The Publishers vs. The Pirates, Part 1

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Mar 5, 2008

Filed under: Video Games 88 comments

Yesterday I mentioned the thing that Michael Fitch wrote without going into any detail. The original forum thread is up to 20 pages as of this writing, and numerous other people have picked up the discussion in other forums and on their own blogs. If I’m very lucky what I have to say here will only have been repeated a dozen times already.

He begins by talking about piracy, and uses the copy protection of Titans Quest as an example:

One of the copy-protection routines was keyed off the quest system, for example. You could start the game just fine, but when the quest triggered, it would do a security check, and dump you out if you had a pirated copy. There was another one in the streaming routine. So, it’s a couple of days before release, and I start seeing people on the forums complaining about how buggy the game is, how it crashes all the time. A lot of people are talking about how it crashes right when you come out of the first cave. Yeah, that’s right. There was a security check there.

This is remarkably brazen, to pirate a game and then march into the official forums and demand support for your downloaded copy. But then, piracy itself is sort of asinine to begin with, so I don’t know that we should look to pirates as a source of polite circumspection.

Then I saw that Bioshock was selling 5 to 1 on console vs. PC. And Call of Duty 4 was selling 10 to 1. These are hardcore games, shooters, classic PC audience stuff. Given the difference in install base, I can’t believe that there’s that big of a difference in who played these games, but I guess there can be in who actually payed for them.

Unless we are to believe that Fitch would make these figures up, thus building his argument on an effortlessly demolished lie, I’m inclined to accept his rendering of the situation and agree that piracy must be rampant.

When I first began writing here, I assumed that I was more or less the “average” gamer. I pay for games, take them home, and bitch about them. It’s a grand tradition and I’m proud to be part of it. I’ve assumed that pirates were a small minority of the larger picture. As I read more and more about the extent of piracy I’m quickly realizing that it isn’t just a few semiliterate, unemployed punks hiding out in their parents’ basement. More and more it looks like piracy is widespread, socially acceptable, and hassle-free, practiced by people of all ages and income levels. From the comments, emails, and forum posts I’ve read over the years, saying you pirate a game seems to be about as controversial as giving someone the finger in traffic. The best that can be said of it is that it’s a good thing not everyone does it.

Everyone who does it has their justifications for pirating games. This even includes the people who are fully capable of driving themselves to the store and paying for the games in question. Even by the most conservative estimates, there are as many people who download PC games as there are people who pay for them. If you believe the more aggressive estimates, the balance starts to look more like Persia vs. Sparta.

But I think something is being overlooked in Fitch’s Titans Quest anecdote above: It’s entirely possible that a good portion of those supposed pirates were legit users, and the security software was giving a false positive. Fitch talks later about the tremendous pain in the ass it is trying to build anything on top of the mound of shifting sands known as the personal computer, a point which I consider to be unassailable. This is particularly true when concocting DRM systems that interface with the hardware in nonstandard ways in an effort to detect copied or virtual disks.

And now I’ll address publishers directly, under the absurd pretense that they are listening: In the above scenario, a pirate is going to assume your game is buggy and not buy it, which was their original plan anyway. A legit user is going to be punished by your futile efforts to catch the pirate. As a nice bonus, when someone comes to you with support issues like this, you can’t tell if they’re just a particularly audacious idiot (no shortage of those on the internet) or an unintended victim of your DRM scheme. You spent programming and support hours on a feature which annoyed paying customers, for no financial gain. Yes, pirates are your worst enemy. But you’re a close second.

I’m the one who pays for games, and I wish you’d stop treating me as collateral damage in the war on piracy. How many honest customers are you willing to lose in your efforts to annoy pirates? If your answer isn’t zero, then why are you even in this business?

I’d love for the world of PC gaming to consist entirely of one transaction: Developers make a fun game, for which I exchange some money. I fully realize that real life rarely approaches such beautiful simplicity. The story we read is one where developers make a game, which the publisher forces them to rush out the door in time for whatever marketing they have planned. I give the publisher money, the publisher gives the developer a tiny cut, I get a buggy game saddled with annoying DRM, and reviewers denounce the game because it doesn’t have multiplayer and doesn’t support 32 bit quad-pass derasterizing sparkle maps. (Now with spicy nacho flavor.) The publisher gets to fend off a pitchfork-wielding mob of pissed off customers and clueless pirates clogging up their support system. Together, everyone sinks deeper into the sequel-driven ennui that plagues the hobby, and game journalists end up writing yet another dark prophesy regarding the impending “death” of PC gaming. Everyone loses, except for the pirates who download the game and enjoy it without the DRM hassles.

All of this seems quite distant from the utopia where I pay $60 for an awesome game and developers get filthy rich. I sneered at the “developers as rockstars” idea that was all the rage in the late 90’s, but that actually sounds pretty good compared to “developers as vassals trying to grow crops in granite”, which is what we have going now.

I think the main problem is that piracy is a social problem, and publishers are treating it like a technological one. I have some armchair quarterbacking I want to do to suggest how publishers might turn things around, but I’ll save that for the next post.


From The Archives:

88 thoughts on “The Publishers vs. The Pirates, Part 1

  1. Zukhramm says:

    If such a high amount of our population is made up of pirates, should we really try to fight them? I hardly know anyone who isn’t a pirate, but I’ve got no idea how widespread it is so I’ll just do it anti-piracy style and say 40% of the people who are entertained by the entertainment industries are pirates.

    So if 40% finds it acceptable to pirate, shoulw we try to fight it? Should our governments try fighing almost half of our society?

    Yes, the number should probably be lower, but it’s still a high amount of people, and it’s going to get higher. And the question is still, what do you do with a part of our population that big? Fight them? Listen to them? Declare war on them? Execute them?

    And, as I’ve stated earlier. The worst thing that could happen is that the current entertainment industries dies. And what would happen if they did? New ones would be created. New ones that are able to work in the world we live in today.

  2. Ryan says:

    I work at a major software company, and I can vouch that it is quite common for those who pirate software to ask for technical support. We know because we’ve had lots (and lots and lots) of interviews in countries with high piracy rates, and those with pirated software admit that’s what they do.

    In fact, I’m working on a project right now to help non-technical people understand how to resolve their support issues more easily online, but one of the biggest challenges we have is how to provide that support, but not encourage piracy. It’s an awfully sticky issue.

  3. Adam says:

    It seems that more and more of my friend are pirating software. One, who was in Korea for a year, says that he just got use to it. Another says that he has no intentions of helping “the man” keep up. Neither one even budges on their stance. My father-in-law is a long term programer for Microsoft, so I have inherited his distain for Piracy. Most people don’t really understand how just a few pirates can really mess up the industry. Bugs, crappy hacks and networking issues asside, it is wrong. The whole, “Thou Shalt Not Steal” seems to be going down the hole.

    Heck even my bible thumping parents don’t mind burning a DVD when they want a copy to hand out. It really bugs me, bad.

  4. Mark says:

    Well, it’s an even trickier situation than you describe. There are the the odd cases when piracy drives up sales (we’ll call this the “book model” since booksellers rely on readers that the software industry would describe as “pirates” to get people interested in authors and genres), but the ease and ubiquity of software piracy suggests that this is the exception, rather than the rule; there’s never any pressure to seek out a legitimate copy of a rarer title if it’s all pirable (made up word).

    Many people seem to think that widespread piracy results when piracy is more convenient than legitimate ownership (including the difference between downloading and going to the store).

    I don’t think it’s a lost cause, though. The problem is that for so long, games have been offline, single-player endeavors. This means that the only way to ensure that it was sufficiently difficult to make and use an unauthorized copy involved making the user’s computer lock certain of its functions away from itself, which is an impossible scenario. However, that’s not the only way.

    Piracy is going to happen. As a developer, you want to create an incentive for pirates to become legitimate owners. The way of the future seems to be integration with online features. I know you have reservations about Steam, Shamus, but that really is the gold standard: if you take it online, you connect to the validation server, and since the platform is now a sort of game-oriented social networking service, even the single-player games gain a tremendous amount of value from playing them while connected to the Internet. The pirates have to restrict themselves to playing single-player games only in offline mode, where they have to be careful whether or not they’re logged in and they can’t automatically tell their friends what they’ve been playing, or using a hacked server, which represents such an astonishing commitment to not buying the game that you’re just going to have to write them off.

    I mean apparently some people consider social networking a feature. It’s not a $40 feature – but combined with reliable online distribution and the game working, it tips that golden scale of convenience back in legitimacy’s favor.

