Inspired by an article on Slashdot about PC Gaming piracy tonight, I feel but compelled to write my own experience and thoughts about the subject down, in public. I hate to say it but in today's entertainment industry there is very little reason to pay for absolutely anything that can be otherwise obtained without the often frustrating, time consuming, and occasionally dishonest direct exchange of funds.
Game developers and publishers alike, as well as record companies, Hollywood, and book publishers have lost the respect of Generation Y necessary to perpetuate the financial future of their industries. There is literally nothing worth buying in the entertainment industry at this point. The movies suck and at the best are half decent. We as a consumer base desire movies and television not because of their content, but because 1080p looks very pretty on our expensive televisions. One key element I'm trying to convey is the lack of motivation for us to buy these things. Twenty years ago electronic gaming was new and interesting and games were awesome because the game play was awesome. At this point in time, so many games made are following basic cookie cutter formulas, and rehashing the same experiences we as gamers have had in tens if not hundreds of games before, that they are no longer entertainment: they're a chore. I refer to this while playing a new game by making statements such as "Oh sweet I've reached the Super Mario level" or "Hey let's play Super Mario: The Warrior Within" for example. Surely you can figure out what this means: the coming level/part of the game is nothing but an exact rehash of Mario with some graphical updates and minor modifications.
In addition to these games actually being bad or reruns, the gaming industry is plagued by a ubiquitous, often misinformed and misguided gaming-specific media. My favorite two awful gaming media giants are IGN and Gamespot, a decision I hope other people can understand, at least other gamers, be they PC or console. Media have ruined PC gaming in so many ways I cannot count them at this point in time without literally searching through twenty years of global records. One common and, in my opinion, adorable route taken by the media to slay all that we love is the standard "Give this game a shitty review" routine. Gamespot rates a game with a 3.5 out of 10 score, abhorring it as horrible, cliché, glitchy, uninspired, or any of their other token phrases. Recently, in the past few years, Gamespot has added the ability for users to additionally rate and score the reviewed titles, even to review the games themselves. These reviews and scores are easily displayed on the web page for comparison by intelligent consumers and window shoppers alike, and to further prove my point, the user score is almost always higher than the score given by the Gamespot staff, anywhere between a decimal point and 5 points higher than Gamespot. Eventually, someone makes the mistake of reading Gamespot, despite their hesitancy learned through experience to take anything they say at more than face value, and the majority of the time, regardless of the potential conflicting editorials about the game, said person puts in absolutely no more effort to experience the game than to finish reading the review and say to themselves "You're right, fuck that game." The first infected mind spreads their opinion to their gamer friends and potential gaming colleagues, a fair amount of which will agree, also without trying the game, that it sucks, until it grows into a giant mass of eunuchs. Alternatively, perhaps some of these gamers do try the game, and they then decide it sucks, for whatever reason. The ending is identical.
Potentially worse than the effect of gaming networks attempting to do their jobs, albeit poorly because they are ultimately misinformed and out of touch with the gaming industry, is the tendency of the media to Judas the upcoming titles. Certain titles, sometimes the majority of upcoming games, are given entirely too much media attention, whether it be on the internet, television, radio, movie commercials, gaming conventions or press events. Despite my hatred for people like Michael "Savage" and Sean Hannity in the media, I have to acknowledge my frequent alignment with them and take a saying right from the Savage Nation:
The gaming media is worthless, in every aspect of the word. The media builds games up in perpetuum until they come out and either
a) The media, who gave this game so much attention and nurtured its potential consumer base over the edge of their seats waiting for its release, ends up giving the game a bad review
b) The game actually does end up sucking and is systematically crucified by the entire community, potentially ruining or setting back a developer.
c) The developers pay so much attention to the gaming masses in order to ultimately deliver what every developer hopes will be that incredible, genre-slaying Horseman of entertainment revolution that they end up re-examining the almost finished game they have made and deeming it unfit for production, thereafter going straight back to the drawing board for god knows how many years it takes. Regardless of these outcomes, they generally lead to the same problem: the gamers are disappointed in a game, a system, or a developer.
