Very nice article, and I pretty much agree with what's said. For better or worse, piracy isn't as black and white as many might like to pretend it is.
On one hand, it's ridiculous to claim that every time something gets pirated, that directly translates into a lost sale (something which the "big guys" like to claim). But on the other hand, I think it's equally silly to claim that piracy doesn't cause any harm. As with all things in life, I think the reality of things falls more into that middle gray area of "a bit of both".
Do people who work hard and deserve to get paid for their efforts make less money, due to piracy, than they would in a perfect world where piracy didn't exist? I would say, absolutely, but not nearly as much as some of the more vocal anti-piracy critics would like to believe. Conversely, does piracy help, in some cases, through publicity and exposure? Of course they do, to various degrees.
The bottom line, IMHO, is that piracy exists, and there's absolutely nothing anybody can do to change that. How prevalent it is, and what gets pirated (and why) can be affected to a degree, but I don't believe piracy can ever truly and completely be eradicated. As such, I think that the best approach to managing the whole piracy issue is not so much to try and stop people from pirating as much as it is to try and give people a reason not to pirate.
Whenever something gets pirated, you have people that would never have paid for the product in the first place; these people are irrelevant and can be ignored. The ones that matter are the people who, under different circumstances, -would- have paid for the product. The question becomes, at this point is "Why did these people chose to pirate, instead of pay?" and "What could have been done differently to convince these people to pay for the product instead of pirate it?".
The answer varies, of course. It might be because the asked-for price was too high, or they're trying to make a (possibly misguided) moral stand, sometimes they just simply want something for free, or whatever other reason they might have.
I think that, for the most part, a lot of piracy could be curtailed by simply giving customers more value for their money (or lowering the cost of something to better reflect the value given). This can be clearly seen with the success of the iTunes store (for music and shows), Netflix (for shows and movies) and Steam (for video games), just to name a few examples. Again, none of these things will ever completely stop piracy, but in all of the examples I've just mentioned, I do believe a lot of people who may have otherwise chosen to pirate something have chosen, instead, to pay for it because they felt that the smaller price asked for a product was closer to what they deemed to be "fair".
I also think that this is most applicable to "big name/mainstream" things, as these are the things which people are most likely to consider to be unfairly priced. It's also these "big name/mainstream" publishers (whether it be for music, video or games) which are most insistent on squeezing as much profit as they can from their products, and who speak loudest against piracy.
As much as I won't go so far as to claim that piracy is -right-, I will say that piracy directed against these greedy dinosaur giants is more -understandable-. Their business practices are misguided and archaic and I do believe that they are, to a degree, "asking for it".
The loudest opponents of piracy love to liken digital piracy to physical theft, and as ridiculous as this may be, it gives us a clear indication of where their heads are at
. It's a simple fact of the digital age that, for the most part, the traditional role of the publisher of physical media is becoming more and more redundant and meaningless. Understandably, they both dislike and fear this. I often wonder if they actually believe what they say, or if they consciously out-right lie. Regardless, though, the simple truth remains that there's a considerable difference between walking into a brick & mortar store and stealing a physical copy of something and simply making a digital one. Off the top of my head, the only case in which digital piracy leads to a -direct- loss of money is when one uses the bandwidth of the "victim" to acquire said pirated product and, in most cases, this is not applicable (piracy, for the most part, being through torrents).
What of the smaller, independent publishers, though? How does piracy affect them?
I honestly don't know, but if I had to take a guess, it would be that, for the most part, it doesn't do that much harm. You might have heard about the World of Goo fiasco
some years back, how the piracy rate was an astounding estimated 90%. But then see what the devs themselves
said about it. So even in the case of "the big bad piracy story" that people keep talking about in regards to indie piracy, the situation's really not that bad, and the devs themselves aren't too worried. That's not to say that pirates aren't complete assholes sometimes, because they totally are
is awesome, btw, and I invite you to check it out; massive update coming soon, too). But I strongly suspect, though, that these are the exception, not the rule.
I suspect that, for the most part, people who end up pirating indies are people who wouldn't buy the game otherwise. Given the fact that indie games are generally rather fairly priced, and that their business practices and distribution models are often quite user-friendly and respectful of their customers, these things all come to mean, in the end, good value for your money.
Take, for example, Humble Bundle piracy
. If someone's not willing to pay even a single penny
for multiple games
, what would you guess the chances are this person would be likely to pay -anything-? I mean, it literally could not be cheaper. "Well, maybe if more games were bundled... -then- it would have been worth a penny, and I'd have paid for it". I mean, come on, really? Even in this case, though, an interesting point is made (quoted from the above link):
Why would you pirate a pay-what-you-want bundle?
So why are people sharing the Humble Bundle, when they could get it just by donating a penny to charity? We can only speculate, but here are some possible reasons:
* Some might want to donate, but it seems a whole lot easier to just click on a hyperlink than it is to enter a credit card number. Sure, it only takes a couple seconds, but for many, this is a few seconds too long. The most successful online stores all allow one-click buying, including Amazon, Steam and iTunes. In the words of one gamer, Steam showed him that he "wasn't cheap, just lazy," and I'm sure he's not alone in that realization.
* Some users may want to share the bundle with their friends, and decide that it's easier to just make one donation for a larger amount than it is to make separate gift donations.
* Some users may live in countries where none of our three processors (PayPal, Google Checkout, and Amazon) are accepted. These users might pay if they could, but they feel that they have no choice but to search for shared copies.
* Some users just want to "stick it to the man", and be edgy and rebellious. It doesn't matter if they're sticking it to indie developers, sick children, and online civil liberties... they're sticking it to someone, so they feel cool.
Some piracy helps, some piracy harms. To what degree it does what, exactly, I don't know. Piracy will always exist, though, and I think that, in the end, the best way to limit the damages done by it is by offering a quality product for a good value. I found a very interesting article
about this issue recently which, I find, perfectly explains the issue (Lars Doucet, the writer of said article, is the lead dev for Defender's Quest
, a rather awesome TD/RPG hybrid, which I also invite you to check out).
The more developers offer good value for a product ("good value" being a mix of price, content, ease of legit acquisition, respect for customers, etc.), the more likely a customer is to pay for something. There will -always- be people who will rather get something for free than to pay for it. Nothing can be changed about that. If someone's not going to buy something, they're not going to buy something. What -can- be affected, though, is to try and convince as many of the "Well, I -might- want to pay for this, depending..." people as possible to actually do so.
On a semi-related side-note, I would argue that used-game sales
are probably more damaging to the game industry than piracy, especially when it comes to "big" or AAA titles.TL;DR
- Piracy is nothing more than a convenient scapegoat for failing & outdated business practices. It does harm the affected industries, but nowhere near as much as some would like us to believe and, in some cases, it actually helps. What's needed is new approaches, not stronger anti-piracy measures.