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Piracy- How Video Game Industry Can Deal with It

Piracy- How Video Game Industry Can Deal with It

I was originally planning to mark the beginning my return to video game writing (from university exams and term projects) with a dicussi0n on the philosophy of video games, but the talk of the day is online piracy, and I thought I’d write about that first. Well, we all know that the controversy began when SOPA and PIPA acts were introduced to the United States Congress, laws which many believe (and I agree) would end the freedom of Internet as we know it. The law garnered a lot of opposition- from White House itself to giant Internet companies such as Wikipedia, Google, Mozilla, Reddit, Tumblr, and many more. But the controversy didn’t lose heat as the Justice Department shut down MegaUpload.com and arrested its founders. All this is very important to us as gamers. We have to deal with many measures used by companies to fight piracy which frankly are an inconvenience to the gamers, such as DRMs and region locks. But the problem goes on strong enough as it is known that many consider PC video gaming piracy rate as high as 90%. It’s a very important issue, is what I’m trying to say.

There are many people who defend video game piracy based on intellectual or ideological reasoning, and there are those who consider piracy a kind of thievery or bad for the industry. I’m not getting into this discussion. I believe the question is more complicated than the both sides pretend it is and I believe that practically speaking the problem will not go away unless we find a way to appeal to the average gamers. The average gamer doesn’t care for any side of this debate. To them, the question is not a crusade of anarchistic interpretation of free speech (which I may myself agree or at least sympathize with a lot) or a concern with the economic well-being of the industry (which is also a very major issue). To them, it’s a simple question of profit versus loss. Which one is more profitable, piracy or legally buying the game? Right now piracy is a better option. Therefore they pirate the games.

And this will never stop by force. It doesn’t matter if you use all the brutal force that you have, the pirates will always be a step ahead of the newest anti-piracy technology. No new game or console has ever existed which hasn’t been cracked. Sony used all it could to make PS3 uncrackable. It took them three years. But they finally cracked it. To play a pirated PS3 game is indeed a great burden and you have to go through a lot of problems. You have to re-crack your console with every firmware release and then every time that you start a game there’s a risk involved. But people have cracked PS3 and play its copied games. All measures against piracy is futile. You might be able to make it more difficult but ultimately you can’t defeat it.

What about stepping up the police action? That won’t work either. You can’t ban something like that. The war on drugs has been a failure, as was the prohibition of 1930s. As an Iranian, I live in a country where the police brutally cracks down on drugs, alcohol, satellite channel receivers, banned books, uncensored foreign movies, and some video games, and guess what, none of these things are even rare here. With the exception of drugs I have broken all of these laws within the past 24 hours. And the punishment is also stiff. You will be fined for owning these things, and selling or distributing them can be punished by whipping. Also, drug trafficking is punishable by death. My country has the toughest laws against drugs and at the same the highest population of addicts in the whole world. So no, tougher laws and tougher law enforcements won’t solve the piracy problem either.

The only way to solve the piracy problem or at least improve it is to convince the average gamers that it is more convenient for them to buy the legal copy of the game rather than download the pirated version. And this will be achieved by cutting the costs. The video games are too expensive. Skyrim was 75 dollars, which would equal 60% of my income at the month it came out. The price of a game must be so low that paying it would be better than going through the motions of cracking it. We need an austerity measure.

This is not a solution that anyone likes. Cutting the costs would mean lowering the quality and the standards of gaming, but that’s the only way. Here I propose three ways to do this.

1) Stop fighting piracy. Since we already established that this extremely expensive method is completely fruitless go ahead and abandon it completely. Let your games be a simple set of DVDs (or a BlueRay) without any software lock or things like that. Fire all people dealing with this and cut all the expenses. This will make games a lot cheaper. More than what you think.

2) Forget graphics. I know, I know, it’s incredibly pretentious to claim that games are not graphics and the graphics actually help a game and all that. Yes, you’re right. But remember, we’re talking about austerity and sacrifices here. When it comes to sacrificing things, graphics is naturally the one to go, as it is less important and more costly. I say the HD graphics is enough now. We don’t need any better graphics. Let’s stop advancing it.

3) Make the technology cheaper. The reason that the video games are always expensive is that they are always on par with the newest technological advances. I say let’s turn the current on its head. From now on we must focus on making video game consoles and engines smaller, cheaper and more available. Let us be three or four generations behind the latest technology. Let Nvidia and ATM go to hell. Make the new games not based on the newest graphic cards but based on those from 4-5 years ago.

4) Break the monopoly. Let’s cut the hands of the three big devils- Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo. Let there be many and many video game consoles which will support all the games, and have a simple engine which will accommodate all of them. This will simplify the writing of the games and the options will be numerous. This will cut costs a lot.

5) Open source engines. Let all the video game engines be open source. Follow the John Cormack lead (but sooner). Imagine how better and cheaper it would be if the companies didn’t have to spend a lot of money designing or buying engines.

6) Distribute more. The more copies of the game out there, the less the cost across the spectrum. Distribute the games on all internet sites. Let buying them to be really easy. Close the video game chain stores and instead distribute them in book stores, newsagents or grocery stores.