  5. evilmrhenry says:

    My first thought when I read that was that the protection wasn’t done properly. I mean, a generic crash? That could be one of a million things, and won’t be connected to the pirating of the game. Now, if they crashed the game, and then popped up a “pirated game detected” message, then the pirates sure wouldn’t be asking for help in the forum. (As a bonus, any false positives would be noticed sooner.)

    More fun, however, would be to replace all enemies with unkillable Piracy Demons….

  6. Lee says:

    I say it every time it comes up, but I’ll try again. There’s only one formula I find reasonable when calculating “lost sales” due to piracy.

    STEP 1:
    Take the number of people who didn’t buy the game, who (in a world completely devoid of software piracy) would have bought the game.

    STEP 2:
    Subtract the number of people who pirated the game and then bought it, who (in a world without piracy) would never have tried it, and thus never have bought it.

    That’s your number. That’s really the only number software publishers should be contemplating. The remaining people, who played your game for free, but would simply not play it in a world without piracy? They’re not your customer. They never were. You never had their money.

    Counting pirates, instead of the number of people who would have bought your product in the absence of piracy, is simply discussing the number of people who are using your product for free against your will. This isn’t the same thing as lost sales, and I’m disappointed that it’s continually treated as if it was.

    Perhaps this money would be better spent on inventing non-DRM methods of encouraging purchase. I notice that World of Warcraft isn’t pirated much. :)

  7. Alexis Li says:

    EULAs suck.
    That ‘funded’ the creation of the pirate industry.
    DRM encumbrances make it easier to pirate than buy.
    The music and software industries dragged each other down.
    Customers are assumed guilty, and therefore behaving so.

    Someone has to take an immense risk with their killer app, like Coldplay did.
    I wonder, if free hadn’t been an option, how many would have paid £0.01?
    Maybe future-content sponsorship?

    grr.. it’d be nice to be able to change the email… using an unusual computer so my gravatar didn’t come up. BTW if gravatars supported by-domain avatars, I’d be laughing. This wavatar is for [email protected]…, clearly your software does not find it as amusing as I did.

  8. Deoxy says:

    I’m with evilmrhenry (and I made a similar comment in the earlier thread).

    Customers are assumed guilty, and therefore behaving so.

    I think there is some real truth in this.

    I'm the one who pays for games, and I wish you'd stop treating me as collateral damage in the war on piracy. How many honest customers are you willing to lose in your efforts to annoy pirates? If your answer isn't zero, then why are you even in this business?

    There’s a LOT of truth in this. DRM does not remotely stop piracy, not even a little – in fact, it actually encourages it, for several reasons (hackers like to show off, legitimate owners want a “no DRM” crack and/or a “no disk” crack, etc).

    So, they are putting effort into something that is bad for them and their sales. How brain-numbingly stupid (and typical for corporate America).

  9. Locri says:

    I think it would be nice to get some actual, solid numbers on piracy although I’m sure that would be difficult. One thing that always strikes me is that (like you touch one) these companies might do better if they didn’t treat the customer like the enemy. I’ve purposely pirated several games because the pirated version was a lot easier to work with than the legit version that I bought. Morrowind, for example, was so bad that a NoCD patch could increase the framerate significantly. I have large harddrives so I don’t want to bother with having a DVD or CD in the drive anymore, thank you very much. And what’s with these ridiculously long product registration keys?

    People will often take the path of least resistance. Services like Steam show that people are happy to pay for software if it’s as easy as downloading it. I’m sure if they got rid of the crappy DRM, dropped the price a bit (I think the $60 price point most games have is ridiculous… I would be more willing to take a risk on a game if it was lower, but that often means waiting several years. By that time my interest is probably lost.) Serious Sam is a good example of a game that sold very well, probably because of it’s $20 price point.

    Another problem is that as games become more complex, there is less chance the developers will push out a demo of the game. Sometimes they don’t get a demo out until after the game is released. Most of the time if they DO get a demo out it isn’t a good representation of the final product. This has caused me a lot of annoyance in the past, expecting a good game from the demo only to have the full version suck. If they could get a decent demo out before the game release (like in the olden days) or if the games were significantly cheaper so I won’t feel like I’d just wasted $50 or $60, I’d buy quite a few more games.

  10. Stark says:

    OK, I’ll admit I have “pirated” games. I put quotes around that because I do not think I am the average pirate. I pirate in 2 instances only and for 2 very different reasons.

    Reason #1 : Game is out of print and I cannot find a new copy. This happens more often than you’d think. If however I later find a copy of the game in question I do usually buy it. Usually = >%85 of the time. I don’t buy used copies since none of that money makes it back to the developer and therefore is really no better than pirating as far as the developer is concerned.

    Reason #2 : Very interested in the game but no demo available. I’m not made of money and reviews tend to suck at telling me if I’ll actually like a game enough to spend my hard earned cash on it. If I pirate a new game and find I like it enough to keep playing beyond the first hour or so I’ll go out and buy a licensed copy. If that game has onerous copy protection/drm I won’t actually install the retail copy though. Case in point is Bioshock (although in this case I played the demo then bought the game and then downloaded a non-drm copy).

    I find I really like the way Stardock has handled the issue with Sins of a Solar Empire. No copy protection but you also won’t get updates until you use a valid non-duplicated serial number. I did in fact pirate this game, played for 2 hours (too caught up to stop at the 1 hour mark), loved it and bought it online with the download option. Went to download it via their download manager and it detected the installed pirated version, made it legit, and proceeded to download only the updates it needed to bring it up to date. Very slick. It didn’t force me to download a whole new copy and wait for it to get there and I appreciated that immensely. So much so that you can be sure I’ll be back as a customer… but if theres no demo for the next game expect that I will pirate it to try it out first as well.

    Also, if I don’t like a game enough to buy it, which means I don’t like it enough to spend my limited leaisure time with it, I delete it. Just like a I would a demo.

    This probably makes me a fair bit different from the usual pirate… but I know at least 4 other folks who do the exact same thing as I do so I’m not completely alone out here. I want to get good games to play. I want to reward the developers of said games so they can continue to feed their families and make good games. I don’t want to have to spend $50-$60 to find out I hate a game and have no way to recover that loss though.

  11. Nilus says:

    I should have pirated my copy of Titans Quest. Within a few weeks of release(if not sooner) there was probably a crack out to fix that cave crash. Of course it took them months to put out a patch to fix all the crashing from non-pirate related things.

  12. #1 – Piracy must be fought. You don’t want to live in a society where all the creative, intelligent, and inventive people are forced to work on assembly lines because they are not allowed to support themselves with their talents, and only manufactured goods and food have value.

    #2 – Shamus is 100% correct in that piracy is being treated as a technological “problem” and not a social one. That’s the stupidity of DRM and copy protetion – it’s trying to turn the clock back and force a mode of behavior that is obsolete, and every Joe Beercan either knows it or will know it soon. It’d be like requiring you to wait 5 minutes before ejecting a DVD so it could “rewind.”

    #3 – Idiotic laws like the DMCA are making things worse, because they equate what people believe to be fair use actions with piracy. If circumventing the copy protection on music I LEGALLY PURCHASED so I could play it on my media player of choice is illegal and the same as piracy, then why did I bother paying for it in the first place?

  13. scragar says:

    I know 2 people who pirate allmost everything on their computers from their copy of windows to office, nero to dvdshrink. The way I see it, however is that since free alternatives exist(that I use :P linux to open-office, k3b to k9copy etc) it’s stupid to put your computer at risk for spyware and viruses for the sake of getting some free software that has free alternatives…

  14. Joe says:

    I’m a “try before I buy” kinda guy. I do pirate a lot, but if I feel that it’s worth my time I’ll pay for the game. That’s the way it should be, I feel. When it comes to applications, I OSS as much as I can. Open Office, GIMP, winamp, etc etc.

  15. Rebecca says:

    Hey, Shamus: how do you think lower prices would affect piracy?

  16. Miako says:

    Piracy’s worst enemy is freedom. There are dozens of webcomic artists making a living off free STUFF.

    That said, any video game is a high sunk cost endeavor. So — what to do? The simple answer is “fuel word of mouth”. Assume that most gamers know five other gamers, and most legit gamers know at least two other gamers who would enjoy the game they’re playing. Now, offer the second copy you buy at a mild discount (say, $5). And, maybe if you buy ten copies, you get $10 off. This encourages networking, and by allowing one person in the group to play it first — well, you’re spreading it through person to person contacts. [I imagine that it would be easy to find ten people at college who all want to play Civ, or whatever. figure it is more challenging in the work world– though there are always cousins and kids].

  17. My first thought when I read that was that the protection wasn't done properly. I mean, a generic crash?

    This is a trick used to discourage “Day 1” cracks. Crackers typically don’t play a game all the way through to determine if their crack was successful or not. Any sort of announcement or non-quiet failure will be checked by crackers reverse-engineering the code. So the most effective way to defeat them is to have the game fail quietly (and NOT immediately) as a result of a copy protection failure check.

