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:
- You would leg it to the store and buy a box of no-name floppies
- You would then head to your friend’s house, and make him show you his new games
- 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.