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Josh Bycer, Blogger

September 6, 2010

10 Min Read

I have a story for everyone today, during my day job I met a guy who shall remain nameless but he is incredibly knowledgeable on computers and plays video games. When we first started talking he asked me if I knew any action RPGs that he would like and as a human encyclopedia on video games I gave him some of my top picks.

He then told me that he would look for cracks and pirated copies later. Later he told me that he does not buy video games but instead pirates any that he wants. One day I was telling him how I was waiting for some games to drop down in price before I add them to my backlog, he made a comment that I was at a lost to respond to. He said “I find it funny that someone like you would still buy video games".

Thinking about it for most casual and non gamers I bet they would look at someone like me whose main use of disposable income is to buy video games as a weirdo. Let's face it, if you read my blog, seen my backlog or talked to me in person then you know that I'm a card carrying member of the hardcore gamer club. So shouldn't someone like me who loves video games and plays any that I can get my hands on, not waste his money when I could just get the majority of them for free?

The thing is that they are right, it's not that I'm not smart enough or don't know where to look. Hell I could ask the guy I know to hook me up and I could probably save a sizable amount of chunk change. However there is one detail that they either don't realize or choose to ignore that someone like me who is both a hardcore gamer and trying to gain a foothold in the industry knows. That if people like me thought like they do and just pirated the games they want, then this industry would be creatively dead.

Many of the games that I love don't come from the AAA developers like EA or Take two but smaller to midsized companies like Atlus or Telltale. These companies can live or die by the copies they sell and a lot of their games are so niche driven that they really do need the support of their fans to survive. The AAA developers however have the money in the bank to take a hit from piracy; of course they would be much happier if they didn't have to worry about pirates. Many games that are released have their chance of a sequel judged by the # of copies sold and sadly having your game pirated is not a good enough reason to give low selling games a second chance.

It's time to talk about a sad fact, which I have two statements to make first.

1. If a video game is good enough or cheap enough then pirates will not steal the game.

2. If we load our games with copy protection and DRM then the pirates will not be able to crack our games.

If you, either as a gamer, non gamer or a member of the industry believe either or both of the previous statements then I'm afraid you are an idiot. There are plenty of people out there like the friend I mention who pirates any games that interest him, doesn't matter if they're $50 or $5 if he wants it then he is going to try and find a crack for it and I'm willing to bet that he's not the only one like that.

Some people try to leverage the excuse that games are too expensive and use that to justify pirating games. On one hand you can argue that being a gamer can be an expensive hobby, still I don't buy it. I buy the majority of the games I want on sale and only the games that I'm dying to play do I buy at launch. I am not a rich man by any means but if a game comes out that I have an interest in but not absolutely wanting to play then I'll wait, it's just that simple.

Another claim I hear a lot is that people pirate games that don't have demos because they want to try the game first. This argument I can give some leeway to pirates that spending $60 on a game that you have no idea about is a risky investment. However the people who play 25-50% of a cracked game, say they don't like it and uninstall it I have no compassion for. Whenever we have talk about piracy, metaphors are thrown into the mix and while I'm going to try not to rely on them too much, I have to use one for this example.

To me downloading a crack game to judge a game's merits is like going to a restaurant, eating the majority of the meal including part of the main course, then saying that you thought the food was disgusting and walk out without paying.

With the internet, review sites and even game forums it should not be hard to track down information relating to the game in question. While having a demo is nice not every company has the resources to develop a demo for their games.

Moving on let's talk about point two and copy protection, which has become one of the selling points for piracy. We have pirates who steal games to object to draconian copy protection and publishers who use the copy protection to stop the pirates; no matter who wins, us normal gamers lose. I remember reading that the true purpose of copy protection according to publishers is to stop piracy during the launch and first few weeks of the game's shelf life where the game is in the best position to make a profit. What really annoys me about this thinking is that if that was the case, then why does the copy protection need to stay on after a game has been out for a long time?

Recently with Ubisoft and Blizzard, they have been using an online only form of copy protection. With Ubisoft you must be online to play the game at all times no matter if it is single or multi player and if your internet connection dies in mid game then you are SOL. With Starcraft 2, users must sign into battle.net to access both single and multi player functions however I have heard there is an offline mode for single player users to allow them to play the campaign, but they will not earn any achievements. The uproar over Ubisoft could be read on most games sites and even with that form of copy protection, their games were still pirated.