I can name several games to which this has happened only recently. Guitar Hero World Tour: GH4 was supposed to be awesome. How could it be anything less in consideration of the Guitar Hero track record? How could it suck when it was clear with the GH3 track list and DLC that this company was headed in the right direction? Gamespot (I say Gamespot more because I unfortunately trust them more than IGN, and hate them less) built the hell out of this game, convincing us , even AFTER knowing the track listing, it would be so much cooler than Rock Band that it would make the true champion of the rhythm game genre look like France in World War 2. It was guaranteed both by the media and by Blizzard Activision that the track list was badass and represented rock fans of all ages, that the song creator was rich and robust yet masterable by gamers, and that the game play would bring interesting new twists.
Rock Band 2 came out first, and everyone rushed to buy it the second the actual disc came out, giving zero shits about the new instruments yet. As the time between the release of GH and RB2 hastened to a close, it became clear that RB2 was the king of rhythm games and there was very little room left for Guitar Hero 4. Regardless, as is often the case, franchise and developer loyalties among the consumers run only skin deep, and many people, like my friends and I, made our journeys to obtain Guitar Hero 4 ( I'm aware it's not "4" but you as well as any other competent gamer knows it is ). At first the game was cool, the new open strum bass notes were a twist to the bass parts in Rock Band which were almost entirely easy (ignoring the fact that bass in real life is not necessarily hard anyway), but it became quickly apparent through multiple things in the game that it was for lack of any better terms, what we in the gaming world call "retarded". The star power activation for the drum-set is completely retarded as you have to hit the two middle pads at the same time, which screws up people who otherwise would 100% every song, the bass lines are in purple as opposed to rock bands bright orange, which is PROVEN to be hard for the human eye to discern, when put against the dark background in Guitar Hero. It is true the track background can be changed if you go into the intensely detailed and rich instrument customization option, which I and I hope others found to be extremely cool, although ultimately irrelevant to the experience of the game. Additionally, many of the DLC songs so far have made me, and I hope other people, consider the game almost worth purchasing (although I did not pay for it, friends did), especially the three Tool songs, although I personally would have immediately shot down Schism as an option and picked a song that was, in relative terms, good (This is to say that Schism is a good song, but, as with every radio single by every band, it obtains a whorish aura and falls from grace, whereas other songs from the album were already better, but are now immensely better). Ultimately, Guitar Hero 4 is a failure, because it has way too many songs from Rock Band 1 and 2 and the old Guitar Hero's, because the songs are, like always. ,mediocre choices, which I understand can be problematic in regards to choosing "better" songs as detailed in the magazine articles about how our songs come to be in these games. Regardless, this is now a rock game. No one, NO ONE, in America or the better parts of the globe, when they think the amazing world-changing instrument that is the guitar, is hearing Billy Ray Cyrus and Hannah Montana in their head. They're hearing Metallica, The Beatles, Hendrix, AC/DC, The Eagles, George Thurgood, etc. So dispense with the politically correct bullshit please and cater these games towards the audience that is playing them: people listening to Metal, to Hard Rock, to Ska, to real music, and perhaps the franchise will survive.
With the brutal but brief review of Guitar Hero 4 out of the way, it becomes apparent that the problem is not that people are "stealing" games, the problem is truly that the games are no longer worth dropping between sixty and three hundred dollars on. Three hundred dollars, even sixty dollars, can buy the discerning, experienced consumer infinitely more entertainment than some of the coaster's coming in these jewel-cases.
Now that the problem is out in the open, I'd prefer to change subjects to another element of the piracy issue. The events occurring every day all around the globe in this year and this century in regards to the illegal acquisition of copyright protected software are by no means defined under the collegiate parameters of the word pirate, or piracy. To illustrate this literally is a picture floating around the internet, although it is a little off the mark.
More accurately, Piracy is Not Theft, it's Copying, or sharing, whatever term you want to use to try and justify our actions. Piracy has only recently, in the lifetimes of our parents, been redefined to include this "dilemma" faced today:
–noun, plural -cies.
practice of a pirate; robbery or illegal violence at sea.
the unauthorized reproduction or use of a copyrighted book, recording, television program, patented invention, trademarked product, etc.: The record industry is beset with piracy.
Also called stream capture. Geology. Diversion of the upper part of one stream by the headward growth of another.
