Sins of a Silicon Empire – An industry at fault

Sins of a Silicon Empire – An industry at fault

You’re to blame. EA’s to blame. The journos are to blame. Your gran’s probably to blame. Infact she’s probably behind it all. Unless you’re a veritable saint of a man/woman/pensioner, I bet you’ve downloaded at least one game, CD or film without giving its creator due credit. And we all know all too well that the recent furor over DRM that publishers are becoming less and less in touch with their consumer base.


But these are not the only problems.

There’s more to it than DRM and distribution. There are two other problems, more ideologically focused, as I will come to illustrate that I feel are an issue. These are that A) Publishers are no longer selling us their games. They’re just hyping them. And B) We as consumers have become alienated from the publishers, claiming thus that piracy is a some how justified alternative. We’ve been lost on them as a consequence; it’s one of those circles of destruction do-hickeys.

This is a case of something we can do, and something they can do.

So what are they doing wrong? Well – generally, one major (*ahem*) “justification” pirates have for their nefarious activities is the idea that they want to see what a game is like before they buy it; you know, like a demo. Back in days of yore and myth, games were distributed on a shareware type format. Granted, this was mostly related to the comparitive lack of distribution methods and infrastructure back then, but one thing you certainly got a feel for with these shareware releases was a decent demonstration of what you’d be getting should you buy the full game. Doom for example gave you a whole chunk of the full game. When you finally did buy it, you knew exactly what you’d be getting. Though ironically, that’s apparently true for Mirror’s Edge, but not in a good way.

My favourite examples though, would be Starcraft. Blizzard made a whole new mini-campaign to advertise it prior to release. Similarily, Quake 3 has such a good demo it was played for years after the game’s release. Granted, this didn’t gain any sales directly. But it demonstrated exactly what you’d be buying.

Today, many games don’t get a demo. And if they do it’s limited, and often not really representative. The much pirated Crysis had a demo. But it didn’t run as well as the full game on many people’s PC’s. For a game with such ludicrous requirements for high end settings, this was tantamount to industry suicide. Another poor move is Left 4 Dead. Easily the best demo I’ve played in years. And since I’d already pre-ordered, it didn’t bother me, but Valve made the unimpressive decision of taking the demo off Steam when the full game went on sale. Advertise all you like Valve, get all the perfect 10s you can, but if people can’t test it out, there’s always going to be people who avoid it. Or find other means.

You want my money? Start telling me why I should give you it.

Unfortunatly, my arguement can fall apart. World of Goo for example, released an excellent demo, featuring a whole damn chapter. Yet it recieved 80-90% piracy rates. (Honestly, if you downloaded it, I want you off my site. Or at least buy it to redeem yourself, heathen.)

So here’s where the consumer comes in.

We have to be proud not to pirate. We have to make it clear to the publisher that we are willing to cooperate, and buy their stuff. We have to start actively condemning people we know pirate. I’m not saying we go in lynch mobbing (I wonder how that would work on the internet…), but we need to demonstrate good faith. Journalists need to start saying less about the DRM crap-storm, and start offering solutions. We’re the loudest voices of the community after all. I’ve always thought (well actually, Sage Francis said it, I thought it was witty) that we shouldn’t define ourselves by what we don’t do. But frankly, when we’re being inundated with DRM and the like, we have to stand up and say “hang on, why are you punishing me when I’ve been putting dinner on your table for 15+ years? I am not a criminal”. And on top of this, as long as the piracy has the Robin Hood like image in the community, we’re going to be stuck.

Cool Piracy.
Cool Piracy.
Uncool Piracy.
Uncool Piracy.

My solution? We need a consumer lead, grass roots movement to start giving reports from the consumer point of view. As long as all the important reports are only ever written by the corporates, for the corporates, they’re never going to reflect the consumer base.

And that’s why piracy is rising. The consumer no longer feels like the corporates are in it with their best interests at heart any more. And the corporates have no idea what we want.

And more demos please.

5 thoughts on “Sins of a Silicon Empire – An industry at fault

  1. I’m sorry, I can’t agree with you on that. The customer has no great reason (except a moral one – and occasionally for greater convenience, for example on Steam) to actually buy a game if it’s gratis and hassle-free. The customer *does not benefit* from buying a game, especially if it’s DRM-ridden. The publisher can’t cope with new developments? Well, shit, *capitalism*.

  2. That’s a damn good point I have to say actually. I’m coming at this from the moral view point; I personally refuse to pirate, since I believe in credit where credit is due. That’s why my stance on it as such, rather than more practical aspects.

    But certainly. The new direction being taken by corporates to deal with piracy – DRM – is in itself providing a worse service than before. Which essentially goes with my point that the consumer no longer believes that the corporates have their best interests at heart – because they’re letting them down on a service point of view.

  3. I think you’ve missed the most obvious point that should be made here. Most DRM solutions in use today at best don’t work and at worst actively punish paying customers. Newell has said it – most solutions are just dumb. That’s the problem. People don’t mind something like Steam, which is a really effective piece of DRM, for two reasons. It works, and it adds to the value of having a legitimate copy by providing additional little things like auto-patching and community features. It’s more beneficial to buy a game on Steam than pirate one because of this.

    Not so with pretty much every other game currently being published. So people turn to piracy because it’s easy and it’s free. It has nothing to do with some perceived disconnect between corporation and consumer. It’s simply a question of convenience and sense. I don’t see why one should demonise piracy because in many cases it’s actually a more straightforward and immediate solution for most people wanting to play a game.

    And as for the whole “the consumer no longer believes that the corporates have their best interests at heart” – please, when was that ever the case? A corporation’s primary concern is itself and its shareholders. It only cares about consumers because they are the ones with the cash to spend. I’m not passing an judgment on the system but that’s they way capitalism works. It’s foolish to pretend otherwise and it doesn’t help your argument.

  4. Thanks for the input, always nice to have some detailed responses ;)

    In a way, I’m trying to move the discussion in more areas than just DRM, distribution (I’ve actually tweaked the start of the article a little; I think this needed stressing a little more :P) I’m kind of sick of discussing the whole DRM only punishes the paying customer/doesn’t stop piracy/breeds endless blog articles stuff. The economics of consumerism aren’t that simple, nor are they as pragmatic as we might believe. There’s ideological drives, and ethical considerations that I genuinely think have been tucked under the rug.

    The increasing trend of implementing shoddy DRM solutions is certainly an important and detrimental influence on the industry from the consumer perspective and from the perspective of anyone with an ounce of sense. But it’s clearly not the only problem. Again I’ll turn to World of Goo. World of Goo is so unbelievably easy to buy online it blows any arguement that “people pirate because it’s easier” out of the water. You Paypal your money. You get a game. It took me some 3-4 minutes from drunkenly deciding it was time to buy it to reaching that first pipe. Hell, it’s even a reasonable price. It’s the best $20 I’ve spent all year.

    The pirates have absolutely no excuse for racking up that 82% piracy figure than the ideological fact that they can’t be arsed to pay. For that they do deserve demonisation. They’re scum as far as I’m concerned.

    Granted, this works differently for a corporation. They’re largely faceless, callous organisations for the most part. That’s a given. But frankly, good will on the part of your consumer is the best way to make cash. You can’t “beat” piracy. You can only try offer a deal that people are actually going to like – as you quite rightly say Valve have done with Steam. But I think it’s more than that. Valve are generally held in high regard in the consumer world, despite actually having a highly intrusive DRM solution. People want to buy their games, and that’s a fact. For all the pragmatism, they’ve won the crowd over.

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