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The Truth About Piracy

By Shamus
on Thursday May 29, 2008
Filed under:
Video Games


The Pirates Who Don’t Buy ANYTHING.
If you don’t get it, this might help explain the joke.
Yesterday’s scourging of BioWare’s EA’s clumsy falsehoods led us back to the old discussion about software piracy being “theft”.

I think the closest analogy of piracy is the one Bruce offered in the comments: It’s like sneaking into a movie. Sure, it’s not “hurting” anyone – nobody becomes poorer by virtue of your viewing of the movie – and you are not depriving anyone else of the product. (We must assume the theater is infinite in size and all the seats offer the same view for this analogy to work.) But most people recognize that sneaking in is still wrong.

In the case we’re dealing with, so many people are sneaking in the fire exit that there is a certain herd comfort to the act. After all, “everyone else is doing it and we’re not hurting anyone.” The sense of scandal is gone.

To combat this, the theater owner first began hassling everyone as they came into the theater to make sure they had tickets. This was a mild annoyance, but had no impact on people coming in through the fire exit. When that plan failed, they began frisking customers as they came in. This was very annoying and insulting, and many people wouldn’t stand for it.

Some people have quit going to the movies outright.

Some people buy tickets, run outside, and come in the back way along with all of the leeches to avoid the invasion of their privacy.

Some people sneak in and claim they will pay for a ticket on the way out if they liked the movie. Some of them even mean it and occasionally do so.

Some people sneak in, but rarely stay to the end. They usually leave halfway through, often to sneak into some other movie. They enjoy the thrill of jumping the fence and getting in more than they enjoy movies. If the movie was free, they wouldn’t bother seeing it at all.

Some of the people sneaking in do so because they are broke and can’t afford to buy a ticket. (Some of these would very probably find a way to pay for a ticket if they found they could no longer use the fire door.)
Since realizing the great influx of people into the theater through the fire door, the theater managers have gone nuts. Now they have a new policy every week. Strip searches. Restrictions on what you can wear. Restrictions on where you can sit. You can no longer buy a ticket for a friend. Usually you have to pay for a ticket before you can find out what they’re going to do to you before they let you in, and you can’t get a refund if you refuse. They try to boot out people who don’t have tickets, but those people people loop right around and come back inside, like mice. Sometimes they accidentally boot out a paying customer. Some of those people just sneak back in, but some storm off and vow never to set foot in the theater again.

Now, we know that the number of people sneaking in is greater than the number who buy tickets, but beyond that we have no way of knowing what things would look like if everyone was honest. The portion of the audience that came in the back door is – depending on who you ask – somewhere between 50% and 90%. But we don’t know how many people sneaking in actually bought a ticket, we don’t know how many people would buy a ticket if they had to, and we don’t know how many people are refusing to go to the theaters at all because of the hassle at the entrance. The only number we do know for sure is how many tickets are sold, and it’s not possible to derive any of the other values from that number. People try, but it’s all guesswork. The theater owners act like everyone who comes in the back is a leech.

Making matters worse is the fact that theater owners won’t share notes with each other, so they have no way of telling if any of their absurd policies is having any impact on the problem.

I’ve spent a lot of time hammering away at the companies that have implemented these ruinous and insidious copy prevention measures. Perhaps I’ve made it seem like I’m on the side of the pirates. Just to make it clear that I’m not sailing under the jolly roger: In my own view, piracy is wrong. It’s wrong even when the people making and selling the game are senseless, self-destructive fools. It’s wrong even if the game sucks. It’s wrong if you’re broke. It’s wrong even if “you weren’t going to buy it anyway.” It’s wrong and I don’t do it, ever.

It is not my intention to preach at pirates and get them to change their habits. I’m not anyone’s mum, and it’s not my place to tell people how to act. I actually think that having lots of people repent of piracy right now would be horrible. The managers would conclude their monstrous policies were working, and we’d get a double helping of the same, forever after, in every game they put out.