All these may seem weird to many of my readers. But it has worked. In Iran, some years ago, film piracy was a huge problem. Any movie which was released was immediately available in pirated copies. The pirates would sell them on the pavements. This threatened the very existence of Iranian cinema, as the movies had completely stopped producing any profit, and theaters and studios were going bankrupt one after another. First the police brutally cracked down on the protestors but it didn’t succeed in defeating the piracy. But then the industry did the right thing. They cut the price of ticket to a half and the price of the legal copies to a fourth (from 5000 Tomans to 1000 or 1500 Tomans) and distributed the movies everywhere. I wasn’t joking about the grocery stores and the newsagents. After a year the piracy went downhill, and now the Iranian cinema has solved its piracy problem. Now all the money goes to the industry itself, and 99% of the copies sold are legal.

The piracy is a problem rooted in the greed of the industry which thinks it can milk gamers for any amount of money they want. The only solution to piracy is cheapness and availability. Of course, making the games inexpensive and available would completely transform the industry as we know it today, and there’s absolutely no sign of any readiness or even tendency to move towards that ideal.

So my prediction is the piracy will go on.

5 Comments

  1. Call me crazy, but I agree with this completel, especially if it’s worked elsewhere. 75$ for a game is ridiculous, no matter how new it is, and how realistic do the graphics need to be? The direction in which they’re going right now is already unrealistic. When I look out into my backyard, how much brown and gray do you think I see? If you don’t have to spend months upon months with entire graphic teams, you’ll be able to cut costs significantly. PS2-era games looked good, and I think that good can be good enough. Aside from that, shifting the focus from “realism” will allow developers to pursue more interesting and creative art styles, so this might actually be a good thing for the industry. Games like Okami don’t look realistic by any stretch of the imagination, but they’re beautiful. Just like realism doesn’t necessarily make good controls in a game, it doesn’t necessarily make good graphics, either.

    As for the rest, I’m not so sure how I feel about the open-source engines, since that might make games too similar, but I guess that depends upon how much of the engine is used in the new product and how much innovation goes into it. Breaking the oligopoly, though, is a great idea; there are a few games that I’d like to play, but am unwilling to shell out for a PS3 or XBOX 360 by which to do so. As a fan of Castlevania in particular, system exclusivity has been a problem for me for years.

    • Open-source engines won’t necessarily make games too similar. Engines can be extremely flexible; if anything, lack of creativity would be to blame for samey games.

      For instance, various incarnations of the Unreal Engine have been used to make games including arcade-style first-person shooters (Unreal, BioShock), tactical first-person shooters (the Rainbow Six games), third-person shooters (every Gears of War), action/adventure games (the recent Batman games, Alice: Madness Returns, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West), platformers (the game based on the Lemony Snicket movie), horror games (the upcoming Silent Hill: Downpour), stealth games (the first Thief game), a number of MMORPGs (Lineage II, among others), WRPGs (Deus Ex, Mass Effect), real-time strategy (Tom Clancy’s Endwar), fighting games (the two most recent Mortal Kombats), and even a pinball game (Adventure Pinball: Forgotten Island).

      Similarly, LittleBigPlanet 2 let you create all sorts of different types of games, all using the game’s built in engine. I would be very interested to see the direction the industry would go in if open-source engines became the norm.

  2. Yes, it is true that the greed make the price so high. But the risk in game development is not trivial, more money people have, more chance to survive and continue to make nice games.

    • Remenber when games where created by gamers for gamers not by corporate suits? Remember when you bought a reasonably priced game? Me neither. The porblem is that companies now concentrate on draconian drm that gets cracked easily instead of spending that budget on actually making a great game. Also since gaming industry now focuses on pleasing shareholders game developers can’t actually focus on inovating designs as they are too risky and might not bring enough profit. Thats why people are more likely pirate a new AAA game to have a couple hours of fun. New games can’t provide any entertainment at all because publishers do not allow developers to make fun games.

  3. Ho ho ho, and a bottle rum. It’s a pirate’s life for me. I realize that there’s simply no ‘ethical’ way to justify piracy. If we really call it what it is, it’s glorified stealing, and we all know that. Some people claim that most pirated games start with one legit copy, meaning that every other download is technically just file sharing, which makes a valid point. Still, people are just milking this technicality for all it’s worth. I don’t think that lowering prices and production costs will help. The bottom line is unless the game industry can beat the price of $0.00, they’re boned. I would strongly suggest limiting or delaying PC releases, however, as PC games are significantly easier to pirate than console games, even when using emulators. Cut out PC gaming and it forces people to at least buy a system. Even if they crack it, the extreme inconvenience and unreliability of console cracking is risky and tedious. As someone who is unwilling to even jail break my old iPhone 4, I suggest they play off of misinformation and force pirates to potentially destroy their $500+ consoles if they want to risk pirating. In my experience, if you stick with reliable torrents, there’s next to no risk involved in PC pirating, with everything to gain and nothing to lose.

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