The Truth About Piracy

  By Shamus   May 29, 2008   135 comments

The Pirates Who Don’t Buy ANYTHING.
If you don’t get it, this might help explain the joke.
Yesterday’s scourging of BioWare’s EA’s clumsy falsehoods led us back to the old discussion about software piracy being “theft”.

I think the closest analogy of piracy is the one Bruce offered in the comments: It’s like sneaking into a movie. Sure, it’s not “hurting” anyone – nobody becomes poorer by virtue of your viewing of the movie – and you are not depriving anyone else of the product. (We must assume the theater is infinite in size and all the seats offer the same view for this analogy to work.) But most people recognize that sneaking in is still wrong.

In the case we’re dealing with, so many people are sneaking in the fire exit that there is a certain herd comfort to the act. After all, “everyone else is doing it and we’re not hurting anyone.” The sense of scandal is gone.

To combat this, the theater owner first began hassling everyone as they came into the theater to make sure they had tickets. This was a mild annoyance, but had no impact on people coming in through the fire exit. When that plan failed, they began frisking customers as they came in. This was very annoying and insulting, and many people wouldn’t stand for it.

Some people have quit going to the movies outright.

Some people buy tickets, run outside, and come in the back way along with all of the leeches to avoid the invasion of their privacy.

Some people sneak in and claim they will pay for a ticket on the way out if they liked the movie. Some of them even mean it and occasionally do so.

Some people sneak in, but rarely stay to the end. They usually leave halfway through, often to sneak into some other movie. They enjoy the thrill of jumping the fence and getting in more than they enjoy movies. If the movie was free, they wouldn’t bother seeing it at all.

Some of the people sneaking in do so because they are broke and can’t afford to buy a ticket. (Some of these would very probably find a way to pay for a ticket if they found they could no longer use the fire door.)
Since realizing the great influx of people into the theater through the fire door, the theater managers have gone nuts. Now they have a new policy every week. Strip searches. Restrictions on what you can wear. Restrictions on where you can sit. You can no longer buy a ticket for a friend. Usually you have to pay for a ticket before you can find out what they’re going to do to you before they let you in, and you can’t get a refund if you refuse. They try to boot out people who don’t have tickets, but those people people loop right around and come back inside, like mice. Sometimes they accidentally boot out a paying customer. Some of those people just sneak back in, but some storm off and vow never to set foot in the theater again.

Now, we know that the number of people sneaking in is greater than the number who buy tickets, but beyond that we have no way of knowing what things would look like if everyone was honest. The portion of the audience that came in the back door is – depending on who you ask – somewhere between 50% and 90%. But we don’t know how many people sneaking in actually bought a ticket, we don’t know how many people would buy a ticket if they had to, and we don’t know how many people are refusing to go to the theaters at all because of the hassle at the entrance. The only number we do know for sure is how many tickets are sold, and it’s not possible to derive any of the other values from that number. People try, but it’s all guesswork. The theater owners act like everyone who comes in the back is a leech.

Making matters worse is the fact that theater owners won’t share notes with each other, so they have no way of telling if any of their absurd policies is having any impact on the problem.

I’ve spent a lot of time hammering away at the companies that have implemented these ruinous and insidious copy prevention measures. Perhaps I’ve made it seem like I’m on the side of the pirates. Just to make it clear that I’m not sailing under the jolly roger: In my own view, piracy is wrong. It’s wrong even when the people making and selling the game are senseless, self-destructive fools. It’s wrong even if the game sucks. It’s wrong if you’re broke. It’s wrong even if “you weren’t going to buy it anyway.” It’s wrong and I don’t do it, ever.

It is not my intention to preach at pirates and get them to change their habits. I’m not anyone’s mum, and it’s not my place to tell people how to act. I actually think that having lots of people repent of piracy right now would be horrible. The managers would conclude their monstrous policies were working, and we’d get a double helping of the same, forever after, in every game they put out.

I don’t delete comments from people who talk about pirating a game, because I value frank (yet polite) honesty in this discussion. I don’t encourage people to give money to EA or 2kGames because those companies don’t deserve even the modest measure of help I might be able to give them. I won’t give them my money, so I’m not about to suggest other people give them theirs. Everyone has to work out for themselves how they want to behave in all this.

I’ve had my say on what I think the solution is.

Which brings me to the only weapon I have at my disposal: I vote with my dollars every chance I get. I’ve forsworn BioShock, Mass Effect, Spore, and other big-name titles because of the contempt they show for honest people. I buy stuff from Stardock, even if the game isn’t really my cup of tea. To wit: My interest in Sins of a Solar Empire was minuscule compared to any of the games I mentioned above, and it cost more. ($60 Collector’s Edition. Ow.) Stardock got me to pay more for a game I wanted less, and all they had to do was treat me like a customer instead of an enemy.

Yes, this is a long sermon, once again directed to the choir. If I knew how to reach the ones responsible, I would do so.


A Hundred!2015There are 135 comments here. I really hope you like reading.


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  1. JFargo says:

    I really like the analogy. It’s pretty apt. Thank you for painting the picture another way.

  2. Picador says:

    In my own view, piracy is wrong. It’s wrong even when the people making and selling the game are senseless, self-destructive fools. It’s wrong even if the game sucks. It’s wrong if you’re broke. It’s wrong even if “you weren’t going to buy it anyway.”

    Is it wrong if you did buy it? I understand that your boycott tactic means that you don’t recommend this course of action, but I’m curious whether you condemn it or condone it, personally.

  3. Allerun says:

    All analogies aside, I’m fearful that those who oppose (me included) the treatment of paying customers by DRM are in the minority. And within that minortiy, those who speak out against it are an even bigger minority. I’ve found myself moving more and more into console gaming just to bypass the hassle of DRM. I just don’t see DRM going away, and I do see it becoming more and more intrusive.

  4. pdwalker says:

    Vote with your dollars.

    I used to buy a lot of games as many as 1 to 2 a month. The last game I bought that had copy protection was NWN2, and I had to find a cracked executable in order to allow me to run the game that I purchased on my machine.

    Never again.

  5. Shamus says:

    Picador: Good one. Well, I don’t think you can “pirate” a game that you paid for. I certainly don’t see anything morally wrong with doing so.

