Who Buys Video Games

It’s actually kinda funny that when I mention buying or pre-ordering some game, the response I get from people these days is usually something among the lines of:

“LOL, you buy games for PC? Why would you do that?”

Why? Because I can I guess.

Listen, I’m not going to preach to you and pretend to be some kind of a saint. I have pirated my fair share of games, movies and media. In fact, my bandwidth is still sometimes pegged with bit torrent traffic. I don’t always pay for video games but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis to invest into products I know I will like, and companies that were good to me in the past. For example, I’ll buy from Valve, Bioware, Bethesda and Obsidian (yes, they have mostly redeemed themselves for KoTOR 2 with Alpha Protocol and New Vegas). I feel good about spending money on their games because I know they are going to people who produce exactly the kind of stuff I like. On the other hand, I am very leery of giving anything to companies like Ubisoft for example because chances are they will use my money to make some intrusive DRM or something. In essence I vote with my wallet and I invest in the stuff I like. After all, someone has to buy PC games around here. If no one did, all the developers and publishers would close up shop and just move to the consoles…

But this is the sort of wisdom that comes with age… And a steady paycheck. Actually, mostly with paycheck. When I was a kid, I pirated all the time with reckless abandon, mostly because my parents considered spending money on video games rather wasteful. I mean, they’d still buy them for me but not without rolling their eyes, shaking their heads and etc.. Eventually I resolved this issue by introducing my dad to a lovely game called “A Train” which sort of became an all consuming addiction of his. I swear, he would impatiently wait for me and my brother go to sleep, then commandeer our Amiga 600 and pull all-nighters building railways. He also had love affairs with the original Settlers, Caesar and Age of Empires. Even after my dad got converted into a gamer, he still preferred not to spend money on games unless it was absolutely necessary. Especially since it they were so easy to copy. So that’s what we did most of the time – we copied.

Some of you youngsters out there have been born into a world where high speed internet and uncapped bandwidth are ubiquitous and I envy you. When I was growing up in Poland, internet was nowhere to be found. Then eventually, I had dial up… At a friends house. No, I’m not kidding – when I wanted to get something from the intewebs I would hit up my friend or my cousin and print it out, or copy it onto a floppy (then later onto a CD). As you can imagine, it wasn’t easy to pirate back then. We still did it though.

Here is what you did:

  1. You would leg it to the store and buy a box of no-name floppies
  2. You would then head to your friend’s house, and make him show you his new games
  3. You would then fire up X-Copy and stare at this shit for like 2 hours to copy all the stuff you needed:

Sometimes instead of hitting up your friend you would hit up the local school on the weekend to share with strangers from the neighborhood. Yes, imagine that! We had to actually leave the house and *shudder* interact with other people. It was slow, annoying and disturbingly social ordeal. But we still did it. We pirated hard! Even though our data transfer rate was measured in meters per second (ie. how fast you can leg it) we moved many megabytes across the town every week. Why? Because we could. Also, because we just did not have money to buy all the games we wanted to play.

This is sort of my pet theory: most video game pirates out there are kids, teenagers and poor college students. People with disproportionate amount of free time to play video games and very little money to spend on them. Of course someone is going to say that if you can afford a decent gaming PC or a current gen console, then you can’t be poor, and therefore should be able to afford to buy a game every once in a while. And this would be true for casual gaming, but folks who pirate a lot, also tend to game a lot. They can pick up a new single player title, and completely demolish it in a few evenings. And they don’t actually have income – they have allowance from their parents.

How did they get their uber-gaming rig then? Well, for one, they don’t buy any software ever so there are some savings there. Plus if you pool your resources, ask all the aunts and uncles for cold hard cash instead of socks and sweaters for Christmas/birthdays. and hunt for hardware deals, you can usually build yourself a pretty decent gaming PC on the cheap. Or you can just use plastic. A machine you buy today will be good for at least next few years – and you can easily squeeze more time out of it by simply cranking down the video quality on your games. Racking up debt on your credit cards, every few years to feed your gaming habits is not all that uncommon. Plus you can easily convince your parents, your self and everyone else that this is a reasonable expense – after all you need a computer for work, school and everything. Of course if you were just using your computer for all that, you wouldn’t need that humongous video card that barely fits in the case and must be cooled with liquid hydrogen… But they don’t know that.

