Even though tons of free copies floating about helps a particular type of software win over others, price isn't the limiting factor when it comes to piracy. At least not in the long run. Most of us pirates got started in our early teens - you know, back when $50 for a game we'd play once wasn't quite affordable. Fifty dollars was about how much money I had for gas and food over the course of a month. A game just wasn't worth not being able to ride around in gas guzzling American cars, chasing girls.
As time progresses, however, the cost of a game becomes easier and easier to absorb, but the old question still pops up: Is it worth it? How much is 40 hours of enjoyment really worth? How much is "fun," whatever that means, worth? Morrowind was a blast. I never paid for it. World of Warcraft cost me $70, if you count the two months I paid for the subscription, and it's one of the least compelling games I've ever played. Does paying for WoW take away from the great games like Morrowind I stole?
Unfortunately, it does.
I'm a huge fan of the "vote with your wallet" principle. If something sucks, don't bitch about it, just don't buy it. According to my own ethic, in one fell swoop, I managed to send an unspoken message to Bethesda Softworks: "Your game isn't as good as this crappy one I just shelled out 70 bones for." And it's a message I've sent time and time again to dozens of developers who truly deserve a thank you.
That's when I finally hung up my digital eye-patch. When I realized I wasn't doing my part as a consumer to make games better. When I realized there wouldn't be a Thief IV because not enough copies of Thief III had sold.
Will I steal another game? Probably not, and if I do slip up, the chances of me feeling guilty and ponying up the cash are pretty high, if only because it means I'll be able to say, "At least you're not as bad as WoW, and for that I thank you."
Joe Blancato is a Contributing Editor for The Escapist Magazine, in addition to being the Founder of waterthread.org.