    I refrain from the so-called pirating of that which I supposedly own, because doing so helps the publishers (by rewarding them for their idiocy) and helps the pirates (by adding to the safety of the heard, by seeding more torrents, what-have-you.)

    But I certainly don’t blame people who take the path that allows them to get on with their hobby in spite of the hassles placed upon them. It’s a personal decision.

  6. Matt` says:

    Allerun, buying it then pirating it works in the sense that you get your game, they get their money. But by paying for it and adding to their sales figures they get the message that the DRM crapola is ok.

    Whether the pirate copy is ok in this case… hard to say. You’ve paid for a legit copy so I’d say you can feel entitled to a pirate copy.

  7. asterismW says:

    Dude, that comic was awesomeness incarnated.

  8. Strangeite says:

    Picador: Unfortunately, morality has very little do with legality. While you may feel it is not morally wrong to “pirate” a game you have paid for, it certainly is illegal. And then if you are analyzing the moral implications, is it moral to break a law that you feel is unjust? I know many people that would never smoke pot because it is illegal, even though they don’t think there is anything wrong with the drug. They feel it would be morally wrong, even though there would be no chance of getting caught, because the act of breaking the law is infact immoral.

    The differences between morallity and legality is why I usually play a Neutral-Good character. Enforce the laws you feel are just and break the ones that you feel aren’t. The lazy man’s alignment choice.

  9. Eric Meyer says:

    Love the comic (largely because that’s one out our daughter’s favorite songs at the moment).

    Your scenario is awesome, although I think it would make even more sense if people aren’t sneaking in the back door (which would be easy to stop) but are instead teleporting into the theater. Anyone can teleport if they choose, though it’s somewhat difficult until you’ve gotten some practice at it.

    But, yeah: “We’ll just tell yoooou– we don’t pay ANYTHING!”

  10. Kleedrac says:

    Shamus: I’m sorry but I’m getting very very sick of every article you publish on piracy having the same BS figures in them. Where on earth are these numbers coming from sir? How do any of you think that 50-90% of a game’s audience pirated said game?! I think these numbers are overblown and by reprinting them you’re adding creedence to the EA’s of the world to justify their DRM (That’s Digital Rape en Masse) and are therefore contributing to the problem.

    Now that I’ve finished my critique, I do appreciate the theatre metaphor as I believe it’s apt. I don’t see why you differentiate between the guy who’s “sneaking in the backdoor” by whether he paid for his ticket or not. I don’t know that I’d ever give money to a company (that I wasn’t in love with – ie Blizzard, Hothead, Valve) that treated me like a thief just to appease my conscious.

    That and I believe I owe you an apology as I promised you a response via my blog to an article a while back. Sadly I’m now working 2 jobs and therefore have extremely low levels of freetime (TM) to do such activities. I’m thinking of taking a page from your book and writing some articles on the weekends to publish during the week. Keep up the good work sir.

    Kleedrac

    Preview edit
    Strangeite: Illegal in the USA yes due to your draconian DMCA. In Canada and the rest of the FREE world it’s perfectly fine ^^

  11. Segev Stormlord says:

    Seconding the awesomeness note on the comic. You can actually sing it to the tune!

    As for pirating, I can only comment on my own habits – I didn’t pirate, but played without paying for a couple episodes of Season 1 of Sam and Max (my friend had a legit copy). I then bought all of Season 2 to play it because the game is that cool.

    More commonly, I have pdfs of gaming books, many of which I have not paid for. In that I often cough up cash for the ones I use frequently due to my distaste for pdfs vs. hard cover books, I’m in the crowd who “buy a ticket afterwards if they liked the movie”. And I -wouldn’t- have bought many of the books I have had I not had the pdfs initially, so there is some benefit to publishers in piracy, if there is some unavoidable convenience loss for pirating.

    In this vein, then, the DRM stuff is counterproductive. It makes it less convenient to -buy- the game than to pirate it. This is a horrific mistake. And it’s why they’re seeing more and more piracy. The thing that always amazes me are the dread pirates who actually -pay- for the game, and take all the effort to circumvent the DRM and make the cracks and distribute them. That’s a lot of work, and they spent money to get it legitimately.

  12. Gothmog says:

    “And we’ve never been to GameStop at the Maaaallll…”

    SO BRILLIANT, Shamus- :D

    Great job on that comic, indeed.

  13. Mari says:

    I’ve stopped watching movies in the theatre.

    I’m moving towards not playing PC games anymore either. I’m down to random free arcade-style games on the intrawebz and the sim strategy variety (ie. fill-in-the-blank tycoon/civ) which I still pay for because I usually buy them years late in the bargain bin for $5. I doubt my five bucks contributes to anybody’s sales figures anyway because most of the time by the time I’ve bought a game the publisher is either out of business or has been absorbed by some other publisher who doesn’t give a rip how Bake Sale Tycoon is selling anymore.

    I used to play all sorts of games on my PC. I played FPSes and RPGs and all kinds of other acronym games. But the industry abandoned me well before they started all this current anti-piracy nonsense. 99% of RPGs for the PC now are MMORPGs which is not what I want to play. A fair few FPSes are also based on the concept of hooking up with other random on the internet and playing with/against them. Call me misanthropic if you must but I don’t want to play with online strangers. If I did, I’d just surf MySpace. And even the FPSes that aren’t designed around online play apparently are designed around a prehensile tail/third hand, which I haven’t evolved into yet.

    So I stopped buying most PC games, sucked it up and bought a console. I wonder if my refusal to buy games anymore along with my many other friends who are doing the same is partly responsible for fueling these inflated piracy numbers. I can just hear a board-level meeting in some publisher’s office. “Sales are down 14%. Pirates are sucking up 14% of our retail! They must be stopped!” Except 6% of that drop is people who just flat left PC games or felt left by PC games, not pirates who are getting the games for free.

  14. Bruce says:

    Woo Hoo, my analogy used in one of Shamus’s posts. Fame at last.

    Of course in true Shamus style he expanded it beyond my wildest dreams, but my life is complete… !;o)

    P.S. Veggie tales rule!