Of course, eventually these folks grow up, get jobs, start families and etc. They don’t stop playing video games (well, I imagine most don’t) but they are suddenly in a reverse situation. They have precious little time to spend on a game, but plenty of disposable income. Suddenly buying one game a month becomes a perfectly reasonable expenditure. And it feels good too. Nothing makes you feel like a responsible member of a society like throwing down some money to buy a new PC video game.

It is the right thing to do, it keeps the PC relevant as a gaming platform, and it also lets you cast a vote as to what kind of games and business practices you want to see on this platform. It allows you to reward companies that make good games, and withhold money from those who just make clones of the same brown FPS shooter every year. It allows you to punish companies who spend millions on finding new inventive way of pissing off legitimate customers with DRM that your average pirate will never, ever even hear about.

The problem is, that these reformed pirates tend to be mature veteran gamers and connoisseurs. Over the years they have developed specific taste, and a nose for crappy games. They are not easily swayed by hype and viral marketing. And they get annoyed when you shove nasty anti-customer protection schemes in their face.

Which is why a lot of very big publishing houses try to ignore them, and chase after the hyper, inexperienced, easily swayed youngster market. Which just happens to be rife with die-hard pirates with no disposable income.

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14 Responses to Who Buys Video Games

  1. Gui13 FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Mac OS says:

    Oh man, just recognized myself so much in this.

    I wasn’t yet brainy enough when the Amiga went out, but oh boy, how many 386 games I got through sneakernet….

    Now that I’m on a payroll, I do buy lots of games, even mostly on sales on Steam (70€ for a console game or 50 for PC is definitely not the amount of money I would consider spending).

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  2. Alphast NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Story of my life. Which is also one of the reasons I hate it so much when some of these (otherwise good games) are made artificially too difficult to play. I don’t have enough time to “crack” their difficulty. I am an (old) casual gamer…

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  3. Zel FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I haven’t pirated games since I graduated. For a while I played games at no cost, buying cheap using the favorable exchange rate with the UK and reselling at french second-hand prices. Now that online accounts for activation have prevailed everywhere, it’s nearly impossible to resell at a decent price.

    Instead of turning to piracy, I just find myself buying less games, simply because the current offer doesn’t cater to my tastes. There are maybe a couple commercial games that I want to play each year, which isn’t too hard on the wallet even at full 50€ price. My gaming rig is an antiquity but is still running games just fine, and graphical quality is not a primary concern for me.

    Also, I’ve explored the realm of abandonware, free-to-play or open sources games and found gems like NetStorm, Dwarf Fortress or Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup, which provide me with more entertainment than the latest Call of Duty probably ever could.

    I’d still be wary of using pre-orders or having ‘must-buy’ companies. Even relatively sure bets like Bioware are risky, with Jade Empire in the past and DA2 now, and Bethesda games are highly dependent on modding tools to reach good quality levels.

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  4. jambarama UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    It may be prudent to be more leery of bioware. Out of principle I don’t buy or pirate games from EA, Ubi, and a few other publishers.

    We had an apple IIe, commodore, and eventually windows 3.1, and I definitely pirated my share of disks then. I don’t pirate games anymore, I’ve got a 100 year supply from free games & stuff I’ve bought in the past!

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  5. xWittaker UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    Multiplayer games on the other hand tend to require that you buy the game. Getting a cracked version of a pirated game to work with the official servers can be a real headache (and frequently impossible) leaving you with pirate servers that tend to be full of griefers, cheaters, etc. I also find that multiplayer games tend to last me a lot longer. I picked up heroes of newerth for $30 around a year ago after it left beta and I still play it regularly.