In my opinion copy protection is useless in its current form. It pisses off the fans of the game, drives casual people to pirate and overall hurts the impression of the game. The icing on the cake is that the pirates who the copy protection was put on to hurt them, don't have to deal with the run around since they are using cracked copies. I would argue for the publishers who use copy protection only if they agree that after a certain amount of time has passed, that all forms of copy protection on their title will be patched out. The only way copy protection will work in my opinion is that we create something that the risk outweighs the reward of piracy but the problem is that something like that will never happen because the chance of hurting a legitimate user is too great.

The best thing you can do is mitigate the damage by rewarding the players for buying your game. Developers like Stardock and Valve constantly update their products with more features or bug fixes and the only way to get them is through updates from their respective platforms. While Steam can be considered a form of DRM, the benefits it provides to players in the form of Steam Cloud, unified friends list, sales and more keeps the uproar to a minimum.

I'm curious about one thing that I want to ask everyone who reads this: Which group of gamers do you think piracy is greater with, casual, moderate, or hardcore gamers? I feel that the hardcore gamers like me who know a lot of the niche titles and their companies would be less likely to pirate as they know the deal like me. I know people who are gamers who just play World of Warcraft, Madden and the latest Call of Duty game. They are gamers but I'm willing to bet that none of them have any idea what Solium Infernum or the Shin Megami Tensei brand is.

One other story I have about piracy takes place during my time working at EB Games. I remember one of my co workers who I would consider a moderate gamer, one day brought in a modded Xbox and for his entire shift just downloaded any games he could find onto the system.

Of course I'm willing to believe that I could just be the exception in all this and that piracy is rampant throughout all groups. Now I don't know if I'm going to be blasted for this but there is one time in my opinion that piracy is ok. That is when there is no legal means to give the developer or retailer money to purchase the game.

As many of you are aware, there are games out there that have become very hard to find. With digital distribution like Steam, Good old Games along with Nintendo's Virtual console these games are coming back into the light. However there are still plenty of titles out there which have almost disappeared entirely and in many cases the original developer may have folded. The only way to get these titles is to spend four to five times the retail price on sites like Amazon or Ebay and even then the developer would not see any of that money as the money goes straight to the seller.

There are games out there that if I could send money to the developer or publisher for a copy of the game I would do that. Sadly that option doesn't exist for a lot of developers which brings me back to my point. If my only options to play a video game are to spend an absurd amount of money that no one who worked on the game will receive any profit from or to pirate the game, then I'm going to have to side with the latter. In some cases the pirated copy is actually better than the original such as with older PC titles that normally would not be compatible with today's machines.

Fortunately for my own sense of morality this example is becoming less frequent thanks to the above mentioned sites. I once downloaded the pirated copy of X-Com a few years back, but after it was released on Steam I uninstalled the whole thing and played the legitimate copy.

To end this entry I want to give an almost Twilight Zone level of irony conclusion to my first story. Of the list of games I gave my friend he enjoyed a game called Titan Quest, which he found a crack for but could not get one for the expansion. He told me that he liked the game but wanted to see what the expansion was all about. I told him that the game was on sale with Steam and at the time was I think $10 for both, he shook his head no and said that he was done with it already.

For those that don't know, Titan Quest was developed by Iron Lore and was their first game, the company sadly went under a few years ago and one of the main reasons that were cited was due to piracy cutting into sales and Iron Lore didn't make enough money back to stay afloat.


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Josh Bycer


For more than seven years, I have been researching and contributing to the field of game design. These contributions range from QA for professional game productions to writing articles for sites like Gamasutra and Quarter To Three. 

With my site Game-Wisdom our goal is to create a centralized source of critical thinking about the game industry for everyone from enthusiasts, game makers and casual fans; to examine the art and science of games. I also do video plays and analysis on my Youtube channel. I have interviewed over 500 members of the game industry around the world, and I'm a two-time author on game design with "20 Essential Games to Study" and "Game Design Deep Dive Platformers."

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