  18. Hey, Shamus: how do you think lower prices would affect piracy?
    My opinion (backed up by some anecdotal evidence): Not much. People will take free over a $1 price any day, and if their conscience doesn’t bother them for a $60 game, it won’t bother them for a $1 game either because they are “stealing less.”

  19. Martin says:

    Games are very different from application software. In my opinion pirating application software helps the business leader. When you steal MS-Word ’cause it costs to much and I’m gonna screw Micro$oft what really happens is that a lower cost alternative like WordPerfect or Lotus-WordPro loose a customer while the .doc format becomes the defacto standard. This kills competitors and locks in dominate software.

    In video games it is different since the experience of BioShock 12 is not replaced exactly by HalfLife 9.

    Of course spending a lot of money on DRM that is immediately cracked seems kind of stupid even with games.

  20. Zukhramm says:

    “#1 – Piracy must be fought. You don't want to live in a society where all the creative, intelligent, and inventive people are forced to work on assembly lines because they are not allowed to support themselves with their talents, and only manufactured goods and food have value.”

    At least you don’t, but I’m not sure everyone does have something against that.

  21. AstroBoy says:

    Stark said:No copy protection but you also won't get updates until you use a valid non-duplicated serial number.

    What if they made the game incomplete until you download a small (like 56kable) file to add to the program and only be able to download it with the correct (matching) serial key. Once done you could play offline as much as you want.

    Or am I missing something here?

  22. Zukhramm says:

    “What if they made the game incomplete until you download a small (like 56kable) file to add to the program and only be able to download it with the correct (matching) serial key. Once done you could play offline as much as you want.”

    That still leaves the “Hello! I don’t trust you. Please play my game!” impression.

  23. Cadamar says:

    Preach on brother!

    You ask for publishers to stop treating paying customers like pirates, but without some sort of registration, DRM, copy protection process how can you tell a customer from a pirate? Pirates are prolific and have proven themselves to be dishonest (they steal, and don’t have any remorse about it) so you must assume that any customer is simply a pirate lying about being a customer.

    Anyways, let's give a concrete example of the problem with piracy to this esoteric discussion of rights vs. profit vs. price vs. convenience… Last year I spent a week in South Korea (awesome place, lot's of fun, great food, friendly people, amazing public transportation, you should go. North Korea, not so much, don't go unless you have to). While I was there I visited a tech market in Seoul. This place was huge! Everything you could imagine was there, but there were two things that were of particular interest. Every street vender was selling DVDs of “300” while it was still in the theaters in the US and the software booths. The software booths would have giant flip books sitting on the counter. If you wanted some software all you had to do was flip through the books until you found what you wanted and they would burn the disks for you right there for about 5 bucks. You want Microsoft's VS2005 Architect with the full set of OSs that come with an MSDN subscription? You got it, $1 per disk. You want everything that Adobe has ever made? You got it. Any game ever made? You got it. For the price of a single game in the US you could walk away with tens of thousands of dollars worth of software. Oh, and no, it's not illegal (well it is to bring it back through customs). Or if it is, it is certainly not enforced. These weren't back alley speakeasies, these were stores. This is the way that Koreans buy software. That's what we are talking about when we talk about piracy. Not the dorks that are too lazy or broke to drive to the store to buy a game, but the wholesale, industrialized, institutionalized piracy going on in the tech markets in these other countries. That's why DRM cracks and no-cd patches come out so fast. It's not hackers showing off, it's the people that work for the pirate industry getting the cracks out as soon as possible so that the software can be sold in these markets. The pirates asking for tech support? They don't know any better because they “paid” for the software in the normal way that you purchase software in their country.
    I really don't think that this is an issue of immorality, or players vs. corporate publishers, but of governments doing nothing to enforce the intellectual property rights of foreign companies.

  24. Taellosse says:

    The silliest thing about DRM, which you allude to here and which you’ve discussed previously, is that it fails to materially impede actual piracy, while interfering, often seriously, with the experience of paying customers. There is mounting evidence in the arenas of audio and video content that DRM software is completely ineffective at stemming rates of piracy, but it does have a tendency to negatively impact actual sales. Treating your customers as guilty until proven innocent mostly serves to shrink your customer base, and nothing else.

    The underlying reason why DRM will never be effective is the same reason why any sort of defensive tactic eventually fails–it is always easier to break something than it is to make it in the first place, no matter what realm of endeavor you’re talking about. And there will always be someone out there who wants to break it just to see if they can. No matter how well designed the DRM is, someone is eventually going to crack it, and often it will be in remarkably short order, and once one person has done it, and told others how, it’s utterly useless in doing anything but interfering with the people it isn’t supposed to be affecting.

    You’re right: piracy is not a problem that can be handled technologically. I’m not sure how much developers and publishers can change the social problem, since, in the end, it’s a problem not really of their making. The lion’s share of the blame here lies, I think, with the RIAA and their thick-headedness. They set the stage for this problem 10 years ago, and their utter failure to respond sensibly to the problem made it into an acceptable form of rebellion to pirate music. Because the RIAA was and is perceived as evil and greedy, and because there is a perception that the typical musical artist is being victimized by the music companies (not entirely untrue much of the time), there is no feeling of guilt in stealing music. The movie industry’s similar response (and similar perception in the public eye as greedy and evil with regards to the makers of the content itself) has only made that feeling more prevalent. I really don’t think the video game industry has quite that degree of negativity associated with it, though there is no shortage of bad feeling towards the larger publishers, but the spillover effect makes it easy for people to rationalize.

  25. Chris Arndt says:

    “I think the main problem is that piracy is a social problem, and publishers are treating it like a technological one.”

    Actually sounds like a lot of problem/solution scenarios.

    People/politicians/government try to erase racism by playing with the economy or giving free gifts of cash or scholarship based on skin color.

    These idiot technocrats/bureaucrats/leftists/dick heads/progressives wish to eliminate undesirable scenarios (such as poverty, crime and racism) by screwing around with the system.

    It’s like trying to prevent drowning by filling the swimming pool with cement.

    Too often though some kid gets smothered by that effort, trapped in solid block.

    A horrible way to go, I reckon.

  26. AstroBoy says:

    They should do prince of persia (origianl) copy protection. Then flood the net with heaps and heaps of other dud versions of the manual.

    But Shamus is right, it’s a social problem. I mean, how easy was it to copy a floppy disc.

  27. Kleedrac says:

    See the ones I don’t get are the pirates who pay for shit. I work in a small computer store and you wouldn’t believe the number of people (and businesses) that come in here and try to purchase OEM software without hardware. What’s the point in paying for something that is just as legal for you to use as a downloaded copy?!

  28. Studoku says:

    The best method would be to release the game as a pirate download but fill it with nasty viruses. If not effective, it would at least be funny.

  29. Mari says:

    Just as an aside to Mark up there in the 4 slot, actually many book publishing houses and authors are railing against “piracy” in the form of buying used books. I’ve been coming across endless rants on authors’ websites about how they make their money from the first time a book is sold only so readers need to quit 1) selling their used books 2) buying used books 3) borrowing books from public libraries and 4) borrowing books from friends. It seems everybody’s on an anti-piracy kick these days.

    I’m not saying piracy isn’t a big problem in the software industry but I think it might be time to re-think the economic structure of intellectual properties. Instead of investing billions in DRM schemes and railing against your consumers, perhaps it’s time for software publishers, authors, musicians, and other creative-types to figure out a better way to sell their product that’s more in keeping with the current marketplace environment.

  30. guy says:

    You know what will happen if piracy becomes too wide spread? developers will stop making games. it takes absurd amounts of time and work to create a game, and almost no one will do it for free. the ones that do do that make the game very slowly and don’t have very complex games.

  31. Jeff says:

    For the record…

    Personally, for me, 20 bucks is a good dinner, 60 bucks is three good dinners.

    I’m willing to pay 20 bucks to go out and buy ‘might be good’ games, but I’d rather stay home and download then pay 60 bucks for something I might spend an hour on.

    As for 1 pirated copy = 1 sales lost, it’s just plain stupid. Basic economics? Supply and Demand curves? For a price of (near) 0, of course demand is supremely high. And supply meets it, as it is essentially infinite.
    The only control is on price level, before it breaks to 0. Right now the price is 60, or 0. The price level is too high for the demand, so the supply difference is made up by pirates. Lower the price, and you get a shift in the curve. You won’t recover all of it, but you’ll get some of it. Eventually you’ll hit a price level that captures all the demand willing to pay Price X as opposed to Price 0. That’s the maximum revenue price.

