on Jul 21, 2008
Sean Sands has an article over at The Escapist titled Sink the Pirates. It’s a pretty good read. It’s more of suggestion that pirates should be sunk as opposed to a list of techniques to sink them. Specifically, it says that game journalists need to stop talking to pirates as if they were taking part in some sort of roundtable discussion. In the same way that reporters don’t find some car thieves to interview when talking about a rash of auto theft, they should stop inviting pirates along to give them equal air time.
I think this problem extends beyond piracy to a lot of computer-related mischief. If someone smashes up park benches and playground equipment for chuckles, reporters don’t seek out other vandals to get their perspective on the issue. Everyone comprehends the ethics and they don’t care (beyond idle curiosity) why the deed was done. But if this same sort of activity takes place on a computer network, with a hacker making some virus to destroy computer systems and data for fun, then all of a sudden we need to have protracted conversations with hackers and get all touchy-feely with their justifications and motivations and speculate about “what we can do”. (Hint: Secure your network, teach your personnel good security habits, make backups, and press charges if you manage to catch one of the little buggers. As with crime in the physical world, self-protection usually beats deterrence.)
Brad Wardell said that, “people who pirate stuff simply lose their vote when it comes to what actually gets made“. Twitch and action games are pirated far more heavily than (say) turn based strategy type stuff. In a sense Stardock is already taking Sands’ advice by aiming their games at people who buy games.
I fully agree with the author’s position that piracy is wrong and it has a negative effect on the software industry. But I want to take issue with a couple of minor points.
The try-before-you-buy “excuse” is actually the emergent result of otherwise honest people trying to protect themselves from being ripped off. Unlike nearly every other consumer product – including movies and music – you can’t return a game if it doesn’t work. Given the capricious nature of PC games and hardware, the ability to try a game is imperative to making sure that buying games is an act of purchasing, and not gambling. And no, reading and understanding the system specs isn’t enough to protect yourself.
Also, in the article Sands says:
I’ll add that there are several forces at work in the ongoing destruction of PC Gaming. While piracy is causing publishers to flee the platform, on the other side of things the obsessive pursuit of graphics for its own sake is driving away users who don’t care for the constant cash and effort required to keep their machine close enough to the bleeding edge to run the latest games, and who would rather not have to deal with the bugs and DRM hassles. Pirates are driving away publishers with their greed. But publishers are driving away paying customers with their stupidity.
The one thing I’d love to know – but which is essentially impossible to find out – is how many of the pirates are people who own the game but who are getting the cracked version to avoid CD checks, online activation, SecuROM, and other headaches. I don’t really think my comments here are representative of the pirates as a whole, but this value is definitely non-zero, and may even be a significant portion of the whole.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.