Piracy is a form of marketing?

“Yar! Shiver me timbers! I’ve gotta fierce case of the scurvy and me gums are darker than Davey Jones‘ locker!”

Of course, that kind of piracy doesn’t help anyone (other than the Spanish circa 1640), but Gamasutra is running a very interesting opinion piece regarding a less romanticized form of piracy: IP piracy. 

The December 2006 issue of Game Developer magazine ran an article proclaiming the utter horrors of game piracy (for which there is no online link, sorry), and how it is devastating the industry. That seems to be the common argument, and we all hear that almost constantly from sources such as EA, the RIAA and the MPAA. Surprisingly, programmer McKay Salisbury (a lesser man would make a joke about how delicious his last name is), wrote in a response piece claiming that piracy is actually a very effective form of marketing for game companies and that game companies and IP holders in general are doing themselves a dis-service by hunting down these “pirates” and forcing them to “walk the plank”.

Hit the jump for more from Mr. Salisbury, and probably more pirate jokes. Yar. 

When I was a kid of around 15, I was living in the lower end of the middle class. I tried to get my family computer upgraded through whatever means possible. But purchasing a new game at $50 wasn’t feasible for myself, I didn’t have a job, and I might be able to get one or two for Christmas or my birthday. A friend of mine had a geek dad, who bought a bunch of games, and that was my exposure to them. I would play a little at his house, but I didn’t have the opportunity to play them at my house, so I pirated.

I think we can all see the sense in this. How many younger kids have access to tons and tons of money to go out and buy $50 games every week or so? Very few. Piracy (and the enabling powers of the internet) certainly aids in the exposure of games that otherwise wouldn’t be played.

The more glaring example is WarCraft 2. Sure, I played hundreds of sessions of the game using a pirated copy. Blizzard lost $80 on that sale (WC2, and the expansion). But that game has changed my life. It got me addicted to strategy games, and I spent countless hours playing. Then I heard about this new game Blizzard was releasing called StarCraft. Wow, It’s supposed to be like WarCraft in space, but with 3 races, and they’re so distinct, and….

Needless to say, I bought StarCraft on opening day (collectors edition packaging) (from the store I worked at ($45)) and played it losing sleep, and I was addicted. Brood Wars came out, and I got it opening day too ($27). And we played that game so much. Later, when the StarCraft Battlechest came out (at $50 for both SC and BW), I bought another copy for an additional disc to play with, and to install it on another computer (let’s say $40 to be on the generous side).

When it dropped to $20, I bought another, and I don’t know how many copies I gave away as gifts, Since then, I’ve probably purchased about 6 copies of StarCraft and Brood Wars. I still play all the time, and still win local tournaments occasionally. They eventually released a WarCraft 2 Battle.Net Edition, and I bought that for $30 (partially because I still didn’t own a legal copy of WC2, I figured that now was as good a time as any). WarCraft III came out, and the hero units looked cool, so I purchased the collectors edition of WC3, at probably $70, and the expansion ($30?).

I didn’t like it as much, but I did eventually pick up another copy of the WC3 Battlechest for a second computer at $40. Then World of WarCraft came out. $50 on it, and how many months of playing since release? I’d estimate that it’s about $500 in software alone from Blizzard. This doesn’t count the soundtracks, the action figures, the DVDs, the posters, the tickets to BlizzCon, or the months of game time on WoW, or the friends I’ve addicted to Blizzard in the interim. 

Without piracy, he never would have played Warcraft. Thanks to piracy, though, he has played and loved the entire series, which lead to him gifting copies to friends and relatives, and increased sales for Blizzard.

Sure, you could say that not all companies make games as fantastic and addictive as Blizzard, but, in the end, isn’t that their fault? If they made better games, perhaps the theoretical sales slump that piracy is causing wouldn’t exist in the first place. Oh, and that goes double for Hollywood and the Record Industry; if you guys didn’t rehash the same shit we heard 2 years ago with every new release, people might be a bit more likely to want to support you.

In closing, I would like to propose that we heed the immortal words of Guybrush Threepwood who once said; “How appropriate. You fight like a cow.” 

Earnest Cavalli
I'm Nex. I used to work here but my love of cash led me to take a gig with Wired. I still keep an eye on the 'toid, but to see what I'm really up to, you should either hit up my Vox or go have a look at the Wired media empire.