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Josh Tolentino avatar 10:34 AM on 07.16.2008
Thoughts on Piracy, or Why My Eyelid is Twitching


Now that the biggest loads of this year's E3 have been shot off, I'm gonna talk about piracy. Then again, this is probably relevant to E3, considering so many developers' and publishers' worries. Piracy and the perceived (perceived!) decline of the PC gaming market is one of the reasons PC gaming seems to have such a light presence at E3 this week.

CryTek and Bioware, both big-time PC devs, famously sounded off on the issue. Piracy is a major force driving sales of the PSP (hurr, no gaems), and EA tried poking at the problem and ended up STABBING ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE

Anyway, Ryan Sumo wrote a good article in The Escapist just the other day.

Entitled "Piracy and the Underground Economy" it offers viewpoints that many gamers in richer countries might not have considered, describing realities on the ground and the environment he (and I) grew up in.

The pirated games trade is a matter of course in the developing world, and for some, a matter of livelihood. It's created an underground economy, with its own network and infrastructure, filling a space that legitimate distributors have been unable or unwilling to enter.

Keep in mind that it's not about the cracking, torrenting, and downloading of a game, which is what comes to mind when most western gamers think about (or perform) piracy. It's about the market stalls and shopping malls, the hawkers and shopkeepers that furtively hand you an expanding folder filled with xeroxes of game box art.



In the end the article implied that game companies might do well to treat pirates an opportunity, tapping the existing underground economy and selling no-frills copies of games at relative pricing, "relative" being a proportional price based on economic and social realities in the region. For example, a $60 game in the US might be sold for $5-10 in Manila, reflecting economic differences and bringing equity into the equation.

This kind of pricing differentiation already happens with schoolbooks. A $45 dollar college textbook goes for less than $5 in the Philippines, but is printed on newspaper stock and lacks a cover or pictures (for the most part).

In fact, this kind of strategy is exactly why the dreaded region-coding system exists, the one that enrages so many PAL and Asian gamers with delayed releases and other indignities.

There are obviously some concerns with this plan. Is it not unfair to richer gamers to buy the same game for much more where poor people get it for much less? Maybe, but it's what happens with movie tickets (Manila = $3, San Francisco = $13.50 + food).

Won't rich gamers just import the cheapo poor-country games and screw publishers even more? Perhaps. It really comes down to the cost-benefit analysis, and I'm no CFO, as I'm terrible at math (4th grade-level according to a recent neuropsyche test).



It's a sensitive topic, for sure, but what I didn't really didn't expect was the color of some bile sputtered in reaction:

If you cannot afford a game, you are not meant to play it. Just like if you cannot afford a BMW, then you are not meant to drive one.

and:

Perhaps gamers in developing nations should spend some time getting an education and bettering themselves instead of playing video games. All the time wasted playing video games you could have probably learned something useful in the meantime and picked themselves up out of poverty.

What fucking arrogance. We're talking about BUSINESS, and how companies can make more bucks by maybe bending down a bit to let a few of the great unwashed onto the wagon. This isn't an issue of morality or of entitlement, but of economics and the differences in market geographies.

The thought that all this is merely some kind of a rationalization for theft, that developing nations should just up and "develop" themselves up to where they can afford luxuries at your prices is bigoted, elitist, narrow-minded, shortsighted, and frankly quite offensive.

I'd hate to see that same argument used if fucking HEALTH INSURANCE were somehow considered a "luxury". And given some of the discussions going on in America, that may well be the tragic case.



Games are a commodity, not a privilege or a right. Nobody, at any level of income or social status, in any country, "deserves" to own a video game or a video game system. I think everyone understands that fact. Piracy IS a problem and its pervasiveness in the developing world exacts its own costs on society and the development landscape. MMOs are so big and "traditional" games so small in Asia for this reason.

All that's being said is that economic and social realities in the region suggest a different, regionally-oriented business model that allows game providers to, well, PROVIDE.



Edited and reposted for length, added pictures for you tl;dr types.

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