Profit vs. Pirates

Posted: October 2, 2012 by ryanlecocq in Off-topic, Technology

Software piracy has been a hot topic of videogames since the introduction of CD-ROM based systems.  While some limited piracy existed beforehand, the availability of CD burning software and drives turned piracy into something almost anyone could master.  While the gaming industry has claimed piracy has been stealing large chunks of their profits since the late 90s, I haven’t seen this.  In my own experience very few of the gamers I know would bother to pirate software until very recently.  There was always the one kid at school who had a hard drive full of pirated games, but most people still went to the store or bought them on Steam.  Only in the last few years have I seen a lot more people pirating games and often for reasons besides saving some cash.  There have even been a number of incidents where people purchased games on one service or another and were unable to play them due to a bug or network issue.  Those gamers then learned how to steal a game they had already paid for and took their first step down the dark road of piracy.  I’m not writing this article to defend theft of intellectual property, but more to explain the sociology of piracy, which hasn’t changed since the 17th century.


Market Monopoly and Patent Monopoly

Much like today, in the 17th century the media and government would vilify pirates as just a bunch of lazy, dishonest people who wanted to take what they had no right to.  What they didn’t mention was that the government officials had made some deals with the East India Company decades previous that effectively broke the trade system.  A large portion of those lazy, dishonest people used to be hard working, honest small business owners who could no longer afford to sail legitimately.  Others still were military officers who hated their jobs so much they turned pirate.  What I’m getting at is that not unlike today, the big bad 1% of 1650 said: “We can control your money.”  The majority of those pirates were the people who said: “F#*k you, you can.”  Which group do you identify with?

Hopefully a number of modern parallels came to your mind reading that.  In case you’ve been living under a rock for a decade, what companies like EA have done recently is not very dissimilar.  Videogame publishers have decided that they want as much control over your money as possible.  For some, the idea of Origin invading their computer to the deepest possible level is no big worry.  Why not?  They aren’t thieves, they have “nothing to hide.”  Well I hope that’s true my friend, because with Origin on your computer, if I worked at EA, I could turn on your webcam and watch you fap.  Personally I have a huge effing problem with anybody raping my computer’s hippocampus to “protect their intellectual property.”

So there’s your first class of anti-hero pirate.  The crusader.  I myself was once counted among the ranks of those who do illegal things on the internet for a personal moral cause.  Mine was fairness.  It was HD remixes and “Collector’s Editions” that sent me off the map.  The idea of publishers selling often inferior remakes of classic games, while at the same time removing the ability of new consoles to play the originals enraged me.  My quest was to take as many classic games as possible and make them available to everyone in the best possible quality with available technology.  Several years later I was contributing code to highly illegal software directed at stealing retail games.  It’s a slippery slope people, make no mistake.  When you start out angry it’s easy to go to apathy and then one day you find yourself stealing a game you would have gladly paid for and end up not enjoying it.


The Path of Least Resistance.  A phrase used by the innovators of Capitalism BTW.

So shortly after those pirates defied the man by stealing and smuggling, something new came into popularity.  Claiming whole countries and rationalizing it.  Now granted, the Americans and the French had totally legitimate rationalizations for putting down the man.  From this comes Capitalism.  One of the basic principles of Capitalism, that has proved true many times in the past, is that the market will follow the path of least resistance.  The British and French Monarchies were stunting the desire of the people to advance and expand.  Therefore the population, or “market” was forced to drastically alter the conditions in order to flow again.  Like water overflowing a dam.  While this was originally the justification for Capitalism, now you will find proponents of Capitalism decrying the same behavior.

Well, lots of smart people have written lots of stuff about this and we’ve pretty well seen that every system ever used in history has become dysfunctionally corrupt eventually.  I’m not saying smash your tv and run in the streets or anything.  Just that piracy and people resisting the financial system is just a symptom of a societal cycle.  A generation of people aren’t just born without morals every several hundred years or so.  There is no evidence to support that.  What there is mountains of historical evidence to support is that when lots and lots of people feel like they don’t get a fair deal, they start resisting and breaking all sorts of crazy laws they wouldn’t otherwise break.  Every single time the people who have hoarded and then wasted the wealth have tried to use laws and law enforcement to force people to keep paying them, it hasn’t worked.  Many people may not know that King John did not even give up after the signing of the Magna Carta.  He actually had to be repeatedly beaten down by the righteous.  They won’t give up on their own, but they never win.  The founders of Capitalism were right about that, you simply cannot stifle trade.  People want to buy and sell goods at fair prices and establish these prices with fair competition.  When the costs get too out of proportion, things drastically change.  Don’t trust me, dig up your high school history text or something.


So… riot in the streets?

In short: no.  The best thing about this modern age of communication and information exchange is that we don’t even have to cut their heads off or grab the tar and feathers.  The reason these suit-wearing fat cats are groping so hard for your dollars is the fear and confusion that is eating them up.  They don’t understand the current market, so they are lashing out in fear and ignorance.  While a lot of people probably had to live with getting taxed, robbed or killed by those ancient monarchs, things have changed.  The modern consumer is so empowered by simply having internet access, that our aggregate consumer intelligence grows faster than any greedy old fossils could possibly adapt.

You don’t want me to play my game with Korean players on your server?  Too bad, we already made our own while you were still working on your security.  What’s this?  I can’t change this setting in your game?  Yes I can, already done.  Pay you?  No, I don’t think so.  The average consumer can research, understand and surmount the hurdles these companies put up faster than they can put them up.

My feeling is that if you can do something better than I can, I’ll gladly pay you for it.  If you can’t, you should pay me to do it.  So when Blizzard can’t do the most basic game engine fixes competently, why should I pay for their product?  Many games release with bugs that even the most unskilled modder could fix.  This is just plain unacceptable product quality and people will not pay full price for it. That is your explanation for the increase in piracy.  Or at least my opinion.


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