  15. Veloxyll says:

    That sounds like a pretty fair evaluation of the thing. I actually had become all set to stop pirating games, and start paying them. I was all keyed up to go out, buy Bioshock, buy Mass Effect. But both times they’ve been “Yeah, you know how you used to own a COPY and our entire EULA could be summarised as saying ‘you own this copy, but you’re not allowed to distribute it’ (MS aside). Now you own a handful of installs of the game until we go out of business or decide to shut down the verification servers'”

    So now I just stick to my WoW and aaaancient games. I’m playing good old Starcraft, and I’ve ordered a copy of KOTOR (1 and 2), Homeworld 2, and Painkiller. Cause, even if I’m only getting a few uses (I think the copy protection is fairly tame on all of them), I’m not paying $90 for the priveledge (sp).

    And yes, I know technically WoW counts as having online verification – but a) it’s online anyhow, b) they don’t treat me like I’m just WAITING to pirate their game. I didn’t even install it on my current windows, I just copied the files across.

    Must call consumer affairs today and see if there’s anything they can do about it and then go from there.

  16. Shamus says:

    Kleedrac: I posted in the past about these numbers, and despite my distrust of the publishers I think the sales figures bear out what I have above.

    Examples include:

    * When a game company releases a patch, they get 10x as many downloads as they had sales.

    * The console version of BioShock outsold the PC version by a factor of ten.

    * For one game (I’ve got it somewhere in my archives but I don’t have time to look it up at the moment) When people jump on-line to post their scores to the big community scoreboard, 90% of the games were using one of a handful of serial numbers.

    You can come up with explanations for any of the above, but taken together, from so many different companies large and small, it really does start to look like the pirates are multitude.

    Being an honest buyer I was skeptical at first, but I’m pretty much convinced that piracy is roughly as rampant as they claim. (Although again, not every pirated copy is a lost sale, and not every lost sale is due to piracy. These numbers are a lot more interesting to me, although getting at the truth of them is probably impossible.)

  17. Benjamin O says:

    Here’s something I do frequently: NO CD hacks. In fact, I do this more than ‘frequently’. I do this ‘always’ unless the game allows me to play with a backup cd by default.

    I do not download copies of games I already own (although I have a number of games downloaded in years past that I need to atone for now that I have a real job–games that do not have ludicrous copy protection, but that I like).

    Frankly, here’s how I feel about it. If a company wants to use DRM, that’s fine, but they need to realize that this isn’t making me like them. I DO NOT want to play the game with a disc in the drive ESPECIALLY if I have a laptop. I like my discs to go safely into a binder where they will not be lost, stolen, or damaged. At home, I don’t like having discs out because I have had in the past pets, and now I have small children. This is disastrous for the game. No thanks.

    Do not make me use the disc to play your game, and I won’t download patches, hacks, cracks or other ‘piracy’ tools to play it. Period. Finis. End of story.

    I do not mind entering a one-time ONLY code, as long as it is:
    a) reasonably short (less than 20 characters, all easily discernible)
    b) local to the computer (no, I don’t want to have to be connected to the internet to play every game–I have a laptop, it is not always connected, and i might be installing a game when far away from the internet; this does happen)
    c) not going to expire.

    I don’t even mind if they check to make sure no one else is using the same code (or the Popcap method–only a certain number of computers are using it; 5 I think is the number). But don’t do it in a way that annoys me, or makes it frustrating or makes it impossible for me to play the game quickly or (worse) makes it slower for the game to start.

  18. sam says:

    The analogy is good but starts off with noone at fault, or perhaps the people that first sneaked in.
    The beginnings of piracy were due to the public (napster) utilising technology and the music/movie/games industries refusing to budge from their rather tight grip on the neck of the consumer.
    CDs now cost a lot less than ten years ago yet musicians make more, moves in S Korea show that it is a flawed business plan that uses hard copy sales for the main source of revenue.
    Piracy is everywhere and I know of noone online of any age or moral standing that doesn’t partake. From copying a news clipping or picture without permission to mass downloading.
    I download every song and movie I own. Shamelessly. I am not wrong, just ahead of my time, like so many others.
    The minute the industries offer a viable, paid alternative such as the forthcoming bundle of unlimited downloads with ISP packages, I’ll be first in line with my bank card.

  19. Arkmagius says:

    Flag me as a ‘conscientious pirate’. I pirate only what I own (whether it being ROMs of old SNES games, or just a no-CD key crack because I lost my case), and thus can safely look down on other pirates.

    I know it’s strange, but I’d be mostly fine with pirates if they had beliefs as to why they’re doing it (ie, a warped Free Culture movement). It would imply they were intelligent enough to be reasoned with. But to steal – and that’s what they are doing – just from sheer greed, and laziness?

    And where did (a large portion of) those pirates learn their behavior? Childhood, when they were broke. So, the only way to solve piracy, obviously, is to ban all children from the Internet. Retroactively. (I should check the DMCA, it probably has something that could be interpreted to allow this to be done…)

    Then there are countries – extremely populous ones – where piracy is just part of the culture, like putting idiots in charge is ours (edit: that wasn’t meant as a political jab, I was talking corporate management structure here), and no amount of DRM will stop that. It’s not lost income, since they are permanently in the category ‘couldn’t afford it otherwise’. But you can be sure that it will be touted among the figures during the ‘Look how rampant piracy is! We’re going to be penniless!’ focus meetings the publisher will set up.

    What I’m wondering is, do the companies add SecuROM and its ilk to the purchase price, making us pay to have our rights taken away? EULAs were bad enough, and should have been seen as an omen of what was to come (paying more for less). Speaking of, I wonder what IS going to be the next-generation anti-piracy measure…

    I really, really hope it’s just Steam. I can live with that.

    And to all you non-PC gamers out there: consoles are next. They are becoming more PC-like each generation. How long do you think it is before user-content is completely unlocked, opening wide the floodgates to piracy? Right now, piracy on consoles has to be WORKED for, and is thus fairly low-key.

    One final thought, Stardock’s way is optimal to me. Pirates will get the game anyway, but with a serial number needed to get updates or be part of the community, they are isolated and left with a vanilla game. We just need to make sure the algorithms that make the keys are so unbreakable that keygens (the worst sort of piracy, in my mind, since it results in a game being marked as valid) cannot be made.

    Oh, and I blame The Sims for EA’s draconian anti-piracy stance. Piracy was so rampant (due to an early keygen, more proof we need better algorithms), they ran out of keyspace LONG before they sold enough copies to warrant this. Since the pirates had valid keys, and valid users who were complaining that their keys weren’t working technically didn’t, you literally couldn’t tell who was a pirate and who wasn’t.

