Piracy? What piracy, give us your opinions…

Ubisoft Ramblings News Capcom

Rather than bore you with the latest facts and figures regarding piracy, I thought it would be interesting to get everyone’s viewpoints on it and how it affects the industry. One of the main reasons I decided to write this was in regard to a few statements I read recently about piracy, spoken by some of the industry’s top executives and developers. The article itself primarily dealt with DRM as a form of PC piracy protection but there were some very interesting quotes which got me thinking about other issues such as how piracy in general is viewed in our todays society.

“Piracy levels, depending on country, range between 40 per cent and 80 per cent,” Reinhard Blaukovitsch from Sony DADC, the company responsible for SecuROM, told Eurogamer as part of an investigation into the true impact of PC game piracy. That means that between 40 and 80 per cent of total copies of a game being played are pirated. “The commercial value of global software piracy is growing by 14 per cent annually.”

Certainly one of the biggest issues faced by researchers collecting information for the industry is summed up best by Christian Svensson of the PC Gaming Alliance and Capcom who said “it’s incredibly hard to do, because you end up having to do a set of cascading assumptions that you have no real ability to validate in any meaningful way.” This has always been my main argument against the figures collected by researchers; being the difficulty in calculating the number of people who pirated the game that actually WOULD have bought it anyway. Counting those who never had the intention of purchasing will surely result in some very skew figures.

While Ubisofts claim that their PC sales are down by 90% are completely valid and I’m sure are backed up by comparative sales figures, their assumption that piracy is to be wholly blamed based on the fact that console figures have risen correspondingly to compensate for the drop is a little farfetched. Please don’t take this the wrong way, I think Ubisoft are a fantastic company who produce innovative and successful titles, I just don’t agree with this rationale.

Information on piracy is very hard to come by but there are a handful of resources available to developers to protect their IP and sales. Many companies employ the services of others such as BayTSP to monitor torrent sites and report illegal activities to respective ISP’s. While this is at least being somewhat proactive it really has no effect on curbing what is a much larger issue.

Svensson goes on to estimate that at the low end of the scale, piracy exists at a 1:1 ratio with retail sales, meaning for every purchased copy, one is downloaded. At the high end he estimates figures as high as 90% piracy vs. legit users.

According to Svensson, Capcom themselves receive huge numbers of calls on their support lines from people playing copied versions of their games. While this is not too much of a surprise in itself, the most alarming thing is that these people are not even aware that what they are asking or doing is wrong. Unfortunately this is a growing trend amongst internet users in general, where massive blurred areas evolve regarding the ethics and morals of downloading illegal material. As Svensson says “It’s a cultural issue”, and he’s not wrong. I have friends who honestly believed that downloading games was ok as long as you weren’t selling them. And not only that, it was an effort to convince them otherwise.

Downloading movies, TV shows, games, music or anything that has a copyright is as illegal as each other, regardless of whether it is an episode of The Simpsons, or the newest Xbox360 game. What has changed has been our attitude towards participating in such activities across various generations and what has been forgotten along the way due to the somewhat intangible nature of the internet is that it is no different to taking the item off a store shelf. Starting with Napster and the downloading en masse of music, the idea of piracy has become somewhat second nature to many. Teenagers download songs and movies, TV shows and other media in plain view of their parents and a more than often not with their knowledge and consent. I’m not passing judgement; I’ve downloaded plenty of TV shows that I’m not willing to wait 10 years or so for on Australian television. I honestly don’t think these attitudes will ever change, especially with the lack of consequence currently enjoyed.

This brings us onto the next important and interesting point brought up by GoG.com’s managing director Guillame Rambourg, who notes “If you make the whole gaming experience more complicated and more frustrating for people who buy the game; if it’s easier to play a game that is pirated because they removed all the technical restraints, then I think there is a big issue on the plate now. It should be easier to play a game that you bought legally than play a game that you pirated.” While this doesn’t necessarily apply to console games, the argument is that in order the hack the game to play it copied, it give the user faster and easier access.

One of the many successful anti-piracy measures currently being employed by many major developers is either requiring a constant internet connection to the server to say playing or by restricting content to offline users and offering legit online users much more content. While both are very successful in keeping the majority of pirates off the system, they do severely impact many legitimate offline users who for various personal, financial or geographical reasons cannot stay connected to a server. Many studios such as Capcom and Ubisoft in the case of Driver San Francisco have abandoned plans to continue such measures after listening to feedback from fans.

