Are you tired of paying for things? Do you go through your weekly allowance on a single game because it costs so damn much? Are you sick of not being able to get the things you want because Australia lags behind the rest of the world? If only there was a better way to acquire goods without the hassle of trade and barter… Well, fret no more! Introducing Piracy! It’s an exciting new way to get your hands on all the games you want without handing a penny over to those dickbags at Ubisoft and EA! It’s quick, it’s clean, and it’s as legal as murdering a pomeranian with a sawn off shotgun! Mind you, you won’t even know that because the laws are so hard to find, but hey, who needs the law when you’ve got free stuff!
I’m not actively trying to endorse piracy here (… well, I might be), but when you consider the current practices of game security and Australian prices, it’s hard not to. I’ll be straight up with you; I’ve pirated songs, films, TV shows and the occasional game because I couldn’t afford or access it, but just because I can do it doesn’t make it a good thing to do. People worked on this stuff, and here I am, alone and sweating just a little bit too much, taking what they’ve made without offering a cent in return. Of course, piracy isn’t quite as black and white as that, and just like how pirate metal is way more popular than you expect, the same is true of piracy in general…
Way more popular than you expected. And way merrier.
First off, let’s go back in time to pre-tolerable-internet days, when floppy discs were relevant and bootlegging was really popular in Bali. Before we could download thousands of bytes a second, piracy was limited to the physical realm. So, to get a bootleg copy involved finding someone who was bootlegging, which typically meant buying a crappy quality product from a shady salesman on the side of an Indonesian street. The cover was barely a photocopy of the original, but you’d still get what you wanted albeit in a shitty box. Fast-forward to now and piracy is way easier and legitimate than it’s ever been.
With the shift of almost all media to digital sales, it was only a matter of time until piracy started looking like the real product. There’s no more shitty box or creepy salesman these days, your pirated copy is identical to the legal copy in almost every regard, from package to delivery and format. What’s more, depending on what you’re pirating, if you get a shoddy version, you can just go and download a different torrent or find a new MEGA link. Piracy has become a legitimate source for all digital goods, and it seems that people know it.
So… Many… Seeds…
More and more people are pirating things, and, unlike Ubisoft, I can actually back it up. Arxan (who you can learn about right here) recently released their 2015 State of Application Security Report, which looked at what different kinds of digital media and software is being pirated (and if you want to know more about it without reading it all, go here). Piracy overall is on the rise (1.6M assets in 2014 to an estimated 1.96M in 2015!) with almost double the number of games being pirated compared to last year. That’s estimated to be over $74 billion of unmonetised games between mid-last year and now. $74 billion. With a ‘b‘. The thing is, when it comes to games, piracy isn’t just restricted to the downloading part.
While ‘piracy’ generally refers to copyright infringement via file sharing, the word has become a blanket term for a whole bunch of things when it comes to video games. The Arxan report didn’t just look at how many games were downloaded as part of their piracy analysis, they also looked at the risks posed to preventing cheating, bots and bypassing license management policies and controls. Needless to say, while you might get a free copy of a game, the door is also open for mad haxorz to ruin your game experience (like the plagues of bots in Dirty Bomb). Of course, piracy is fundamentally bad for creators and developers who aren’t getting paid for what they produce, so why has video game piracy grown so much?
DOES THIS SYMBOL MEAN NOTHING ANYMORE!?
While there are many, many, MANY reasons for you to pirate anything you could want, some of those reasons are a bit more pertinent to games. Video games are expensive luxuries, and it’s no secret that Australian pricing can sometimes border on sociopathic. Sure, there are people who claim to pirate then purchase, and some studies have hinted that this might be true, but should that excuse the act? On top of that, is it actually illegal to download it or just redistribute/sell it? It seems like these should be easy questions to answer, but it’s surprisingly hard to actually find information about this stuff.
In researching this topic, I tried to find the Australian laws regarding piracy and copyright infringement. Turns out it’s a lot harder to find out any specifics than you’d think, because most Google searches involving anything to do with the topic comes up with articles that talk about it and obfuscate results pertaining to the laws themselves (like this article, ironically). The best government endorsed result I could find was unhelpfully vague, and reading the law itself is… Well, ain’t no one got time for that. I’m not saying the majority of people are blissfully ignorant to what’s going on when they’re pirating, but given how difficult it was for me to even get information on the topic, it’s easy to see people thinking that only redistribution is illegal. However, it’s easier to believe that piracy comes out of frustration rather than ignorance.
