In a report submitted by the European Union Commission, it was found—unsurprisingly—that the commission couldn’t prove that sales were affected by piracy. The claim of piracy affecting sales has been a long-standing one, typically levied against the PC gaming market. But now, there is at least some proof to show that the effects of piracy can’t be measured, and to claim to know the extent of their impact, is a fallacy.
While the study shows the inability to track the effects properly, there are several items about piracy that, while circumstantial, further reinforce the idea that piracy was and still isn’t a big threat to the industry.
Why People Pirate(d)
Everyone pirates for different reasons, but there are certain themes that exist when it comes to pirating games. Most of which, group into a few categories:
For people who pirate for money, the want to pirate is quite straightforward. They simply do not have the funds to purchase the product for various reasons. Perhaps the most cited reason is that they are simply young. Teenagers and college students are not a demographic that is particularly well known for their disposable income. The only way they can afford to play games is by pirating the content. The other sub-group is those who simply don’t make enough disposable income, be it because of their income, country, or a combination of the two. Regardless of the “how”, the “why” remains the same; the lack of funds.
Convenience somewhat blends in with one of the sub-groups of money and makes it the main contributing factor to pirating. Being in a country that doesn’t have the same amenities as being in the USA, buying a pirated copy of something would not only be cheaper but also far more available to be purchased. While some may choose convenience as a reason because of their surroundings, others will choose convenience because of the restrictions applied to a game. One of the more infamous DRM fiascos was with the always-online-feature of Assassin’s Creed II. For those who live with limited internet access, playing Assassin’s Creed II wasn’t a viable option. To get around this restriction, players download pirated versions that removed the DRM from the game so they could enjoy it without internet access.
While some pirate for the sake of their ability to play, others do it purely on the basis of principle. There are many in the gaming community who feel that placing any DRM on a product they purchased is crossing a line in the sand that shouldn’t be crossed. Instead of purchasing the game and promoting these DRM practices, they instead pirate the game as a quasi-form of protesting while still playing the game.
Finally, the last major possible “legitimate” reason someone may pirate a game is for technical reasons. Playing games on a PC can be at times, a chore. The number of instances I can name where I purchased a game on Steam and upon finally running the game, come to find out that it doesn’t work on my PC are endless. Be it a driver issue, something that requires a patch, or any and everything in between; playing on a PC comes with added risk compared to other platforms. Pirating can serve as a way to test a game before purchasing so you can confidently make a purchase, knowing it will work.
Of course, there is one more major reason that must be mentioned, and it’s those who simply wish to have something for free. There is no additional digging needed here to describe those in this group, it’s as simple as wanting to get something for free and that’s it.
So why is it important to know the various amount of reasons on why someone would pirate a game? Because it informs the publishers and developers on ways to entice consumers to purchase instead of pirate.
Learn from Mistakes
Steam owes much of its success to learning from other’s mistakes. When Steam originally came to the market, it was DRM as plain as day. Its features were minimal, it only offered valve games, and served only as a restriction. As time went on, Steam began adding features that consumers wanted, coupled with ease of use and at price points that no one at the time even matched. It created an environment that consumers wanted, and it worked.
This example largely speaks to how and why pirating has never truly been an issue. For those who lacked money, once their economic situation changes, those who were once pirates were no longer. With those who had convenience as a reason to pirate, once platforms adopted consumer-friendly practices in their location, they became consumers. As further strides by both developers of games and computer hardware created better and updated software that has fewer issues across the board, fewer people need to pirate to test a game. For those who pirated based on principle, their principles were questioned and lines were blurred, potentially turning them into consumers. All of these advancements we have seen have continued to diminish the want and need to pirate. However, all of this is lacking the biggest complaint levied against the argument that piracy is affecting game sales; no one knows if they were going to buy anyway.
It is one thing to claim that an item is stolen, however, it’s a whole other thing to say that an item would have been purchased but because of pirating would not. It’s arguably an impossible feat to prove; even the EU was unable to show the relation between pirating and the loss of a sale. In fact, the only thing that the EU was able to provide was the benefit pirating had on the games industry, showing that pirating actually assisted in creating sales. This all just goes to show that while pirating was considered a long-standing issue, the reality of this is far from the narrative that was told, largely because everyone was telling a narrative they thought was right, not because they knew it was right.