Category Archives: Piracy

Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic, problems launching, problems playing, and windows 7

This drove me completely freaking crazy for the past few days. Hopefully my pain can help somebody else.

After dealing with the incredible disappointment of Elemental, Stardock’s newest game (a subject I will probably go into further detail on the another time), I decided to break out Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic. Continue reading

How the middle-class pirates stole Christmas… from the music industry

30-second recap:

So my friend, the pirate, doesn’t like to pay for things he can acquire free, unless paying for those things gives him a clear benefit. Stardock gives good benefits on software, with frequent updates and instant downloads. Sometimes Amazon’s “unbox” TV service is worthwhile (though torrents are really tough to compete with – they’re really only lacking in speed and sometimes quality of video). Sometimes, streaming episodes and movies (hulu, fox, abc, nbc, sci-fi, and many others offer this) are worthwhile, but lack of availability of all episodes often makes it far better to torrent anyway.

Music

The music industry is either slowly catching on or faking it fairly well. More and more DRM-free options have been showing up, and while there’s a long way to go, it is finally getting to be friendly for the consumer again.

DRM is generally just a poor way to treat the kind folks who actually pay for your stuff, so it’s really nice to see that iTunes has gotten more DRM-free options, and Amazon’s MP3s are fairly worthwhile as well.

There’s always a “but”

But the music industry is still going to suffer from piracy, and quite possibly more than the other industries. Why?

  • Getting high-quality pirated music is just so damned easy. The files are small, even for exceptional quality, compared to software and video.
  • People are used to their music being free due to radios, MTV (back when they played music every once in a while, mind you), and internet radio stations like last.fm and pandora.
  • There’s a very strong sense that “the little guy” doesn’t see anything from music sales, so it’s much easier to justify piracy.
    • In software, the developers usually get a meager, but not insignificant, royalty from the publisher.
    • In television and movies, the same perception of the big guys keeping all the money is there, but quality is sometimes iffy on torrents, the downloads are large, and the cost-per-minute is very cheap compared to music.
  • Music is often a background thing — you don’t focus all your attention on a song like you do software or a TV show, so the high price of music seems even higher.

I can’t stress those last points enough. A 5-minute song that costs me 99 cents is much harder to justify than a 45-minute episode of Battlestar Galactica for under $2. Yes, I’ll listen to the same song quite a bit over my lifetime, but it’s still such a passive activity that the cost feels really high. Most people will pay for songs at that price (in fact I think the music industry would have caved by now were that not the case), but this series is about stopping piracy. That will of course never happen, but slowing it down is possible, and I think the price is an important factor.

Internet radio stations are an okay option for some of us (I can’t get enough of Pandora), and Napster is all right for those who have a bit more money, but for the vast majority who want to own their music free and clear, the music industry really needs to raise the bar to make torrents a less attractive option.

They’ve done all right so far, but only time will tell if they can keep it up or if “piracy paranoia” will get the best of them.

Final Thoughts

Middle-class piracy isn’t destroying anybody or causing mass job losses. Does it cost some amount of money? Of course it does. But the figures we hear are complete lies. You cannot measure the true impact because you cannot trace piracy. The propaganda is entertaining for sure, but the real issue is the providers of the content. The only piracy they can turn into money is the middle-class lazy jerks like my friend, the pirate, who could afford to pay if it were of benefit to them.

So make your software suck less. Don’t treat paying customers like criminals. Offer up all episodes of your shows online, for free, supported by ads. Then make your paying customers feel “special” by giving them something extra when they buy those same episodes. Lower your music prices. And stop being so fucking greedy — pirates won’t feel remorse when they hear about the RIAA trying to cut royalties from artists in the name of bullshit piracy “losses”. (Yeah, sales went down, but there are a lot more reasons out there than just piracy) ((Yes, I’m well aware of the chronology of those two situations — my point is merely that sales go down for reasons other than piracy))


By the way, some moron contacted me via my main site’s contact form, claiming to be an FBI agent and claiming that I should hand over my friend, the pirate’s contact information.