    Rail games like mass effect, dragon age, resident evil, etc, just don’t feel like they’re worth the price. You play through them once and then you’re done (you could argue that you might play through once more for the opposing good/evil morality, but I find that to be just a gimmick). Best to just rent those kind of games for consoles and reserve my cash for multiplayer, mmo, and sandbox pc games.

    By the way, thanks for mentioning those abandonware games Zel, and I have one more to add to the list. It’s an old magic the gathering pc game that I think is far superior to the newer one that was released. Gamespot game description here

    A small community has been maintaining the game and making small updates. The installation instructions can be found here

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  6. xWittaker UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    Multiplayer games on the other hand tend to require that you buy the game. Getting a cracked version of a pirated game to work with the official servers can be a real headache (and frequently impossible) leaving you with pirate servers that tend to be full of griefers, cheaters, etc. I also find that multiplayer games tend to last me a lot longer. I picked up heroes of newerth for $30 around a year ago after it left beta and I still play it regularly.

    Rail games like mass effect, dragon age, resident evil, etc, just don’t feel like they’re worth the price. You play through them once and then you’re done (you could argue that you might play through once more for the opposing good/evil morality, but I find that to be just a gimmick). Best to just rent those kind of games for consoles and reserve my cash for multiplayer, mmo, and sandbox pc games.

    By the way, thanks for mentioning those abandonware games Zel, and I have one more to add to the list. It’s an old magic the gathering pc game that I think is far superior to the newer one that was released. Gamespot game description here

    A small community has been maintaining the game and making small updates. The installation instructions can be found

    here

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  7. Mr.Pete GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    The paragraph about not stopping gaming but “suddenly” receiving a regular paycheck is so much the story of my life.
    Though I admit to having copied several games back then (what a blast when one of the friends went to visit relatives somewhere. That always meant new games!) I’m now a legal customer.
    Same applies to RPG-books. While it’s cool to flick through a book someone else bought and brought to the table there’s nothing like the feel of receiving a package, opening it and sniffing that “new book scent”…
    And with more time for work it means less time for gaming which means more money to spend on the occasional purchase…

    @ Zel:
    Netstorm, yay!
    Try and take a look at DesktopDungeons.
    Not much depth but terribly addictive with it’s mix of luck & tactics.

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  8. IllegalOpcode UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Ah the good old days. Everything changes but it always stay the same. Yea it is funny the people that buy the games are the ones they don’t care about. Don’t copy that floppy! I will only buy games off steam. Copy protection for the most part kills game performance and compatibility. With steam all you need is an internet connection and your golden. As an added bonus you don’t have to keep up with any disks. I also vote with my wallet. I have came to a conclusion that if I would not buy it then I am not going to pirate it. I will not only cut the cash flow from my wallet but their argument that they are losing money to software pirates. And if they stop making PC game the pirates will follow to the consoles. Focus on making good games and less on making good DRM and you will sell more. Yo ho fiddle dee dee I was a pirate.

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  9. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Gui13:

    Steam sales are so awesome that they actually make me re-buy old games that I once pirated. For example, I bought the entire Hitman series package, even though I previously shamelessly pirated half of the titles included in it. :P

    @ Alphast:

    Yep, same here. I’m perfectly happy to save-creep my way through difficult sequences, but a lot of game devs out here are like “no, we gonna use sparse checkpoints cause that’s how real gamers play”.

    Also, it’s funny how most game reviewers out there don’t even mention important features like the ability to quick save. They will spend like 20 pages talking about graphics and fail to mention that the game has checkpoints spaced 2 hours of game play apart, and doesn’t let you save in between them. Ugh…

    @ Zel:

    Wait… What was wrong with Jade Empire? I actually really liked that game. Great story, interesting characters, fairly unique settings and a flawlessly executed twist in the third act. It wasn’t really a real RPG but I liked it.

    @ jambarama:

    Ugh… I saw that on Reddit the other day too… I don’t like to buy from EA on a principle, but now that they own Bioware I’m torn.

