The problem of video game piracy is, to say the least, a tricky debate to have. And it doesn’t just polarise everyone in the conversation, it fucking defines them. Anyone who takes any position against video game piracy becomes the kind of cringing corporate shill that would be more at home being the cautionary tale in a ham-fisted 1980’s after-school special about sharing. Those who agree with the issue of piracy on any level become small-time petty goons that flick coins in the air and steal bread from the mouths of the starving and use it to clean their shoes. There’s no middle ground, because it’s not that kind of issue. We don’t agree with piracy sometimes. It’s an all-or-nothing kind of deal.
And what’s even funnier is that each opposing faction sees themselves in a different light. Those against piracy are the Batman, because they’re honest and scrupulous and make sure their hard-earned cash goes where it deserves, and not to people that make shitty games. Those who endorse piracy are also the Batman, because they’re discerning and suffer no fools, and make sure their hard-earned cash doesn’t go to those who don’t deserve it, the people who make shitty games. You can probably see a pattern emerging already. Everyone thinks they’re the goddamn Batman, and we don’t see any reason to correct them.
Because, when all is said and done, no matter what side of this issue you reside on, one thing remains constant. You like games that you like, and are willing to play them. Everything else is just window dressing. In this article, we aim to examine a few facets of the problem, and yes, we’re going to do it from a pro-piracy perspective. So now you know that, if you disagree, you’re perfectly welcome to stop reading, and go and make a cup of tea or something because you won’t change your mind.
Why would you?
You’re the Batman.
The most horrible of the truths here is that it’s not about your purchase, and it never really was. The poor reception of a new release or the downsizing of a games company is forever being blamed on piracy hurting their sales, but the actual product couldn’t be less important. More money is being spent on PR and advertising for big-budget games than will ever be lost through piracy, and it’ll only get worse. It’s looking ever more likely that the actual game sales are becoming less and less relevant, and a sad little afterthought to the hype and grandeur of the name. One point that ought to be made is that publishers aren’t salesmen, they’re pitchmen. They don’t give a fuck if a product does well. They care if it’s popular, if it can be hyped to shit and if they can use the franchise to catch the eye of potential investors. As it stands, developers and publishers are currently pushing the idea of ‘lost sales’, which contains more made-up figures than the fucking Avengers.
When we talk about ‘lost sales’, we’re talking about a strange, impossible scenario where one can predict the actions and purchasing power of a consumer. If person X pirates game Y, it’s a lost sale, because surely if person X was unable to access piracy site Q, then he/she would definitely have bought game Y. Which strikes us as a rather arrogant thing to assume, in the same way that the failure of a company selling bags full of human shit on Ebay can’t be blamed on people not buying enough of it. Most people that pirate do so on many occasions without actually even playing the game, and on many more occasions, never finishing it. Maybe it just wasn’t that good? However, these mythical and, let’s not forget, completely non-existent ‘lost sales’ are used to account for how much money game firms should spend on DRM and anti-piracy measures. Even EA admits that ‘lost sales’ are not equal to a lost game sale. This is a not a fight over the money in the pockets of the consumers. It’s a none-too-subtle smokescreen that fudges lost revenue out of thin air in order to receive more funding to fight piracy. It’s probably worthy of note that in the UK, money is taken directly from the taxpayer to fund DRM. They’re simply benefiting too much from the idea of a piracy bogeyman to ever let it die. It won’t be long until piracy is re-branded ‘copyright terrorism’.
It speaks of a worrying emergent trend that equates purchasing power with morality. It’s no longer about supporting the industry, because the industry is akin to a run-away trainload of screaming gibbons. It goes where it wants and it makes a fuck of a lot of fuss when it does so. So, what? In the case of an indie developer, then sure, they need that money because they might rely on that to make the next game, but that’s a different situation. One where the creator-consumer bond still exists. So now, refusing to buy a video game is not an act of impropriety, it’s immoral. It’s wrong. If you don’t spend enough money, you’re morally wrong. Judging moral worth by income and expenditure is simply not a good idea, and not buying enough video games to support 100 million PR campaigns doesn’t make you evil.
One of the more desperately- naive myths that people like to believe is that if they keep supporting their favourite developer, then they’ll go on making more of the same quality games. Which ranks someone just above “If I wish hard enough, perhaps my leg will grow back” on the aww-isn’t-that-cute-o-meter. Games follow trends, and they always have, and what you want is always going to play second fiddle to games that the stinking masses want. In fact, the games you want to play are going to have to fiddle alone, outside, in the rain, while the popular games have ditched the fiddle completely, and are busy getting a blowjob from a cellist.
