Digital piracy is an irritating topic to delve into because the vast majority of people who speak out against it don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. Most don’t fact check the ridiculous statistics they use to back their arguments, and the majority of those vehemently against the idea have never pirated anything due to a false holier-than-thou moral code they use to mask the fact that they’re just too tech illiterate to pirate properly. The discussion is littered with the loud voices of people regurgitating ignorant garbage originally voiced by moronic social justice warriors and whiny AAA game publishers.
But don’t take your confirmation bias elsewhere just yet because the other side of the fence is no better. Digital pirates who zealously clamor for net neutrality in fear of losing their steady stream of free digital media are just as ignorant and destructive to the discussion as the aforementioned high-horse riding do-gooders.
That being said, I’m not going to tackle digital piracy as a whole. The subject is too large and complex to make sweeping generalizations that are relevant for every industry. We’re going to focus on video game piracy because I’m a gamer, and I’ll readily admit I’ve pirated more than my fair share of video games over the years.
However, to be fair, I was doing it long before I got into PC gaming.
Pirating Isn’t Just for PC Games
I come from a family well on the lower-end of the socioeconomic ladder, one that’s about as tech savvy as a Luddite let loose in a server room. Don’t get me wrong, my family had a computer and I even played a few games on it as a child, (Any other 90s kids remember Mega Math Blaster?) but our cheap Windows ME computer wasn’t ever a serious gaming option beyond Runescape.
My love of video games was born from consoles, specifically the Sega Genesis and original Playstation. I played everything from Fifa 98 to Final Fantasy VII and beyond. The consoles were my dad’s and I had to beg and plead for every minute of playtime I could get, but I cherished each moment. My love for all things video games grew until I became a teenager, got a job and bought my own console – the Xbox 360. (It was cheaper than the PS3 and in stock, which caused my console loyalty to fly out the window.)
Fast forward to the summer/fall of 2008 and I’m sitting in South Carolina displaced and penniless. I’d recently had to move from Florida, which caused me to lose my door-to-door sales job and all I had left of value was an Xbox 360 and a well-used copy of Gear of War. (It was still in immaculate condition though. Real gamers take care of their games.)
Of course, the games industry didn’t slow down because my life was in shambles. New games were still constantly coming out, but I could no longer afford to buy every game I wanted on launch day, or at all for that matter. I had about $55 left for gaming purposes and every time I turned around there was another game being added to my “want” list.
While I was the most tech savvy person in my family, I wasn’t nearly the tech-head that I am today. I didn’t even have a PC or laptop to work with at the time, so altering my console to play burned games was out of the question. Instead, I found a way to game the system.
Gamestop had – and I believe still has – a 7-day no questions asked return policy for used games. As long as you bring a used game back within 7 days of purchase, you can get all your money and/or credit back to spend on an entirely different game/product your heart desires. For about the next year-and-a-half I used this return policy to play just about every 360 game in existence for less than $60.
It took a few months for the main store I visited to catch on to what I was doing, but they couldn’t stop me. Even in The Middle of Nowhere, South Carolina there are about a billion Gamestops in a 10 mile radius. Whenever the occasional minimum-wage employee would mark a game return receipt to ensure I couldn’t bring the replacement game back again, I’d doodle on it and use my salesmanship know-how to sell, “Oh, I was bored in class and it was the only thing I had to draw on. I’m so sorry! The barcode is still uncovered though…”
Reality Check: You can’t seriously pay someone minimum wage and expect them to give a damn about your business. They’re desperate for a dollar and most people aren’t stupid enough to believe the “we’re a family” or “possible lavish promotion” bullshit that massive corporate entities try to spew. Most minimum wage employees are just there for their paycheck and won’t ask questions about shady return requests as long as you chat them up a bit and put a smile on their face.
The point to this long winded narrative is that I was essentially pirating console games. Gamestop wasn’t making dime, they were just holding on to my $55 as if it were in escrow. There were even moments when I got some of it back as cash, essentially turning the Gamestops around me into a low-deposit banking system.
