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 Video Game Piracy

Video Game Piracy – A Different Beast?

July 30, 2010

Since the release of the latest generation of consoles, the gaming industry has undergone considerable growth. No longer seen as a niche, antisocial pastime, the marketing strategies and innovative approaches to game design employed by companies like Nintendo have brought Gaming into the mainstream. Platforms such as the Wii, and the DS, have spawned a new genre of games, suitable for anyone to play. The stereotypical hardcore gamer profile of an antisocial teenager locked away in a basement is nowadays far from accurate. At the same time, the popularity of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) has led to the development of astonishingly vibrant online gamer communities.

Along with the growth in popularity of gaming, has come an increase in videogame piracy. Just as with films and music, games consist of intellectual property that can be copied, and distributed. The industry has grown to make gaming a $60 billion dollar market, and the issue of illegal downloading is now serious cause for concern to publishers.

The way games are used by consumers is very different to the way music and film are used. While a film might be seen once or twice a year, games can offer hours and hours of single player game play, and in a multiplayer environment the entertainment value of a game can often increase with time. While music is consumed passively, players interact with game environments. So what does this mean for game piracy?

While the music and film industries go after their consumers in court, both alienating buyers and racking up legal fees, the nature of games gives publishers a range of far better options.

  • Demos
    It is sometimes argued by infringing downloaders that they want to sample the material before purchasing it – perhaps wanting to see the film to know if it was worth adding to their DVD collection, or wanting to listen to some of the tracks on an album before buying the whole thing. For game publishers this is easy to address, as they have been doing for years, by releasing time, or feature limited, demos of their titles.
  • Where practical, some publishers also release ‘beta’ versions of their games, allowing users to get a taste of what the finished version will be like, to provide feedback, and to generate marketing buzz. This has been effective with games such as Blizzard’s Starcraft 2, and the Halo Reach beta given to buyers of the most recent title in the Halo Franchise – Halo ODST.
  • Additional In-Game Content
    As explained above, one of the major differences between games, and other media, is that players interact with the game environment, and if taken into account as part of the design process games can be built ready to accept additional content – this might be new levels, characters, weapons or even features.Technical measures often make it possible to restrict the release of bonus content to licensed copies through activation, license codes, and other means. By doing so, publishers not only discourage piracy, but increase the lifespan of a game and add a revenue stream.
  • Multiplayer Networks
    One form of additional functionality worth mentioning on its own is multiplayer play. By restricting access to gaming servers to licensed copies, publishers provide a powerful disincentive to use a pirated copy, for example Xbox Live operators are able to ban those using infringing copies from the multiplayer servers.Where the multiplayer aspect of a game is central to its use, an even more effective business model emerges. Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) based on subscription models, can effectively eliminate the threat posed by piracy. Possibly the most successful game ever, World of Warcraft, attracts monthly subscription revenue in the tens of millions of dollars.

All of these are powerful tools by which the games industry can combat piracy, without resorting to legal action.

While game piracy is an issue of mounting concern, it is a different beast as compared to music and film copyright infringement, and has the potential to be approached from a very different angle.