    The current price is nowhere near equilibrium, and thus there ARE lost sales. Claiming piracy numbers = lost sales is either innocent stupidity, or intentional misinformation (and hoping the audiance doesn’t have a basic understanding of economics.)

    To attain the demand formula and give an actual number, you’d need to spread anonymous surveys upon well established, registration-mandatory forums, asking about the max price person X would be willing to pay for Game X. That would be a start to actually estimating lost sales.

  32. -Chipper says:

    20 some years ago I worked at a company that produced software & hardware for lawyers & bankers. They were using CPM computers (before everyone had switched to MS DOS & IBM PC clones). In order to prevent software piracy (mostly I believe, by their own customers who would buy one computer w/ the software, then buy other computers not thru them & try to move the software over) their code included a check of the ROM BIOS which they customized. If the software was not running on one of their machines it came up with an error along the lines of “IC chip #42 is bad”. That chip was the CPU. My friend in programming wanted the error message to be “You are in a maze of twisty passages, all alike,” but the boss didn’t like that.

    Shamus said, “I think the main problem is that piracy is a social problem, and publishers are treating it like a technological one.”
    Technology is often the first response made to a social or moral problem – kids coming to school w/ weapons? use metal detectors. It usually fails.

    On the other hand, the problem is both social and technological – people rarely stole games they liked 20 years ago because the technology of the day wasn’t advanced enough. One reason was because their moral code prevented it, but another big reason was that it was easier to just buy it rather than run the risk of arrest for theft by trying to steal it, or go thru the bother of recreating the game from a friend’s set; making your own copy of Monopoly would be quite the endeavor. Now today because of technology it is easier to pirate a game than it is to buy it. I guess that’s when people find out what their moral codes really are worth.

  33. Rask says:

    I’m reminded of an old trick used by AutoCAD. At the time, they were using hardware dongles (the fact that they were parallel port dongles would indicate the age of this story).

    Unlike other dongles, which could be bypassed with a software patch, these dongles contained constants that were used in the calculation algorithms of the software. So, the patched pirate versions were returning inaccurate results.

    And the users of these versions, of course, were calling the tech support asking why their software didn’t work correctly.

  34. Gary says:

    Quick question. I’m not sure if this is actually piracy. Suppose my friend actually went to a game store and bought a game. He then figured out a way to burn the play CD, and burned me a copy. Is this pirating?

  35. MadTinkerer says:

    I often use no-CD patches and other exploits and cracks on software I’ve legitimately purchased and installed from the original discs. Why? Because why not install a patch that means I don’t have to change discs?

    Also: ROMs/Abandonware. I have a lot of stuff that I can’t buy anymore. And if I CAN’T pay for it, well I can’t pay for it. It breaks my heart (not being completely sarcastic), but there you have it.

    Also: Open / Free legit software. Sourceforge is awesome.

  36. McNutcase says:

    Shamus said: “I'd love for the world of PC gaming to consist entirely of one transaction: Developers make a fun game, for which I exchange some money.”

    A. MEN.

    @Gary, #34: YES. That is pirating. Did YOU pay for the game you’re playing? NO. Did your friend have the rights to legitimately, legally burn a copy for you? NO. If you want to play the game, go BUY it.

    I can’t really deny having played games I’ve not paid for in the past. Nowadays, I’ve grown out of that. What I haven’t grown out of is being intensely annoyed by a) using the disc as a dongle (this is HORRIBLE, since you generally can’t burn a copy (even though you’re actually allowed to for backup purposes under fair use) and so your disc ends up exposed to damage) or b) keeping data on the disc even when you’ve hit the “I have a humungous hard drive so install absolutely EVERYTHING” option (I had fun with that option on an old copy of Baldur’s Gate; for some reason, the installer couldn’t figure out the size of any filesystem larger than 2GB, despite a full install being about 2.1GB. Fortunately, they knew about this and included a “STFU and install it, I know there’s enough space” option, but still).

    And sometimes, even when a game is legitimately free, I’ve paid money for it. Case in point, the Marathon Trilogy. I loved that storyline…

    Eeek. I ranted. Sorry about the spleen contents all over the place. I’ll go grab a mop…

  37. Scott says:

    Gary: Yes! That would be YOU pirating the game. A simple way to describe piracy is “any time a purchased copy of software is installed on more than one computer”. Oh, and that includes computers that are owned by one person. (i.e. Desktop, Laptop, etc.)
    I can’t say I haven’t done this. Many of my friends and family will share games, but they often times end up getting purchased before the next LAN party anyway.

  38. Kotenku says:

    I’ve pirated software, music, et al plenty of times in the past. Hundreds or thousands of dollars in music (at a dollar a pop) and I have to say, the biggest motivator for pirating is simply wanting the game, and not having the resources to pay. Most of your pirates don’t come in the 20+ age brackets, guys. While I’m sure there’s a portion of pirates who just don’t care, and don’t want to spend money on games, I think the big issue is the kids who don’t have money, jobs, or credit cards, with parents who don’t make them feel welcome to ask for things, or parents who don’t like paying for things over the internet.
    And since they’ve got no way to get to the mall or the nearest electronic’s boutique, or, since they game they want is only available via the internet, they’ve got no recourse to play it, other than to steal. (also, bikes? Have you seen kids these days? Even if they’re fit enough to ride a 5 miles away, any decent parents would never allow them to.)

    Such is, at any rate, my personal take on the matter.

  39. Cadamar says:

    Yes it is. When a game is purchased you are not paying for the packaging or the disk or even the bits. You are paying for the entertainment provided. If you receive the entertainment in any way regardless of how you received it then you have “pirated” it. You have received the benefits of others hard work without providing compensation. In other words, you have stolen the game.

    But herein lays the dilemma. As Mari points out, book authors can make the same argument against the selling of used books or even claim that libraries are dens of scum and villainy. (An author that would say such a thing should reconsider their line of work…)
    We can't very well close down libraries so where do you draw the line.
    Let's look at the current systems in place…
    A book can be purchased new from any bookstore (the author gets paid), purchased from a used book store (the author gets nothing for the transaction), or borrowed from a library (again the author gets nothing for the transaction).
    Once read it can sit on your shelf, you can loan it to a friend, or sell it back to a used book store (or you could throw it away but only scum would do that).

    A game can be purchased new (the devs get paid), or rented (presumably the devs get a cut), or pirated (the devs get nothing).
    Once you've played a game it can sit on your shelf, you can loan it to a friend, you can upload the bits online so that anyone in the world can download it, or you can burn disks yourself and sell them for less then the cost to rent.

    At first glance books and games seem very similar; however, there are some very big differences. First books are not so easily copied. For every book in circulation in a used book store or in a library it first had to have been purchased, it is a fixed quantity, it is a commodity. Yes, many people may read that same book, but every book equals a payment to the author. No matter what, as long as the book runs sell, then you know the author made his money. It may not be as much as he'd like but he did get paid.
    Games are very easily copied. They don't actually have a physical form. There is no way to tell how many times a game has been copied. There is no fixed quantity. Since one game sold could equal millions copied there is no certainty that the devs got their money. Combine that with the huge production costs of making a game and it basically makes the entire industry seem unviable.

  40. Cineris says:

    A slightly different perspective:

    I’m the kind of gamer who, generally speaking, plays one or two games for years. I don’t have time for more, and I don’t really have a whole lot of interest in picking up a game, playing it, then immediately picking up another game. I like to invest a lot of time in a game, to know their nuances, get involved in their story, and become pretty darn good at it.

    If your goal as a game developer is to make a game that someone buys, plays for ten hours, raves about to friends, then has completely forgotten in six months, then I’m your worst enemy. If your goal as a game developer is to create a lasting game and community, then I’m probably an ideal customer.

    Thing is, these days, I feel like a lot of companies are pushing for the former. They want more of that immediate buck that comes from the impulse buyer crowd. But it’s also that kind of person who doesn’t have any investment in your product, is likely to pirate it, and in my opinion isn’t the sort of person you’d want to build a steady business on.

  41. Bryan says:

    Your idealized transaction exists, you know, Shamus. The developers make the game, you give them money, you get the game. It’s done by Valve. Unfortunately, you happen to hate their system for so doing.

  42. Mark says:

    There are authors of books who rail against libraries and used book stores and even sharing of books, but for the most part people who write understand that people reading copies of books that they did not pay for is a part of the cost of doing business. I don’t know to what extend publishers agree, of course, but the success stories of authors who’ve given their work away is compelling.