I’m certainly not the only one who’s done this and Gamestop isn’t the only retailer with an easy-to-abuse return policy. People have been gaming the system for decades and yet the console industry has continued to thrive effortlessly, which is why I find claims of video game piracy ruining the PC gaming industry so puzzling.
Every year there are click-bait articles talking about how digital piracy is ruining the PC gaming industry, and every year these claims are backed by unsubstantiated non-sense because…
You Can’t Prove Piracy’s Impact on the Gaming Industry
You may have noticed a few articles circling around media outlets during the last couple of months claiming, “In 2014, total revenue lost due to pirated games was approximately $74 billion.” The sites making these claims are all citing a report by Tru Optik that apparently no longer exists. After searching the web a bit I finally came across a New York Times article that linked to a Tru Optik pirating report which lead me to a broken download link telling me to visit http://truoptik.com/reports/ – a url that doesn’t exist.
Remember my previous criticism of ignorant regurgitation that kicked this article off? News outlets are some of the worst offenders. How someone can call what they do “news” and quote internet sources/reports without links to the source is beyond me. (If someone finds the mythical Tru Optik report, please send me a link to it.)
The fact of the matter is that we don’t need the report to know such a ridiculous claim is false.
- There’s no way to accurately measure piracy to come up with any sort of approximation. They’re making a somewhat educated guess at best.
- Even if you could prove $74 billion worth of gaming revenue was pirated in 2014, anyone with common sense could tell you that such a figure doesn’t indicate lost revenue.
Just because someone pirates a game doesn’t mean they had any intention to buy it in the first place. That’s like saying someone who gave me a $5 hotdog for free lost $5 of revenue. I don’t really like hotdogs and have only bought maybe a handful of hotdogs throughout my life, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to say “No” to a free hotdog. The generous hotdog giver didn’t lose revenue because I wasn’t going to buy the hotdog in the first place.
Let’s be honest, any anti-piracy advocates who happen across this article have already moved on to find their confirmation bias elsewhere by now. Instead of wasting our time preaching to the choir and disproving ridiculous video game piracy claims, let’s move on.
Why I Don’t Pirate Games and Neither Should You
When I was a broke teenager and first got into PC gaming I pirated just about everything under the sun. It was – and still is – easy and cost effective, but I’m don’t pirate games anymore even though I’m just as broke now as I ever was.
Capitalism is the economic form of democracy, only instead of voting with a ballet you vote using your wallet. Every purchase you make in a capitalistic economy, which is what the vast majority of the world is comprised of, is you placing your vote to see more of whatever it is you purchased.
Too young to care about voting? Then think of your purchase as clicking the Like button on Facebook, or a Reddit upvote.
When you purchase a product, you tell the economy and creators everywhere that you’re interested in seeing more of what you just bought. It’s what you like. It’s what’ll get you to part with your hard-earned dollars.
Money speaks louder than any petition ever will. Pirating a game you like/want deprives you of your voice. It prevents your favorite games from getting sequels and keeps the gaming industry in a creative rut, churning out the same derivative products over and over again.
Can’t afford the game at launch? Get a job, take internet surveys, wait for a Steam sale. Gaming, especially PC gaming, is actually quite affordable for people with budgetary concerns considering how much enjoyment and value gamers get out of their favorite titles.
The truth of the matter is that most of the games pirated are bad games people want to experience but don’t deem worthy enough to purchase, and I can’t fault people for doing that. Personally, I don’t have time to play games I’m not interested in enough to purchase. I can usually wait for those games to be included in a Humble Bundle or become worth only a dollar or two on Steam anyway.
I’m not naïve enough to believe this will stop Timmy the broke teenager from pirating every game he can get his hands on, but I hope it at least makes people on both sides of the issue take a more realistic look at gaming piracy, how it affects the industry, and their stance on the subject. It also felt like something I needed to be open about considering how I plan to move forward with YouTube content creation and possibly streaming in the coming days/weeks.
Until next time, enjoy the games you have and maybe I’ll see you on the servers.