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Combating Video Game Piracy

A unique perspective on piracy and recommendations on how we can effectively combat the piracy of entertainment software.

This blog post was inspired by recent job postings at Sony. They recently added job postings for Anti-Piracy Paralegals to help them create an Anti-Piracy program. I love the idea of an anti-piracy program - piracy is a problem we need to address as an industry

However, litigation is not the right way to handle the problem of piracy - it's reactionary instead of preventative. If Sony has to take someone to court, it means the damage has already been done. They're not combating piracy, they're reacting to it. We need to prevent the piracy from happening in the first place, but how can we do that?

What is a pirate's motive? When it comes to games, it usually isn't profit. They want to play the game, but they either won't or can't purchase it. This is an important fact that we need to emphasize: the pirates are not our enemy, they are our potential customers - they want to play our games. Every illegally downloaded copy of our games shows us where we fell short of our players' expectations. The best way to combat piracy is to understand our audience's expectations and what we can do to meet those expectations - we need to turn the pirates into customers.

Maybe the customer thinks the price is unreasonable. This is a pretty big motivator for most of the piracy we see. Just look at how successful GameStop has been selling used games at discounted prices through the recession. When times are tight, people are hesitant to pay $60 for a new game. How do we solve this problem? We need to find a way to lower our customer's expense in order to acquire the game. If we look at social games, the revenue comes from advertising, lead-generation, and micro-transactions. We need to start adopting revenue models that minimize the out-of-pocket cost to our customers.

Maybe the customer doesn't want your DRM. This was a huge problem for Spore. There is a simple solution: stop using restrictive DRM. DRM only works as a preventative to piracy until the DRM is cracked and the non-restrictive version of the game is distributed for free. It's a waste of money and discourages out customers from legally purchasing our products. 

Maybe the customer wants to try the game to see if they'd like it, but there isn't a demo. All of the current generation consoles support digital distribution - there is no longer any excuse for not releasing a demo. A demo will hurt your sales if your game is not worth buying, but if you aren't confident in your demo's ability to sell your game then why would you publish it?

Maybe the customer wants to play an awesome Dreamcast game that you released, or maybe they want to play that old DOS game you published back when the company was first starting, but there is no legitimate channel for them to acquire the games. Why not!? I've already brought up digital distribution - the Wii has a nice catalogue of old console games, and platforms like Steam and Good Old Games are distributing older PC games. The console developers' fight against emulation represents a missed opportunity to bring good old games to new gaming generations. 

In summary, the best way we can combat piracy is to understand what our audience's expectations and then either meet or exceed them. Every customer that legally purchases our games is one less customer that illegally downloads our games.

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