Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
19 June 2006
There's piracy, and then there's statistics
From Macworld's Peter Cohen:
"But I never intended to buy the game, so it's not really lost revenue," is a common refrain from people who steal software. That's bunk--you're still getting something for nothing. Looking at it another way: If you snuck into Disneyland and ride the Matterhorn for free, security should kick you out, regardless of whether or not you ever intended to pay.

This is from a relatively interesting article about piracy's affect on Mac "game makers" and porters, and what it does most effectively is show just how razor-thin the potential for profit in this business might be.

It is, however, missing several key points I would have liked to have seen, starting with the above quote. Sure, people who pirate games cost the game providers money. I'm pretty clearly on record agreeing that piracy, as it's commonly practiced, is a bad idea. Yet at the same time, if those pirates felt the game was worth more than the price (going to the store or firing up a browser, extending their credit via Discover card, etc) -- and yes, that is how capitalism is supposed to work. I think game X, which costs, say, $30 to make, is worth $50, pay $40, and we're all happy -- then we'd have a reason to argue about DRM, Steam, and friends. Let me rephrase: If pirates were all potential, full-fare paying customers, then this discussion, and discussions like it, would make more sense.

There's a [apparently very large] portion of the customer base, however, that doesn't think the $30 game is worth $30, nor do they, for whatever reason, believe it's worth the time to wait for the price to come down. Perhaps better stated, the longer they wait, the less they find the game's worth. They'll never buy. What do we do?

We sure as heck don't count each pirated copy as a lost $50 sale, and that's what drives me crazy. Would these schmoes pay $5 if you delivered the game to their door and lost $30 (remember, this is doorside delivery now) a game? Maybe. What the market is missing is a production and delivery method inexpensive enough to beat piracy's. Beating piracy's method is what the iTunes Music Store has largely done, by the way. Is it easier to find an old track by Bruce Ruffin on the iTMS and pay a PayPal dollar by clicking "buy" or search Limewire for a decently high-fi copy? Exactly.

The article has other flaws. I'm happy to see them talk to Macsoft, which is apparently putting Close Combat out at the same time as the Xbox and PC versions (kudos!) and Freeverse, which seems to be doing something similar. Yet they don't talk to Blizzard, the obvious big name in publishing Mac games The Right Way, nor Ambrosia, still a Mac-first company as far as I can tell, who have been most easily exploited by piracy but have stuck around for over a decade. Neither does Cohen talk to the PC side of the house, to see what the piracy rates are over there. (Yes, I realize if it costs you $30 to make each game but you sell scadzillions * [50% from piracy] * total possible full fare buyers == lots of copies on WinPC, you still make plenty of cash. Regardless, how is piracy seen by those guys?)

I'm not saying Blizzard, Ambrosia, or PC houses are going to change the moral of the story, but they would complete it. As happens all too often on usenet, this article creeps a little too closely to fanboyism and strays a bit too far away from what I feel is an implication of objectivity (here, read "journalism") in its omissions. "Our gaming houses are dying! Bring in Big Brother to fix it!" Here, we might all be better served by Mac game companies embracing the challenge of finding new means of production and distribution, much as Glenda Adams seems to do in Cohen's article.
--ruffin at 13:57
Comment [ 9 ]

Comments on this post:

Hooray for false economies of artificial scarcity!

By Anonymous zachary, at 19 June, 2006 22:47  

[quote]Looking at it another way: If you snuck into Disneyland and ride the Matterhorn for free, security should kick you out, regardless of whether or not you ever intended to pay.[/quote]

Why do ppl always write stupid analogies to attack piracy? At least compare apples with apples. Copying a game is NOT the same as sneaking into Disneyland.
Copying a game is like creating the exact ride, putting it in your backyard and enjoying it, as long as you don't charge other people to use the ride, where is the harm? If you're on the other side of the planet how does it effect Disneyland's profits?

There are 2 forms of piracy. 1 form is the where they make hardcopies in the millions and sell them on the black market for profit, this is wrong I agree.

The other is for someone, to copy a game for personal use/testing/try b4 u buy.

Pirated copies of games/music/movies/software makes consumers more educated when buying. The fact is that 99% of people that would pirate games have been burnt in the past with a dodgy game etc.

By Anonymous Tolazytosignus, at 05 July, 2006 08:16  

Really Lazy? You're going to attack his reasonable analogy with that?

Creating the exact ride in your backyard would involve significant expense, time and materials. It would cost you considerably more to build your own Matterhorn than 1) Pay Disney to ride theirs or 2) Sneak in and ride it for free.

Applying your analogy to software piracy would only work if you were writing all the code for your copy, not just "borrowing" theirs. That would again cost you significantly more money than it would to just buy it, and more time than to steal it.

You finally hit the nail with "The fact is that 99% of people that would pirate games have been burnt in the past with a dodgy game etc."

Because of high development and distribution costs, they're charging $50 for a game that will entertain me for a few days tops (if I'm interested in it at all). I remember when a $50 game would entertain me for months. I'm unwilling to pay $50 for most of today's crap.

I also don't buy the "try b4 u buy" argument. I formerly used it myself. It's just not true. Once you have the product, the incentive to pay more for it is almost zero.

The original post is most likely correct. PC gaming especially will become more niche oriented, utilizing online distribution and reduced development costs to deliver superior (or similar) products at similar (or reduced) pricing. You have to make it more desirable to buy than steal.

iTunes is a decent example, but they have the advantage of iPod sales to offset small or zero profit margins.

Software creators need to spend more time looking at the carrot, and less time at the stick. Then they'll get me back in the "new" market, instead of the clearance/used bin scavenger I've become.

