Experienced Points

Experienced Points
Excuses on the High Seas

Shamus Young | 20 Feb 2009 21:00
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The game isn't available in my country.

Like abandonware, this is one of those mushy gray areas that gets complex very quickly once you start talking about the awful tangle that is international copyright laws. Is it wrong to gain access to something which costs money when it is simply impossible to pay for it? I still come down on the side that this isn't something nice people do, but this is not nearly as clear-cut as the earlier cases.

In any case, if you're from a country where major publishers choose not to do business, then you're not part of the "sales lost to pirates" problem that publishers keep wailing about. You're actually part of a completely different problem.

I want to see if it actually works before I buy it.

Against this excuse I can offer no counter-argument.

Somehow, publishers have weaseled themselves into a position where they are not held accountable in any way for the failures of their own products. You can run out right now and buy a movie, a pair of pants, a box of cereal, a plasma screen television, and a chair. You can then go home and put on the pants, sit in the chair, and watch the movie while you eat half the cereal. You can then go back to the store the next day and return any or all of those items. But if you bought a videogame and it doesn't work, you are stuck. You can't return it for money. You can't return it for store credit. You can only return it for an identical copy of the game that doesn't work. This is particularly asinine given that games are a lot more likely to malfunction than chairs, cereal, or pants. It's impossible to predict if some eccentricity in your particular machine will cause the game to blow up, crash, or refuse to run.

Publishers claim they do this to protect themselves from piracy. They seem to be afraid that a pirate would drive to the store, buy a game, go home, install the game, install a crack so it doesn't need the disk, and then drive back to the store and return the game for a refund. What kind of pirate would go to this much hassle when a copy of the game is just a download away?

Publishers are ripping off honest customers by refusing to take responsibility for defective products in an attempt to stop a form of piracy that doesn't even exist. Reasonable people could understandably want to make sure the software will function as advertised before they place their money in non-refundable peril. Publishers complaining about pirates "stealing" from them should note that if someone pirates your game, you do not suddenly become $60 poorer, but if you sell someone a game that doesn't work and don't give them a refund, they really are $60 poorer. Who's "stealing" now?

Although, if you download the game and it works, are you then honest enough to run to the store and Do The Right Thing? I imagine many people begin the download in self-defense, and then never get around to making the trip to the store.

I buy the game, then download the DRM free copy.

I can see the appeal of doing this. Pirated versions of games sometimes run better once the DRM has been stripped out, and you get to play the game without "agreeing" to the EULA. I don't think this counts as piracy, though. If you own the game, then the torrents are just a system of distributed backup copies for you. In any case, I don't see anything wrong with it.

I should add that I don't do this myself because as a reviewer I like to review the product offered by the publisher, not the one perfected by the pirates. If publishers are determined to saddle our gaming experience with DRM hassles, I am only happy to return the favor by saddling the review with complaints about the same.

I think in a vast majority of cases the real reason people pirate is because they can. It's a maddeningly complex issue that is intertwined with commerce, politics, technology, and culture. But the reasons behind it are simple and all too familiar.

Shamus Young is the author of Twenty Sided, the vandal behind Stolen Pixels, and has a huge shelf of 100% legit games - most of which weren't worth the money.

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