Australia’s had it’s fair amount of strife regarding censorship laws, most notably the R18+ classification that felt less like a new rating as it did a new sticker. The sale of certain games is still banned in Australia, which itself can lead to piracy. If you want to play Hotline Miami 2, one of the most anticipated indie sequels in recent memory, you’re going to need to pull some questionable stunts to get it, because it’s banned in Australia. Funnily enough, it’s not illegal to own a banned game, it’s only illegal to sell it . So, thanks to a government ruling, someone who wants to play the game must enter a lose-lose situation where they can’t support the developer and must break the law to play it. You could say they shouldn’t play it if it’s banned, but they likely know what they’re getting into, and it’s there for the taking, after all.
It’s one thing to blame the pirate for actually doing it, but it’s less like a ploy of active destruction so much as giving into temptation. We’re marketed at, hyped up and tempted by an array of game trailers, let’s play videos and news sources. Eventually, it can start to get to you, even if you only have a passing interest in the game, and if it’s there for the taking, well, it’s there for the taking. There can be a huge social pressure to keep up with new games, both from marketing and peers, and we’re pretty weak when it comes to getting stuff we want. These are just a few reasons to pirate, and I could splurge out a hundred at you if I had to, but Piracy is still bad for creators, and if we never address it, the things we love stop getting made.
Like this. I love this. I want this. Free or not. It’s so GOOD.
Currently, the attitude taken by AAA publishers towards pirating content is as positive as my last pregnancy test, and terrible counter-measures have been implemented because of this. I despise (and I mean truly despise) Steam because it’s a barely functional barrier between me and access to my games, but it’s not as bad Uplay or Origin. As the Arxan report mentions, these always-on measures are, and I quote with much vindictive malice here, “hugely unpopular with users”. Countering the convenience of piracy with the inconvenience of a required log in is like trying to pick a lock with a fire hydrant. It’s ineffective, frustrating and not very smart, so why not fight fire with fire and make the game free and easy to access?
As controversial as their monetisation has been, Free to Play titles offer the pricing of piracy while ensuring security is kept. F2P games are still susceptible to bots and hacking, but it’s a hell of a lot better than being forced to use a cumbersome intermediary program just to play the game. You can still try out the game for free, but supporting the developer is now built into the game via microtransactions, which is an issue when it’s exploited, but it can work in theory. The thing is, it’s almost impossible to separate this model from online games without it suddenly becoming a terrible idea, which is concerning.
Good free to play games can even be life-destroyingly fun
F2P games are gaining traction, but it’s also leading to the onlinification of our games as we know it. F2P models are generally used for persistent online games, and these sorts of games are becoming more and more popular because, well, they’re free. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make sense for my copy of Age of Wonders 3 to require an internet connection to play. It’s a predominantly single-player game, so why would I need to log into an online database to play it alone? This is the stuff that causes piracy out of frustration, but we still haven’t found the magical solution to tackling piracy’s spread.
When you look at why people pirate games, there’s a hell of a lot more going on than just price. It’s certainly a factor, but horrifying DRM and an inability to access content seem to be, to me at least, far more compelling reasons to pirate than getting a free product. I’ve never pirated a game from GoG before because I love how hassle-free they’ve made their acquisition process (buy, download, install, play, done). However, as optimistic as it might be to say that GoG has given us the solution to piracy, it really frakkin’ hasn’t, and nothing ever will.
Barry’s not going anywhere, so why don’t we try to love his, uh, smile… Thing.
There will always be people that will pirate content because they refuse to pay, so how do we deal with them? Well, the easiest way is not to. I think (as ignorant as this will sound) that rather than eliminating piracy, publishers should be attempting to maximise revenue from people willing to pay. No matter what security measures devs take, hackers will find a way to bypass whatever sick encryptions you implement, but if there are people willing to pay and support the developers, then it’s surely smarter to target them. Yes, your game will be pirated, but if you can still make an acceptable profit off of it, then piracy is just a bunch of sales you were never going to make anyway. Besides, if people pirate then purchase, then piracy can be potentially beneficial. This is obviously a naive oversimplification (games don’t create a consistent, sustainable income), but until we find that magical solution to it all, I guess people will just keep doing what they’re doing, and we’ll keep paying for what we want to pay for.
It’s easy to appreciate the intricacies involved in piracy, both for and against it. It’s a growing problem for creators, and unless distributors and publishers can lift their game to make piracy less appealing, then kickass torrents ain’t goin’ nowhere. This, of course, leads to some rather frustrating things happening to our games, like Uplay and other always-on counter-measures. I’m not trying to be an advocate for piracy, even though I’m probably gonna pirate a few things later tonight, but I’ve got my reasons. It just sucks that doing it can end up stopping the things we love from getting made. Yeah, I know, it’s really depressing. Have some shanties to cheer you up.