The United States Copyright Office as a functional, central and organized institution was not firmly established until 1870. What was copying referred as back then? Where were laws to protect authors, and artists, the only true communicators with an empirical claim, under best of circumstances, to their ideas, for the first four centuries of America? Even more recently, the VCR was not invented until 1971, and the Japanese did not sell the VHS in America until June of 1977. The Government didn't start bitching about file piracy until the internet became the most important thing in the world. Sure, every VHS tape had an FBI warning on it outlining the potential fees and legal repercussions of unauthorized copying and redistribution of copyright protected material, but they also approved the VHS copyright. The United States government authorized the sale of blank VHS tapes, which were a complementary good to VCR systems, to everyday consumers. The sole purpose of these VHS tapes was the unauthorized reproduction of copyright protected material by the average American consumer; they were explicitly informed of this product function when approached by the Victor Company for patent information. With history in mind, "file" piracy has been a comfort, a luxury, of the American lifestyle since before my generation was even conceived. Before your parents ever even met it was perfectly normal for people to record TV shows and records and 8-tracks that they missed on TV or had never heard before. We are an entire generation of college students raised with the ability to not miss radio broadcasts, TV shows, TV movies, access any movie we want any time we want for an irrelevant fee, because our parents started the trend when the Commies were still all over the place waiting to kill us, and the government and industries have waited until now, 30 + years after the fact, to raise hell about it. In fact, not only did the government personally oversee the legalization of a product intended solely to break the law, which was introduced by a foreign country, but they did it again. TiVo Inc. revolutionized the trend of television piracy when in September of 1999; they released another product, a VCR on steroids, to the American public. Not only could the TiVo record shows without you controlling it, it had a damn hard drive, meaning you could fit an entire shelf of VHS tapes and probably more on a hard drive inside of this TiVo that you couldn't even see and chances were, if you bought a TiVo, you were too technologically incompetent to even realize how the box was recording and storing shows, making it even worse that you were illegally recording shows and storing them without realizing it was, on principle, illegal.
TiVo continues to operate at this second and ultimately has set the trend for every digital television media corporation to provide its customers with the latest technology and abilities. Every company offers their own DVR with their service at this point: Dish network, AOL Time Warner, DirecTV, etc. The fact that these companies maintain a farcical control over the operation of their DVR systems by manipulating user access through the direct use of the company's GUI and hardware does not in any way change the reality of a DVR system: You are recording shows onto a hard drive, storing them for later use, and if you go the extra mile to actively participate in file piracy on the internet, redistributing the material through the torrent network to everyone else participating in file piracy on the other end(s).
However, because programmers go through years of college and work experience in what we claim is an "intricate and difficult field" in comparison to actors and producers and musical artists, whose pleads, often made solely by the publishers on the basis of profit loss, it's okay to copy an actor's life work but god forbid you steal that application: you're a cock if you do, and we'll put you in jail and your children if they're ever born. One thing must be clarified about software piracy. No one is walking into a Best Buy and literally shoplifting Windows Vista, or Spore, or NOD32. A few people may be, but the crusade is not against the people with the testicular fortitude and Sneak skill high enough to ninja software right in public. The crusade in this case is against the people sitting in their houses or their college dorms or in a Panera who are interested in playing Will Wright's new game because they have come, over the past 20 years, to trust absolutely in his ability to make an inexplicably entertaining piece of software, software which in this specific case people are likely stealing and then buying it later anyway, or have paid for previous titles and are waiting to determine the value of the new one. This leads to one very interesting and legitimate argument for and against piracy.
Many people, myself included on almost all bases, choose to preemptively "pirate" games, or software, in order to determine their value. Most games and programs come with a trial period, however they are gimped, crippled versions of the full product, which can in absolutely NO way or shape indicate to the rational and experienced computer user or gamer the efficiency and value of the full product. In lieu of a reasonable amount of time to try an application out, we as file pirates don our sabres, feed our parrots, and re-adjust our eye patches as we opt to steal this application and use it unabated until we have learned or come to appreciate it, at which point it is my firm belief every last gamer would be more than willing to pay for at least one copy of the aforementioned software. In many cases, these people do go out and buy the software, or the game, or the new album, or the movie, because they have determined through full prior and risk-free experience with the product that it is worth the ridiculous price tag attached to its packaging, in most scenarios. In general, the pirating community believes as a principle that if you own a physical, legally obtained copy of a product, it's perfectly acceptable to download another copy for backup or record keeping purposes. Thus, many computer users end up pirating first and buying it second. If someone asks for the receipt……"ehh, it must have gotten lost somewhere, I don't know when I bought it."
