A lot of interesting talks are coming out of this year’s GDC and at the Indie Games Summit (via Edge), Minecraft creator Markus ‘Notch’ Persson gave an alternative view of video game piracy. He believes if you pirate a game, then it shouldn’t be considered as theft but the potential to obtain new customers. The assumption of course is how those choosing to pirate a game will cease doing so and start buying products. I find that a little hard to believe. Persson compared piracy to other types of theft like stealing a car saying it differs because, “If you steal a car, the original is lost. If you copy a game, there are simply more of them in the world.” More that people are not paying for however. But Persson hypothesised that maybe there isn’t such a thing as a ‘lost sale’ concerning piracy because couldn’t a bad review also be considered a loss?
I think there are mixed messages going on here and the concept of piracy differs depending on the game. Take Crysis for example. Crytek has twice now been stung by people illegally downloading and distributing their product, impacting sales. They state a committal to PC gaming despite these leaks but a business can’t continue supporting a platform whose users are abusing it. Remember, we don’t actually own the copies of games, merely the license to play them, kind of like watching TV. The overall product may still exist and be seen or played by a larger audience but I fail to see how publishers can easily turn the pirates into consumers.
But like I said, it’s a different situation for different games. Persson referred to his own game, Minecraft and Rovio’s Angry Birds suggesting that because they’re constantly updated, it provides a better experience for gamers who will be less inclined and unable to pirate it. He said: “Treat game development as a service. Make a game last longer than a week. You can’t pirate an online account.” That’s fine for those kind of games and something that EA are seemingly working towards with their EA account, having players log into it when gaming. But certain genres and game types don’t work the same way as the likes of Angry Birds. With something like that, you can offer more and more content over time without it massively impacting the experience of people with vastly different gaming habits. When you propose this idea to a more traditional game, they begin to take on the episodic format which so far hasn’t been able to work for all genres.
I agree in theory, if you can win over the potential pirates and give people a reason not to steal your product, everybody wins; publishers make a profit and continue producing games, consumers feel satisfied that what they’re getting is true value and do not or simply cannot easily pirate it. Until we reach that point, piracy is still theft.