  20. Kleedrac says:

    Examples include:

    * When a game company releases a patch, they get 10x as many downloads as they had sales.

    –Faulty logic sir, most cracks will break under a new patch

    * The console version of BioShock outsold the PC version by a factor of ten.

    –This proves nothing, BioShock had draconian DRM on the PC (which you yourself preached agains) coupled with fairly high system requirements.

    * For one game (I’ve got it somewhere in my archives but I don’t have time to look it up at the moment) When people jump on-line to post their scores to the big community scoreboard, 90% of the games were using one of a handful of serial numbers.

    –This shows that for this one game there was a fairly high rate of piracy. However we cannot assume to divine real numbers from it as there are so many probabilities involving the actual purchasors and their internet access or game skill level that the data becomes useless.

    You can come up with explanations for any of the above, but taken together, from so many different companies large and small, it really does start to look like the pirates are multitude.

    –This does “look like” that, but it’s anecdotal evidence at best! That’s where I argue that these numbers are flagrantly inflated and useless for real-time data purposes.

    –Kleedrac

  21. hotsauce says:

    “is it moral to break a law that you feel is unjust?”

    There are those who would argue that it’s immoral not to.

  22. krellen says:

    Shamus,

    I recently bought Galactic Civilisations 2 from Stardock because of your praise of them. It is, in fact, an excellent game, and I’m glad they got my money. I will probably buy from Stardock in the future in preference to other developers, so thanks for letting me know about them.

    Also, I didn’t even notice you had a comic until someone mentioned it in the comments. I guess they’re not always an excuse to get people to read your walls of text. :D

  23. DaveMc says:

    Thanks, Shamus, this was a nice post to see. This gets at one of my hobby-horses, namely the idea that gaming culture needs to create some sort of social pressure in favour of paying for the games that you play.

    Why? Well, the “vote with your wallet” notion is helpful here. When you decide to play all your PC games for free, by downloading them without paying, you are indeed voting for something: you are voting for such games not to be made in the future. These things are massive, multi-million dollar projects that consume the talent and sweat of large teams of people for years at a time. And clearly, if you play the game, you place some value on that. But if the company can’t make its money back, it’s not going to keep beating its head against that particular wall. It’ll move to consoles, or go out of business, or start doing something more profitable like manufacturing doormats.

    The thing is, all purchases of software are voluntary donations: you are never *required* to do it, since as we know, you always have the option to sneak in the back door of the movie theatre. But do bear in mind that this has implications for the future of your hobby. You may view yourself as someone crusading for the free distribution of information, or for the archival preservation of information through distributed storage like a modern-day librarian of Alexandria, or for the absolute need of The Man to be stuck-unto . . . but in the end, your purchasing decisions are viewed by the companies in terms of dollars, not rhetoric. They count the dollars, and decide what they’re going to do. What do you want that to be?

    The most worrisome trend I can see in the PC gaming community is the rise of the idea that simply taking games is not only justified, it’s even somehow morally superior to paying for them. If there is no sense that it’s a good thing to support your favourite developer by voting with your dollars, then eventually there will simply be no big-budget games on the PC, because the companies will conclude (correctly) that there’s no market for them, there’s only a market for *free* big-budget games. They’re not idiots, they’re not going to take that particular deal.

    If you boycott DRM-laden games, that’s voting with your wallet, too. But if you claim that you can download such games for free because you don’t like their DRM, you erode the effectiveness of your boycott, and you degrade the attractiveness of the PC gaming market.

  24. Shamus says:

    Kleedrac:
    –Faulty logic sir, most cracks will break under a new patch

    Right back at you. MOST, but not ALL. This example comes from a game which doesn’t require EXE modification.

    –This proves nothing, BioShock had draconian DRM on the PC (which you yourself preached agains) coupled with fairly high system requirements.

    But TEN TIMES THE SALES? For a first-person shooter. On a console. With a huge marketing campaign. Despite the larger install base of PCs.

    And yet it proves “nothing”.

    –This shows that for this one game there was a fairly high rate of piracy. However we cannot assume to divine real numbers from it as there are so many probabilities involving the actual purchasors and their internet access or game skill level that the data becomes useless.

    –This does “look like” that, but it’s anecdotal evidence at best! That’s where I argue that these numbers are flagrantly inflated and useless for real-time data purposes.

    So… we can’t believe ANYTHING until we have real-time scientific data to work with. Which is impossible in this case. And you’re happy to ignore or dismiss any evidence that doesn’t fit your preconceived notions in the meantime.

    I don’t know why you take such issue with these numbers. Even if the piracy figure was 99%, it still wouldn’t justify the DRM. Nothing does, because DRM only hurts paying customers.

  25. Kleedrac says:

    Shamus: Yeah I suppose you have a point. I guess I just can’t wrap my head around that figure. Scary as it may sound the more I think on it the more I realize I would probably just agree and shut up had the number been closer to 30% (which by most peoples definition of morals would still be wrong.) I shall concede the point to you sir. Either way I meant to say earlier that the cartoon was delightful :D … my son has outgrown VT in favour or Spiderman et al but it’s still funny to me :)

  26. Zukhramm says:

    I read somewhere that two milion Swedes are pirates, if that’s correct, it’s a bit over 20%.

    Now, let’s use the magic power of pulling numbers out of thin air.

    Let’s say 30% of the Swedish population actually use the products that are pirated. That would mean two thirds of the users are pirates. Raising the number to 50%, it would mean “only” 40% of the users are pirates. Even if ALL of Sweden would use the produkts, more than 20% would be pirating them.

    Are there really more pirates than paying consumers? I don’t know.

    Why am I writing this? I don’t know, but even 20% is a scaringly high number, and I’m part of it.

    Does anyone have any numbers from other countries?

    I have reasently, after some talking and thinking, been trying to move away from the piracy. But this DRM thing makes me less certain.

    In any case, I’m not only going to vote with my dollars, as there actually is a political party about these questions (Piratpartiet). I’m not sure about everything they want (5 years comercial copyright, absolute freedom in non-comercial filesharing. Laws against DRM.) but the important thing is helping them get more than 4% of the vote, wich is required to be part of the Swedish parliament. I don’t think they will ever rule Sweden, but if they get into the parliment, hopefully these issues would be taken more seriously by the rest of the government.

