The piracy question

I don’t pirate much these days, and if I do, after downloading the game image I lose interest in even installing the game to check it out. But this is probably more due to having other things more important than gaming that need to get done and an unhealthy addiction to a MMORPG. But, in the past when I was in undergrad I pirated for a couple of reasons: availability and lack of funds.

You had very large, very fast networks which let those that were computer savvy to have access to any type of media you wanted; games, music, movies, even people’s homework if they were silly enough to share it. Many of us that participated in these activities knew it was illegal, but it was so abundant it felt silly to not utilize it. Piracy wasn’t encouraged per se, but no one discouraged its use either (at least amongst the student body). Plus, while I had some money, I chose to spend that on going out and not on gaming. After all, you can’t pirate beer. =)

Now I tend to buy more games - however they are more for the console than PC. Until recently, console games were far more polished upon release. It helps to have only a single configuration to have to develop for. Also, the fact that there was no patching mechanism meant that games were released almost exclusively bug-free. Now that there is a patching mechanism in place for console games, the production quality is beginning to slip again, but that is neither here nor there. PC games have had a history of needing a patch in the first month to find all the bugs. Sometimes you even had release day patches! This type of development did not instill much confidence in the game’s quality. Why would I want to pay 50 dollars for something that was buggy and prevented me from actually getting to the story? On the other hand, I can pay nothing for a game and if it is buggy I’m not out of any money. The problem with this argument is that if the game does turn out to have been worth the purchase, the pirate will not go out and buy a copy of the game. They might recommend the game to others, but the pirate does not spend his own money.

There is also an issue with the number of ‘clone’ games out there. For example, there are currently a plethora of war FPS games right now. Many do not innovate the genre, nor do they provide a unique or refreshing story-line. But they still charge a premium price for yesterday’s content. It’s the equivalent of Kia charging the price of a BMW because they made a car that looks like a BMW. Market forces should dictate that the clone does not sell, being that it isn’t the same quality component as the original. In the pirates mind, stealing a game is providing that market input. A highly pirated game essentially means that your game was not worth buying. The problem is that it does not say WHY the game was not worth the purchase price. Was it buggy? Repetitive? Insane system requirements? Having developers say ‘PC gaming is not worth it’ or refusing to acknowledge that their software was far too ambitious for current market conditions (read Crysis) also reduces confidence in the PC game market. If developers are going to be close minded about why their products are being stolen, or just plain indigent, then there will be no improvement in the games, and pirates will keep pirating. Why should a pirate care if there is no Crysis 2? They never bought Crysis 1 in the first place… They didn’t put in any real investment.

Then there is the DRM argument. Hackers find ways around the DRM, and thus the pirate has an easier time playing the game than the person who legitimately bought the product. For example, I was all set to buy Mass Effect for the PC due to its faster load times and additional content until EA announced their DRM scheme. I will now wait until they either remove the activation scheme (such as what happened to Bioshock, which I immediately purchased the next day), or the price drops to a point where EA will not make very much profit on the game’s sale. The people that purchase a game should not be punished for doing things the right way.

In this regard, I fully support the Steam platform. My games are tied to my account. I can go to any computer I want, sign on, and play whatever games I have purchased after I re-download them. There is no limitation on the number of computers I can install to. There is no limitation to how I upgrade my system. The only limitation is that I have to sign on before I can play and I can only be signed on from one location at a time; but once I do sign on, I can play anywhere. Couple this with the portable save game database they plan on rolling out, and the digital account model is very, very attractive. Games also tend to be slightly cheaper.

You will also hear talk about spending 60 dollars for what amounts to 6 hours of play time. Developers like to say how replayability comes through multi-player, but that assumes everyone wants to buy a multiplayer game. One of the reasons I really like RPGs is that I know I will get at least 30 hours worth of play time out of it. 2 bucks an hour for entertainment is very nice. 10 dollars an hour for entertainment and you are over half of my hourly pay-rate. The money-entertainment scale is no longer in my favor, so I will avoid your game.

There are also a lot of really good games out there right now as gaming has begun to reach a lot more people. There are easily 10 games that I would love to purchase right now, and probably another 10 I’d love to try. However, at 50-60 dollars a pop, that’s 1000 to 1200 dollars. It is an expensive hobby. Maybe developers should stop blowing 20 million on 3D models and advanced lighting effects, and make games that are more involving, more robust, and focus more on what the player needs to do at every step, instead of how everything looks. Maybe then, gaming can stop being a 50-60 dollar per pop experience, and could then become a 30-40 dollar a pop experience. Price is always a way to entice more people.

Anyway, I think I am now rambling. Hopefully there was at least some information in there that will prove useful.

Just wanted to add something to my thoughts with regards to why certain types of games tend to be pirated more than others. The blog request for these responses was down when I posted yesterday, so I didn’t include anything regarding non-AAA titles being swiped.

A part of it comes down to perceived effort to make a game. The AAA, full-3D, crazy graphics requirements games look like they took a lot of effort to make. They may not be high quality work in terms of original gameplay, but because they have a certain look, it appears that more effort was put in. So, some initial justification to pay the full price comes through. These types of games also come with marketing budgets that can build hype around a game. Initial looks, marketing, etc. These all go towards building a perception in potential customers that if they don’t have this game, they will be missing out.

On the other hand, you have the indy game environment. While indy games have very high production quality, when put side by side with a AAA title they don’t look comparable. There is very little marketing done for indy games outside of word of mouth. You won’t see an indy game on the front page of gamespot. So because there is a perception that no one knows about an indy game, it doesn’t matter if it is pirated. Why pay for a game when the perception is that no one in the gaming world seems to care about it? Of course, with more exposure you open yourself to more people wanting to pirate your game as well. It’s a very tricky path.

Quite honestly, I wish games like Braid were front page news, and games like Gears of War were forgotten. When you talk about games as art, and point to AAA titles like GoW, it is understandable why people might laugh. GoW was fun, but it wasn’t anything new. At its core, it is just a FPS.

So, for indy games, it is an issue of perceived worth. Whether it is a new marketing campaign needed to prop up the indy game industry, or partnerships with gaming heavyweights to sponsor a title, something needs to be done to show gamers that indy games are worth the money. There also needs to be work done to differentiate indy games from casual games. Product perception is everything, and indy games do not have the correct public perception right now.

The only excuse for pirating in my eyes is pirating a game you bought a while ago but cant get any more. Like if you lose the cd to something or you get a new computer, then i guess piracy is OK.

I actually sent an e-mail to cliff about piracy. This is the only time I “pirate”, when it’s a game I cannot get anywhere else. The options are to either give nobody any money (IE pirate it) or to give some random person money by buying the CD from them via e-bay. The end result in either case is that the developer does not get any money.

I have ‘taken’ two games that people have sent me via messenger. Both times I later bought the full version to clear my conscience, even though one of the games I had stopped playing by that point.

I myself have downloaded several games that are no longer sold. I could probably find them on ebay or something but if the developer has abandoned the game, In that case I will just download it. If it is still being actively sold, I will avoid pirating it and either buy it or look for another game. (Most likely the latter)

I probably even have less disposable income than the average college student as I come from a relatively low income family so paying 60 or even 40 for a game has never been an option. I don’t think I have ever bought a game that was less than 1 year old and so far I have only bought 2 games per year. Even then, if I can’t get the game for 20 or less, I probably will pass on it and look for a different game. (I paid 20 for Oblivion so when I consider paying 20 for another game, I automatically compare that game to Oblivion which means I have pretty high standards per dollar.) Eventually, I will graduate and get a full time job and what not and will be able to pay more for games, but until then retail price is quite outside my budget.