    However, games are very different from books. I’d say that the main difference is that there are so many fewer books, and so much more thorough journalistic coverage of them, that the main advantage of giving the stuff away for free (so people become aware of the developers and their work) no longer applies. To the extent that games are comparable to books, piracy in general harms big developers a little bit and medium developers a lot, but helps small ones to become medium ones.

    The value of giveaways is well-established. But in the absence of a formalized giveaway system, the black market has solved the problem instead. The more developers give away, the more they will sell. And of course the more they sell, the more they will be subject to piracy, but that’s just the cost of doing business.

    Obviously these sorts of solutions are only useful against casual, “white-collar” pirates. Johnny Leet cracking FEAR in his parents’ basement is small potatoes compared to the bootleg market, who are no doubt the real enemy. I would liken it to going through customs at the airport (not that there’s no insanity there).

  43. ArchU says:

    Shamus, your solution would kick arse.

    Aside, I have a hypothesis for the high ratio of purchase between games on console platforms versus PC: a person has purchased the game on their console and simply downloaded the PC version to avoid shelling out for the same game twice. I know friends who have certainly done so.

  44. RPharazon says:

    Responding to Mari up there on 29…
    One of my friends lent me his copy of “A Dirty Job” by Christopher Moore. I really, immensely liked it, and then bought practically all of his books. Apparently, that is really bad for the book industry.

    I think Stardock’s approach is best. They don’t really give a shit about the pirates. They just walk on through, and just deny them access to multiplayer and updates, that’s all. If you have a pirated copy, you can just activate it with their system. It’s really no-hassle, and they don’t punish the real buyers for something that the pirates did.
    I pirated GalCiv 2. I really, immensely liked it, so I bought it using their system as well. After a nice, quick series of updates and validation, it left me alone after that. Easy, simple.

  45. Sarah says:

    I will only pirate something if it is not made available for me to purchase.

    For example, I am unable to purchase certain games from several of the more popular internet sales places. If, after much trying, I cannot find the product I desire for sale through a medium that I can access, or if I find that the legal version of the product (which I have usually already purchased at that point) is too onerous to use (usually via anti-piracy measures) I have very few qualms about finding a less-than-legal version.

    If they don’t feel like selling to my sites and retail stores, I can’t help but not buy from them.

  46. Lee Davis says:

    I'm surprised to see the comments on this thread, given the sentiments I saw last time I commented on this topic on Shamus' site. Piracy is the moral equivalent of theft. It's taking something that doesn't belong to you. I have no problem with ripping/cracking/unlocking/whatever software or media that you have bought and paid for in order to exercise your Fair Use rights; in that sense, I view disabling DRM as fixing a broken product that I bought and paid for.

    But this is a social problem, as Zukhramm, Gary, and others demonstrate. The problem is, people don't see anything wrong with taking the fruits of someone else's labor without paying them. In Gary's case at least, they don't even realize they're doing it.

    I'll anticipate Shamus and point to this Wired article on how to make money giving things away. I think Mr. Anderson has a good point here. But until game developers and artists embrace the business models he discusses, it is morally incumbent on the rest of us to pay to play.

  47. You know, that is why Wing Commander is dead, yet WoW lives — the on-line world provides digital rights management that is beyond solid.

    Sins of a Solar Empire. No copy protection but you also won't get updates until you use a valid non-duplicated serial number. I did in fact pirate this game, played for 2 hours (too caught up to stop at the 1 hour mark), loved it and bought it online with the download option. Went to download it via their download manager and it detected the installed pirated version, made it legit, and proceeded to download only the updates it needed to bring it up to date. Very slick. It didn't force me to download a whole new copy and wait for it to get there and I appreciated that immensely. So much so that you can be sure I'll be back as a customer… but if theres no demo for the next game expect that I will pirate it to try it out first as well.

    Slick. We will probably see more and more of those approaches.

  48. Ironically, the publishers and distributers of today remind me of buggy-whip makers complaining about those upstart automobiles “pirating” their customers. How dare they want products which are better and wholly different? Don’t they know buggy-whip manufacturer children might starve? Add to this the fact that there are companies who aren’t treating users like imbecile thieves who prove current models aren’t just inefficient, they’re wrong. Stardock and Sins of a Solar Empire outsold Call of Duty 4 last week on most charts. That’s a very niche game on a platform the pundits say is dead with almost no commercial advertising save blogs and word of mouth beating out a game that I sat in a bar and saw an ad on TV in big-as-life widescreen come on broadcast. That’s with the absolute presence of Sins percolating around the BitTorrent world with the patch in tow. Why is it selling? Well, beyond the fact that it’s a good game, it’s got a ready-made channel for turning pirates into customers. Stardock’ll do the install-over, make you legit, then your invested money doesn’t just disappear from your experience but you get a service in exchange, in this case, the ICO Online service for match-making and more. You’re paying for more than the software, you’re pating for an experience that’s ongoing, and you’re not being insulted along the way. When distributers and publishers stop seeing “pirates” as thieves and, instead, as their market, they may be worth dealing with. Until then, they can keep swinging those buggy-whips.

  49. Winter says:

    Regarding the “download a small file confirming you have a legit CD key” approach: the problem comes when your original install gets wiped and you have to re-install. Does your CD key work again? If so, pandora’s box is open and all the piracy escapes: all they need is one functional CD key and everything is perfectly fine. If you can’t get another copy with the same CD key then that’s even WORSE: you can’t re-install without buying a new key.

    Let me share my own DRM horror story: I bought Warcraft 3 around when it came out–i think this was for The Frozen Throne, actually, but i can’t quite remember. Anyway, i tried to install it but it wouldn’t install. It got to a certain point in the install and then crashed out. After some foaming-at-the-mouth tech support (not from Blizzard, of course–they didn’t give a damn) i managed to track the problem down to the DRM. It didn’t like my cd-rom for some reason, so i couldn’t install.


    1. Return the game as dysfunctional. Have some console jockey in a Best Buy shirt shout at me for returning “a perfectly good” game while trying to explain that no, it isn’t.
    2. Pirate the game i already paid money for, since the pirated copy doesn’t contain the DRM and thus would install.

    Guess which one i chose. Guess whose games i am now doubly wary of.

    The sick part? According to the industry’s metric that counts as a “lost sale”.

    Yeah, sure guys. Keep shooting yourself in the foot and then blaming me.

  50. GAZZA says:

    A couple of recent examples from my own experience…

    I’m a huge Sims 2 fan. I realise it’s basically playing with dolls, and I make no attempt to justify myself (or analyse what that might mean about the repressed parts of my psyche). Anyway, a few months ago I got the (then) latest expansion pack (Seasons) from Electronics Boutique, and then got distracted by other things for a while. The game stayed shrink wrapped on my desk.

    A week or so ago, I decided to get back into it (realising that I was almost 2 packs behind now). So I did what I did with all the other Sims 2 games: I fired up Alcohol to make an image of it so I could play it without the disk in the drive. But apparently the DRM on Sims 2 Seasons has been “improved” to the point where Alcohol can’t do the job now. Frustrated, I installed it from the DVD, entered the security code and everything… and then fired up Bit Torrent to find the DVD image I needed to play it Daemon Tools. Yes, that torrent supplied a key generator and so on as well, but I wasn’t interested in that (didn’t even download that, in fact).

    I also haven’t been to the cinema much recently, having missed a couple of movies that I thought I’d like, so the wife and I popped down to the local DVD rental place to see if we could pick up Grindhouse. We couldn’t – it wasn’t out – so I ended up getting some other stuff. Pop one of those movies in the DVD player (some vampire movie with Lucy Lui – reasonably forgettable), and what do I get greeted with? A warning about piracy (unskippable), and 4 (unskippable) previews, before I get to the main menu.

    Now, I ask you – do you think for one moment that I _liked_ the fact that I had to effectively pirate a game I’d bought just so I could play it more conveniently? And do you imagine that if I’d searched for Grindhouse on a bit torrent site I would have been unable to find it? Or that the movie I did up watching, if downloaded, would have forced me to sit through that insulting anti-piracy message or those previews?

    One of the reasons piracy is rife is that in many cases the pirates are offering a SUPERIOR PRODUCT.

