Booty and Plunder: Confessions of an Ex-Pirate

Somali pirate lords were unavailable for comment on their new-found comrades in arms. Sources suggest they were up to forms of illegal activity which involved actual bodily hurt of victims.

Ed: Today, we’ve got a special guest post by fellow gamer, friend, and ex-pirate Navin Wadhwani.  It’s a hoot, check it out.

So, unsurprisingly, PC gamers have been invited to chair the latest session of the Evil Council for World Domination, owing to our notoriety as industry-wrecking software pirates. Yes, as far as the gaming industry is concerned, us PC folk are the latest demon offspring of Lucifer and Hitler conceived at a suitably inauspicious equinox – Cthulhu would count himself lucky to be invited to one of our high-teas.

There’s been plenty of debate on popular gaming sites which I don’t feel the need or compulsion to address right now, because it seems to me the same ideas keep popping up, expressed by commentators with ever-increasing exasperation and met with a fusillade of profanity from readers whose educational credentials I question. I do however, wish to engage the issue from a personal point of view and distil some key observations.

I’m not going to admit fully to anything, but let’s just say that I once threaded the grey areas of legality and morality when it game to video game acquisitions. Not anymore though, the sparkly halo around my head should be testament enough. And here’s why I changed:

Point 1: I obtained a steady source of cash

A job combined with the lack of a female paramour produced an incredible result known commonly as disposable income. This meant I could actually afford to purchase video games without resorting to ingesting my own stomach lining. The presence of a debit/credit card linked to my spending account further removed my barrier of entry to digital distribution.

Blackbeard was too dead to give his two cents (or two doubloons) on his spiritual successors. Attempts to make contact using an Ouija board were met with the reply of 'Yo ho ho and bottle of rum'. Because pirates actually talked in clichés.

Point 2: Steam and Steam sales

I walked into a game shop at Sim Lim the other day which still had some old titles on the shelf. GTA Vice City was retailing for SGD$39.99. I laughed, having bought GTA:VC and GTA:SA together for US$6.23 last year. The point I’m making here is that, Steam allowed me to game on a budget. I did not need to get my grubby paws on BattleWarfare 2000: Cub Scout Adventure on day one, I could just wait for a Christmas or Summer Sale and pick it up at what I deemed to be a more reasonable sum. With only a few exceptions, all my games on Steam were picked up on sale. Steam also offered easy downloads with relatively fast speeds, which I’ll equate to ease of access, rivaling common pirate avenues like BitTorrent and Rapidshare. Sure, the system is not perfect, but it’s pretty damn good and it’s legal.

Point 3: Reduction in gaming time

I’ll admit that gaming is losing some of it’s lustre for me. I don’t have as much time to sit down and play anymore and I often find myself willingly distracted by work, books and other media. Now that my gaming hours have been reduced, I find myself more discriminating of the games I play. They’re mostly high-scoring AAA fare, multiplayer standards my friends play or bite sized indie titles going cheap. I just don’t feel the need to play every single thing on the market, which forces me to invest (both time and money) into games which I deem good enough.

Robin Hood (who many software pirates liken themselves too) sought to redistribute income given his latent socialist inclinations. Pirates are barred from furthering this point because they steal for themselves, rendering them just 'thieves' and not 'noble thieves'. Given that he lives in the slums of Sherwood Forest and is a fictional character, Robin does not get a comment.

Now for the whole ‘distilling key observations’ bit. Piracy (from my own experiences at least) seems to be driven by:

  • A lack of purchasing power from the industry’s target demographic
  • A lack of legal purchasing options to rival the relative ease of software piracy
  • A bunch of idiots who will steal video games regardless

Yes, I know the list is over-generalised and contains assumptions which I should be justifying  clearly. In my defence, it’s a blog post.

Can’t do anything about the last point. Publishers, distributors and retailers will just have to accept they wouldn’t have been able to make a sale to them in any case given their kleptomania. These pirates cannot be considered lost sales because they have never be potential consumers, willing to shell out money for stuff they want.

The first two can be addressed. And I have (surprise, surprise) another organised list of solutions which I think would really work if bigwigs would listen. I am many things, modest is not one of them.

Solution 1: Price games suitably.

Not every game should cost the standard 60USD at release. Just because you market and price it as AAA does not make it so. Use discounts, promotion codes, loyalty bonuses, buddy packs liberally in order to boost demand and to dispel the psychological barriers that prevent money from leaving wallets. The market has become bifurcated into high-priced major publisher titles and under $10 indie offerings. I personally feel that there are plenty of 7/10 games in the market but very few $15-$30 releases. Differentiated price structures would create a healthier ecology of paying gamers and not price consumers out.

Solution 2: View highly pirated games as proof-of-concept rather than commercial failures.

The success of a game (as a game, not a product) should not be measured by review scores or sales, but in fans and longevity. If your game consistently makes the top of the illegal downloads list, something must have gone right because people want to play it. Sequels and franchises should do well. I would stress that this is a long term solution for the bigger publishing houses.

Solution 3: Enhancing digital distribution avenues

Given the lack of distribution costs and physical media production overheads, digital distribution seems the way to go for publishers looking to cut costs and act as non-invasive DRM. Pirates flourish on the high seas of the Internet and it is there that publishers need easily accessible, consumer friendly services. However, it will also means lost sales for distributors and retailers who won’t be too happy about that.

All this will be ridiculously hard to accomplish given natural resistances to change and the fact that I am not Supreme Dictator of the Universe. Nonetheless, I do hope that the article mirrors some of your thoughts on the issues and feels familiar to ex-pirates. To all the video game pirates still out there, the bad publicity you generate lowers investment into PC gaming and only serves to give us less attention than we deserve from developers.

Superman wouldn’t steal a video game. We all trust Superman don’t we? (Ed: I personally trust Batman more).

Here are some articles which attest to PC gaming’s sordid reputation mentioned in para 1:–216450.phtml–193957.phtml

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