Okay, first off you fucking tool, the FBI wouldn’t fill out an anonymous form. They’d probably just show up on my god damn doorstep. Furthermore, this barely-trafficked site wouldn’t attract their attention, especially from a blog entry about how to stop piracy.

I suspect this fucknugget wanted to get in contact with my friend to exchange \/\/@R3zzz or something. Can’t really figure the motivation otherwise.

But here’s the real kicker: my friend doesn’t exist (this is obvious when you realize I have no friends). As a couple people already figured out, he is a figment of my imagination, built by combining aspects of myself and various acquaintances and coworkers. He was built as the general epitome of what we all are when we justify piracy. I took the attitudes I have seen in myself and others, came up with a stupid label (middle-class pirate), and figured it’d be easier to explain a single person’s perspective than constantly saying, “and another person I know, call him John Doe 354, he pirates music because blah blah blah.”

So, no, you can’t have his contact details.

Middle-class Piracy in Movies and Television

To recap, I’ve written lately about middle-class piracy and how it affects the software industry. My friend is a pirate, but he pays for things when it’s convenient, and not riddled with anti-piracy measures that detract from the overall experience (say, Iron Lore Entertainment’s software method discussed last time, or limiting music burns to CD, etc).

Last time, I discussed the software industry, and how most vendors destroy a product in an effort to protect it from piracy — and how Stardock (and similarly, Steam) are actually doing things right to make legitimate customers feel appreciated.

This time – movies and television.

Cable Companies

My friend, the pirate, does not like cable companies. I don’t, either. Actually, I utterly despise them – he just thinks they’re annoying whereas I’d be happy to see them all utterly destroyed.

Why?

Because they FUCKING SUCK. Charter charged me $20 a month to get eight local channels, six random “basic cable” networks, two channels that told us about how awesome it would be to have Charter-on-demand, and FOUR channels devoted to infomercials.

We canceled our cable television. I haven’t regretted this decision.

My friend, the pirate, hasn’t had cable for something like four years. He says, “why pay for that colossal ripoff when you’ve got torrents?”

Torrents

I didn’t know much about these until recently (recent, in my lifetime, means about a year ago). They are like ++(Kazaa++). Sorry for the uber-geekism just then, but seriously, the technology behind torrents is pretty freakin’ awesome. For legal purposes, torrents serve as a way for a small company to get their product out to the world without using up a ton of bandwidth. Since the torrent is a peer-to-peer protocol, rabid fans actually offer up their idle bandwidth for the product in question.

For piracy, of course, this is a goldmine of free goodies. Apparently torrents are especially good for television. (I don’t know how that can make sense – it’s just digital file transfers – why would it be better for one file format than another?)

My friend doesn’t pay for cable television. He sometimes pays for a series on DVD. But mostly, he just downloads the shows he wants to watch.

Why? Because it’s convenient as hell. No worrying about the lame TV schedule. No trying to set up a VCR or DVR. No waiting for the episodes to come out on DVD. Torrent the episode the day it airs, and watch it before your friends do! It’s just too damned easy.

Hulu.com

Hulu seems like they have a chance to solve this. Actually, hulu.com is just one of many streaming television providers, and Amazon.com even sells episodes and seasons in their “unboxed” collections.

But I’ll focus on hulu, because it’s a pretty good “common denominator” in the streaming media world. They’re apparently a joint venture sponsored by FOX and NBC (hence so many shows (and movies) from those two). What they do is offer various full episodes of television shows, with very short commercials. Instantly. On demand. Watch what you want when you have time. Great idea, and I’ve enjoyed a lot of stuff there.

In theory, this is in fact the paradise that could stop middle-class television piracy. I don’t mean “slow” or “diminish” or anything similar — I mean “stop.” Middle-class piracy, once again, is primarily about laziness. If they can get their “fix” for free, instantly, and only have to deal with watching 2 minutes of commercials for a 45-minute show, they generally will prefer this over torrents. Torrents take time. Torrents have a small risk associated with them. Torrents released the same day as a TV broadcast are rarely high quality.