Unfortunately, the vast majority of file pirates really are just that: pirates. People who want something for free, are disrespectful enough to not even enjoy the product they just obtained effortlessly, without using gasoline, without exchanging any other money than to pay for the internet bill, assuming they even have an internet bill. It is these people, these people who benefit off of the work of others without so much as a thank you, and who even have the audacity in some circumstances to critique and openly talk trash about products they didn't even purchase the rights to be counted as a consumer of, who I adamantly agree upon referring to as pirates. I would go so far as to definitively label them thieves, crooks, douche bags, and asshats.
As for myself, I would fall in between categories. I've pirated an excessive amount of electronic entertainment: anyone who would be truly considered, in my opinion, to be a file pirate, is someone who has pirated an excessive amount. Unfortunately for the legal safety of all downloaders, the government does not share the same views of justice and reciprocity as I do on the subject of legal violations, specifically copyright violation. However, I also own as much of a percentage of what I've copied as I possibly can. For example, there was a point where I owned an electronic copy of every Megadeth CD ever made, but only three of their physical albums. When I finally had the opportunity to get on the internet and purchase things, which in all proven circumstances takes exponentially longer to do than download them, amidst working 70 hours a week, I found a great website and purchased every last damn CD they made at about six dollars apiece. It may not have been the usual twenty dollar rip-off you find at the mall, or thirteen dollars at a best buy, but I certainly paid for them and they certainly were not black market copies.
It seems absurd to me that in articles claiming to delve into the mind of the file pirate, to get to the core of PC gaming's rotten disease eating it from within, the culprit is never considered to be the gaming industry, the developer, the publisher, and the media. Activision and Blizzard and Microsoft and Id software and every other company are composed entirely of angels, of people who have never done anything wrong in their lives, and have made absolutely zero design oversights. People who have never once written a bad line of code, never once given the bounding box for a world object the stupidest fucking dimensions possible. Companies full of people who have never, not once, looked at a successful game made a decade ago and said to their development team "Take that, and put it in our game."
Games these days suck. It's not that hard of a concept to wrap your mind around whether you're a 27 year Blizzard employee or a veteran of Frogger who shakes your head in contempt at the nonsense the kids are playing. I'm not saying all games suck – In fact, I'm not even saying most games suck, or that many individual games suck in their entirety. Games in the 21st century just collectively suck. Don't misunderstand me – I love almost all games. PC games especially. Oblivion, Fallout 3, Half-Life 1 & 2, the Total War series, Warcraft, Starcraft, Command and Conquer, Sim Anything, Doom – you name it, I probably love that game too. The problem is the PC market is just as guilty as the console market of falling into the pit of regurgitation and sequels. Game developers are awful about this – and after all, can you blame them? These are real life developers – their children and their families and their kittens are healthy based on how much money they make, which is based on how well their company fares. Developers in this market state are increasingly resistant to change, to straying too far from the pack. It's proven that risk yields profit, and in some cases, games which have taken giant leaps from the mainstream have been majorly successful. If you had asked anyone in the 90's what the best selling computer game in all of history would be, not one person, not even Will Wright himself would speak confidently about an incredibly complex version of Tamagotchi being the best selling game ever.
Regardless of proven results, game developers are not eager to take drastic steps away from the norms of PC gaming. Whereas many experiments such as the Sims have succeeded beyond imagination, there are a disproportionate amount of games that have failed miserably and been absolutely crucified by the electronic media for their attempt at being different. It's a very delicate balance which is very hard to achieve, even for the extremely talented developers working all across the field at companies like Square Enix and Blizzard and Bethesda, to name a few. Subsequently, the way Europe fell into fighting a 19th century war with 20th century weapons, the gaming industry is fighting a battle for control of 21st century limbic systems with ideas that went stale in the 1990's, and unfortunately many of those limbic systems know those ideas went stale. It is for this reason that the vast majority of titles released continue to be sequels or alternative renditions of proven, ancient gaming franchises.
For example, Blizzard released Diablo II in 2000 and Warcraft 3 in 2002, games that remained for the most part unchanged from their predecessors, although it is imperative to note that Warcraft 3 forever changed the face of real-time strategy games with the introduction of true Hero units, and the proper implementation of technology levels, although this was already existent in games like Age of Empires. In 2004 Blizzard released the much anticipated "sequel" to Warcraft 3, the World of Warcraft, which transcended the franchise entirely from a strategy game to a tactical multiplayer RPG, a step which unexpectedly raped and pillaged the massively multiplayer online gaming world and assimilated it's dedicated fantasy nerds to fight for the Blizzard army, another risky event which ultimately landed Blizzard on the throne of the online gaming empire. However, despite this leap forward (although I have much criticism to pass out on this subject, I hardly consider WoW to be innovative or different from the games before it), Blizzard continues to work on Starcraft 2, which will be exactly like Starcraft with updated graphics, and Diablo III, another carbon copy of Diablo II with some very minor game play changes. Additionally, Blizzard is working on a "secret" project, which although many hope will be an entirely new gaming franchise, many others are convinced this game will be World of Starcraft, an idea that I, if no one else, think is absolutely horrible – but that's the risk they are taking to make something successful and different.
