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Vitruvius Otoko says:

Digital Distribution: Of Freedom, and Realization

// Submitted @ 9:35 PM on 07.12.2011

Although I skipped making an introductory blog (which I may make at one point), but this month’s C-blog is too interesting a topic to tarry longer. So here goes.

In the beginning I intended to use this blog for last month’s “Freedom” topic, but halfway through writing this, I realized it can be applied on both topics.

I won’t write about how Steam (or other distribution services *coughorigincough*) is a bane for charging retail prices for supposedly cheaper copies of digital version of a same game, or how indie developers can rise in fame for using Steam as a trusted publisher.

No, I am writing about something that is more… for lack a better word… elementary. The feeling of actually owning a game (I’m not talking about physical or digital, that’s not the argument here).

Before you try to make sense of what I’m trying to write (or me to myself), I have a confession to make. I was a pirate. No not the stinky swashbuckling scimitar-wielding seafarer (although it’d be my immediate career of choice if they still exist today), but the one that gamers are familiar of. Those who obtain games for free.

Just so you know, the latter is infinitely cooler than the initial. Oh wai... Source: deviantArt

Now whatever I wrote next is an attempt to justify my now long-gone practice. Just wanted to let you guys to know I did NOT do it anymore (which is where Steam comes in, but will be talked about later).

I am living in a country where education and country development are among the top priorities, therefore her citizens are tailored, in school and colleges, to become a productive member of the society. This means the entertainment industry of my country did not receive much attention from the government. Although having said that, as of 2008 until now, the statement has less meaning as more and more video game shops and hobby cafes start to blossom around the major cities.

Back in the days I am only started to actively game (which is 2000-2002), there are no stores like Titanium Games (our own inferior version of GameStop, but at least it’s better than nothing). But there were anonymous electronics store secretly tucked in the middle of decrepit shophouses. And those, my friends, were where I found my fix for gaming.

Surprisingly, they stock decent stuff which some of my Western peers had no access to. Source: Google Image

Burnt CD-Rs containing the latest PC (and during those eras, PSX) games for no more than 4 dollars. I’d go into one of those (they’re literally scattered around, but no one seems to take notice ‘cept for those actively looking) and buy bulks of around 20 or so games for no more than 100 dollars. As time moves on, DVD’s are introduced, and the stores would charge them for more, but at times you can find multiple games being burnt into one DVD-R.

And what a thing it was. At those times there are no draconian DRMs to speak of, only CD-checks and serial numbers, and those pirated copies include with them cracks and serial generators. The only worries I have are whether they can run on my computer, or whether I have enough hard-disk space to install all of them (there were SHEER numbers of them).

Then there’d be occasional raids or two on the stores to check for the pirated copies. The store owner can be charged with piracy, but as the law of my country states, only the person selling the pirated copies can be arrested, but NOT the ones owning or buying them. It’s something like a loophole in the law.

I still remember seeing a raid on one of the stores, with the police questioning the manager while the several customers, obviously still holding in their hands the pirated copies, ran away while the questioning still goes on without the authorities as much as batting an eyelash.

Now worried for my source of gaming fix, I turned to the next two sources (and FREE at that); friends, and interwebs.

The initial is correlated to the other, somehow, as there’d always be one of my friends who had limitless access to the internet (lucky bastards at the time), be able to download all the games any one of us could possibly want, and simply asked “if you want X game, just hand over your thumb drive, I’ll copy it for you”. And as I have my own internet connection, I began to *ahem* help myself to one or two games. Or more.

Now for the justification. Around 2000-2006 or so, I have mentioned earlier that there were barely anything worth being called “video game” stores. But that’s not to say there aren’t; they are usually located in major cities, at the largest shopping malls, on the toppest floor.

And God forbid those PRICES.

PlayStation 2 games cost, at the very least, 92 bucks. I remember seeing FFX and DMC2 being displayed at such prices. PC games are close to being 100, even then there AREN’T that many selections to begin with (Pandemonium 2 for USD98.00? Seriously?).

