Iain, Piki Geek’s resident curmudgeon, wanted a place to spout off his unpopular (and often incredibly offensive) opinions. Repeated attempts to have him killed ended unsuccessfully, so we gave up and let him write this column instead.
Video game piracy, like The Ocarina of Time or Global Warming, is a topic you only really get one chance to form an opinion on. Anything you say that first time out is set in stone forevermore, and God forbid you try to change your mind at a later date, lest the context communists and fact fascists destroy your reputation with judicious use of past quotes. For better or worse, here are my thoughts about the controversial issue of video game piracy. Since I only get one shot at this, I’m hoping to make my comments stick.
Piracy is greatly contributing to the casual erosion of quality in the gaming industry. All pirates should be fully aware that they are the problem, not the video game equivalent of Robin Hood. I’m not so naive though to think that piracy is a black and white issue and the only problem that the gaming industry currently faces. There are a host of problems that the modern publisher faces in the pursuit of profit and collectively they are killing the games industry. The purpose of this article, then, is to show how they interconnect and to highlight the influence that piracy holds over the industry, for good and bad (mostly bad).
Piracy and DRM are almost totally intertwined, enough so that there’s a fairly strong argument to make that without one, the other wouldn’t exist. That’s especially true of DRM as it’s only real purpose is seemingly to combat piracy. What this also means is that both sides are fighting a losing battle: the more rampant piracy becomes than the stricter DRM will get, and in turn pirates will feel a greater urge to crack it. Eventually, someone’s going to have to back down from this fight, and, call it a hunch, I doubt it will be the multi-billion dollar games industry.
Meanwhile, every penny lost to piracy is just one more publishers will seek back with subscription services, download content and other nefarious schemes for milking the customer of all his or her money. It’s practically become the norm for gamers to complain about anything that costs money after the initial purchase of a title. The fact is, however, that because games these days have such a limited profit potential, the prevalent business model is trending ever further away from “one game, one price” to a more flexible ideal that also proves more costly to the consumer. Piracy is money on the table, so publishers are seeking to make that money back any way they can. DLC is a direct result of this.
The rise of the resale market has also had a major effect on the way publishers treat the release of their games. Pre-order bonuses and one-time use codes are just some of more troublesome trends in gaming that can all be tied back to the practice of buying and selling used. Likewise, the popularity of aggregate review sites like Metacritic makes life even more difficult on the publisher, since it’s now so much easier for the consumer to quickly gauge the quality of a game as based on a simplified score out of a hundred, a terribly easy (but also terribly inaccurate) way to swiftly cast judgment on a title.
Another issue to consider is the oversaturation of the games market. While not exactly a new development by any stretch, there are nevertheless far more games coming out than the market can bear. A surprisingly small percentage of games make a profit. Last year, just eight percent of all releases managed to stay in the black. The knee jerk reaction to that is to make more (preferably cheaper) games that will collectively make enough money so as to keep the company income high.
This raises two problems. The obvious one is that we’re wasting time on crappy cash-in titles that could be spent developing quality AAA titles that the public actually wants. The second is that with so many shitty games floating about, you create the perfect environment for a customer unwilling to commit his or her money. One day you’re checking out an interesting title with middling reviews, and before you know it, nine times out of ten you’ll pirate it rather than buy it.
Piracy is like the morning after a vindaloo: it’s a vicious circle from which no one emerges looking especially pretty. There is really no other reason for video game piracy than the desire to get something for free, that is the only truthful excuse and given the damage it causes it is also not much of an excuse at that. That said, I don’t hang around Walmarts all day looking out for shoplifters, so it would be a little pointless of me to harp on as to the moral turpitude of video game piracy, and it’s hardly like I’d be achieving much anyway.
On the other side of the coin, you’re damn right there’s a lot wrong with some of the practices of major publishers in the gaming industry, but they’re in the position to make those decisions, and something like piracy sure as hell ain’t about to change that. The big companies will always do whatever is best for the company. If they think they’re losing money to piracy, then the answer will be to stop the pirates.
Unless something pretty drastic and unexpected happens, we can pretty much all look forward to things continuing with the way they are. DRM will continue to exist to face the crackers, and payment models that seek to circumvent the issue of diminishing returns will gradually become the norm. Piracy is still very much a losing battle for anyone who attempts to fight it. The allure of “free” is simply too powerful, not to mention the other attractive benefits of pirating games, and in this regard I don’t for believe for one moment that there’s anything much I can say in this or any other article to change someone’s mind.
Consider this though: sometimes people try to excuse piracy as a form of protest, arguing that the only games they pirate are those that have been so royally screwed with by draconian publishers that a cracked copy of the game is the only one playable, like what happened with Assassins Creed. Or the argument might go that they’re only pirating a game because [insert evil company here] withheld content for DLC that should rightly have been in the retail game, like… uh, Assassins Creed 2.
Boycotting a title and pirating it both keep money out of the hands of allegedly evil corporations (not to mention those bastard games designers, snorting coke and gulping gallons of Henny a day) but despite the similar goal, the message you send is entirely different based on what approach you take.
Boycott a game and your protest is clear: “I’m not happy with the way you do things so I won’t be doing business with you anytime soon.” Pirate a game, however, and the message is considerably murkier: “You guys suck! But I’m still going to play your game.”
In the first scenario, the company has no obvious solution to the problem. People aren’t touching their games so something will have to change. In the latter, though, the game is still just as popular before, and since the only barrier in that scenario between consumer and profit is piracy, the obvious solution for the company is to make piracy harder.
If you take anything away from this article, let it be that. Pirate if you must, and justify however you want in your head, but try to remember that you’re only hurting the efforts of the people trying to make things better. There are a lot of shitty things about the direction the game industry is moving in, but the important thing to remember is that piracy is one that we actually have the power to do something about.
Unless you just plain don’t care and all you want is video games at a five fingered discount. In that case, ignore everything I’ve said and continue to be a thieving bastard.