In theory, this combination gives a site like hulu.com the ability to completely obsolete all middle-class TV and move piracy. But why is it only “in theory?” Simple:

They dun fukk’d up, boy

I can’t blame hulu for the mistakes – I assume it’s the networks being morons (yeah, big surprise there eh?).

For most shows that are still airing, we get the last 5 episodes if we’re lucky. In the cases of Family Guy and The Simpsons, both featuring a wealth of old episodes to watch, we get the last three for FG and the last five Simpsons.

So people are expected to watch within a few weeks. For viewers who have been following a show since day one, I suppose it works out well enough. But for any show that hasn’t been seen in its entirety by everybody in the world, I call it a huge mistake — people may end up just torrenting the episodes they can’t find. Overall, it’s not a huge loss for shows like The Simpsons or Family Guy — newcomers can just start up anywhere in the series. But it’s not a huge gain, either. And what about story-driven shows?

Bones, something I’ve just started getting into (my friend, the pirate, says it’s kind of boring, but he’s an idiot so he can STFU), has all of season 1 available on hulu. They recently took down the few season two episodes they had. And season three? You guessed it – last five episodes. When I’m done with season one, I’ll probably ask my friend, the pirate, if he has season two for me to borrow. I won’t ask stupid questions like, “Hey, did you get this illegally?”

Then the networks make it worse. I’m a rabid Battlestar Galactica fan. But Charter, being the dimwits they are, want to charge me over $50 a month to get sci-fi (“extended basic” or something). So how does sci-fi make it better for me on hulu and sci-fi.com’s rewind? THEY DON’T. They pull this same “last-five-episodes” shit. And they show up online a full week after they broadcast. So if I want to start anew with BSG, my best option is a torrent. If I want to watch an episode that I know my friends will be discussing on Monday, my best option is a torrent. Way to go, network idiots.

They get it! …or do they?

I just can’t figure why the networks would do this when they seemed to finally get it! They’re getting you hooked just to pull the plug? It actually encourages piracy, if you ask me. You go from instant accessibility of television to total lockdown. So your options – buy episodes one at a time (around $1.89 per episode!) or torrent.

What do you think the average hulu user will do?

Hulu users are geeks. Right now very few non-geeks are willing to watch TV and movies from their computers. Hell, very few non-geeks even know that’s possible at this point. So basically we have a crowd that’s primarily geeky being screwed yet again by the networks. This geeky crowd, for the most part, is aware of torrents.

I’m betting enough of them will torrent that it’ll totally screw the brilliance behind hulu. All because of stupid networks making stupid decisions once again. And what’s more, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that streaming video is called a failure, even though the true failure, is once again the idiots in charge. The decisions of executives, completely out of touch with the middle-class consumer, will end up destroying a system that could actually end (or at least severely cut back) middle-class piracy!

It’s a win-win situation that appears doomed to fail.

Good news?

Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of good news here. Amazon sells episodes fairly cheap, but torrents are cheaper. And unlike software, TV and movies don’t suffer from being “poorly cracked” or needing updates, so to beat torrents in this industry, you need to be incredibly competitive. So far, the online experience falls far short, and Amazon’s prices definitely don’t come close for somebody who wants to watch a lot of TV.

The movies on hulu are nice – that’s good news, right? Well, only a little. There are only a few dozen movies up there, and it doesn’t seem like they’re adding movies fast at all. Plus, of the movies they have, maybe 10 are actually worth watching. So… not a big win in my book.

ABC shows all of Lost on their site. And in HD. Those episodes are about the clearest things I’ve ever watched in my entire fucking life. I think real life is no better quality. I’m not saying this as a metaphor or a hyperbole – those episodes are ridiculously amazing. Yes, and I have bad vision, so it probably doesn’t take a lot to impress me.