  27. Some good points. I hate having to run with the CD in the drive. Back in the day, when CD ROM drives weren’t as reliable as they are now … Not to mention, using the no-CD hack on Diablo meant faster loading and better play.

    But there is a lot of thought and exploration going into sales and piracy and … think of all the companies who have gone out of business. It wasn’t free for the game designers to eat …

  28. gyfrmabrd says:

    “Kleedrac:
    –Faulty logic sir, most cracks will break under a new patch”

    Yeah, but then you simply bust the patched executable with an updated crack and continue on your piraty ways.
    Or so I, ahem, heard.

  29. Cadamar says:

    An apt analogy, Shamus.
    However, you missed the part where the theatre managers started pausing the movie every 10 minutes to check everyone’s tickets…

    Also, you forgot about the part where foreign theater owners are stealing copies of the movie and showing it to their audiences for a fraction of the normal ticket price and pocketing all of the money.
    This is where the majority of piracy is tacking place. It’s not the US casual gamer market but the foreign software piracy industry. You can certainly bet that any copy of US software running on a computer in Korea, China, the rest of southeast Asia and most of India was pirated.
    I’ve been to the tech-markets in Seoul and you’d be hard pressed to find a legitimate copy if you tried. Software piracy there is the norm. You don’t buy the box in a store; you get a CD burned while you wait. That goes for DVDs too. I’d bet that you could already find a copy of the latest Indian Jones movie being sold by street venders in Seoul and Beijing.
    It’s that piracy that the big game producers are trying to fight. The small-time, legitimate buyers like us are just getting caught in the crossfire.

  30. Dave says:

    re: Stardock’s way. You don’t need a valid serial number to get updates for the game.

    You can pretty easily find a 1.00 to 1.04 patch for Sins of a Solar Empire and download it.

    The fact of the matter is, if pirates want to pirate, they will.

  31. Samrobb says:

    In the past 3 months, I’ve bought two games, both from Spiderweb software – Avernum 4 & 5. In my mind, the way Spiderweb does things is excellent. You can download the game for free (well… bandwidth costs), registration is easy (a single serial key matched with a game serial number), and the price is right ($25-$30).

    Where they really rope you in, though, is that without registering, you can play through a good chunk of the game – about 15%-20%, I think. That was more than a few hours of play for me; enough that, just before I hit the end of the demo, I was thinking, “Huh… did I get an unlocked copy somehow?”

    By the time you get to the demo, you definitely know whether you like the game or not. If you do like the game, then you’re hooked – no way I was going to spend 10 hours on a game that caught my interest like that, and then walk away!

    In your movie theater analogy, Shamus, Spiderweb (and folks like them) are showing anybody who can get into the theater the first reel of the film. Then the lights come up, and if you want to stay and see how it ends, then you buy a ticket. Some people will refuse to buy a ticket, sneak out, and then try to sneak back in… but when you’re settled in your seat, bucket of popcorn in hand, paying for a (reasonably priced) ticket is just less of a hassle than sneaking out and sneaking back in.

    Spiderweb won my patronage not because they don’t have onerous DRM, though that’s nice. They have my money now because they made it an easy decision to buy their product. I knew I liked it, I knew I wanted more of it. They made me want to give them my money.

    What’s particularly frustrating is that this isn’t some whacked-out, new-fangled model of digital distribution. It’s been around for decades. It works. Unfortunately, it relies on having a product that has inherent value beyond 3D flip-rotated texture bump mapped whangdoodles :-/

  32. Davesnot says:

    Well.. they do pay someone to clean the floor.. and the seats.. and to make sure the movie is runnin’ right… they even pay a guy to make sure the fire door is working right. *ducks for cover*

  33. Deoxy says:

    You may view yourself as someone crusading for … the absolute need of The Man to be stuck-unto

    I actually laughed out loud at that. At work.

    It’s that piracy that the big game producers are trying to fight. The small-time, legitimate buyers like us are just getting caught in the crossfire.

    No, they aren’t even TRYING again “that piracy” (institutional piracy in third-world countries) – that would be even more pointless than what they are doing (something I wasn’t even sure was possible, until you suggested that).

    Who do you think provides the cracks for the pirates in the west more often than not? Exactly – these people crack copy-protection for a living (literally), and the vast majority of the time, they’ve cracked a new scheme literally before it has gone public. In many (or even most) cases, they’ve got a cracked copy available for download (or purchase in foreign markets) before the release date.

    That’s what’s so silly about this DRM stuff – it’s an utter, complete failure. The best I’ve heard of so far lasted 2 days after release. 2 whole days… wow, I’m impressed. :rolleyes:

  34. JT says:

    My favorite solution to the “I want the game and am willing to pay for it but don’t want the 2Ks/EAs of the world to get it” dilemma is buying used – since I’m a cheapskate I’ve been doing this forever, and I do it for books & movies as well. I own 5 games for my 6-month-old XBox360 (Mass Effect, Bioshock, Shadowrun, Assassin’s Creed, & Jade Empire, unless I should also count the full version of XBLA game Puzzle Quest); of those, only one was bought @ retail (Mass Effect, ’cause I wanted the CE), and the other four were all bought P2P (eBay/Craigslist, not GameStop). I get the game – 2K Games didn’t get my money – the right people win.

    Unfortunately, my decades-long platform of choice (PC) is seeing this go the way of the dodo. Can one even buy a used PC copy of Bioshock & have it install correctly? Does each new owner of a single disc get three new installs? Methinks not. Same seems to be true of digital delivery – I can sell my used copy of HL2:Ep1 ’cause I bought it on a CD @ retail, but I can’t do the same with my Steam-purchased copy of Ep2.

    Personally I’m pissed about that (the Bioshock example moreso than the digital delivery) because to me a game is media, and I oughta be able to sell a piece of media (book, CD, DVD) to someone else, garage-sale-style. I wonder how long it’ll be before publishers figure out a way to prevent used console game sales? What will GameStop do then, I wonder? Probably negotiate a way for them to continue (some kind of reset button only for mass-retailers) while the peons writhe in misery.