I don’t delete comments from people who talk about pirating a game, because I value frank (yet polite) honesty in this discussion. I don’t encourage people to give money to EA or 2kGames because those companies don’t deserve even the modest measure of help I might be able to give them. I won’t give them my money, so I’m not about to suggest other people give them theirs. Everyone has to work out for themselves how they want to behave in all this.

I’ve had my say on what I think the solution is.

Which brings me to the only weapon I have at my disposal: I vote with my dollars every chance I get. I’ve forsworn BioShock, Mass Effect, Spore, and other big-name titles because of the contempt they show for honest people. I buy stuff from Stardock, even if the game isn’t really my cup of tea. To wit: My interest in Sins of a Solar Empire was minuscule compared to any of the games I mentioned above, and it cost more. ($60 Collector’s Edition. Ow.) Stardock got me to pay more for a game I wanted less, and all they had to do was treat me like a customer instead of an enemy.

Yes, this is a long sermon, once again directed to the choir. If I knew how to reach the ones responsible, I would do so.

Comments (140)

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  1. Ranger Six says:

    Voting with your wallet won't work.

    IF sales increase/THEN draconian copy-protection will continue, because clearly it's not hurting sales.

    IF sales decrease/THEN draconian copy-protection will continue, because the loss is clearly due to piracy.

    I disagree. If you don't play the game, they will notice the lack of players due to the lack of high scores and such.

    I disagree with your disagreement. Piracy is a convenient scapegoat, and any entertainment company will be more than happy to claim that the ONLY reason they’re losing money is because of the DREAD PIRATES OF THE INTERNET.

    Never mind that they have fifty hojillion emails/reviews/posts on their official forums saying “Hey, your games suck, and nobody’s going to buy them!” It’s always the DREAD PIRATES.

  2. mazer says:

    So in this analogy, what are the 2$ third-run theaters that sell beer? ’cause thats the video game I want to buy.

  3. Phantom says:

    I know this is old, but its an intresting, complex article and issue.

    A few thoughts.

    1) Why do they focus so much on anti piracy that inconvinces the hell out the customour while giving the pirates an easy ride? That is ****ing stupid (and immoral). Their should be someone playtesting the copy protection so that it doesn’t inconvince the customers more than it needs to (protip you could have come up with a system much easier and less antanising than DRM). Punishing your customers this much is an excelent way to push people into priacy and have the pirates feel justified, while also not being able to figure out how many pirates are “real” pirates.
    On this note, instead of ****ing your customers, why not take the cleverer apporach of ****ing the pirates? DS games seem to have grasped this, by putting anti piracy that has no effect on a legitamate cartidges but will inconvince the hell out of the pirates. Mulitple checkpoints (at the start, in the middle etc) or clever features like diabling ALL the encounters in an rpg(preventing you from leveling up at all) or being attacked by weak enemies EVERY SINGLE STEP, and eventually equipping every game with AP that older flash carts cannot bypass at all.
    Now the hardcore crackers do eventually find a way around most AP, but at least its very inconvinent for them, and in that period, people are more likely to actually go and buy the game, or see that the publishers do in fact care. Or at very least, getting the rom and finding the AP patch will be too much for the lazy pirate.
    The wonderful thing about this is that it doesn’t harm the paying customer AT ALL. This is how you should do Ap. Their are rumours the 3ds might go further, possibly have it brick with too many pirate games.
    Anti Piracy that only affects the legit customers and will not harm the pirates at all, and will in fact help them recruit more. So drm is overall self defeating. Its worse than useless.
    An idea I had… what about more checkpoints after the first hour or so? This would give pirates a chance to sample the game, then an illegitmate copy of the game could keep buggering up after the first hour, posibly even telling them that if they like to game to go out and actually buy it, mentioning that it costs a lot of money to make a game like this and that their support could help the game continue.

