Let’s be clear about one thing right from the start. This article is by no means making a blanket statement that all piracy is okay. Piracy in the broadest sense is theft and is wrong. But with most things, it’s not just a black and white, yes or no, right or wrong topic. There is that gray area up for debate and here, we are going to take a look at piracy specifically as it relates to the video game industry.
If a game is about to be or has just been released to retail, is it okay to download off of a torrent site because someone leaked the code out from the manufacturer or was able to rip the files off the disk? Is it okay to use a key generator to claim ownership of a disk so you can play a copy that has been passed around your dorm? No. These are blatant acts of theft. These are where people are trying to mess with the system for their own personal benefit and denying payment to the people and companies behind the created game.
Some will argue that games are too expensive nowadays and piracy is their way of “sticking it to the man” to show them they aren’t okay with high prices. The truth of the matter is that, in relation to inflation, games are cheaper today than they were twenty years ago. During the heyday of the NES and SNES where larger cartridge memory required higher manufacturing costs resulting in some games costing well above even today’s norm price of $59.99. Don’t believe me? Go ask anyone in finance (or even your third grade math teacher) if something that cost $79.99 in 1990 is cheaper than something that today is sold for $59.99 and expect a slap in the face from them.
Another argument heard in favor of piracy is that games are priced too high on launch day and it will soon be discounted. The claim is that it isn’t fair that if someone doesn’t have enough money to play it on launch, they will be left behind the curve in terms of both skill and enjoyment of the game. To this I ask, “What makes you DESERVE to play the game for free that everyone else is paying full price for on day one?” If the answer you can come up with is because you want to, your argument is invalid and you need to shut up.
Just because you played the first two games of a series, it doesn’t mean you deserve some free pass to play the third for free. In reality, that third game probably cost the developer more money to produce which means there are more losses to recoup because they can turn a profit which will fund future games. Don’t believe it? Take a look at the large number of both developers and studios in the past few years that have closed. Even giant publisher THQ is rumored to be in trouble because of sales.
Another reason some people pirate is because certain games are not available in their region like a game only released in Japan and not North America or a game being banned for sale due to content restrictions, often seen in Australia. As far as not being available due to commercial decisions, like a JRPG not coming out in America, there are alternatives that, while they may be expensive, are legal and still watch out for developers like importing services. With regard to games not being available due to legal restrictions, my sympathies do go out to those pirating a game in those territories.
Because I have never experienced my government telling me I can’t get a game I want because of the content, I cannot relate to their situation. It’s in this situation that the lines begin to blur. Does someone pirate a file online or attempt to smuggle something into their country that their government has deemed illegal. If given the choice between the two, I can see why someone would opt to pirate the file. But it doesn’t exactly make the piracy right. It just shows which is the lesser evil, and likely the evil with the lesser punishment, of the two.
And like I said, I don’t believe all piracy is wrong. I believe piracy is wrong when it deprives those who worked on a game the rewards they deserve, mainly compensation. But what about where the option to make a purchase that benefits the creators no longer exists? This is where I scatter the grains of my own personal line in the sand and admit that yes, I have pirated a game.
If tomorrow I sat down and said, “Wow, Wally and I were talking about Ducktales and it is a game I never got to play. Maybe I should check it out,” I’d have no way of doing so. The NES hasn’t had games published in over a decade. None of the gaming stores in my area have a copy of it in their used section. Capcom has not spoken about the game in North America since its 1989 release. The only alternative is finding an emulator site like Virtual NES where I can play it.
Now, don’t try to say, “Well you can find it on eBay and pay for it,” to try to use my own words against me. Buying the game second-hand off of eBay or a used game store doesn’t benefit the game’s original publisher in any way. And using the emulator doesn’t impact the sale of the title either, since it has been out of print for two full decades. Piracy on current games, whether pirates want to admit it or not, does affect game sales. If someone was unable to pirate a game and they wanted it bad enough, they would make the purchase. While it isn’t a full 1:1 conversion rate of pirated copies to purchases that would have been made, there is still an impact. But if the game is literally not available for purchase in some way, shape or form, it isn’t a true act of piracy since no one is being denied what they deserve for their efforts.
One thing I say to anyone who uses emulators though is please do your research. Check on XBLA, the PlayStation Network or the Wii’s Virtual Console and see if the game you want is there. Especially if the game is an old PC game, look out to at least some of the major online distribution sites like Steam or Good Old Games where classic games are being brought back to consumers for incredible deals. Even doing a quick Google or Wikipedia search might reveal that a game was re-released on one of these sites so the publishers and developers who created this classic you love so much can be rewarded for it. But, try as they might, not every game is going to end up on GOG or even on Nintendo’s Virtual Console and in that case, if a person has put forth at least some reasonable amount of effort, I understand why an emulator is the best solution to playing a classic game.
There is an overwhelming sense of entitlement in the gaming community with regard to everything from unlockable content on disc to day one DLC to ownership of games. Gaming is a premium hobby. The cost associated with making games rivals that of some Hollywood blockbuster films. There is no necessity for people to game for survival, just desire. If you have the time to play a game upwards of ten to fifteen hours a week, you have the time to get a part-time job to help pay for your hobby. Don’t make selfish decisions that just make gaming harder for the people who are doing it right. Pirates are the reason for the obnoxious amounts of DRM and talk to locking game disks to a single console during the next generation. But if you are pirating games, you already don’t care about other gamers anyway, do you?