  35. Changling bob says:

    @Segev Stormlord, waaay upthread:

    I was recently in a World of Darkness game, with 5 players and 2 GMs. At the beginning, we had one legit core rulebook and one Vampire splatbook. 3 of the players weren’t even vampires. By the end, I had bought both the core rulebook, my race’s main splat (Changeling, oddly enough), and I’m now thinking about buying another one to run another game. I do the same with computer games (at LAN parties), because I don’t want to waste my money on crap. On the other hand, I don’t own any DRM laden games yet, so I can’t comment on that front really.

  36. Johan says:

    I’ve always wondered if game companies are going at things the wrong way too. Instead of building a big iron gate at the ticket counter, why not have some security in the theater itself.

    What I mean in a non-analogy sense is, why don’t the companies ask the government to set up some sort of “bureau of internet sales” or what have you, that can go around searching for cracks, warez, torrents, and what have you with bots, and filing legal proceedings against those guys.

    If people realize that the cost of being a professional “cracker” is the same as the price of most other crimes, jail time, then they would be less willing to put their necks out there. Of course, this wouldn’t stop some people, and it wouldn’t stop Ye Olde 1337 Gamer making his own cracks, but it would greatly cut down on the number of outlets for illicit copies of games.

    Of course, this is a bit pie in the sky, as it would require companies to give full cooperation to the government (giving this bureau all there material on demand etc), but the pay off would be worth it.

  37. Daktylo says:

    Throwing something else in the works, consider the hackers who have made it a fad to steal bank account information from customers, empty their accounts, get caught, but then the justice systems of their respective countries choose not to prosecute to the fullest extent because they don’t consider it a serious crime.
    As much as these game companies want to harp on the piracy, even if a pirate gets caught, the judge will probably just slap them on the wrist, wag their finger at them, and let them go along their merry way.

  38. Meta says:

    I suppose in many ways these unreachable statistics is at the heart of the problem. If companies could see, in numbers, that they were losing paying customers by using intrusive DRM, not fighting back the pirates, there would be no DRM.

  39. Rick C says:

    JT, the publishers may not have gotten your money, but they got the money of the person who originally bought it (assuming you meant you bought a used copy.)

  40. Alan De Smet says:

    Shamus wrote, “But TEN TIMES THE SALES? For a first-person shooter. On a console. With a huge marketing campaign. Despite the larger install base of PCs.”

    I believe it. “Hard core gamers” (which is really who Bioshock is targetting) are moving to the console. Console DRM is still present, but is basically invisible to your casual player. You don’t need to upgrade your video card or other hardware. You don’t need to upgrade your video driver. You don’t need to worry about compatibility problems because of odd hardware or drivers.

    And while PCs have a larger installed base, a huge number of those PCs are work machines, or are simply too slow to run a game like Bioshock. For people with a machine just barely outside of Bioshock‘s specs, it’s far easier, and frequently cheaper to get an Xbox 360.

    When I go looking to buy a game locally, there are many stores able to sell me recent console releases, but far fewer with PC sales. Those that do sell PC games tend to have a little tiny ghetto in the corner compared to the large space allotted to the consoles. To be fair, the PC selection is usually reasonable, but the console games are far more visible.

    Sadly, we PC gamers are an increasingly irrelevant part of the mainstream video game industry. So for a relatively cutting edge game released simultaneously on PC and current generation console, I would full expect a 1 to 10 sales ratio.

  41. JKjoker says:

    I liked the analogy but i think you missed some important “facts”:
    -the ticket gets more and more expensive each time because the money they waste in those security measures.

    -the movies suck a little more every time you go to the cinema.

    -the movies often stop during the showing and you have to wait until the management sends someone to fix it (sometimes they ignore the problems completely.

    -they used to give out free popcorn with the ticket (manuals/goodies, etc) and the ticket was plated in gold and cool looking, some ppl even collected them, now they give you one that looks like used toilet paper.

    -the clothes they ask you to wear to the cinema also keep getting more and more expensive, and they even dare to say that it is for the customer’s advantage.

    -midway through the security evolution they figured out they could make money (or save it) in marketing by stealthy taking dna samples and scanning the brains of the customers.

    -every 10 minutes the movie stops and bouncers with anal probes enter the room to check that nobody change seats, somehow the leeches are invisible to them, so only the customers have to endure the ass-raping.

    -eventually they decide that they are “losing” too much money so they start adding ads every 5 minutes during the movie, initially they are barely noticeable, but soon they implement a pair of robotic hands that grab your head and force you to look at the ad, in the name of “giving you the ads you would be interested in” they search your home every time you visit the cinema (sometimes they even leave a bug to do it while you are not visiting), the leeches never give them their address so they are safe and they know just the way to sit down so that the hands cant grab their heads.

    -if you go out to the bathroom and have an accident causing your to change your clothes you can no longer enter the cinema without buying a new ticket.

  42. James Pony says:

    I have more games of the “economy version” variety than I have those of the “regular” variety, but I play and enjoy the latter far more often and to a far greater extent. Also, these same games, for some odd reason (*cough*), tend to cost far less and are installed (and patched) and played with far less hassle than those of which I have the “economy version” of.

    I WONDER WHY.

    And almost always when playing the “extended demo version” of a game that looks nice and seems like a good buy, I come to realise that the game in question delivers almost without fail not even 10% of what the shiny packaging promised.
    And many games that EVERYONE loves I tend to avoid because the very rare experiences I have with such, almost equally without fail, seem to me to be only popular by virtue of happenstance, shiny packaging or a huge name, rather than any actual virtue of their own.

    When I bought Half-Life 2 as soon as it was released, it was 40-50€. A year-old EA game was still 60-70€.
    If we go by the assumption that the contents of the Half-Life 2 case were worth that 40-50€ (and mind you, I would’ve bought it even if it was 60-70€), then those EA games (some of which I’ve tried, at various sources) aren’t worth 30€.
    The Orange Box was $50 tax and is almost excessively replayable (and not only due to TF2, which I shouldn’t even need to mention), with instant, hassle-free delivery (Steam NEVER sucked for me, not even in the “bad days”. I can’t even begin to fathom what the hell the rest of you did wrong), a no-bullshit installation and I didn’t even have to take a DNA-test and what the hell was I talking about?

    Anyways, not trying to justify piracy, but pointing out that most of the big-title games aren’t even worth the wait it takes to download them via a well-seeded torrent (which isn’t even that much, considering that you can just let it download overnight and enjoy your GAMES in the morning/when you wake up), so I’m not really surprised or even slightly displeased by the extent of piracy.

