Monday 11 July 2011

E14's Thoughts on Piracy: Theories and Realities

Piracy: Call it what you like, but it's not as cool as it's perceived to be. Whether you like it or not, it's theft. Piracy specifically involves taking something that doesn't belong to you, and in some cases making it available for others to steal. Unfortunately, there seems to be some discrepancy between reality and the theories that some pirates put across. As you know, E14 loves to burst bubbles, especially when they're from street vendors who won't get the fuck out of your way already, and then blow bubbles in your direction. Fucking idiots. Anyway, onto the piracy stuff.

Theory: Piracy is not to blame, Publishers and Retailers are

This is an argument that I’ve heard all too often. “Oh, well the REAL criminals are Activision/EA and Microsoft/Sony, for making their shitty games so damned expensive.” What, those shitty games that you’re still going out of your way to play, albeit for free? Get a fucking clue, cockbag. While you’re there, pick up a healthy dose of logic to the brain, because it seems to be severely lacking in this argument. It’s the same with movies. People boycott going to the cinema because of the prices of tickets, and instead choose to pirate the movie or (if they’re smart) wait for an opportunity to rent or buy it later on down the line, where the price might be high but you actually *own* a copy.

The logic of the pirates is that by pirating the game, they deprive these publishers of money, which is true enough in that regard. However, they seem to think that publishers will then become desperate enough to make money that they’ll then take another look at that pricing model on which they have based their entire product catalogue. It’s ultimately misguided, but the logic is there to a certain extent. The problem is that they don’t think it through all the way, maybe because by that time it’s already satisfied their self-serving entitled arrogance, in that it has (in their mind, at least, and that’s the only person they’re *really* trying to convince) convinced them that they’re justified in thieving from hard-working people in the entertainment industry (those people behind the corporations, who pirates don’t like to think about).

Reality: It’s not that simple

Piracy doesn’t force reduction on price. There’s no reason why it ever realistically would be the sole contributing factor to prices falling. Trying to force pricing structure changes by pirating is about as effective as trying to organise complete hierarchical change in government by setting up a Facebook event – i.e. Not very. To put it another way, there’s actually an event on Facebook trying to achieve this (which I think qualifies as conspiracy, but who am I to quibble?), but at the present time there are more people down as definitely attending the return of Cthulhu the following year. And I’m glad, the whole thing reeks of sanctimonious self-absorbed bullshit, and I hope the few people that do attend get a wake-up call in whatever form that may take.

The reality is that piracy will fuel only one thing: more investment in anti-piracy technologies. That will come, regrettably, at the cost of more expense to legitimate paying gamers, as well as undoubtedly a more annoying set of DRM-style rules in order to combat illegal file-sharing. Whatever your thoughts on DRM, and how difficult it might be to circumvent even for legitimate users, it’s only going to get worse from here on in if the pirates have their way.

The actual way to combat the price of new games is simple: don’t buy them. It’s literally as simple as that. You don’t buy them, game retailers end up with tons of stock lying around that they can’t shift, and they reduce the prices to clear the stock. That’s not conjecture, that’s based on actual retail experience. Pre-owned game trading also helps, because the same thing happens to the pre-owned games: stock builds up, prices on pre-owned come down, and the new prices come down to within about 5 quid of the price of the pre-owned price, otherwise they wouldn’t shift the new stock, and whatever people think of game retailers, they do still want new games to sell as well.

It even happens on the digital front as well. If things don’t sell on the Xbox Live Arcade or PSN, they reduce the prices after enough time. The answer, then, is simple: don’t buy the games. I know you really want to play them, and maybe you either don’t have the money or (like most pirates, I suspect), you have the money but are just tight as a drum. The fact that you don’t have enough to/don’t want to pay the cost of it is capitalism’s way of saying that you shouldn’t have it. And more importantly, stop hiding behind prices as an excuse. The easiest way to stop prices going up, which they inevitably will, is to vote with your wallets and not buy them.

The Theory: Publishers are greedy cunts

Recently, there’s been a shift in the gaming industry. Publishers have decided that they deserve something from the pre-owned games industry, and have introduced an Online Pass model. The model works as follows: Players who buy their game new have a code inside the box which entitles them to access certain content for free. The first game that I can recall playing that included one was Mass Effect 2 which gave players access to the Cerberus Network, a portal for DLC and extra missions and so forth, some of which were free to those who bought the game new.

For those who purchase the game used, this code is not available, and thus the user has to go without or purchase one from Xbox Live or PSN. The cost is around 800 Microsoft Points or $10/£8 or so on PSN, and allows users who buy the game used to get the experience and (sometimes) extra content that players who purchase the game new can enjoy. Of course, this set off the entitled bitches, and often you’ll find message boards made up of people decrying EA (although there are plenty of publishers guilty of it, a lot of them just refer to the content as a “bonus” and get away with it). I can understand it to an extent, as despite the fact that they publish a number of high-quality games every year, it seems to be the done thing within Internet culture to hate EA even if it’s not 100% their fault.