On the matter, Minecraft creator Markus Persson notes, “if you pirate Ubisoft games instead of buying them they will work fine if you internet connection goes down.” While not encouraging anyone to do anything of the sort, he points out that using any DRM system that is more beneficial to pirate than to legitimate users is “insane.” Saying that I personally don’t believe that anti-piracy measures would drive anyone to piracy just because it loads 10 seconds quicker.

The rest of the interview mainly dealt with DRM and its importance in maintaining a crack free window for as long as possible to maximise initial sales. Down the track the effects of piracy upon a title are minimal as many users choose either second hand copies or wait until they are dirt cheap. From the sounds of it, the emphasis has shifted somewhat to online piracy and stopping those with illegal copies from participating in any online activities. Sony has managed to do this with great success, keeping anyone who refuses to update to their latest firmware offline. While this might not seem like such an issue, they have also for now halted pirates from even playing original copies. Microsoft, in a similar vein have cracked down heavily on pirates on their networks, and while their hardware seems defeated, their online services are somewhat pirate free.

Also make note the distinction between a pirate and someone who chooses to reverse engineer or “tinker” with whatever console they own. Piracy for the articles purpose refers to downloading or blatantly copying discs.

So, I guess these are the questions I want to leave you with
Do you think there is any difference between downloading “The Simpsons” and the latest epic console title?
How would you go about combating piracy if you were a game developer? Would you even bother?
Would you be ok for all gaming, PC and console to require an online connection to keep pirates from playing copied versions?
Let us know your answers and how you feel about the current situation of piracy in the industry.

Sydney Australia enjoy gaming on all platforms music and have respect for all cultures and most beliefs
  • Brandon

    “Would you be ok for all gaming,
    PC and console to require an
    online connection to keep pirates
    from playing copied versions?”

    The above is one of the main reasons -although not the only one- I am pretty much done for good with gaming.

    It started for me with STEAM (buying HL2). What a gut-shot that was. You wanted very much to join in on the next experience you had looked forward to, except this time you feel like you are cuffed a prison warden making sure you ask permission for every outing.

    Ownership is important to a lot of us as part of the experience. Being able to own you very own tangible copy of a game, not just pay $50-60 for an “online rental”. The idea of having to require a connection to an outside source in order install/use software is just ridiculous/wrong on many levels to. It’s the principle of the thing:

    1.) What if you don’t have/want the internet?

    2.) What if your connection to that outside
    source is cut for whatever reason?

    3.) Can you imagine an outside source being
    able to shut all your software down remotely?

    4.) Many of us don’t want to be forced into being
    part of “the community”(Lombardiberg/Newellgrad)
    Is the ultimate outcome going to be the regression
    back to the days where you had to put a quarter in
    the arcade per game? (only this time it will be
    online-accounts with monthly subscription fees)

    But if things like “online authentication” weren’t bad enough, some companies sunk to some serious sleaze: such as game-install-limits. Well forget you to! (Who’s stealing from who here?)

    I’m done. I’m sick of where it’s all going. I’ll never buy another Valve Software game again that’s for sure, and should I get so desperate/wowed by an upcoming title that I just MUST have it, then the following formula should probably be best:

    1.) Go to store and buy game – There is no
    excuse for stealing/taking something that
    isn’t yours, I don’t care how sleazy the
    company is.

    2.) Go home, smash/shoot/ignite/shred/stick-
    in-microwave the original CD(s)/DVD(s) – Keep
    your original box/manual/jewel-case/receipt.

    3.) Download hacked copy and burn to CD(s)/DVD(s)
    – A shame to have to resort to such a thing. It’s
    also dangerous due to viruses and legalities.

    4.) [Optional] Make your own CD covers and print.

    5.) Play

    You may also want to have a portable USB HDD to back up all you ISOs on for easier storage/mobility.

    Oh well. There are other hobbies one can have. Gaming is turning out just not to be worth it anymore. It’s becoming to “Hollywood” anyway. I remember the good’ol days of Interplay, Apogee, and the like. Descent, Mechwarrior, Red Alert, and Rainbow 6. Glad there is GOG.com.

  • Jessica Barabas-Bui

    I have to agree with you, there’s absolutely no accountability. When Kazaa and all that started up I was in my final years of primary school. I was aware of the whole court case and all that, but at the time I was just thrilled I could get stuff for free. And all those ads before movies, or all the big name companies complaining just made me roll my eyes like a typical teenager.