    2) Ethics time, is it really so different to buying a game second hand? The devlopers don’t get your money either way, yet somehow that doesn’t seem evil Is it immoral to download a remake of a game when the original programmers have already recieved tons of money for the older game? I can’t feel any guilt for it, to be honest. Also what about lending a game to a friend until they beat it? ZOmg he gets to play the entire game free without the devloper ever reciving a penny.

    3) Is their really much harm in pirating an ultra popular game from a massive coportion like Square or EA? What if the game is half assed and rushed out? Or the game is “Super sequal+1 with better graphics and more hats!”. To be honest I am glad I pirated Kingdom Hearts Days, that game was so rushed out and dull, and I would have been out rage if I had paid full price for it. It clearly wasn’t paltested and its basically a 4 hour game with no skill or stratergy, bloated into a 30 hour game. I’m glad the anti piracy was as half assed as the rest of the game. Its an insult towards every other Kingdom Hearts game. Also what if a company price gouges, artifically keeping a game at full price for up to a year? Pirating would actually help lower prices for the legit customers.

    Anyway just my 2 cents

  4. xXDarkWolfXx says:

    I do pirate games once in a while but it is simply to see what the game is like because the only place i can get it aside from pirating it is from ebay and im not about to pay for a second hand game that may be crap. Im primarly a console gamer so if i hear about a game having DRM issues i just think “well ill buy it for my console as planned then”. There are many games that i pirate and decide to buy but there are also games that i pirate and my computer is either to weak/advanced to run it or the developers just ended up screwing themselves over like a sex addict on a desert island with 100 gallons of hand lotion. In my oppinion piracy is big no-no depending on why you do it, if its like downloading a song or two online simply to find out what the band sounds like beyond singles thats fine but if its like downloading a bands discography and never paying for anything that they make then you are indeed a criminal and should be punished, its just always a tragedy when innocent developers like bioware and the people who actually pay for the game get shafted by over-paranoid publishers who probably go to sleep wearing their tin-foil caps used to prevent “them” from reading their minds.

  5. An apt analogy, Shamus.
    However, you missed the part where the theatre managers started pausing the movie every 10 minutes to check everyone's tickets…

  6. Demon says:

    I disagree about the theater concept since a theater requires maintenance, staff and a host of other costs. I would argue that it is more like a statue in a park. Anyone can walk up to it and enjoy it. If the software companies ran the business they would want to charge everyone that looked at the statue. Now that doesn’t make sense since we are used to a different business model with statues where people pay to have it made so they can enjoy it. Despite the fact anyone can enjoy it. The reason for the old business model exists with software companies was that reproduction and distribution had significant cost. That doesn’t exist anymore and the software companies need to change their business model to address it.

  7. DASHCOM websites are springing up throughout the world.
    s no secret that illegal file sharing is still rampant in
    many countries, such as the US, however, it might not be government interference
    that eventually leads on the end of the age of illegal downloads.
    The vulnerability has apparently been fixed because the interview with Russo happened, and usernames
    are again safe and secure.

  8. UserShadow7989 says:

    A pretty sound metaphor, I think; DRM ultimately fails because all it takes is one guy with a free weekend and some programming know-how, and you’ve got cracked copies floating around for anyone who wants it, while those who buy legally will always have to deal with it. You’re basically giving pirates an innately better product.

    My personal idea? No DRM, no pass key, no always online, no cd in drive requirement (for PC games), nothing. Instead, I’ll just put some fake ROMs up on popular ROM sites that is just a demo with file size beefed up to match the full game’s.

    It abruptly cuts off, early enough in you don’t get much beyond a taste and idea if you like it like a demo would, but far enough in that you have to invest some time into that ROM before you can tell it’s a dud.

    Customers will never be hassled by this method, and unlike DRM, these fake ROMs will be something everyone who wants to pirate the game will have to dig through to get to the goods rather than one dedicated person, at least for the short while it takes for the site to remove them (and I can always just put up more later one lazy afternoon if I check and see they’re gone).

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