Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Piracy – is it really a problem?

There has been a discussion over in the forums about piracy that I found very thought provoking. Personally I haven’t pirated a game in years and refuse to do so because I believe in supporting development studios. That doesn’t mean, however, that I think piracy is a problem at all.

I can think of four types of players who pirate games – people that don’t have the money to buy those games, people who don’t get the service they need from the publisher but get it from the pirate, people who want to send a message to a company, and d*ckheads who’d rather spend their money on things they can’t steal as easily.

As you can see from my poor word choice, I despise the latest group of people. We need development houses to make money or they will stop making games for us! Go ahead and pay them the respect (money) they deserve. The other three groups all have merit though.

A player who can’t afford to buy games only has two choices: don’t play games or pirate them. Neither choice makes a shred of a difference to the game developers (they don’t get any money either way) and so I can’t see anything morally wrong with choosing the latter option. Do note that I make a difference between morally wrong and legally wrong. I’m not concerned with legality in this post.

Player type number two is pretty dear to my heart – players who don’t get the service they deserve. Gabe Newell from Valve recently mentioned a great example in an interview here. Russia used to pose big piracy problems to the company, simply because synchronisations didn’t happen fast enough or were badly done. Pirates actually made the product available in time (and sometimes even provided synchronisations themselves) and a player who wanted to play the newest games more or less had to turn to a pirate. Once they started launching their games at the same time in Russia as they did elsewhere, piracy dropped down to a non-issue.

“By focusing on the customer and doing useful things for the customer, piracy really becomes sort-of a non-issue for us.”

– Gabe Newell, managing director of game development at Valve Corporation

The lesson from this point is that companies can avoid piracy by providing a good game with a good service instead of trying to crack down on pirates.

Using piracy to make a point is a bit shady as it is very easily abused. “I don’t buy EA games because they do DRM.” just doesn’t cut it as an argument in my opinion. The Spore boycott on the other hand seems to have had a profound effect in showing EA that DRM actually increases piracy.

Strict opponents of piracy love to quote that apparently 90% of players of the game World of Goo by small development house 2DBoy were using a pirated version. The accuracy of this number is debatable, but whether or not it is true, it doesn’t show any problems with piracy.
World of Goo sold very well for a small independent game, ending up in multiple sales top 10 even though it was created on a very small budget instead of the huge amounts of money that go into current games. 2DBoy themselves said that

“one thing that really jumped out at me was his estimate that preventing 1000 piracy attempts results in only a single additional sale. this supports our intuitive assessment that people who pirate our game aren’t people who would have purchased it had they not been able to get it without paying.”

So the game made money and the developers acknowledge that preventing piracy would have changed virtually nothing in the number of sales.

My overall point is not that piracy is a good thing – it’s not. My point is that it doesn’t matter at all. Companies that think they have piracy issues need to grow a pair and invest that DRM money into better services/products and it’ll be fine.
If you have the money to buy games by all means please go out and buy them (at least the good ones!) But condemning piracy? Meh. Do something that matters instead.

PS: If you are interested in more opinions on this topic, please check out the whole discussion over at the forums.