While that would seem like a piece of good news, it’s the only series ABC puts up in full – the rest seem to be the last few episodes, just like other networks. Makes me more than willing to watch Lost, but nothing else. And makes me think Lost is nothing more than a digital loss leader.

Netflix has this same concept as hulu, but with a better selection, no commercials, and a reasonable price! They’re the good news!! Except that the networks seem to castrate them as well. New episodes were not available last time I checked (only prior seasons’ episodes, if I was lucky), and in most cases they don’t even have more than a season of a given show. Dr. Who (the new one from 2005 or so) had season one available when I was a Netflix customer. To watch the other seasons I would have had to wait for DVDs to ship. I’m lazy, damn it! I’m not my friend, but I have his mentality. I canceled Netflix because the waiting time just wasn’t worth it. Had their on-demand service been better, I would have absolutely stayed with them. (again, not likely their faults as much as the networks)

So if anybody is doing it right, I have yet to stumble upon them. What a letdown. Here we are in an age where the cable companies should be completely obsolete! Television and movies should be easily viewed on demand (and made affordable – or at least worth their price). And yet, I think Fred Flintstone was doing about as well as we are. No wonder middle-class pirates are so prevalent here!

There are a slew of wonderful ideas for improvement here that I won’t even try to cover (go down that road and everybody whines about the ones you missed – so screw you all), and yet the networks are so trapped in the slowly crumbling business models of the past. It’s kind of sad, but mostly just makes me really not care when somebody pirates even good television (for the record, I tend to get annoyed about hearing good software get pirated).

Stay tuned!

“Stay tuned” is getting old. I’ll try for something more interesting next time…

…which is when I’m ending this series with a very brief piece about piracy in music, and my final thoughts. Just like Jerry Springer.

Yes, and since it’s my final article I guess my concern over the wording of “Stay tuned” is moot. I love when problems solve themselves.

Middle-Class Piracy in the Software Industry, take 2

To recap, I’ve written lately about middle-class piracy and how it affects the software industry. My friend, the pirate, a really nice guy who’s kind of lazy, is a prime example. He could buy stuff but often doesn’t because DRM and badly-done copy protections make it more convenient for him to just be a thief.

Last time I was in the middle of the software industry’s situation. As promised, here’s the present situation as I (and my friend, the pirate) see it:

Present-day customer fuckery

Today’s copy protections are just as shitty as those I described last time. I personally won’t buy anything that has copy protection, because of the way they do things – just look at the problems surrounding Starforce. Other issues with copy protections are playability on newer systems. I own Lord of the Realms 2, but I cannot play it without a crack. Same with Need For Speed: High Stakes. Same with countless others. The hardware they were written for is nothing like today’s hardware, so they just freak out on me. Makes it easier to just pirate the software that I legally own at this point.

Worse still are the idiot developers like Iron Lore Entertainment who abuse the hell out of copy protection and then bitch when it bites them in the ass:

One guy went so far as to say he’d bought the retail game and it was having the exact same crashes, so it must be the game itself. This was one of the most vocal detractors, and we got into it a little bit. He swore up and down that he’d done everything above-board, installed it on a clean machine, updated everything, still getting the same crashes. It was our fault, we were stupid, our programmers didn’t know how to make games – some other guy asked “do they code with their feet?”. About a week later, he realized that he’d forgotten to re-install his BIOS update after he wiped the machine. He fixed that, all his crashes went away. At least he was man enough to admit it.

Wow, it’s a customer’s fault that your shitty protection caused crashing without explanation because of a lack of BIOS updating? (Also, how does wiping a machine cause a need to reinstall a BIOS update?)

Iron Lore made their copy protection break in many ways to try and stop piracy. End result:

  • Legitimate users with a system that isn’t happy with copy protection crashed for no obvious reason, and Iron Lore apparently treated them like shit when they (very appropriately) complained.
  • Pirates ignored this game. Sorry, but it wasn’t big enough to get hit with a ton of piracy – most piracy was due to curiosity, not people saying to themselves, “MAN I GOTS TA HAVE THIS SHIZ-NIT!” I know a lot of pirates, at least in an online capacity (yes, as I said, I have no real friends), and none of them were interested in yet another D2 clone.