    I really couldn’t see how my downloading some TV was going to cause them to go out of business. I still download TV these days, I will buy my music off iTunes if its something I really want and have respect for the artist, and I always buy my games. Except for recently when I wanted to play Sim City on my Mac and figured that’d be too much effort to hunt down. It’s weird, but for some reason I see games as more stealing than TV, maybe because TV is generally free to air anyway (obviously excepting DVDs). Honestly if I lived in the US and had access to all the shows on my TV I wouldn’t download them, I’d just Tivo and enjoy.

    • Agreed! I always buy my games because I like to support the industry.

      TV shows though I will download, simply because we never seem to get them here in Australia, or not for ages anyway.

      Foxtel has recently started showing the “television premiere” of season 14 of South Park – aired in the US from April LAST YEAR. That’s an 18 month gap! No way in hell am I waiting that long, when I know it’s a few clicks away, only a few hours after airing.

      It’s hard enough waiting one week for the next episode of Dexter, without waiting indefinitely for Australian free or pay TV to decide to show them, with no regularity in their schedule.

      That said, I will buy the DVDs/Blu rays of these shows when they finally come out here. So it evens out. Eventually.

  • Cellophane Girl

    Games I don’t pirate because I can get demos of them easily for the most part to see if I want to purchase the game.

    Movies and music, I do tend to pirate on occasion, but if I enjoy a CD or movie or whatever, I do buy it. And I support musicians I like by buying other merchandise from them as well. Though now that I have Spotify I don’t have to do that anymore as I can just listen to a CD and go “yep I like that, let me put it on the list to purchase”.

    Some shows I don’t have access to because I don’t have cable, so I will download them or watch them on streaming websites. Usually though I’ll just wait and hope it’s put up on Netflix instant watch.

    I don’t really feel bad about it, because the way I see it, it’s advertising. Without piracy on the internet I would never have heard of a lot of bands that I have purchased CD’s and merchandise from, or TV shows that I now own on DVD.

    Since I don’t play PC games for the most part, I don’t have to worry about how they try to stop piracy of their games. Though I do think they are making it worse. If I buy something I want to own it and be able to play it offline or whenever I want to.
    There was one game that I was really excited about but then I heard about the hassle of it and decided to not even bother with the game at all. SPORE. I was so excited to play that game, then I heard about all the DRM and issues with it that I just said “yeah, no, I don’t even want to play this game anymore.” Which is a shame because I was so excited about it. :/

  • Darren Resnekov

    i find it interesting that most of you download tv and music and some movies and such but have an aversion to downloading games. Yes we are all passionate gamers who support the industry but whis is downloading games any worse than the others

    • Luke Halliday

      A lot of the reason people are fine with downloading, tv, movies, music etc. but not games is simple.

      TV, Movies and Music are all available for free somewhere.

      TV – The shows air on TV, people feel as though if it’s free to watch your TV then downloading an episode or 2 shouldn’t matter.

      Movies – they air on TV as well, however less frequently, people feel more comfortable downloading new releases because, really it’s more a diservice to yourself having to watch poor quality new releases on a small screen. They consider paying at theatres to be the price of better quality and bigger screens.

      Music – you can find thousands of songs free to listen to on youtube.

      As for games however, there is no real free way to go get a big new release retail title. They arent freely given out like episodes of television etc are. That is peoples apprehension.

  • Darren Resnekov

    i agree with you Luke but most of the tv shows people download are on a paid service somewhere as well so someone is losing out somewhere
    movies has got out of hand, i disagree with you here as gone are the days of crappy releases. Most people are downloading blu ray avis as well as untouched blu rays and watching them on projectors and huge screens. Much nicer than having to pay shitloads to deal with a bunch of screaming teens.
    music, although there are heaps of youtube videos you cant take them with you on the move or in a vehicle. While it is mainly larger artists who lose more, many smaller artists enjoy the free exposure from pirates sharing
    Not sure what you mean by games not being freely available but in terms of piracy they are available before the release date on every platform
    i guess what im getting at its we feel more ripped off when its the gaming industry involved rather than any other entertaiment. Does anyone know if the legality of downloading different forms of media entails different laws and penalties.
    personally i do see a massive difference
    tv shows are free and theres no excuse for making certain countries wait years for shows
    movies arent but i guess this was my point that when we click download we dont even view it as theft
    it has become so ingrained in our digital culture, our attitudes towards its legality has been blurred
    gaming we feel differently about but is really not compared to movies and music, the loss of income would be on a similar note to these industries

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