  51. Kobyov says:

    Yeah Im another of the crowd who pirate-and-buy. If the first bit of the game 1. runs at all and 2. is any good, I tend to buy it, otherwise I delete it. In the first case, piracy gained them a sale, and if it lost them one in the second, it would only be because I brought it not knowing what it really is. Make good games and I will buy them. Oh and I crack everything I have, simply because of the hassle of DRM. My reasoning is that I’ve been burned a few times with demo’s working and the game not, not to mention that with how game reviews tend to be brought rather than earned these days you really have to wait until a friend buys the game to get a look in at what its really like.
    As far as the console-PC pirateing differences, I call BS. If you have the choice of buying 1. A game that you know will work well, and will never cause you trouble or 2. A DRM ridden ….. well you know the rest. The choice is clear. With the fact that a large portion of PC gamers also have consoles (Im not one of them) the tendancy (in this part of the world) is for the console version to be brought, and the PC version ignored, because of compatability/DRM issues.
    But I dont think the reason for the downfall of PC gaming has anything to do with piracy. It comes to the way developers make their games better. They can either do it the easy way (demand better hardware) or the hard way (write optimal code). As console developers cant change the hardware, they are forced into option 2. PC developers sadly pick option 1 most of the time, and so lose a lot of potential sales as a lot of their audience cant afford constant upgrades and their games. I know Im joining the fan club, but Sins of a Solar Empire did this great as well – it looks nice, but is happy to run on low settings on older hardware.
    [EDIT] After reading I thought I should clarify. Im not saying PC pirating isnt huge or an issue. Merely that its not nearly as bad as they claim, and that most of it is their fault.

  52. A different Dan says:

    So many things to say, so little time…

    I’ll start with the truly outrageous ones.
    [email protected]: I assure you; the number of *fiction* books alone published every year is an order of magnitude (quite possibly two) greater than the number of computer games published in the same period. Journalistic coverage? Of books? You must be kidding me. Are you referring to the weekly column buried in the middle of the weekend edition of the NY Times, perchance?

    Next, [email protected]: You raise an interesting point there: A game can be rented and the dev, presumably, gets a cut.
    Why should he? Yes, he did the work. However, this is the equivalent of Honda going to a car rental business and saying, “you’re renting out our cars, we want a percentage every time you do so.”

    The only reason a game rental outlet would agree to such an arrangement is if there was a clear financial benefit in it for them. The right to handle your property as you see fit is built into the act of purchasing said property. (Please don’t mention the film industry; it is in the act of demonstrating the direct correlation between favourable legislation and campaign contributions)

    In the end, it’s all a question of convenience and perceived value. If the game industry’s claims are true and, as an old Wired article cited it, 50% of the game’s retail cost is due to piracy, then what do you think would happen if piracy suddenly disappeared? I can tell you one thing that wouldn’t: There would be no 50% price drop in the game stores. As my old economics professor put it, prices are sticky downwards.

    Compare this with the shortfalls of a missing manual, no pretty box, no support, limited patches and updates, in many cases no online play… All of these are the downsides of pirating a game. However, do they add up to $44.95? That entirely depends on what you put greater value on; your time or your money. Clearly, at the moment the time side of the equation has a lower value, and the depressed game sales are the result.

    So please, nobody tell me that dropping the game’s retail price to $15 wouldn’t have an effect on sales. iTunes is out there as we speak, proving you wrong.

    (I’m still not over the fact that such an astonishingly derivative, unoriginal, buggy game as TQ could get an award of any sort, incidentally)

  53. Mark says:

    Different Dan, whoops. That was a major mistyping on my part. Just switch “games” for “books” in the offending sentence.

  54. David V.S. says:

    I’m really enjoying World of Warcraft, which has a monthly fee but for me is worth the $0.43 per day to play.

    Could other PC games, even single-player ones, use this model?

    What if a software company made a deal with PayPal (or some other third-party vendor), and the first time I played any of their games in a given day my PayPal account sent the software company a dime or two? If lots of software companies did this the system would soon be streamlined so that even Indie game companies could participate as well as the “big guys”.

    Instead of spending $50 on a game at the store, I’d download the game from the software company’s website and expect to play it at most days for a year or two for a comparable cost.

    At a LAN party anyone could “buy” the game for a day, and perhaps even get hooked into playing it regularly…

    Socially it would also help people realize that they do not own the software according to the EULA but are merely licensed users.

  55. tocky says:

    RPS also dropped a story on piracy today. The analysis is sort of interesting, but really I only mention it because of this part, at the end:

    “A friend of mine said something that struck me recently: There probably are just as many “traditional” PC gamers as ever; it's just that they're not paying for it.”

    Which really is pretty striking. The numbers are about right.

  56. AstroBoy says:

    @winter (49) Good point. It’s really the same as your classic CD key isn’t it. I’m just throwing ideas around. Just as my Prince of Persia idea isn’t much better :P

    @David V.S. I don’t like the idea of continuing to pay for a game. This is just me though. I have never played a subscription game.

    Also, about this game where you can’t play online or get updates until you buy a copy. To me, sounds like shareware. Play the first episode of Wolfenstein for free then get the rest for an amount of money. Not saying its good or bad, but has anyone else noticed this or am I misinformed.

  57. MaxEd says:

    I believe that it is impossible to fight piracy in any way. If technology allows it, it will be done. I mean, come on, if I could duplicate my friend’s car without much effort (and without him losing his original) I’d do it.

    I completely agree with Zukhramm. In Russia, I think, about 80% of home users pirate software. Open Source shows us, that there is money in giving your product away for free. Currently, it mostly works for OSes and office/design software, where you pay for service/support, not the program. But I believe someone would find a right model for games. On-line gaming is one of alternatives, but I don’t think that single-player games will die out. I, for one, as a full-time game developer (BTW, most game programmers/designers I know pirate games, which shows that nothing can stop piracy) will try to see to survival of offline games :)

  58. william says:

    March 5th, 2008 at 2:39 pm
    “The underlying reason why DRM will never be effective is the same reason why any sort of defensive tactic eventually fails”“it is always easier to break something than it is to make it in the first place.”

    March 5th, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    “The best method would be to release the game as a pirate download but fill it with nasty viruses. If not effective, it would at least be funny.”
    Studoku's joke and Taellosse's point got me thinking. If there is an infallible method to detect pirated copies ( I'm no programmer so I don't know how true that is) then why not just virus the hell out of them. The best defense is offense, and how many hackers will want to risk the game if it completely destroys their computer? On another note I limewire music, but only because I live in a country where music is actually hard to buy. (middle east)

  59. MaxEd says:

    Another post on the same theme. Gamer’s thoughts on how to make PC gaming profitable again. Strangely enough, it involves “making less MMORPGS”. The post is not too rich with good ideas, but I think “make more games which run on low/mid-end systems” is a true one.

    “If there is an infallible method to detect pirated copies” – there is NOT. That why Shamus and everyone else talk about “false positives”.

    “why not just virus the hell out of them” – because they can sue your ass off for such tactic. See “Sony Rootkit”. You may argue that pirate user would not go to court, but you’ll be wrong. He might have bought this game from someone without knowing it is pirated. He might have taken CD from a friend. Oh, you can include “virus attack” in EULA, but since nobody read it, PR disaster will follow shortly.

  60. DocTwisted says:

    Well, I do believe that the end result of this will likely be two things:

    1) Games that are primarily designed as single-player adventuring games will move to just being on consoles, and later on getting emulated as PCs catch up with the processing power of the console each game was designed for. I play some old Super Nintendo games on my computer… which I can’t play yet on my Wii because they haven’t made it available on that system’s Virtual Console.

    2) The PC gaming industry will whittle down to three categories: MMORPGs which people “subscribe” to (City of Heroes, World of Warcraft, Guild Wars), Online games that are free to play but give bonuses to those who donate (Starport, Kindom of Loathing, Forumwarz), and the kinds of games PopCap produces.

    This is, of course, ignoring some special cases *cough*Nethack*cough*, but there will always be games on our computers. However, the business model of them is shifting, and will continue to shift.

    And I want to say, I take issue with the definition of piracy as “installing a program I bought on more than one computer.” I split my off-time between two homes, and have games that are installed on units at both locations. These are games I legitimately bought, and I’m the only one playing them… do you expect me to uninstall them at the end of each use just to reinstall again later?

  61. william says:

    ah bugger
    well its an amusing idea.

  62. AstroBoy says:

    Piracy is more close to using a license multiple times at the same time (unless it’s a business license). Like, if only 1 copy is running at a time, its not a big deal. There’s more to it than that, but I wouldn’t be fussed if you did that to a game I made, DocTwisted (not that I make games)

  63. ChrisAsmadi says:

    @Scott, #37

    Oh, and that includes computers that are owned by one person. (i.e. Desktop, Laptop, etc.)

    I personally am opposed to this being called Piracy. I personally have a PC and a Laptop on which I install some games (mostly the older ones – it’s not very high spec). Since I’m the only one who uses both of these for games, I’m only using it on one at a time. Why should I pay for a game twice just because I have two PCs?

    As for pirating actual stuff, I will only usually pirate stuff I can’t buy any more (aka, older games which they actually focused on making a good game, rather than ‘ooo shiny’ graphics) or as a demo try, and I think alot of people take this stance.

