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.