Gaming on a Timer

Opinion – Reasons to Pirate a Game (and Why They’re Wrong)

This is a logical breakdown of various excuses people offer as to why they pirate software (games, as far as this article is concerned; can apply to other branches of the industry). I’ve specifically tried to avoid morality-based arguments, as these are subject to a multitude of external factors, therefore cannot be logically debated.

Some assumptions I hold to be true in lieu of this article:

[1]: Companies have access to piracy statistics, including number of downloads, torrent site statistics, illegal servers and so forth.
[2]: Software sale profits are split between publishers, developers and distribution outlets (in their majority).
[3]: As an example, I’m using a fictional person who has been pirating software, conveniently named “Subject”, an ambiguous/non-offensive/non-descriptive/gender-neutral name.

“Strike against the evil corporations and their money-grabbing schemes [sic].”

The Dragon Age series is one of the
prime examples of  Day 1 DLC.

How it Works: This is probably the single most-used excuse in the whole gaming piracy business. It is often used as self-justification, with the Subject likening themselves to a revolutionary figure that pirates games as a means to combat the various schemes (such as DRM and Day-1 DLC) publishers often use to counter piracy in the first place.

Spore was heavily pirated due to the
obnoxious DRM scheme used.

Why It’s Wrong: It is worth remembering that said publishers have access to piracy information (see [1]); therefore, the Subject is not actually affecting the popularity of the pirated software – a publisher suffering sale losses from piracy will most likely conclude that their product is popular, but needs better protection so as to “force” the Subject to purchase it instead of pirating it. This, naturally, leads to the perpetuation of a “vicious circle”, where the publisher continually pushes for more gimmicks, which in turn lead consumers to piracy as means of protest.

A Better Way: Boycotting a product altogether has a much more audible impact; communicating the reasons for said boycott to the publisher also sends a clear message that has a greater chance of having an impact.

“Game’s not worth its’ (insert local currency) price.” or “This game doesn’t include co-op/multiplayer/DLC/random feature.”

Indie Stone’s Project Zomboid:
Cheap, no DRM, a labour of love…

How it Works: Another common line of reasoning often presented as a counter-argument for piracy, the Subject often decides (via various information outlets – reviews, gameplay videos etcetera) that the software does not provide sufficient entertainment to justify the retail price. Closely related the “Various gameplay aspects not to my liking” and “No features I want are present” arguments (see below).

…piracy in this case also cost them
a great deal in server bandwidth.

Why It’s Wrong: As with all services and products available in any market today, if the cost is deemed higher than the usage provided, a customer should (and in most cases will) abstain from said service/product in favour of a better one (this is one of the basics of a free economy – businesses strive to offer better products at cheaper prices than the competition). Taking into account the piracy info available (see [1]), by pirating software, the consumer sends a different message than intended; the product may be faulty/insufficient/unimpressive, but the consumer is still willing to use it. This might lead into publishers authorizing sequels or (even worse) setting standards by the example software’s standards – effectively becoming one of the reasons the industry bases itself around “safe” but otherwise unimpressive concepts (such as generic first person shooters in recent years).

A Better Way: Avoiding purchases on launch day is an excellent way to get a message across to the publishers; the vast majority of released titles eventually get price cuts as time passes. Usually, at the six month mark, games can be found for as low as half the launch price (and that’s discounting various offers – e.g. digital distribution sales, budget re-releases, package deals) – if launch sales are lower than the repriced ones, publishers have a clear indications that the current pricing scheme they use needs reworking.

“I couldn’t afford it anyway, so the developer’s not really losing any money.” or “It’s only a copy of the data, therefore it’s not really stealing.”

World of Goo, an addictive physics
puzzler, got pirated to high heaven…

How it Works: Another common rationale used as an excuse for piracy, the Subject will assume that since they will never purchase the product, it won’t affect sales; therefore it won’t cost the developer anything if they pirate it. They can also rationalize that since the original data is not stolen (since it has no analog presence; they are merely copies of the original), it doesn’t really count as theft.

…even when developer 2D Boy sold
it for as low as $0,01.

Why It’s Wrong: In both cases, the Subject tends to not factor the (often) thousands of hours poured into the project’s development cycle – including time for planning, coding, graphics, art, sound, story development etcetera – when their act of piracy deprives said developers’ of their (already worked-for) pay (see [2]). This, coupled with a skewed understanding of the segregation of analog and digital goods, leads to the misconception that a copied piece of software should not be considered stolen.

A Better Way: The industry is probably the best candidate to push for change in this area; as a first step, better education about digital rights and copyright laws would help inform the Subject regarding the nuances and peculiarities of the digital era of commerce. Subsequently, a higher degree of publication into the software design process will allow the Subject to form a better view of the entire process, hopefully leading them to reduce or even abstain from piracy altogether.

“There’s no demo! I’ll pirate the game and will buy it if it’s any good.”

The OnLive service offers testing
functions for their entire catalogue.

How it works: A developing notion in late years, since publishing houses either neglect or outright deny releasing parts of their software for demonstration purposes, a prevalent opinion (and excuse) is that of testing; the Subject might download said software illegally, try it and purchase the legitimate version if they’re interested.

Why It’s Wrong: This is one of the more ambiguous explanations, as it strikes a (somewhat) legitimate concern; publishers denying hands-on testing prior to purchase. Assuming this excuse is truthful, the problem is mainly that the demo software is not obligatory. A publisher is well within their rights to not release any sort of demo version – while this demonstrates an inability to follow and cater for their target audience, the law is (sadly) sided with them.

A Better Way: Quite a few, actually. Aside from the industry giving the demo scene more attention, they can take advantage of digital distribution channels – OnLive is a prime example of this, as it allows 30 minutes of play on any of the games it carries without need of purchase. On the customer side, various video hosting sites often contain gameplay videos (user videos are often the best for this sort of evaluation) and a well-informed gamer can always form an opinion by reading a selection of published reviews (a personal rule of thumb is five to ten review samples from various gaming outlets, both big e-zines and hobbyist blogs), plus forums (joining one in your local language is often the best approach, as the information presented is often reflected through cultural trappings you are accustomed to).

Ultimately, it all boils down to each individual’s moral sensitivities; with the onset of the digital era of commerce, it is now easier than ever to acquire games both legitimately and illegally. Hopefully, both participants in this clash will work together towards the betterment of the medium and its’ delivery methods.

* 2D Boy Official Blog (World of Goo)
* Indie Stone Official Blog (Project Zomboid)
* OnLive Official Site

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