You could have pumped enough money to make Tony Stark blush into Square Enix, and they were still going to fuck up Final Fantasy. You could have sold the kidneys of a million homeless people and given it straight to Konami, but they’d still have wanked themselves off over the twitching corpse of the Silent Hill franchise. Sign all the online petitions you want, but you’ll never see Megaman Legends 3. The industry favours the biggest demographic, and that’s never going to be you, unless you’re a clueless teenager with your parents’ credit card and too little judgement, so we’d all better hunker down for the next few years until the uber-military style cover shooters pass into something more amenable. Sure, this could change, but only by changing the entire ruling demographic, and if there’s anything that the music industry has taught the world, it’s that tweens with too much of someone else’s money are always going to be pandered to. Besides, tweens don’t like to share. They’re selfish little creatures. And sharing is piracy.
Well, fuck. If we’re being brutally honest, buying used games is piracy, too. And so is lending a game to a friend. Or playing one in the same room as someone else. Or letting them sniff the box. Because they’re enjoying content they didn’t pay for. Back in the day, we had these strange buildings that were full of books and old people called libraries. The basic idea was that you could take one of these books, most of the time at no cost, and read it. Cover to cover. If it was shit, then hey, no harm done! If it wasn’t, you might get it again sometime, or if you were feeling flush, buy your own copy. It was great. They even had some Mr Men books in the back for the slow kids. And there seemed to be nothing wrong with this system, except for the occasional clown drawing cocks on Mr. Greedy while no-one was looking.
It was a simpler time, perhaps, and one where you weren’t legally obliged to have your own copy of everything. But it’s odd to see behaviour that’s so demonised in modern society also so condoned. When children visit a library, they’re praised. And nobody is going to bust down the door of an aging spinster and drag her off to court just because she doesn’t want to buy her pulpy erotica. Sure, there are licensing issues involved, but this isn’t about us consumers paying for a game any longer. It’s about us consumers paying for a license that allows a solitary, restricted usage of the intellectual properties contained within a medium, and it is starting to seem like treating the item you bought as an item you own is a crime. Which leads us to the idea of ‘entitlement’.
Another creeping buzzword used to fuel the piracy fire. Basically, the idea of entitlement should refer to those who claim that entertainment should be free, so they should be able to pirate whatever they like. They have the nucleus of a point. Entertainment should be free. But most of it already is. You can access the internet for free, and you can download any number of free books, visit any number of free websites, and yes, you can even play an ever-increasing number of free games. Making entertainment free would be a noble goal, but some prefer to charge for it to cover costs, and that’s fine too, as long as nobody gets all uppity about anyone watching them play, or borrowing a copy.
Unfortunately, entitlement is more often used whenever any criticism of the way the industry works is raised, no matter how reasonable. You think that the industry pumps out too many AAA cinematic games? You’re riddled with entitlement. You think that games which basically exist as downloads should cost less than 60 dollars? How’s that entitlement working for you? But these are valid concerns, and we are all entitled to be treated fairly by those companies we choose to patronise. I’m not forced to buy half-finished beef, or have the last pages of a book glued up until I pay again. Why should we expect less from companies with far more scope and ability to be better? It’s no different from the expectation that giving money to a company will entice them to create the games you enjoy. That’s entitlement, too, isn’t it?
It seems that entitlement is merely the expectation that a business you endorse won’t suddenly decide to violate your trust with an iron bar, but it seems to be too much to ask. Why do games cost so much, when all you’re paying for is a raw data download? Because the game costs so much to make? In that case, why did you spend so much on PR and cosying-up to the media, and expect us to foot the bill? Besides, as we discussed earlier, the game sales themselves are just the icing on the cake? Who spends 60 fucking dollars on icing?
Rhetorical anger aside, companies aren’t making it easier for anyone, and it seems that publishers are to blame yet again. Theirs are the spiraling costs, the DRM decisions and the utterly malignant crackdown on used games. There seems to be no logical reason why the consumer should pay so far over the odds to keep these bloated money-sinks afloat, just so that they could stand in the way of the developers and the consumers. It might have been a more honest tactic to offer something more than just a download in return for 60 bucks, but they’re in it solely to make money, and there’s more money to be made in DRM solutions than playing fair by Joe Gamer. In an ideal world, the transaction would take place between the developers and the consumers. A developer with the right to stick a few goodies in the game box like an autographed card from a voice actor, or a poster of the team that actually designed the game. Not only would this help to ease the pain of paying so much, but it would help to endear the industry to a public that’s quickly becoming jaded with the whole thing.
Gamers do deserve better, and so do developers. But they’re not going to get that from greedy corporate husks with an eye on the bottom line to the detriment of everything else. Games aren’t always about business. They’re about keeping the customer happy, and they’re about giving control to those who create.
And you have to believe me. I’m the Goddamned Batman.