    Oh, also it seems that non-Steam versions of DA2 stealth install Secu-Rom on your machine, even though BioWare promised the game was going to be Secu-Rom free. Fucking EA….

    @ xWittaker:

    Here is the thing: multi player and single player games cater to different needs and wants. They offer very different experiences, and they are not easily comparable. Multiplayer games have great replay value, but they deliver the entertainment in short bursts – single player games offer longer, more focused experience.

    To me, they are both worth about the same – mainly because being antisocial as I am more drawn to single-player experiences. There are exceptions of course – I love TF2 and L4D even though I suck at them. :P Oh, and then there is WoW which I actually haven’t played in like a month or two….

    @ Mr.Pete:

    Oh man, we used to xerox entire RPG books when I was a kid. Granted, this was in Poland where the RPG market was very young. When I started with the hobby the only thing you could buy in Polish was Warhammer Fantasy Role Play and Kryształy Czasu (which was Polish AD&D clone famous for insanely convoluted and broken rules). Everything else were imports from UK sold at a premium price and in English. And the only way to get some of the more obscure supplements and/or rulebooks was to actually copy them from someone who traveled, or had family in Western Europe or UK. I think I still have some very, very faded copy of a copy of a copy of a Malkavian sourcebook somewhere… :P

    Btw, this is pretty much how I learned English: Warhammer Fantasy Battles, Star Wars D6, Vampire Masquerade, Mutant Chronicles, Magic the Gathering, Middle Earth, The Wizards CCG, video games and Cartoon Network.

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  10. Zel FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Luke Maciak wrote:

    Wait… What was wrong with Jade Empire? I actually really liked that game. Great story, interesting characters, fairly unique settings and a flawlessly executed twist in the third act. It wasn’t really a real RPG but I liked it.

    I’m not into hack and slash games, and Jade Empire was very close to one : button mashing combat, lots of action and fancy animations, little strategy or preparation. The story is good and the setting interesting, but as with all recent Bioware games the good and evil paths differ so little that any choice made is of little impact, and the way through the game is one long straight road. I also remember it to be quite short, and with a rather awful shooter minigame.

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  11. Mr.Pete GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Luke Maciak wrote:

    which was Polish AD&D clone famous for insanely convoluted and broken rules …
    I think I still have some very, very faded copy of a copy of a copy of a Malkavian sourcebook somewhere…

    Hrh… ever tried the “new and improved powergaming with rules” that’s sold as D&D nowadays?
    Yeah, copies of copies… I remember the relief when the occasional coke-disaster flooded the table with stickyness and the upcoming rage when the ONLY COPY of some book get’s covered in not-really-but-under-the-right-light-bloodstains.
    Well, that’s the reason I invested some more money and printed the last rulebook on plastic :)

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  12. Annie Moose UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    People who know about my torrenting habits are always surprised when I tell them I don’t pirate games because, well… I’ve been less noble about other forms of entertainment.

    To me, games are just too important to pirate. Like you say, customers need to vote with their wallets. Game companies I’m a fan of (Valve, Bioware, and so on), I can’t justify pirating the games of because I want to give them my money. I want them to realize that people like their games and I want to reward them for having a superior product. Game companies I don’t like… well, I generally don’t like them because I don’t like their games, so I see no reason to play the games in the first place.

    Kind of a weird policy, and certainly not a consistent ethical theory or anything, but it’s how I view games.

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  13. Justin germino UNITED STATES Netscape Navigator Mac OS says:

    I remember those Amira days getting games off of bbs and such. Now typically almost all games have demos and I try to see if worth buying. There are lots of free good games out there but the quality of some full retail games is still superior. Services like steam and live will expand and make piracy more difficult as everything including the OS starts moving into the cloud.

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  14. Casey CANADA Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    Sounds right to me. When I was younger i pirated tons of games.. because I gamed allot and it would take me months to save enough for a new game. Now I have much less time for games, but I have way more money… So I can afford to buy games. In fact, I now own more games then I even have time to play!

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