And now for something completely the same

The sad truth is that Iron Lore isn’t unusual. Their methods for copy protection have been done in many ways since software was first being protected. They used well-known methodologies based on the belief that security can only be obtained by assuming any little anomaly is the customer trying to steal from you. Bury your copy protections deep in the code. Make calls to check validity in every place you can. Don’t let the user know it’s a copy-protection-related crash.

So Iron Lore and other software developers actually suffer. They are stupid enough to pay for software protection systems that aren’t 100% stable. They are gullible enough to think it’ll stop piracy. They are arrogant enough to believe the customer is to blame for their problems in a game that was never interesting to begin with. That’s right! If your game doesn’t suck, you won’t go under, regardless of piracy… read on.

The good news?

Yes, there is good news in the software industry. It is Stardock. Steam is a very close second, only losing points due to the default requirement of an internet connection. But both companies avoid copy protection in a traditional sense. Stardock in particular has always been strongly against copy protection, a trait that my friend, the pirate, has valued greatly — not because he can easily steal, but because he sees a lot of value in buying their games. He never has to worry about a bad copy protection. He gets software very fast after purchase. They update the hell out of their games with new features, not just bug fixes. They update regularly, making piracy annoying – new update comes out, wait for it to be posted on some warez site, download it, find out it’s actually the German version, rinse and repeat. Or just buy the games online for and instant download, and get all that stuff with no hassles. Just perfect for those middle-class pirates.

And Stardock’s sales? Damned good. Galactic Civilizations 2 has been better than budget by a pretty good amount (I believe Brad said sales for GC2 and the Dark Avatar expansion fully funded the Twilight expansion so they didn’t have to worry about Twilight’s budget at all). Sins of a Solar Empire, published by Stardock, sold over 200,000 units in its first month. With no copy protection. Piracy has some impact, but clearly it is not the sole force in success of a game. Stardock knows this and says, “meh” to copy protection.

End result:

  • Legitimate users get a great experience, “instant” downloads (depending on connection speed, mind you), optional CD shipped (at least, Stardock does this with a lot of their stuff – not sure about Steam), and NO worries about yet another badly implemented copy protection system.
  • Pirates have it good, too, no doubt about it. But for some reason, they haven’t totally destroyed Stardock. Makes me wonder if maybe the anti-piracy vocalists are exaggerating just a little tiny bit…?

For people who don’t get it about copy protection being the debbil

It is. Copy protection was invented by Satan in an effort to get people to pirate shit:

  • Copy protection is not cheap. To get copy protection on a game is to increase the cost to the consumer by a not-insignificant amount!
  • No software is bug-free without an unlimited budget (such as building real-time military software, where money doesn’t matter when it comes to precision and reliability). Copy protection is no different.

Put those two together – you increase costs to your consumer and decrease stability. DO THE MATH, SIRS. Stardock gets it – it’s just not worth the hassle. Piracy will happen with all but the best copy protections, and the “best” are often the least stable. Let the pirates be assholes, you can’t stop that. So long as your legitimate customers see a lot of value in the purchase, they will make the purchase. GC2 and Sins are both excellent examples of this. Both have very good sales figures, and no copy protection. None.

My friend, the pirate, has bought maybe 15-20 games over the last 5 years. 4 of them are from Stardock. Another 7 or so were bought off of Steam. One was store-bought (impulse-buy) and still has not been opened. (“I will play it soon. I just don’t want to deal with the DVDs….”)

Stay tuned!

Next time I’ll discuss the movie and TV aspects of piracy, including the very exciting topics of Netflix and hulu.com.

Middle-Class Piracy in the Software Industry

Recently I discussed my own take on middle-class piracy. To recap, I’m talking about pirates who can easily turn into legitimate customers if the goods they steal are made more convenient to buy than to download illegally. They aren’t poor, so they can afford it – they just prefer whatever’s easiest. And everything I discuss here is from my friend’s perspective. My friend is a pirate. He’s really a good guy, but a pirate.

