Piracy is a growing concern, especially as we approach wider digital distribution for games, and is estimated to cost the industry $3 million per year. This panel on the Wednesday of E3, 'Game Piracy: Update on the Latest Strategies to Protect Your Product', was moderated by Chunnie Wright, senior anti-piracy council for the ESA.
The conversation that ensued included speakers Todd Hollenshead, CEO of id, Mark Litvack, a partner at Mitchell, Silberg & Krupp, Thomas Loeser, assistant U.S. attorney at the U.S. attorney's office for the central district of California, Andrew Myers, special agent FBI, Jasper Smith, director of investigations for IPSA, and Phil Terzian, director of government and legislation affairs for Activision.
Chunnie began by generally stating some of the things the ESA can do about piracy, such as suing, sending cease and desist letters, monitoring piracy, and international outlook. They also educate others about the need for IP protection, going to schools, doing workshops, and educating law enforcement about how to identify pirate goods. From there, she opened up the floor to panelists, who each had ten minutes to present their views.
First up was Todd Hollenshead, who mentioned that as a developer, there's nothing more frustrating than seeing your product on a shelf, competing against another product which is actually a counterfeit, selling at a nominal fee. "Every game id Software has made was leaked prior to release," he said, "even back to Wolfenstein
." This can be due to network problems, or third parties sneaking out an early copy.
They've tried to hacker-proof their studio, by adding layers of redundancy in security, but Todd mentioned that you can never truly secure everything – you always have to send out early copies to some people. Hollenshead also noted that Valve has been successful with Steam, but that’s only useful as an example, since it's only for Source Engine licensees.
Mark Litvack also made some interesting comments, beginning by saying, "I agree that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You've already been hurt, and all we can do is punish the person. All we can do is try to prevent future harm." He says that the metal detecting tags on clothing is primarily to prevent employee theft, which is a big concern in retail. You have to do that for games, too. "Reducing piracy is almost impossible," he boldly stated, with the view that the more consoles there are, the more piracy there will be.
He says that setting up anti-piracy is pointless – it's just a short matter of time before it's gotten around. It's more important to sell more units. You have to make it easy to buy your product, he says. In movies, for instance, there's a Disney film called Song Of The South, which is not distributed in America anymore, because the content is viewed as racist in parts. As a result, piracy of the movie is particularly rampant, because there's no other way to get it.
Warner Bros has announced that they will be distributing via BitTorrent. "If there's a way to get your product out quicker, meet it," Litvack says, "or else piracy will beat you to it."
Andrew Myers, FBI, agreed that with things like BitTorrent files released to the net, it's often ripped before it's leaked, by employees with a little money dangled in front of their faces. You can't stop piracy, but you can go after some of the sources, then report to the company about the nature of their leak, and how they can do better in the future.
According to Jasper Smith of the IPSA, in Vancouver they have problems with pirated games in store fronts. You can simply walk into a mall and find stores dedicated to them. This has grown because of a lack of police resources, and also because when stores get shut down, often they simply open up again a couple of months later. "One issue is that the general public doesn't view piracy as a problem," Smith laments. "They just say 'why aren't you going after drug dealers instead?'"
Activision's Phil Terzian also had some interesting bits, leading by saying "If a game doesn't get leaked, you wonder – 'gee, did anyone even want it?'" Popular games are cracked faster. What can you do about it? You can file copyrights, register trademarks, insist on NDAs so you can sue if necessary, and always due diligence on any third parties and distributors you work with.
All in all, the feeling was that of resigned optimism. The general sense is that piracy won't stop, but that new practices can make it either much harder to pirate, without disturbing the normal user, or will at least make it easier for consumers to get products legally.