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The Escapist's New Piracy Issue: More Insights Than Excuses, More Revelations Than Rants

The Escapist put out another piracy issue a little while ago.

It blew up as as predictably as most any discussion on piracy does: with partisans on both sides of the argument talking at each other, civil, intelligent discourse slowly drowning in the noise of people simply logging on to copy-paste whatever whatever arguments they had in their ready-to-go text files, barely bothering to read the articles. Not even The Escapist, one of the most intelligent gaming sites out there, is immune to rage, especially on such a complicated and divisive issue.

I myself have begun to get tired of the discussion, and could barely bring myself to give it any attention whatsoever: The Escapist is as known for its melodramatic articles as much as its intelligent ones (there's space enough for both, of course), but in this case I'm glad I chose to read this issue, sacrificing a couple of hours of Persona 4 to read the features, and put up this little rant. Perhaps it's a sign that we shouldn't stop beating this comatose horse.

In any case, that's it for the prologue, time for the reaction.

The articles were quite balanced, and reading them with a reasonably clear mind will leave you with insights on both sides of the discussion, hopefully illuminating just how complex the issue is, and why it deserves more thought than many are giving it.

Even the humorously satirical piece by Rob Zacny, parroting some of the most extreme anti-DRM polemics in the format of a set of forum posts offers much food for thought regarding the motivations of Che Guevara-esque populist pirates, those who download in the name of freedom. Who would've thought that taking an argument to its logical extreme would actually help the discussion?

I normally don't bother to read interview pieces (parroting the company line or talking about your character's 3D polygonal hair isn't all that interesting), but Graeme Virtue's interview with Amiga hacking legend (and film pirate) D-Man2010 is well worth the time spent, particularly his end notes on how D-Man2010's site allowed him to watch many obscure movies he'd never have been able to see in the UK.

Shamus Young's "Experienced Points" column irked me a bit, though. I suppose it couldn't be helped, since it was entitled "Excuses on the High Seas", and I've always leaned towards the pirate side of the issue, given the critical role it played in my life as a young gamer. It lists and takes apart some of the more common pro-pirate statements made by these dastardly villains to justify their actions.

A couple of those points struck me, and I'm self-important enough to react to those in particular:

First off, Young addresses the "Piracy isn't really stealing" argument with:

"This is true. If you pirate a game, you haven't taken anything tangible from the publisher....Piracy is not stealing in the same way that blowing up cars is not murder....In the case of a theater, an art gallery, a concert, or a strip club...If you sneak in, you're still ripping them off, and the fact that you didn't steal the painting or kidnap the stripper does not absolve your shenanigans.

First off, the "blowing up cars" and "kidnapping strippers" argument is spurious. Blowing up a car still denies the owner a tangible product. You can't drive a destroyed car, nor can you view a stripper who has been kidnapped. The "sneaking in" argument is more valid, though, since you are technically not depriving anyone of anything but the price of admission (and possibly seating capacity in the strip club).

The reasoning most relevant to my life Young addresses is "The game isn't available in my country.":

"...this is one of those mushy gray areas that gets complex very quickly once you start talking about the awful tangle that is international copyright laws....Is it wrong to gain access to something which costs money when it is simply impossible to pay for it?....In any case, if you're from a country where major publishers choose not to do business, then you're not part of the "sales lost to pirates" problem that publishers keep wailing about. You're actually part of a completely different problem."

Perfect. It took Young just two paragraphs to illuminate my (and many others') personal experience of the issue, something I failed to do with an angry rant posted in reaction to callous forum dickheads, as well as indirectly highlighting Valve's successes in opening up otherwise inaccessible customer bases through Steam. It also brings to focus an environment commonly ignored in developed-world anti-piracy arguments, as it snakes around the black-and-white, stealing-and-not-stealing moral high ground they occupy.

But wait...what was that about being "part of a completely different problem"? Young never mentioned it, in the article or the comment thread. Since I have yet to leave the rank of Padawan and can't read minds (dammit, Obi-Wan!), I can only guess as to what he was referring to, but I suspect it was the issue tackled by Pedro Franco's article "A Nation of Pirates".

In it, Franco describes "grey market" piracy as seen by the end user in Brazil. Now, this is nothing new. Practically anyone who's lived outside the developed world can attest to this kind of scenery somewhere. It's almost identical, be it in São Paulo or Quezon City, Paulista Center Mall or Virra Mall. The new issue is detailed by Franco in later pages, on the potential ramifications of a culture that, growing up "has seen piracy not just as commonplace, but as the default way of buying a game."

He goes on to bring up said ramifications. Fair enough. Further, Franco is (or will be) an economist. I am not. But where he sees a crisis in the making, I see changes coming. Not just in what games may "make it" (particularly on the PC), but in the buying and selling games, changes that may well be needed to do effective business in places that have no local Gamestop, places where a typical game costs as much as rent. Are these changes we want? I don't know. That's likely for the markets (and history) to determine.

An interesting expansion on what may happen in this changed environment (particularly on the PC), is found in Jordan Deam's piece on indie games and piracy, and how they may actually have a leg up on the big publishers as the business starts to change. This one is especially topical, considering it covers a very of very current contributions to the discussion, such as Reflexive Games' analysis of Ricochet Infinity's DRM and the results of their adjusting it, and the attitudes and insights offered by the creators of indie darlings like Gish, Crayon Physics, World of Goo, and Audiosurf. If there's one piece in this edition you're going to read, it should be this one, as it has the most relevance to the changing face of the PC gaming market, and how we might adapt to this environment.

All in all, I'm of the opinion that this is probably the best set of features ever done on game piracy, among enthusiast and mainstream press alike. It seems untinged by corporate strong-arming (where anti-corporate sentiment is at its highest in generations) or noisome bias on either side of the argument. If only the comment threads could be so civil.
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About Josh Tolentinoone of us since 9:23 PM on 02.07.2007

When not posting about Japanese games or Star Trek, Josh serves as Managing Editor for Japanator, Dtoid's sister site for the best in anime, manga, and cool news from Glorious Nippon.

Crowdfunded games backed:
Pillars of Eternity
Star Citizen
Xbox LIVE:unangbangkay
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Mii code:6258-3610-4242-3684


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