The software industry generally has some of the best and some of the worst anti-piracy measures available. It stands to reason, because software has been plagued by piracy pretty much since it began – anything that’s representing digitally can be copied with no loss, unlike things like cassette tapes or VHS movies. So the industry has been scrambling since I was a kid (waaaaaay back in the 80s) to stop piracy.

I only know what my friend (the pirate) can remember, so I will not cover every piracy-prevention method here. Mainly the ones that tended to be common on games.

Disk errors

Initially there were things like intentionally putting errors on floppy disks so a direct copy wouldn’t work, but of course the pirates got smart and came up with ways to copy the errors as well as the data. End result:

  • Legitimate users with flaky drives could lose out on a product they paid for.
  • Pirates didn’t have this problem.

Decoder-ring

Then there were the manual-based protections, or decoder-ring/wheel protections. These were designed to make the user look something up in a manual or move a decoder-ring or decoder-wheel to find a word. Presumably the pirates didn’t want to copy an entire manual. Of course pirates can reverse-engineer source code to force the game to skip the protection, or hack the random number generator so that the same word is always chosen. In extreme cases, they just hit the protection dozens of times and write down a matrix of the most common cases. End result:

  • Legitimate users who lose their manual are screwed. Even when they don’t, they have to dig it out every time they want to play the game.
  • Pirates every once in a while can’t answer the question, and sometimes have a cracked game that’s broken because the crack was applied incorrectly. Overall, they usually had a better experience than the legit users.

Dongles

Dongles were a travesty, and are still used today…. The thing about these items is the user must have this hardware “key” plugged into their computer in order to use the product. This adds a point of failure for legitimate users – lose software CD, you’re screwed. Lose dongle, you’re screwed. The greatest thing about these is they’re almost always easy to crack. My friend, the pirate, says he went through a brief tutorial on some Sentinel thing and found that even though he was never better than an intermediate cracker, that particular hardware key was a breeze to get past. End result:

  • Legitimate users suffer greatly. Dongles are usually used only for high-end items, making the double failure points that much more concerning. Couple that with the annoyance of having to find a port (often on the back of one’s computer back when these things were really popular (parallel port)), and you have a big ass-raping of your customers.
  • Pirates love this shit. Usually easy to crack, often high-end software. Sometimes so easy to crack big pirate rings can manufacture and sell illegal dongles, possibly taking revenue away from the idiots who sought the dongle protection in the first place. Think about it – if the company didn’t waste money on the dongle protection, maybe their prices could be more reasonable.

Size of media

CDs were initially only protected by being big. When CD burners were totally infeasible ($1000 and more) and hard drives were small (say 500 MB), it was impossible to pirate CDs. This was the golden age of anti-piracy measures. Users knew they needed the CD in the drive because there really weren’t any other options given the size of data – we put up with it because we understood why we had to. Pirates just got pissy and bitched a lot. Which wasn’t really out of the ordinary anyway.

Even when CD burners became semi-feasible, the media was still unreliable and expensive. My friend, the pirate, recalls such a time:

I bought a burner for about $250, 2x write [that's about an hour to burn a CD if you did a simulation, and back then he did that every time because media sucked so much], figured it would pay for itself after what, 5 games right [at $50 a game]? No such luck actually. It was $10 a cd to burn on, and at least 3 in ten was bad, so I think it was an overall loss even after ten games, heheh. And nobody wanted to go in on the game and the media and wait around for it all just to get a copy so like you just had to rely on borrowing shit.

End Result:

  • Annoying for legit users, but totally understandable necessity. When your game is 600MB and the average user has less than that much hard drive space, you don’t have the option of being consumer-friendly.
  • Annoying for pirates, but they knew they’d have the last laugh. Technology always gets better, so it was only a matter of time before they could get their stuff free again.

