Giving PC gamers the middle finger

Ubisoft, a power-hitter publisher and developer in the video game industry, recently decided that PC gamers would not be receiving Prince of Persia DLC “for business reasons.” Of course, as you can see in that thread, PC gamers also decided to make a few business decisions of their own; such as never buying an Ubisoft product ever again. However, one can only wonder what this mystical “business reason” was so that PC gamers would be barred from enjoying a product they bought–or did they?

Yes, we all know piracy happens. But here’s a little fact that people seem to keep forgetting; piracy will always be here. It’s fast, it’s convenient, and it’s free. And yes, of course, it is illegal. But here is the general problem when two opposing factions meet and try to solve their differences. It seems we, as human beings, are cable of one solution; an end-all solution. This has been rather apparent with PC games; copyright protection has only become more restrictive. Of course, this has backfired, as the copyright protection is thwarting legitimate customers, who might actually be pushed into pirating a game they own just because the pirated copy doesn’t come with the “security” that may harm your computer.

However, it is interesting to note that other creative digital mediums, like movies and music, have actually changed in light of all this piracy that only has been increasing. Now we can buy the songs we just want for $0.99 or get a Netflix subscription and rent a great number of movies each month you want to see. And have those industries suffered? No, most definitely not. And so here comes the second question to the video game industry’s ridiculous crusade to fight piracy; are they losing?

And I know what you’re going to say. “Well, what about World of Goo,” or insert other indie title that no one has heard about until it makes the news that, mysteriously, 90% of the installations of these indie titles are pirated. To this I can’t really answer about. I don’t know why an unknown indie puzzle game got pirated to Kingdom Come; I have zero interest in the game and I enjoy puzzle games, so go figure. Personally I think that there is something we don’t know about such instances. For instance, where were these games being pirated from or when? And the second biggie to this bit is that hundreds of thousands of people are not pirating these games, as a staggering statistic like 90% would make you assume as much. Again, these are indie puzzle games. How big is the market for that? So I hate to be the bastard that says it, but maybe even if 50% of the installations were from pirated copies or if 25% of the installations were from pirated copies or if 5% of the installations were from pirated copies would have made any difference in how soon World of Goo publishers checked out bankruptcy insurance; despite how fun it may be, perhaps it was just destined to fall short in the sales department regardless to offset production costs.

The point is that piracy is becoming a very good scapegoat as to why publishers or developers say why things happen with their company in their “business decisions.” Prince of Persia is no Spore; it doesn’t have a 1:1 ratio to pirated to sold copies (and even then EA admits that a pirated copy does not always equate a loss in sale). Would Prince of Persia DLC be pirated? Yes, without a doubt. But would people buy it as well? Yes, most definitely as well. And here is the biggest kicker of them all to this piracy issue, because you can’t actually “steal” digital property. It’s not like Ubisoft is losing dollars when someone would pirate their Prince of Persia DLC; they are just losing potential customers. Either way, it seems Ubisoft achieved the outcome they were trying to avoid anyways, so thumbs up for that.

Of course, no one seems to question that the only market that saw a profit margin increase last year, despite all this piracy, makes no attempts to lower the costs for video games, which is another reason why people pirate games. As I mentioned before with other digital creative mediums finding different outlets and cheap alternatives, the video game industry makes no attempt to do so. In fact, they are only nickel and diming the consumer more with this hogwash of DLC (see: charging for patches or cutting room floor content). And while the video game market is a grown-up business that knows that people are still buying over-priced video games during hard times, they still seem to act surprised when piracy strikes their game. And yes, video game developers have hungry mouths to feed as well, but another little known fact most defenders of developers seem to forget that they get a pay check regardless if a game is pirated or not. The question is whether or not the game can become successful in its endeavor to actually sell itself.

Either way, a self-destructive path of barring potential customers is no solution to guaranteeing a profit. Yes, the PC market doesn’t compare to the console market in sales, but it’s no reason to clear the possibility for extra sales. Online distribution services like Steam seem to do very well in digital protection, so there is one avenue to consider, rather than the dark and dreary road of choking potential customers. They’re out there, just waiting with their dollars in their hand to buy your product, but you’ve closed the door. So who’s left? The guys you are worried about. And they’re not leaving. Your potential customers, however, are.

Originally written: February 2009

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About Agamemnon
Started blogging back in 2007 amidst that whole Hellgate: London fiasco on a blog known as flagshipped.com. Eventually moved on to do my own thing in December 2008 at gameriot.com and started Caveat Emptor there. Wrote there for six months, gained some notoriety, and then left. Now I'm back.

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