And the game's not even remotely decent. Sigh. Source: Google Image

In contrast to that, those suspicious-looking electronics store are more commonplace, and offer even better prices (for pirated copies, that is). And there’s almost no strings attached; no authority would be after you.

However, as of 2009, as I began calling myself a “gamer”, I did not find enjoyment on the games I have “obtained”.

Those games I obtained a little too easily, felt like a hollow shell. I’d play Icewind Dale, playing through the relatively slow-paced plot, and decided that it’s too slow and moved on to other games. I blazed through Dragon Age Origins without as much as paying attention to all the lovingly crafted lore and characters. I stopped playing Gears of War right after finishing the main campaign.

There’s no sense of fulfilment. Because I actually did not *own* the games.

Enter Steam. I’m not exactly sure when Steam was introduced to my country, probably around 2006 or so. At the time my bank account cannot be linked to PayPal, and I had no credit card. But in the first place, I shudder at the thought of my games being reduced to nothing more than data’s and bytes on my computer, without any physical form.

Around the time Half-Life 2 was released, I went hunting for a copy (by now you’d know what version I meant), but found out from the store owner that the crack was not properly implemented yet. Two years pass by with me sleepily play games I did not own, and Orange Box was released.

There were a Used Games Buy/Sell section on one of my favourite online forums, where one good man wanted to sell his unopened Orange Box for a happy sum. I wanted to try TF2, so I went ahead, contacted him, and bought it.

This is how Steam was first introduced to me. I installed it on my computer, figure out how the whole “digital distribution” system works, and thought it’s not all that bad. I mean, finally I don’t have to look for space to store my CDs and DVDs anymore. Oh joy! Assuming Valve doesn’t go under, that is.

But looking at my games list, right before I got to the T alphabet, is Half-Life 2. I had forgotten I was looking for this game a couple years past, and decided to give it a go first.

And what a revelation it was.

For the first time in a very long time, I am happy to play a video game. I am happy to swing the crowbar at the Combine and hear the satisfying thud. I gawk at how amazing the physics of the Source engine. I excitedly shout “Come, get some!” at Ravenholm, fighting off hordes of zombies. And what fulfilment I had.

I don’t think it’s because of the game itself. Sure, the game was fun and all. But it’s at the thought of finally obtaining something using your own money, legit. It’s the same feeling of obtaining money after a month of hard work, rather than stealing from some kid or robbing from a bank.

From then on, I pressed my bank for registration of online use, linked it to PayPal, and bought back games I previously did not own, whichever is available on Steam at the very least. I didn’t mind having to start them again all over.

Of course some of my friends told me how redundant it was, to buy again games that I have finished, or it’s pointless to pay more when you can obtain them for less or free even. I’d say damn them to an eternity of ignorance. Games, as much as music and movies (probably even more), require effort to produce, and it’s something the developers should be proud of making, and getting paid. Simply taking their product without any feeling of remorse is just…

Anyway, from the long-winded story, I guess my point of this digital distribution is that it can be made readily available globally, and perhaps can be the ONLY source of gaming one can find in an environment such as mine (it’s less true recently, please note. Video games is steadily being accepted as a viable source of economy, thus dedicated video game stores and gaming events can be considered common already). I’m sure there are other places similar as mine, charging asinine prices for a five year old game, or in the first place the lack of stores selling one. With Steam, gaming can be accessed by everyone, no matter where you are.

Although being accessible to everyone may attract unwanted attention... Source: Google Image

And the next point is obviously that digital distribution helps combat piracy. Especially with Steam, and all its sales. Goodness, you can get some titles for even less than the store selling pirated copies are charging you! And not to mention the store selling pirated copies don't even bother selling indie products, meaning you can't find Terraria or Winter Voices or SMB in one of those!

Therefore in many ways, digital distribution can be considered a viable future where it can be used to bring light into gamers worldwide the true value and meaning of playing videogames.


Vitruvius Otoko

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