Serial codes / instant activation

Then we have instant activation products. Technically this stuff is older than CD media. Games for BBSes were my friend, the pirate’s first experience. He wrote key generators for many door games. He’s very proud of stealing from small companies apparently.

So you download it for evaluation, and if you pay for it (to remove the annoying nag screen for instance), you just enter a serial number, unlocking it instantly. Nice idea, and actually makes it more likely to keep all your customers happy. Some companies do this wrong, making it too easy to crack or too many “anti-crack” checks that cost them some users, but overall it’s a pretty decent system. End result:

  • Legitimate users have to worry a bit about losing their activation codes, but a good company will store purchase info or have account data so you can reactivate at any time in the future (Alcohol-soft and Stardock both do a great job of that).
  • Pirates are also happy, because the download contains the full product, so they just have to crack a serial and get a free piece of software without any obviously illegal network activity.

The beginnings of evil

Serial numbers and product activation codes could be copied, and CDs were eventually burnable. Internet connections could be used to check validity but nobody would put up with an internet check on every use of a product until recently (and if you look at steam’s forums you’ll see a good number of people still aren’t).

So the next logical step (for the paranoid idiots who (a) thought they could stop piracy, and (b) were so paranoid they thought it was costly enough to invest in trying to stop) was hard-core CD protection. This stuff was nasty early on. I personally remember the problems I had with Diablo 2 on an old CDROM drive. My friend, the pirate, says many games had similar issues. He often grabbed the crack for games he bought because of these problems.

Some companies that don’t suck, such as Firaxis, had so many problems with copy protections that they actually released their own fully legal cracks.

End result:

  • Consumers are screwed time and again by poorly-implement copy protections. Just like it’s a guarantee that all software will have bugs, all copy protections (being software) will also have bugs. This means some number of users will be FUCKED. When companies deliberately make the situation worse, they screw the consumer and themselves with a very splintery wooden sex toy of some kind.
  • Pirates get the shit cracked. Sometimes it isn’t perfect, but it’s usually no worse than risking a legitimate copy of a badly-protected game.

Stay tuned… again…

Sorry, looks like this is way longer than intended. Next time, I’ll go into more details about the software industry’s piracy practices today.

Middle-Class Piracy: an Overview

I’m always interested in the various industries and how they handle piracy concerns (as well as how they BS the U.S. to prove that domestic piracy is more than a minor problem). And seeing as… uh… a friend of mine is a filthy, disgusting pirate, I figure I’ll tell their side of the story.

This will be the first article series for Filler, and hopefully not the last as I consider my writing skills and incredible grasp of human stupidity both to be very important to share with the world.

What is middle-class piracy?

Simply put, it’s a concept I didn’t really make up, but I haven’t seen a good name for it. Piracy takes many forms:

  • Kids who pirate things they can’t buy for themselves. Think of napster and the young teenagers there whose piracy (though not right) didn’t affect the industry, because they weren’t able to buy the music anyway.
  • People in poverty who feel they deserve entertainment regardless of their financial situation. Their plight is one I can sympathize with, having struggled financially most of my life. This doesn’t make it right, but their thefts would never have converted into sales.
  • People pirating things they would never buy anyway. Again, this doesn’t make it right to pirate, but it is a different situation than piracy that actually results in lost revenue. This is usually people who are curious about something (say a really bad movie) but if they couldn’t get it free, they wouldn’t bother to pay for the product.
  • People who are pissed off at some industry or another – they often like what they pirate, and would be legitimate customers if they were unable to get their stuff freely. This would include people who stopped supporting Metallica after the napster ordeal – they would have paid if they had to, but they did what they could to avoid it because they were angry.
  • In software, people who want to try before they buy. These users often pirate a lot of stuff because they feel the industry has burned them too many times, but if they find something the actually like, they buy it. Their piracy sometimes results in lost sales (say a game that’s a lot of fun but short-lived), but sometimes results in gains that may not have happened (“Yeah, like being unexpectedly surprised at how fun Postal 2 really was,” so says my friend, the pirate).
  • People who are just plain lazy. These people would buy the stuff they like, but prefer piracy because it’s instant – no stores, no lines, no CDs, etc. When a legal alternative is a better option, they choose it because they just want whatever is the least hassle. These are the people who like Netflix movies on demand, hulu.com, Steam, and Stardock Central (soon to be Impulse).
  • People who are just plain assholes. These people would also buy the stuff they liked if they had no other choice, but will go out of their way to pirate because they feel they’re owed something for nothing. These guys suck. Even my friend, the pirate, says they’re assholes.

