways? The entire "it isn't a lost sale, it isn't a theft/denial of actual property" arguments seem to come mostly from people that have fuck-all to do with actual real game development. Let me make this easy for all of you abstract outsiders. I prefer to be paid for my work. Each and every time. If you aren't going to pay me for it, don't steal it. If you steal it, you now owe me. Period. Thus, you are a goddamn thief. It gets no more plain and simple than this.

Can we please focus the discussion and angst toward the actual problem - criminals? Can we please work to instill some actual shame and disdain toward the people that make things like DRM necessary, instead of demonizing those of us that - call me crazy - are actually trying to run a business?

Mariusz Szlanta
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@Gustaff Neit

It's not about dettering piracy. It's actually about using pirates to increase perceived value of product. Embracing them, as author if this article wants.

They populate the world, trade, talk, make servers and cities busy and in turn, make product a way more attractive for paying players. There is, of course, high art involved into walling payable content in reasonable way and avoiding P2W trap.

@Josh, you are right in every point and so what?

How exactly are you going to fight these little thieves?

How exactly are you going to deliver your game to these willing to pay only?

Arelius Areliusarson
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Have you guys seen this?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9k08xsjjlNc

How we will all create revenue in the future lies within this talk. I'm sure of it.

Tudor Simu
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I dislike the clumping up of this issue in just 2 lights , good and bad/ us versus them. It's easy to blame pirates for your losses, but everyone tries to shift blame from themselves.
It's easy to say they pirated you lost money, but looking at demographics there are a lot of countries where by comparison 1 AAA title is, and I'm not joking. anywhere from 1/5th to 1/3rd of someones MONTHLY SALARY. It's easier to complain about the issue in a certain space by avoiding the larger picture.
Realistically speaking, unless someone is entirely dedicated to the cause, they would not spend the money on it to begin with if piracy was not an option.
It would also help this conversation more if demographics were available on piracy in order to compare average/moderate income in said state compared to piracy rates. If a sizable sample shows that a large portion of piracy occurs in countries with lower income values, i find it less hard to blame the pirates and easier to blame the publishers.
That being said there are situations in which does not apply as easily, such as indie games, but for B to AAA titles, i think this is a valid point to make.


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