Mining for pirates

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.

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Lock, stock and two smoking cameras

The best thing about portable gaming is the fact it can be done anywhere. Not just different parts of your home or town either but for a long old time, the portability of handheld consoles stretched across countries and seas without the restrictions of home console region locking. Until now it seems. An email was sent (via NeoGAF) from Nintendo’s Japanese support claiming that the upcoming 3DS will have region coding preventing games being played on a system that don’t belong to its territory. The humble GameBoy could play any game from any country and it was only recently that the latest DS iteration, the DSi, was locked out. And even then that was only specific DSi software.

Nintendo’s reasonings are likely to be similar to the ones used for adding a region lock to the DSi; the internet and parental control. Back in 2008, the company said because of the unique online experiences for each region, the system would have to be locked in order to provide it appropriately. And since parental controls differ from country to country, the assigning of regions was needed. But now it gets a little more complicated when you take into account the deals announced at last year’s E3 between Nintendo and various movie studios to show 3D films on the 3DS. Copyright and distribution laws change depending on territory so the only real way to control this is to sadly impose region locking.

It’s a great shame for anyone keen to import games and genres that don’t often make their way to certain areas. Take the Rune Factory and Etrian Odyssey franchises for example. Both have a relatively small fan base in the UK and the games take for ever to come out over here. The worst thing that could come out of a total locking is the desire for some to hack their way around the restrictions, opening up the world of piracy to them. And that’s a world neither platform holder or developers are keen for you to explore.