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.