Troubled Waters

21 08 2008

A furious commotion has developed in the past few days over game piracy. Since I posted about an indie developer’s efforts to talk to pirates, a file sharer has been ordered to pay £16,000 in damages and costs, and five publishers have announced combined legal action against 25,000 people.

It’s unlikely that many of these will lead to damages, as proving infringement is fraught with difficulties and unset precedents. As a result, the approach taken with Dream Pinball was apparently to pursue the people who wouldn’t show up in court; the merest hint of resistance was enough to make the firm give up and chase easier targets.

ELSPA have distanced themselves somewhat from this kind of activity:

“ELSPA does not condone this activity in any way, however, due to the civil nature of the offences, this is a matter for each of our members to tackle in a way that they feel is appropriate for their individual businesses”

Peter Moore has also jumped in, stating “It didn’t work for the music industry”. He continues:

“I’m not a huge fan of trying to punish your consumer. Albeit these people have clearly stolen intellectual property, I think there are better ways of resolving this within our power as developers and publishers.”

Indeed. Spamming customers en masse with McLawsuits only works against companies in the long run. Some read that as apologist rhetoric for pirates, but it’s not. The example of the record industry is plain for all to see, and there are many things a developer can do and create to mitigate piracy, such as using ad-supported models, subscription models, and online components that are an integral part of the game.

It struck me on reading the batch of stories linked above just how much flux and uncertainty there is in the games industry, and how studios seem to respond to it. What games are becomes increasingly blurry as they merge with digital networks. Additionally, all forms of media face similar issues. On top of that, we’re going through the first truly global financial crisis. After years of strained relationships between studios and publishers, management crises, new technology and increasingly difficult retail conditions, these are hardly reassuring times for the industry despite the recent boom of games.

I suspect as a result of all this that some developers are looking for a straightforward antagonist. Universities that fall short on industry skills, governments that fail to help out with tax breaks, consumers that pirate games. All of these are genuine problems, but the arguments made are similar to “publishers are evil”. It may seem that way, but it’s business and once you understand it you can negotiate. Of the antagonists currently lined up on the firing range, it’s pirates that the industry feels most able to viciously attack. Noone really sympathises with them, or can be seen to in public.

Nonetheless, consumers, educators, policy makers: all three groups are comprised of people the industry needs onside. Not one of them is the kind of simple antagonist portrayed by the rhetoric currently flying about, and won’t be won over through attacks. These are very complex problems that require adaptive action and negotiation, not guns.

(CC image by peasap)



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21 08 2008
Links for August 21st | Dave Harte

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