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Opinion: Why Game Piracy Might Help

Opinion: Why Game Piracy Might Help

December 12, 2006 | By Simon Carless

December 12, 2006 | By Simon Carless
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Following an article on the state of piracy in the December 2006 issue of sister magazine Game Developer, programmer McKay Salisbury has written in to vigorously refute it, suggesting in this editorial that "sharing music and games is a form of marketing".

Salisbury's full response to the article, which is in the hands of Game Developer subscribers and will be available for paid digital download alongside the magazine in the near future, is as follows:

"I was surprised to see such a biased viewpoint in your recent piracy article (December 2006). I'm currently 26, and working as a programmer. Here's what I mean:

When I was a kid of around 15, I was living in the lower end of the middle class. I tried to get my family computer upgraded through whatever means possible. But purchasing a new game at $50 wasn't feasible for myself, I didn't have a job, and I might be able to get one or two for Christmas or my birthday. A friend of mine had a geek dad, who bought a bunch of games, and that was my exposure to them. I would play a little at his house, but I didn't have the opportunity to play them at my house, so I pirated.

I wasn't downloading cracks, usually it was finding some other way to bypass the "CD required" copy protection that was prevalent at the time. (because I had CD keys from my friends). I remember playing WarCraft II, and Descent in this manner. Were they lost sales? No. Well, maybe I would have gotten one of them as a gift, so to be generous, lets say these companies respectively lost $50 each.

Let's first take a look at the Descent example. Interplay didn't get that sale from me, but I did buy it later when it was on the discount rack for probably about $15. Later, when I was 17-ish, I got a job at a local software retailer, and I sold video games. I later purchased some other Descent games, (Descent 2, Descent: Freespace) at the full new release retail price (minus employee discount), and partially by reputation from my experiences with them,

I purchased some other Interplay games also (Star Trek games come to mind, but I'd bet there were others). So that's probably over $300 in Interplay games before the end of the century from me, but that doesn't count the hundreds (thousands) of copies of Interplay games that I was able to sell to customers who came in because of my experience with the titles. Did Interplay lose money on me as a consumer? No. From a developer's perspective, that $50 lost to piracy was a form of word of mouth advertising.

The more glaring example is WarCraft 2. Sure, I played hundreds of sessions of the game using a pirated copy. Blizzard lost $80 on that sale (WC2, and the expansion). But that game has changed my life. It got me addicted to strategy games, and I spent countless hours playing. Then I heard about this new game Blizzard was releasing called StarCraft. Wow, It's supposed to be like WarCraft in space, but with 3 races, and they're so distinct, and....

Needless to say, I bought StarCraft on opening day (collectors edition packaging) (from the store I worked at ($45)) and played it losing sleep, and I was addicted. Brood Wars came out, and I got it opening day too ($27). And we played that game so much. Later, when the StarCraft Battlechest came out (at $50 for both SC and BW), I bought another copy for an additional disc to play with, and to install it on another computer (let's say $40 to be on the generous side).

When it dropped to $20, I bought another, and I don't know how many copies I gave away as gifts, Since then, I've probably purchased about 6 copies of StarCraft and Brood Wars. I still play all the time, and still win local tournaments occasionally. They eventually released a WarCraft 2 Battle.Net Edition, and I bought that for $30 (partially because I still didn't own a legal copy of WC2, I figured that now was as good a time as any). WarCraft III came out, and the hero units looked cool, so I purchased the collectors edition of WC3, at probably $70, and the expansion ($30?).

I didn't like it as much, but I did eventually pick up another copy of the WC3 Battlechest for a second computer at $40. Then World of WarCraft came out. $50 on it, and how many months of playing since release? I'd estimate that it's about $500 in software alone from Blizzard. This doesn't count the soundtracks, the action figures, the DVDs, the posters, the tickets to BlizzCon, or the months of game time on WoW, or the friends I've addicted to Blizzard in the interim.

You must be asking yourself, "Well, how much of this isn't attributable to the initial exposure?" Well. I haven't played any other MMOs, except Final Fantasy XI, but that dates back to the fact that I own FF1-FF12 in virtually every released format, and there was an inital exposure of borrowing the original Final Fantasy I from a friend in the 80s. I tried playing Matrix Online, but the gameplay sucked. I found a copy of City of Heroes for $7.50, and it hasn't even been installed yet. Why? because I'm so busy playing other games, from creators I trust (Square Enix, Blizzard, Konami). (I own a PSP, but the only game I've got is Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth, a Square Enix game).

Basically what I'm saying is that me pirating 1 game from Blizzard over a decade ago got me introduced to their game-making abilities, and I'm hooked. I'm a dedicated brand consumer. Sure, Interplay is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, but that's because they stopped making good games. If you ask me, sharing music and games is a form of marketing. If your content sucks, you'll "lose money" to piracy, because people will see that your content sucks. If your customer likes your stuff, either they're too cheap to have bought it in the first place, or they'll buy it, or something else you make later, because it's a product worth buying.

I don't mean to say there shouldn't be a form of copy protection. I think Blizzard nailed it. Sure, their products used to get no-CD hacked all the time, but I know a couple friends who eventually purchased more copies, because, they got sick of finding a decent crack everytime Blizzard released a new patch. That's right, Blizzard made their patches a form of copy protection, because if you want to play online, you have to have the latest patch, which means you lose time finding a crack, or you break down and buy a CD.

$3,000,000,000 in losses due to piracy? But I want to know how much revenue that has and will generate because there are badly packaged versions of your product floating around the streets of Hong Kong, and around the Internet."

[What's your view on how piracy is currently affecting the game biz? Feel free to write a Letter To The Editor and we'll reprint the most interesting responses over the next few days.]


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