Just as Blizzard does, very few companies are trying anything different. I've mentioned the homogenous rhythm gaming genre, the PC real-time strategy gaming genre, and there's no need to even mention shooters. Every shooter has been the same since Doom and Wolfenstien; they will be the same until the Earth melts. That leaves very little room for the gaming industry to stretch their legs and take up what Meebo refers to as "Hack Week" – working on something else, something different. The only gaming genre that appears to have any room left for growth is Wright's own Simulation genre. As far as I'm concerned, the only cool thing I've heard all year came from the Sim genre. A game I eagerly looked forward to years and years ago when I installed SimCity 3000 is getting its second chance in the next rendition of The Sims. For those that don't know what I'm talking about, Maxis was working on a project in the SimCity 3 days called SimVille – it was to be SimCity on a small town scale, in which your Sims walked around and interacted with one another the way they do now in the Sims, but also providing you the elements of SimCity such as town building and management and ultimately, more godly powers than the Sims allows. I read in an article about the Sims 3 that the field will now be open – your Sims can wonder freely around the "neighborhood" and interact with the rest of the denizens without loading screens. That's one giant step for the Sims, and potentially one massive leap for the gaming industry. One thing that has always plagued games is the loading screen. As the years have gone by, loading times and locations and screens have gotten much better, although in some cases worse, but to play a game without ever having to wait for it to load – that would be the most important thing ever to happen to PC gaming, in fact the entire gaming industry as a whole. Unfortunately, in my expert opinion as a veteran gamer, a veteran file pirate, and an intermediate software programmer, I feel as if the PC Gaming industry has very, very little else going for it aside from the innovations of Will Wright and a few less popular creative celebrities.
As if the lacking inspiration on the software development side of PC Gaming wasn't enough of a deterrent to legitimately paying for software, PC Gaming also carries with it the burden of the PC hardware industry. The unfortunate truth, for the pockets of hardware CEOs at least, lies in the reality that PC hardware is expensive. There are points at which, in the latter half of the year, every year since I have started building computers, the price of computer hardware decreases drastically. Terabyte Western Digital hard drives were $69.99 a piece on Tiger Direct not more than 2 months ago, for example. Starting in the summer and fluctuating up and down until the New Year, the price of hardware does drop to affordable prices. However, the nature of the gaming business makes it hard to keep up with the latest games, assuming you tolerate nothing less than insane performance out of your gaming rig. As a consequence, people have less money to spend on games because they just paid a thousand dollars for a processor, for example. True, these games can now run on relatively shitty hardware, but they do not run at a frame rate or with an image quality that is remotely enjoyable by people who could play games on a console for less money with comparably better performance.
It is for these reasons that PC gaming piracy runs rampant. Even with the knowledge that torrenting a game prevents you 9 out of 10 times from ever being able to play it online and kill people who are actually sitting somewhere at a computer just like you are thousands of miles away, which is the real appeal of PC gaming, there are little to no incentives for people to pay for games that they are not 100% sure will be worth the fifty or sixty dollars they will spend on them. On top of the monetary issue, the negative externalities of paying for the games are potentially more disastrous than losing sixty dollars. Sleep, girlfriends, sex, food, studying, and real life all have the potential to fall prey to PC gaming, and on a bright side, considering that pirating frequently prevents you from fully enjoying the game, not paying for the game potentially preserves what could be labeled as responsible citizens of our society. Regardless, game piracy will not stop until the gaming industry presents a respectable front to its consumers, and speaking as a pirate gamer, I don't believe it will happen sooner than later. As a gamer and a pirate, I must state that I look forward to only two games next year : Resident Evil 5 and Empire : Total War, and as a pirate, I will definitely pay $100 for both of those games, not to mention the console, and the hardware, to be able to play them. I think I'll torrent the rest.