Today I'm going to be asking a simple question: Does all piracy necessarily harm the industry? First, let's get the obvious cases out of the way...
I'm going to define modern piracy here as the piracy of anything which is currently available for sale somewhere, be it the Humble Indie Bundle or Fifty PS3 games now that the authenticity key's been cracked. And let's be honest, here. This one has a simple answer: Yes. You're getting for free via illicit means a product that the men and women of the industry are currently depending on for their livelihood. If nobody bought any games, the whole industry would go to pot.
You can't justify it. Sorry.
I can certainly understand why you do it if you live in Brazil or someplace where the cost of the products is ludicrously expensive, but it's still harming the industry where you are. There's a reason that the product is so expensive there, and it's partly because nobody is buying games.
And if you're living in North America or any of the other three primary target areas where the cost more or less balances with the average income, you've got no excuse. Feel free to act superior about how you get your games free instead of buying them like the rest of us "morons". I'm very happy for you. Perhaps you do it because you only work a minimum wage, part-time job. Perhaps you do it simply because you can. However, the rhetoric that you're not "really" harming things because you wouldn't have bought the game anyway is fucking moronic and you need to stop hiding behind it for three reasons.
You've already bought the fucking console. Even the cheapest currently-available console costs multiple-times what a game for it costs, whether you buy the console new or used. The same holds true for a computer capable of running most of the games on Steam: If you've got the cash to pick up the platform, you've got the cash to actually purchase your games legitimately, even if it's used. Saying you bought the console and didn't intend to buy any games for it is one of the stupidest fucking things I've ever heard, especially from people who typically try to defend their act with the fact they're on a budget.
Buying used does, despite what publishers would like to tell you, support the industry and it's not the fucking same if you choose to pirate instead. The amount of used games on the market are only there because they were once purchased NEW. If the demand for used games goes up, well, basic supply and demand dictates that the price would go up in response. If the price rises a little more for used games, there's a certain demographic which would then choose to start purchasing their games new instead of used.
You're fucking with the statistics for the console's sales figures. Every pirate for each console means that the attach rate goes down for that console. Attach rates directly impact which console developers choose to develop for, since a higher attach rate means consumers are buying more games for THAT console than are doing so for the competition, which can effect some studios which can only afford to develop for one console. It's pretty simple math at that point.
(As an aside, let me just say that the attach rate for the Xbox 360 astonishes me, given the ease of piracy for that system)
To conclude, fuck all modern pirates very much. My only solace is that one day it's going to catch up to you. Either you're going to get yourself banned from online play at best, or at worst you'll be staring a lawsuit in the face you've got no way to win which sets you right the fuck back to square one. Either way, you brought it on yourself.
My definition here is for people who are willing to pirate anything which is, while not strictly speaking available in stores, definitely was available within recent memory. Essentially these are the campers: "Okay, so the Xbox 360 just launched? Okay, that means open season on Xbox games in six months!"
Like modern pirates, I have little use for these bastards since they're harming the industry to a certain degree as well. They're not downloading a title they played as a kid, they're downloading one that they had their eye on a couple years ago, and now that it's free, hey, let's get this fucking party started!
My main issue with these pirates is the fact they're waiting until just after they could support the used games industry and download their titles for free. If they've got computers capable of running the emulation for a last-gen console or they were able to afford the consoles to mod, again, they had the money to actually pay for their gaming.
This one's a simple definition: These are the guys who are pirating stuff that's at least two or three generations back and at least ten to fifteen years old. Literally stuff that is no longer available in anything but the rarest games shop and on eBay. These are the guys who play SNES roms and the like.
It's hard to call these people harmful to the industry. Certainly they don't help it by any stretch, but it's difficult to argue that they harm it. Argue all you like about how it technically is piracy, but... At the end of the day, there is literally no way to actually go out and pick up an old NES or SNES game and purchase it new (with the exception of eBay, which still doesn't profit the company who made it).
For those who can't afford a modern console, there's no way for them to purchase a legitimate copy of, say, Mario 64 which supports Nintendo. It's unfortunate, but there it is. While you can debate the ethics of pirating old games as much as you like, it's hard to argue that someone who literally can't afford to support the industry and isn't pirating modern games is doing anything to harm it.
For those who can afford a modern console and choose not to pirate, and instead buy their games new... Well, they're supporting the industry, right? For example, this year I "pirated" a translated Seiken Densetsu 3 rom, but also bought Final Fantasy XIII, Dragon Quest IX, and Nier (among others). Can you really argue that Square Enix has been, on the whole, harmed by my actions? Moreover, if I have the original SNES copy of Chrono Trigger (which can no longer save) and instead choose to emulate it rather than pick it up on Nintendo DS, isn't that simply my business rather than me "harming the industry?"
Don't get me wrong. Nothing said is going to change me booting up Chrono Trigger on my laptop and playing through another New Game+ on occasion or running my copy of Metal Gear through some sexy anti-aliasing and resolution boost. But to be honest, I'm curious. How do my own perceptions overlap with yours?
Do you really see pirating, say, an SNES game as just as bad as pirating a copy of Call of Duty: Black Ops? If so, can you actually justify it beyond "Piracy is piracy?" I hope that here, I've given ample reasoning for my own stance on emulation, piracy, and the myriad moral dilemmas it presents. I'm interested in hearing your own.
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