    Valve has not ONCE fucked me over, but EA has failed to deliver on a regular basis. Guess which one keeps receiving money from me (disclaimer: only mentioning EA specifically as an example, although I do find that damn EA logo way too often on my games). Not that all EA games suck, but none of them really grip me like being stuck between the rock and the physics prop, in that one hard place.

    Does anyone still know what I’m talking about?

    Because I sure don’t!

  43. Cuthalion says:

    I feel better about my enduring soft spot for singing vegetables now.

  44. JT says:

    Rick C:

    Well of course that’s true – but it’s only one sale instead of two (and I won’t pirate). Their lack of principles isn’t my concern – only keeping to my own. There will always be plenty of people who care not for this whole conversation and will buy games without a second thought. When the day comes that people willing to buy retail are not numerous enough to fuel a used market – THAT’s the day when perhaps the publishers will wake up (and we all know how likely that is).

  45. maehara says:

    No Veggie Tales mention is complete without a link to the silliest of Larry’s Silly Songs

  46. Coming up with different payment schemes and so forth is all a great idea, but morally it is the right of the people who produced any given item to determine the terms under which they’re willing to sell it. (Yes, they could literally demand that you dance naked in front of the Pentagon if they wanted to–but they won’t, because they won’t sell anything if they try it.) The only moral way to influence their decision is to refuse to buy on those terms.

    As much as it hurts, I’m going to start boycotting DRM-intensive games. I’m going to buy more books and movies and paper-and-dice games and work on my own novel for a while, I guess.

    I’d like to give a HUGE HUGE AWESOME round of applause to everyone who has decided to stop pirating or not yielded to the temptation to do so. Partially this is tooting my own horn because I have NEVER stolen ANYTHING and I intend to continue this way, but mostly this is because it really is praiseworthy behavior. Kudos.

  47. Deoxy says:

    (Yes, they could literally demand that you dance naked in front of the Pentagon if they wanted to–but they won’t, because they won’t sell anything if they try it.)

    The problem is that they are demanding these things AFTER they get your money, without telling you about them up front. If they really want to demand that, let them do so AT RETAIL, and see how many people are willing to buy their product.

    morally it is the right of the people who produced any given item to determine the terms under which they’re willing to sell it.

    I agree with this… but I also believe in “fair use”, and if one of those beliefs must give (and that is apparently the case), it’s not going to be fair use.

    Trying to destroy fair use will result in the destruction of copyright instead, but since I’m not the one trying to destroy fair use, there’s not a whole lot I can do about it. :-/

    Note: the only pirated stuff I have in my possession is ripped discs of a few games that a certain friend of mine gave me… most of which I have never even installed – a couple of which I went and bought legal copied of instead. So yeah, I take copyright seriously, and no, my “talking points” are not just to cover my own greed and/or lazyness.

    Edit: For sake of honesty and completeness, I must mention (forgot before) that I also have “pirated” copies of Warcraft II and its expansions… but I bought them at retail in another country before I was paying much attention to this issue and didn’t realize they were illegitimate until long after the fact. Since I actually did purchase them at retail, I would call this a gray area – international interactions get complicated.

  48. Lanthanide says:

    What I really want to know is whether SC2 is going to have any kind of restrictive DRM on it or not. That would be the first Blizzard title that does.

  49. Lanthanide says:

    Sorry for the double post, and this is rather unrelated to anything in this thread, although this company doesn’t put DRM in their games.

    Have you seen the games from here: http://www.positech.co.uk/ Shamus?

  50. Jansolo says:

    Shamus: you are a wise man.

    But metaphors are useless.

    Software is a self-contained world. In spite of the euphemisms, when somebody downloads a not-payed game instead of buying it, all we know that it’s wrong.

    You may or may not feel guilty. You can use an analogy as killing in self defense. But at the end, only the facts remain.

  51. Ryan Speck says:

    I think your metaphor is accurate. Kudos on that part.

    I did used to buy more games when I had more money. Now things are tight and I do pirate the occassional thing here and there. Moreso I just go back to old games I’ve had for years and give them another try… I finally played through all of Chronicles Of Riddick in the past few weeks and have reinstalled Max Payne. In a way, I’m looking for a little something different to fill my time, but the games I’ve already got (and can pick up no-cd cracks for so that I can play my own damned game without shuffling CD’s) are a better stand-by than digging up stuff coming out now.

    But to call me a “casual” gamer would be an understatement, so I’m perhaps in a general minority.

  52. Blast says:

    “And where did (a large portion of) those pirates learn their behavior? Childhood, when they were broke. So, the only way to solve piracy, obviously, is to ban all children from the Internet. Retroactively.”

    I lol’d.
    I have pirated games before, but I have also bought games. Interestingly enough, every game I’ve bought is still on my computer, while every pirated game I’ve downloaded has been gone within a week.
    It’s not because I finish the game quickly. I just lose interest in the games at a very rapid pace.
    Don’t really know why this happens, but, whatever.
    The comparison to sneaking into a movie theater was a good one, nice article.

  53. Robert says:

    I’d bet that you could already find a copy of the latest Indian Jones movie being sold by street venders in Seoul and Beijing.

    Probably, but in the case of Beijing you can’t buy a legitimate copy of most movies because they aren’t being sold there, and will never be sold there. Period. The major studios only release a dozen films a year in China.

    So to use Shamus’ theatre analogy, the theatre owners have divided the city into neighbourhoods and only allow you to go to your local theatre. In China, people are sneaking into the neighbouring theatre to see films not running in their ‘own’ theatre…

    In one of the reports I saw last summer, the movie studios were claiming horrendous losses to Chinese piracy—sales they apparently lost on DVDs that they never made. What a great business model: don’t sell a product, and then claim every copy is the loss of a sale that you are entitled to. All the money and none of the work!

  54. Santander says:

    Aghh, I would have wanted to post this here first but I didn’t click on the right article, ah well I hope you don’t mind if I do it again.

    Someone on another thread said:

    I wouldn’t say that theft and piracy are equally wrong. As others have said, piracy doesn’t necessarily deprive somebody of something that they rightfully own: if somebody was originally going to buy the game but decided to pirate it instead, you could say that it costs the company money — but if somebody pirates the game who didn’t plan on buying (or couldn’t) in the first place, then the company doesn’t “lose” money, because they weren’t going to get it anyway.