The Reality: Yes…and No

Yes, publishers like money. I’m not sure why that’s surprising to anyone. Publishers like money for the same reason that anyone does: it’s very necessary for the world in which we live. Like it or not, that’s something that’s very unlikely to ever go away. Thus, of course, publishers want to make something from the pre-owned game market. Yes, it’s a little dodgy. However, it’s also incredibly clever on their part. It’s impossible to deny that. More importantly, it seems to be working.

So I’ve said it is and isn’t the problem of the publishers. Who else is to blame then? Simple: Retailers. For an industry whose retail sector is at tremendous risk of suffering at the hands of digital distribution, you’d think retailers would be smart enough to work better with publishers and distribution partners. ESD (the in-store Xbox cards you might have seen with specific content rather than generic points values) is a step in the right direction, but then they make a step back by not adapting to the Online Pass decision of publishers.

See, let’s think of it this way. A new game currently retails at £39.99 for consoles, with the online pass which they retail at £6-7. How much, then, is a pre-owned copy of a new release at GAME/Gamestation? £34.99. Right, so the maths doesn’t work. Where, then, is the problem? Well, considering that the trade-in price of the game is around £22-25, GAME could stand to lose a couple of quid on the sale. Failing that, they could just adjust the trade-in price. Though that does go against that whole "wanting to make money" thing, I guess.

Theory: “Piracy is a victimless crime”

This is one that’s applicable to pretty much any media. The fact of the matter is that for a lot of pirates, there is no victim, because they identify the body who’s hurt as a faceless corporation, devoid of any particular personality. Be it movies, where they might identify a movie by its studio or its lead actor, who in their mind has enough money to survive their unauthorised theft of the latest blockbuster release, or the realm of technology (which is where I have some personal experience to draw upon), where people would sooner own an illegal copy of a particularly well-known productivity software than entertain the free alternatives. Having used OpenOffice for a number of years, I can only sympathise.

It’s rife in the world of video gaming as well, with many so-called “true” gamers decrying publishers like EA and Activision and their measures like Online Passes (more on that later), and trying to whip up some vitriol on the boards with other like-minded users. Indeed, spending more than ten minutes on reddit’s /r/gaming sub-forum is enough to make some people’s blood turn to ash in their veins from the sheer volume of Starcraft 2 and Minecraft users who seem to think themselves to be single-handedly championing PC gaming while also only playing one game all the time, the latter of which is still in beta.

It’s not difficult to see the logic behind their (albeit limited) argument. Activision and EA preside over some of the biggest franchises in the history of video gaming, with Call of Duty becoming like Activision’s sports franchise, with a yearly update refreshing some of the characters and replacing them with more army men with more serious faces, until one day their frown succumbs to the pull of gravity and they implode inwards on themselves in Call of Duty: Face of War.

Anyway, for pirates, companies like Activision, EA, WB, Universal, Disney, Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft and even Apple are ruining the world with their shameless attempts to extort money from hard-working consumers (and even the ones who don’t work hard, like drug dealers and criminals) by asking them to PAY for goods and services. I mean, who do these people think they are? Honestly, the idea that people should have to pay for things they use every day, like computer Operating Systems, is just obscene!

Lol, jk, grow up you entitled cunts.

Reality: Piracy costs real money and real jobs

Last year, it was estimated that piracy led to 1,000 job losses in the UK alone (source – this rather fine report by The BBC), as well as over 1 billion pounds in lost revenue, and that was just estimates for chipped consoles, not pirated PC games and the like. Now, chipped consoles have no real excuse as far as I’m concerned, as they’re not really done for any other reason than to steal games, so the kind of people who use those can get cunted as far as I’m concerned.

The problem is that there are victims of piracy, they’re just not associated traditionally with the multinational corporations in a very direct way. Microsoft Windows has a team of people who develop and maintain it, and games have their teams of developers who can (and regrettably do) lose their jobs if studios don’t make enough money. Maybe it’s because I live in Brighton, and have seen several of the studios down here shut, but I feel more conscious of the loss of jobs than maybe some of these pirates. Maybe it’s because I have enough of an ‘in’ into the industry that I’m faced with plenty of studio closure and layoff information. Either way, pirates don’t see this stuff, and maybe that’s part of the problem.

More needs to be done at the educational level. We in the UK are supposedly proud of our education system (despite falling standards and an increasing reliance on media studies), but we don’t seem to have embraced the technological age when it comes to the curriculum itself. Oh yeah, we see articles in the news that suggest that kids in schools will be given iPads to facilitate their learning, but they seem to be severely lacking in education about said technology, specifically that piracy is…I don’t know, bad for the industry? It doesn’t have to be engrained at the level of infant school, I figure they’re already learning some more important things.

Here’s another idea, while we’re chucking them around. Now, I’m fairly sure that they *do* catch pirates every now and then, but I imagine they’re more than likely the ones in charge of masses of file sharing. Makes sense, right? Now, when they’re being prosecuted, has anyone thought to sit the pirates down in front of someone who lost their job as a result of piracy? Maybe even the entire family? Imagine the pirates getting on their high-horses about “victimless crime” when they have to explain to little Timmy why there was no Christmas at the Recession household.

On an entirely unrelated note, any idea how hard it is to find stock photos of sad children? Apparently, quite hard.

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