This article expresses Lightmare Studio’s stance – our opinion, on the thorny matter of software piracy.
Whenever one sets out to create entertainment or artistic and cultural work (no matter where you feel videogames should stand in this spectrum), one can right away expect to face a well-known phenomenon: piracy.
With the incredible development of the Internet during the last decade, the sky-rocketing download rates, the growing number of content sharing sites and the massive advent of dematerialization, access to pirated games is easier and quicker than ever.
A lot is being said and written about piracy. According to some, it may be a major cause for poor sales, and, more or less directly, for the increasing price, while justifying the presence of anti-copy protection system, often referred to as DRM (Digital Rights Management).
It is extremely hard to measure the actual damage caused by piracy to sales. An easy yet somewhat theoretic shortcut one could make would be to regard any illegally downloaded copy as a lost sale. But there is an issue here; just as any hasty and obvious conclusion, it is shaky at best, completely false at worst. In order for it to stand, one would need to be absolutely sure that “if any given copy couldn’t be downloaded illegally, then it would definitely be sold”. However, in practice, nothing is less certain.
First, nobody should go for the assumption that any copy downloaded illegally, but more importantly *for free*, could be compared with a purchase, because the latter implies a cost to the player; doing so would mean one regards the price as a perfectly negligible value…and that, of course, wouldn’t be reasonable.
Moreover, in order to actually know whether a person who “would not have been able to pirate the game, would have purchased it” – which might justify the presence of DRM -, one would need to read the mind and intentions of every single “pirate”.
In reality, the answer is by no way evident, even for pirates themselves. Some pirate just to test a bit before buying, others do so just to add a game to their personal culture, without being able or willing to afford it. Some pirate anything available just for the sake of it, regardless of the content’s quality. A good deal among them – most of them? – don’t even beat the games they download illegally. It is unfortunately impossible to quantify who pirates what and for what reason, and it is, therefore, impossible to know who would buy if they had no access to free yet illegal downloads.
Since it is impossible to know that, and since a pirated copy isn’t the same as a lost sale, then it seems obvious to us that one should accept that piracy is simply part of the creative ecosystem. Pirates are there, the game will be pirated, regardless of the actions taken to stop them. Games that sell little are little pirated, games that sell a lot are pirated a lot. That’s how things are.
|â² Suddenly…pirate box art! Note: we’re not actually G4W compliant!|
Enter the DRM problem: should we really try to protect the game? Isn’t a lack of protection an invitation to pirate games? A way of saying: “hey guys, look, I left the door open, just come in and loot my fridge!”? We believe that pirates are not that stupid; they know perfectly well that they don’t pay when they should, and they don’t mix up “DRM-protected, so it’s pirated” and “unprotected, so it’s free”. DRM can’t be justified this way.
What really bothers us with DRM, even the lighter ones, is the risk, however slight it is, that they spoil the experience of an honest buyer, for example if the protection fails to recognize a rightful owner and blocks the game as if it were a “bad pirated copy”. Granted, the risk is more or less tangible depending on the protection systems, but it does exist; just think about the DRM requiring a permanent Internet connection to play…what if the player temporarily loses their connection?
In fact, the rationale behind DRM is deeply flawed in at least one obvious way: pirates systematically bypass those protections…it’s the very purpose of piracy! If anything, honest buyers are going to be annoyed by DRM…pirates less so! Of course, one could argue that even though DRM might sometimes annoy some honest buyers, it’s a small sacrifice if it stops pirates from playing.
Well…that’s quite not the way we see things. Even if it were true – which is yet to prove, it would amount to handcuff everyone “just in case” there might be, hidden among the crowd, an undefined number of potential criminals. This also means that there is a chance to “shoot down an innocent” while trying to fight an indistinguishable enemy in unknown numbers. And this somewhat amounts to criminalize all the players, because behind any of them a villainous pirate might be hiding. This is the very reason why “Beware Planet Earth!” is completely DRM-free. Speaking of which, if you ever pirate the game – and we do invite you to purchase it instead :p -, beware of the suspicious links mentioning “Beware Planet Earth!+crack”! No DRM also means no need for any crack!
|â² Seems legit.|
Much in the same way, it actually feels wrong to us to criminalize systematically genuine pirates, because you can never tell the intentions behind the action. Don’t get us wrong: piracy IS a violation of law and this article is in no way an apology. But we can also imagine that, in a way, a pirate is also a customer. A customer who kind of “forgot” to pay, true. But a customer anyway.
It’s a simple matter of interpretation; the fact is, a pirate, out there, owns a copy of a given game, which they didn’t pay for. Of course we could regard them as a thief, hunt them down for being one, punish them, make them feel guilty or…on the contrary accept this fact and regard them as a potential customer instead, who hasn’t paid for the game yet, but is invited to do so. A pirate may also help the game get sold and known by talking about it if they liked it.
For the one true enemy for developers, be they independent or not, is the lack of fame. Lack of publicity. Oblivion. Explaining a commercial failure by piracy would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. What follows in the way we see things may, we admit, be quite unexpected: we believe that piracy may have a definite positive effect. If oblivion is an enemy worse than piracy – and we strongly believe it is – then any content creator should wish for their work to be played and enjoyed by as many people as possible, refraining to hunt down and hate those who do without paying. They should rather look for solutions to convince pirates not to pirate, not through fear, but through giving them the desire not to do so.
The money we get from the purchased copies is mostly a way to keep on doing what we love most; we have no doubt that pirates are well aware of that. We are content creators, entertainment makers: sure we hope to make a living out of the games we make, but our primary goal is to provide something for the players to enjoy. If we must make a choice between a pirate and a paying customer, we will obviously go for the customer, if only for the moral investment behind the purchase. But if we must choose between a pirate who plays and enjoys our games, and a person who will never play them, then we will go for the pirate.
That is why we read user comments on torrent sites from which “Beware Planet Earth!” can be downloaded illegally, and that we do appreciate positive comments, even though they don’t come from paying customers. Much in the same way, we do not request these sites to remove illegal torrent links.
Maybe we are swimming against the tide and, someday, we may have to pay the price for this stance. But we are confident that pirates take responsibility for their actions when they download illegally, and that they will put some money in our work if they respect it and deem it good. Some comments on torrent sites we visited strengthen our belief; we could read more than once comments like “This game’s really good, I think I’m going to buy it to support the dev!”
Too long, didn’t read? To sum it up:
- Damage done by piracy to sales can’t be quantified, because it would require knowing whether each pirate would buy the game if they couldn’t pirate it, and therefore, it would require to read minds.
- If oblivion is a developer’s true enemy, they must fight it before (instead of?) fighting piracy.
- Moreover, pirates may not be the enemies one may think they are. They can actively contribute to the game’s fame and, even as customers, they are not “permanently lost”. This is why Lightmare Studio doesn’t join the witch-hunt on torrent websites.
- There is a chance for DRM to annoy rightful owners, while pirates will bypass them without thinking twice about it. This is why “Beware Planet Earth!” is completely DRM-free.
|â² Depends on the number of seeders, I guess.|