    Also, one really bad encounter I had with copy protection springs to mind – Neverwinter Nights. A few years back, while on holiday, I bought the Gold Edition and HotU at a Virgin Megastore (of which there were none near my home). I get home, manage somehow to decipher the extremely badly printed CD Key (which is like, size 6 blocky font on a tiny sticker inside the case on which Ds, Os and 0s all look the same). Then I try to install SoU. Bad CD Key. So I had to get one illegally because a product I legally bought doesn’t work and I cannot return it. This (along with the fact that it’s stupid high spec) led me to NOT buy NWN2, because the original caused me so many fething problems.

  64. GAZZA says:

    Follow up – having enjoyed my reintroduction to the Sims 2, I thought I’d grab the latest two expansion packs. Says on the site that they’re available for “direct download”. Great! So I go there, dutifully add them both to my cart… only to find out that they’re US and Canada only.

    Now, I personally will go to EB tomorrow at lunchtime to pick them up and install over the weekend… but how many people that aren’t “fortunate” enough to be in a “download whitelist” country are just going to say “bugger this” and find it on pirate bay?

    I mean, come on guys – if the pirates are reaching a market that you do not deign to even sell to, you can hardly call it lost income.

    But I mean what I say – I WILL buy them tomorrow, in case anyone thinks I’m just trying to justify my own piratical activities. However, it does seem silly that I have to pay for a plastic box and a couple of pieces of paper that they laughably call a “manual”, as well as wait 24 hours, just so that I can continue to occupy some increasingly vague “moral high ground”, especially when it’s quite clear from the DRM that they consider me to be just as much of a criminal either way.

  65. Daemian_Lucifer says:


    And I want to say, I take issue with the definition of piracy as “installing a program I bought on more than one computer.” I split my off-time between two homes, and have games that are installed on units at both locations. These are games I legitimately bought, and I'm the only one playing them… do you expect me to uninstall them at the end of each use just to reinstall again later?


    Of course not!We expect you to buy two separate copies of our game.Anything else means loss of sales,you pirate!

  66. brcarl says:

    (long time reader, first time (?) poster)

    So the problem is that the few bad apples (pirates) are screwing it up for all of the honest folks? A problem long unsolved, that.

    On a different tack: is piracy one of the main reasons that developers and publishers are favoring consoles over PCs more and more? The “shifting sand” problem of how to lock down effectively goes away when the platform is known. And with DLC and downloadable firmware updates, you can even patch holes in your OS after the box ships to the consumer.

  67. “So if 40% finds it acceptable to pirate, should we try to fight it? Should our governments try fighting almost half of our society?”

    So, if 40% of the population wants to murder people and drink their blood, we should just go with it because that’s accepted practice now?

    You’re no less of a piece of vampire trash if you steal people’s hard work without paying for it.

  68. MaxEd says:

    Don’t know about 40%, but if you have 80% vampire population, then vampires probably are YOUR people and drinking blood should be OK in this country. Bad example, Jennifer.

  69. Elyandarin says:

    I think in the future, the whole publishing paradigm is going to change, radically.

    The ultimate solution to media piracy is to demand payment up front – before you even start making the media in question.

    (This method is currently too unwieldy for multi-million dollar projects, but advances in over-the-web social networking ought to fix that within ten years or so.)

    As it is, I’m keeping an eye on the Swarm of Angels project, which illustrates my point perfectly.

    The “consumer as publisher” paradigm seems to me to be better in several respects (assuming it is feasible).
    Rather than publishers guessing what gamers want, the gamers themselves will tell producers what they look for in a game, how much money should be allocated to graphics, and so on.
    (Yes, I am aware that gamers might not know what they like best – the Zelda Windwaker graphics controversy being just one example. Still, you can’t deny that publishers also make mistakes… )

    Anyway, it should be more satisfying to actually have been a part of the game making process, rather than to simply pay for a finished product.

  70. Brandon says:

    @Jennifer Snow,
    I think the point being made is that while the law is meant to constrain society in some fashion, it should also reflect society. Women and blacks can now vote. Years ago this was seen as a massive moral problem. If software “piracy” continues to decline as a societal “sin” in society’s eyes, at some point the law needs to begin to change to reflect society’s view.

    On the same token, there’s something more vital about killing and injuring people. That sort of wrong is more hard-coded into our biology, so your comparison is not entirely fair. The idea of “intellectual property” and “piracy” of this so-called “IP” is much more a social construct. It arose from society’s concerns and thus, when the time comes, should perish, or at least transform, with society’s concerns.

    @everyone else
    I have indeed “pirated” games, going all the way back to the Apple II. I have also bought many games. I bought Peggle directly from Popcap. I also own any number of other games, some bought used, some on serious discount, all older games not currently being hyped. Being older doesn’t necessarily make a game less fun, and unlike with consoles where the hardware is uniform, the latest and greatest on PCs is always expensive. Having to have a 1 or 2 year old computer that was expensive when it first came out just to play games is a PITA. I can’t afford that. I buy games that are old enough I will have no problems whatsoever playing them. Doesn’t help the publishers much, but it does a little, and what I own is generally, these days anyway, legitimate.

    Should I be forbidden from buying used and older games because the publishers get less money directly into their pockets? They likely see this as almost akin to “piracy”. The real truth is that different people buy, or simply “procure”, games for different reasons. Publishers of PC games need to look to the larger PC market. Perhaps games like BioShock are now best left for consoles. Maybe, money-wise, cutting-edge PC gaming really is dead. Perhaps more casual games that push our computers a little less hard are more appropriate now. Who knows.

  71. Burning says:

    @Jennifer Snow

    I have no respect for pirates. Indeed, I find them utterly contemptable. Comparing them morally to murderers, however, is going overboard, and this type of exagerated rhetoric tends to alienate potential supporters.

    Leaving that aside, there is good reason to believe (indeed that is the whole thrust of the discussion) that instead of trying to thwart piracy (which doesn’t seem to work well if at all), the victims of piracy would be better off if they (a) treated their honorable customers as honorable customers and (b) provided incentives for the casual pirate to become an honorable customer. Yes, there will still be pirates, but if the strategy produces more honorable (i.e. paying) customers, then the publisher wins.

  72. Blackbird71 says:

    I had a similar experience in the Philippines a number of years ago. There was a game store in a mall that among other things, sold PlayStation games. The store looked like it would have fit in at any mall in America. They had games on the shelves and under the glass dispaly counters, all in their jewel cases. Each case had liners, most of which were perfect replicas of a legit version’s labelling. At a glance, you wouldn’t think there was anything fishy going on. But the games sold for the equivalent of $1US/disc, and if you looked closely, a number of them had notes on their labels such as “For Japan Only.” Also, they sold PS consoles with a mod chip preinstalled allowing you to play all these games, or for a small fee they’d install such a chip in your console. Once again, this was not some dark backroom deal, it was in a public store, in a mall, in a major city. I never quite figured out if the country had no copyright laws, or just did not enforce them. Either way, the clothing shop across from the game store would sell you shirts displaying “Walt Disney’s Bugs Bunny.”

    I digress, but my point is that there seems to be a lot of this type of thing going on in foreign markets, and if software companies are really concerned about people using their products without paying, they should turn their attention in this direction. The problem is that this cannot be solved with DRM, but only by pressuring politicians to use diplomatic methods to get other countries to honor international copyright agreements. Yes, piracy in any form is a problem, but it seems to me that this type of piracy comprises a much larger volume of the whole than any other.

    On a different note, just a clarifaction for DocTwisted, Guild Wars is not a subscription game, you buy their software once and never have to pay another cent for continued online play. Their revenue comes mostly from expansion packs, which still come out to be cheaper than a typical subscription. I’ve often thought that this model may represent a new direcion for online pay/play. And yes, technically having the same license of a software installed on multiple computers at the same time is illegal, but I’m also of the opinion that this is absolutely ridiculous. I’m not buying 3 copies of the same game for my computers if I’m the only one playing it.

  73. Matt` says:

    I attempted to pirate TF2, but ended up with a version stuck in Russian that couldn’t connect to any Steam servers. In short, a useless piece of shit as far as I was concerned.

    The legit version wasn’t too expensive, works perfectly and is more fun than a barrel full of… I forget where I was going with that metaphor but it’s a whole stack of fun.

    Legit copy was a superior product, it got my money. Simple really.

  74. Shawn says:

    Piracy is the ultimate form of “buyer beware” … I do “Try” games out by finding them online. If im at all interested in the game, I buy it. A great example is oblivion, tried it, loved it bought it and the expansion. I just like to know that i like what im aboutta spend my 60bucks on.