Middle-class pirates can be in any group above except the first two, but are more common found in the “lazy” group. They don’t necessarily feel like piracy is the right thing to do, and they may not even rationalize the piracy – they may flat out tell you what they’re doing is wrong or that they do feel “kinda” bad about it. They just pirate because they hate dealing with the shit that goes along with buying legitimately (DRM on movies and music, broken copy protections on their software, CDs and DVDs, etc). When a legal alternative presents similar conveniences as piracy, they’ll often choose the legal avenue, because they like to support quality products (even if they are sick of the fact that most of their money is never seen by “the little guy”).

Why middle-class piracy?

I address these pirates for two reasons:

  • First, I know many of them, at least on the internet (yeah, I know, I don’t have real friends).
  • Second, they’re the easiest group in the world to stop, because they’re lazy first, pirates second.

By definition, middle-class pirates aren’t poor, so buying isn’t a non-option for these people. They just have to see value in making a purchase. Which, sadly, is more and more rare in the digital age.

Piracy costs companies millions and billions and trillions of … nothing?

How piracy is reported as a loss I will never fully understand.

Different reports place losses in the billions for various industries, yet box office takes are still record-breaking when the movie isn’t trite Hollywood crap. Bands may not be making a killing, but the labels are clearly doing very well. Software sales for the big games (those the most easily pirated, by the way) are insane.

The claim that piracy is destroying any of these industries just has no real evidence to back it. I’ve seen quoted figures, legitimate-to-pirate ratios, graphs showing the decline over time as piracy has “destroyed” one industry or another. None of this data is real.

The data cannot be real!

My friend, the pirate, has pirated many things in his life, but rarely does he pirate something he likes without ending up buying it. He says that software in particular is this way. He downloads games and plays them a few days. If he likes them, he pays (easier to keep the game up to date that way, or get support, or mods, or whatever – again, laziness on his part if you ask me). If not, they’re deleted from his computer. He admits that he sometimes keeps something around that he “sorta” likes, but if he lost it and found that he couldn’t pirate it again, he wouldn’t pay for it, either.

He’s also downloaded movies or music in situations where he once bought it and broke the CD/DVD, or rented the movie and never had the time to watch it. Is that morally right? Tough issue I won’t get into (it’s absolutely illegal, but “right” vs. “wrong” is not so black and white), but it’s not a loss of revenue given that he already paid for the product. In the case of a CD, it’s legal at the moment to make a backup, and DVDs are iffy territory, but in many countries even those are legal for personal backups. So had he made a backup or not broken the product, he’d never have needed to replace it – i.e., he still seemingly should own the right to view or listen to said product. The rented movie issue is trickier, but I tend to agree that he paid for the right to view the movie and if he’s really and truly viewing it once and deleting it, he’s not costing anybody anything.

The point? Measuring piracy is impossible. There is no way to know what the pirate is doing with the product. If he downloads it to replace something he already paid for, I just can’t call that a loss. If he downloads it and ends up buying it later, that’s definitely not a loss. If he downloads something on a whim that he doesn’t care about and never would have bought in the first place, that’s not a loss. Yes, he should pay for it if he likes it, but it’s technically not lost revenue.

Stay tuned!

Next time, I’ll talk about the current situation in the software industry, which I believe has some of the best (and worst) practices with regards to stopping piracy without alienating legitimate users. Pay special attention to Stardock’s approach, as they have about the only real proof of what piracy costs a smaller game company.