By Anonymous Ian, at 05 July, 2006 10:24  

Augh!

The pro-piracy morons have posted.

I make a product and plan to sell that product on the market. I set the value at which that product can be sold so that I can make more products.

For games (somewhat true for software, business processes) the consumer is not paying for the physical product - you're paying to come play in my programmed interface, with my imagined rules of behavior, and getting some joy out of it.

I believe in demos - the "try before you buy" - but if there's no demo, then there's no "try before you buy." It's theft. Don't like it? Don't play my games.

--

"False ecomonies of artificial scarcity"? WTF does that mean? That because we wrote the software you have a right to it?

Were I giving away my software, yes, you can take it. But I'm not giving it away - you either pay for the priviledge or go create your own.

By Blogger Neuraljazz, at 05 July, 2006 12:18  

"Copying a game is like creating the exact ride, putting it in your backyard and enjoying it, as long as you don't charge other people to use the ride, where is the harm?"

Please. Your analogy is just as faulty as you claim the original to be.

Look at it this way: your analogy demands that there is an actual ride out there, and that you in your backyard can only make an exact copy of that ride. You can't make your own ride out of thin air, it has to be an existing Disneyland ride.

Now there have been several (paid) people designing the ride for months. Others have, for a fee, designed what the ride should look like. Other (paid) people have bought materials. Dozens of people have been paid to construct the ride during several months. There has been testing (paid), pr (paid), catering (paid), acquisition of permits (paid), logistics (paid), and god knows what. In other words, merely creating the ride costs millions of dollars.

Now you and your amazing copying machine come by and you take everything, all their ideas, designs, hard work, and most of all, all the money they poured into it, and create the thing for free in your back yard. You ride the ride endlessly, because you don't see the harm. After all, -you're- not profiting from it, are you?

The harm, young one, is that you enjoy their design, expertise, hard work, and money, on a daily basis, without repaying them. Sure, riding the thing (much like CD-roms) costs nothing, but that's not what you're paying for. You're paying for the years of work, money and expertise that went into it beforehand.

Obviously, this'll all fall on deaf ears. Because you don't care about that. You're simply thinking "I saved them the cost of creating and shipping a box, manual and CD-ROM to a store, so it's okay if I don't pay for those." The fact that the money you're supposed to pay goes directly to the next game they'll create means nothing to you. If everybody thought like you, the games we pirated right now would be the last games created, ever. Because there simply wouldn't be any more money to pay for new ones. Because -you- are too much of a jackass to pay for it.

But, you don't care. You know that there'll be other games, because somebody -else- will pay for your copy.

I hope it's clear that you are now a hypocrit, a thief -and- a parasite, which one could argue makes you -almost- as nice a person as a nazi.

Get it? Now -grow up- and learn that you -pay- for the work of other people.

By Anonymous Jeff, at 06 July, 2006 10:45  

nice post, always good to see pirating thieving scum put in their place.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10 July, 2006 14:55  

[quote]For games (somewhat true for software, business processes) the consumer is not paying for the physical product - you're paying to come play in my programmed interface, with my imagined rules of behavior, and getting some joy out of it.
[/quote]

I think the real problem is expressed in this statement.

The problem I have with DRM, Steam, etc, is that it doesn't allow me to own my software. I'm not paying to come play in your imagined world, I'm paying for a copy (that I own, not license) of your imagined world to play in as I please. It's called fair use and unfortunately it's something that's disappearing today.

To use my own analogy, software companies (and film, record, etc) want to make their games like books I can't loan to my friend. That's bullshit. I believe in democratic control of marketplace and culture, including those industries that create culture, not a top-down heirarchy that deems how the people should use and experience their lives.

Also, if you've seen the stacks and stacks of pirated material many individual pirates have, you'll realize that they literally don't have the means to own all those otherwise. So it's not a matter of whether they'd buy it, but whether they could buy it. As someone else (not here) pointed it out, there's always going to be people who have more time than money.

Anyway, piracy can often act as free advertising, though that probably doesn't outweigh the potential losses.

Lastly, before you call me a dirty pirate (Yarr!), all of the games I've played recently have been legit copies: Oblivion, Titan Quest, The Movies, GTA: San Andreas, Half-Life 2 and EPS 1 (before I realized the Steam crap).

So there are those of us that want to support the industry but we don't want to lose our rights at the same time.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11 July, 2006 18:05  

"But I never intended to buy the game, so it's not really lost revenue,"

NO ONE USES ASS STUPID EXCUSES LIKE THAT, WHAT ARE YOU GAY?

screw games, the game industry brings all this shit upons themselves, because the only thing that makes the game worth 50 bucks is hte development, the games themselves these days are worthless shit that you don't need to play, because they won't challenge you and bore yout out of your mind. I didn't read beyond the part I quoted but i definitely believe that you're gay. STOP STEALING VIDEO GAMES YOU CRIMINAL, AND STOP CONDEMING THOSE WHO DO BECAUSE THE GAME INDUSTRY SUCKS.
And give me back the 20 dollars i paid for viewing this site.

To bob, you fag I'm not pro piracy, I'm just annoyed by the music industry and the gaming industry solely releasing shit and expecting us to buy it. I've quit buying and playing games all together. I love you

biyee darling

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 15 July, 2006 12:00  

I wrote a very interesting article lately (though it's in french) and after digging a bit I found a statistic that revealed a lot about the effect of piracy.

A company that released a game also put up a fake file and traced its download count. in the period while they sold 100 000 copies, the file was downloaded 11,000,000 times.

So in short, if only 1% of those actually bought the game instead of trying to get it for free, it would mean DOUBLE revenues for the developer.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 26 July, 2006 03:21  

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