    People have already discussed whether piracy is stealing or not but this is actually a good argument against the whole “PIRACY IS KILLING PC GAMING” crap we get from publishers and developers

    If we assume that indeed 80% of PC games are pirated, would that mean that if there wasn’t piracy PC games sale would go 80% up? How does that makes sense if most of that 80% of people that pirated a game would have never bought it in the first place?

    Piracy is a problem but not “THE” problem and it has become a convenient scapegoat for publishers and developers alike for lackluster games sales.

    What I am trying to say is that implementing draconian DRM on games is not going to make their games sell any better, indeed if internet outcry over Mass Effect’s DRM is any indication it makes things worse.

    What I would do about games with idiotic DRM is this: I will buy the game and play along with their online registrations and whatnot but the first time that I have to deal with any issue because of it I will crack it, I have already bought the game and I don’t care about “breaking the contract” just so I can use something I legally own.

  55. Luke Maciak says:

    Great analogy. I wanted to add few more things to make the picture fuller:

    – the projectionist at that movie theater routinely sneaks in his friends through the fire escape door

    – same goes for the low wage workers who unlock all side doors and emergency exits when no one is looking so that their friends can sneak in

    – most of the management staff and even the owner routinely sneaks into the competing theater on the other side of the town

    – local kids can’t really convince their parents to get money for a movie ticket because “they can just sneak in”

    Seriously, it is a deeply rooted problem. I would be willing to bet a large sum of money that if you would visit a house of one of the EA executives, you would find at least some pirated software, movies and music on at least one of the PC’s in their house.

  56. Dolleater says:

    Screw it, i wrote a huge post about whats good with piracy, but i know most people wont even consider them to be valid for a multitude of retarded reasons.

    Piracy is just a medium for another generation, it will be replaced by another medium when the time for that has come. Its being fought just like every other medium has been, and it will win, just like every medium before it. huzzah!

    Quick edit: Hehe, i just saw this on one of my favorite torrent sites:

    (PC-ISO) Mass Effect-DETONATiON

    S: 23
    L: 555

    Been up for.. less then two hours ^^ if i didnt already own it on xbox360, i might just try it to see how the crack works :P.

  57. Raider says:

    I really like the analogy. I agree with you totally.

  58. tartarus@UW says:

    I commend your stance. It’s honest and straight-forward and its morally upright.

    Not to claim otherwise is immoral or spineless. I’ve pirated before, but not usually games.

    In either case, an excellent bit of opinion.

  59. Bruce says:

    [hotsauce said: “is it moral to break a law that you feel is unjust?”

    There are those who would argue that it’s immoral not to.”]

    Example 1 – It’s so unjust that I am not allowed to vote because of my race.

    Example 2 – It’s so unjust that I am expected to pay for something I want.

    No contest…

  60. Mark says:

    Console DRM is effective, because it’s a pain in the ass to circumvent a hardware key. Most people don’t think of consoles as having DRM, because the DRM does not inhibit any part of the expected behavior of the machine.

    DRM can be made to work (obviously it’s impossible, but it can work well enough) on game-playing appliances, but it can’t work on a general-purpose computing device.

    I wonder why normal software’s copy protection isn’t considered good enough.

  61. neminem says:

    Amazing writing, as usual – but particularly amazing comic. Glad to see you still make screencap-based comics sometimes, as you’re pretty genius in that department.

    Still not quite as brilliant a parody of that song as one written by some alums of my college a number of years ago called The Pyros Who Don’t Do Anything, about their complete lack of involvement *winkwink* in various pranks (last line of the chorus: “And we’ve never been on any roofs at all”). But the two are pretty close (I think that one only wins for being a parody of the entire song, instead of only part of it).

    Still, as has been said before, my favorite method of getting around a game I like (though I won’t deny that I’ve pirated games sometimes in the real sense, as well), is to go out and purchase it, and then crack it. Same as with music: I’m happy to give my money to Apple via iTunes, as long as I can burn my music to a virtual cd and then rerip it, losing the DRM. As soon as they stop letting me do that, I’ll stop buying from them.

  62. Dolleater said:

    Piracy is just a medium for another generation, it will be replaced by another medium when the time for that has come. Its being fought just like every other medium has been, and it will win, just like every medium before it. huzzah!

    Piracy is not a “medium”. It is taking things that don’t belong to you without permission from the rightful owner. I very much hope that you “younger” kids get to spend the twilight years of your lives living in the communist dictatorship you so obviously yearn for where everything you EVER produce is taken from you without your permission and distributed free to the unwashed masses. Maybe then you’ll understand just why us stubborn old people (28 years old in my case) object to your obscene entitlement complex.

  63. GAZZA says:

    Samrobb@31 makes an interesting side point, I think. He says that if the theatre showed the first reel, and then asked you to buy a ticket, you’d already be sitting down popcorn in hand (emphasis mine).

    When WoW was announced, I bought the collector’s edition which came in a nice black box with a felt map and a hardcover book of some of the artwork. (I stopped playing WoW well over a year ago, but I still get some use from the art – a friend of mine borrowed it to practise drawing, and he’s been at it for months). Blizzard weren’t the first to do this by any stretch of the imagination.

    Why don’t companies move to this sort of model? When I buy your game, throw in a T shirt and a souvenir mug. Give me a collection of your artist sketches. Have it come in a sturdy container – a canvas bag or something – that I can use to carry my groceries, and put your slogan on the side so that I give you free advertising while I carry my shopping home.

    Oh, and throw in a DVD so I can install your game, too.

    I realise that these sorts of things aren’t free, but compared to the millions of dollars required to produce the game I’m sure a couple of sun hats and T shirts is within the budget – and those are pretty much immune to piracy. Am I the only one that would be swayed by the prospect of getting the swag?

  64. Christian Groff says:

    Hey, I’m taking video game design courses. If I ever start my own game company, I’ll expand my games to computers and apply your measures for combatting piracy, even when people are telling me to put SecuROM on my games. I’ll also humiliate EA for you, even though I did like their Playstation games(like the Harry Potter games – why don’t you play those? They’re magic and wizards, but they have much nicer copy protection.)

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