    Ive been suckered by games i thought i would like and then bought em hated them, and vowed that i would be no sucker for the ol’crap in a box trick ever again…but the art looked so cool…. well doushe bag you bought it, were not sorry our game sucks thanx for the fifty bucks.

    Na. I’ll pass.

  75. ArchU says:

    #52 GAZZA: That DVD rental anecdote was excellent. It reminded me that recently a younger brother rented a film called The Darwin Awards and we were forced to sit through almost 30 (yes, thirty) minutes of previews that couldn’t be skipped or shuttled past before the movie title screen appeared. That’s really messed up.

    #68 Jennifer Snow: You can’t hide in the sun from my vampire disciples forever! Especially not my pirate vampire disciples. Bwahahahah!

  76. Lee wrote: “Counting pirates, instead of the number of people who would have bought your product in the absence of piracy, is simply discussing the number of people who are using your product for free against your will. This isn't the same thing as lost sales, and I'm disappointed that it's continually treated as if it was.”

    But if you read the post Shamus linked to, you’ll see that those pirates can still cost a game producer money. Tech support isn’t free. Lost sales due to pirates bad-mouthing a game because their hacks broke the game are sales that wouldn’t have been lost without the piracy. And so forth.

    Deoxy wrote: “There's a LOT of truth in this. DRM does not remotely stop piracy, not even a little – in fact, it actually encourages it, for several reasons (hackers like to show off, legitimate owners want a “no DRM” crack and/or a “no disk” crack, etc).”

    I used to think this was true, but I’ve recently come to the conclusion that it isn’t.

    Let’s put it this way: If I told you that you could increase your paycheck by 70% and all you had to do was slap some DRM onto a piece of software… would you do it?

    Because that’s what we’re talking about.

    DRM doesn’t have to absolutely stop piracy dead in its tracks. It just has to provide enough of a boost in sales to justify its existence.

    Are these companies losing customers because of DRM? Absolutely. (It’s why I don’t own Bioshock.) Are they losing more customers than they’re gaining? Apparently not. Is there a line where they will be losing more customers than they’re gaining? I certainly hope so.

    When someone says, “I did X and my paycheck went up 70%.” It’s really hard to keep arguing that X isn’t effective.

    David V.S. wrote: “I'm really enjoying World of Warcraft, which has a monthly fee but for me is worth the $0.43 per day to play. Could other PC games, even single-player ones, use this model?”

    This isn’t far removed from what Bioshock, except they didn’t charge you a daily fee.

    The problem is that it makes my ability to play the game dependent on (a) the company staying in business and (b) continuing to maintain the servers that verify my right to play the game I bought.

    This, for me, is unacceptable. I’m currently replaying the classic Ultima games — which would almost certainly be completely unplayable if they had used the system you describe.

    Plus, it’s still crack-able. (There are private WoW servers.) So it’s really just a slightly more complicated form of DRM.

  77. Grue says:

    Nice post Shamus, very reasonable. I’m glad some people want to learn about the problem calmly. Often posters act as if they are 100% sure they know how to fix things (based on their own behavior/feelings or some other meaningless “data”).

  78. SDHA says:

    I have an admission to make: I pirate a lot of games. I’ll tell you why.

    I was over at my friend’s house, and he showed me a game called Silent Storm. We played it for a few hours, and it was a blast. So when I went home, I wanted to buy myself a copy. I did, and I saw that the sampe company had a new game out, Red Star. So I purchased that as well and popped it right in when it arrived.
    Guess what was on that disc? StarForce. It killed my DVD drive, even after I went through and manually deleted the registry keys. Useless.

    After that, I decided that if I had to do research to see which games had which DRM scheme and which DRM scheme was going to start killing my hardware, then I would just pirate them, or purchase a console version, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

  79. Re: SDHA.

    That doesn’t make a lick of sense. That’s like saying that someone punched you in the nose this morning, so now you’re punching everyone else in the nose.

    I can sorta understand the logic that says “if you put virus-like DRM on your games then I’m going to respond by pirating them” (although I think it’s generally more ethical to simply say “I’m not buying your game” rather than pirating it).

    But saying: “This one guy was an asshole about DRM, so I’m going to respond by saying ‘screw you’ to the people who weren’t assholes about DRM.” doesn’t make any sense at all.

  80. Bruceongames says:

    The thing about game piracy is that the thieves that do it have zero chance of getting caught or punished. So why pay? You only have a good gaming market when there is working technical protection. As there still is on the current generation of home consoles. When there is a small barrier to piracy most people will steal. As now with PC boxed product and anything on the PSP. What happens then is that game publishers give up on the platform. The pirates shoot themselves in the foot because there is nothing new for them to play.

    The answer with PC games is to have an important online element that requires a unique key. Yes, the pirates will set up their own servers, but this is too much messing around for most people and those servers are easy targets for the legal eagles.

    I was working at two game publishers when they were zapped by piracy. Imagine and Codemasters. So I have seen the damage and personal suffering that piracy causes.

    I have written this up on my blog, but even that gets attacked by the pirates who come up with all sorts of feeble excuses for their actions. They cannot face the reality that they are thieves.

  81. Geoff says:

    As a customer, I understand that software companies need to have paying consumers for their products. Without a sufficient return on their investments, there isn’t a reason to make quality products (or produce anything at all).

    However, making money requires spending time actually working. Money is also needed to buy food, housing, etc. So, I don’t want to have to spend more time or money trying to get something, I’ve already bought, to work.

    I was one of those in the 10:1 column for buying Bioshock on the console instead of the PC. I’d read enough about the copy protection to realize that I’d be better off with the console version than winding up with a useless PC one.

    I’ve still got games that are 14+ years old that I reinstall on occasion. I don’t want to have to worry about whether or not the games I buy will still be playable 5, 10, 15 years down the road. There’s a good chance that the validation system won’t be up for that long and when that happens, the game is gone. Never mind the troubles caused by a machine when one of its parts becomes too old or bites it.

    When the game turns out to be something I can play only once or twice, it’s almost an argument to pirate it instead of pay for it. It already costs less money, if it causes less trouble, less headaches and takes less time to work through? But, it doesn’t support the people who made the game. It doesn’t encourage the people who invested in it to repeat their investment in another game.

    So far, I’ve been lucky and came across Galactic Civilizations. At this point, forgive me for acting like a shill for Stardock. The last few games for the PC that I’ve played are games that I’ve bought from or through them.

    Brad W. at Stardock has stated that his policy towards pirates is not to count them. It’s easier to assume that the game will be pirated and instead arrange the game to suit those consumers that are actually paying customers. They cut down on their costs by not hiring/paying for copyprotection to be placed on their software, and increase the loyalty of their customers by not making them jump through silly hoops trying to activate their products.

    I’m hopeful that their route proves the successful one and that other companies will grow to mimic it in time. There will always be people who choose not to pay for something. But at least this way, there’s hope for us legal buyers to buy games that don’t trash our computers and will still allow us to play for years into the future.

  82. worg says:

    If all games lived up to their hype, piracy wouldn’t be a problem. Fact is, games are overhyped to such a massive extent that hype is a sort of predictor of suckitude. If a game is hyped, that means the devs and publisher are not confident that it will do well on its own merits, so they fire up the noise machine.

    You can’t take buggy software back to the store and demand a refund. What would happen if that were true in the auto industry?

    When you buy software, you’re buying a pig in a poke. You can’t trust reviewers, because they’re all on the take. I wish I could buy the 10 games per year that I buy without fear that I’d been lied to, but that’s not true.

    Try before you buy. Anti-piracy zealots are assuming honest publishers. Nothing could be further from the truth. I wish I had $50 for every game I’ve bought that either didn’t work at all or was so bad as to be unplayable.

  83. mazui says:

    Adam, who posted on March 5th, wrote: “Heck even my bible thumping parents don't mind burning a DVD when they want a copy to hand out. It really bugs me, bad.”.

    I hate that too. I’m christian and I do my best to honor Gods law (out of love, not legalism!), but then I see christians stealing DVD’s. Music is a hard thing though, I don’t pirate it, but to me, selling music is as wrong as selling oxygen. I feel like I’d rather donate to an artists cause rather than buy music because what am I really buying? I just listen to the radio and legal streams. Recording from streams is legal, btw, but I don’t even do that often.

    As for other forms of art, buying a painting seems OK. You’re paying for time, more paint, and more canvas, etc. You can pass down the painting, you can hang it on your wall. You can’t buy a moment though, and music is a moment. If you buy music, you ought to get the sheet music with it or SOMETHING, lol. If you buy digital music, you don’t even get the album art.

  84. speakzor says:

    I’m never going to pay full price for a game again, flash cards for the win!

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