Friday evening PAX hosted a spirited panel on games and piracy. Like most PAX panels this year, it drew far too many attendees than would fit into its small conference room, and it would have run far longer had there been more time. Moderated by GamePolitics.com editor Dennis McCauley, the panel featured Chris Melissinos, Chief Gaming Officer for Sun Microsystems, Inc.; Jason Della Rocca, Executive Director for the International Game Developers Association; and Jennifer Mercurio, Esq., Director of Government Affairs for the Entertainment Consumers Association.
The panel began with a discussion of piracy in general, with Della Rocca breaking down piracy into its various general forms and their net impact on the industry. The panelists generally agreed that the current highly restrictive piracy restrictions prevent actions by consumers that actually benefit the industry.
Melissino noted that under the DCMA, the law effectively does away with "fair use" privileges, and he argued that the industry's approach in recent years has become far too draconian and inflexible. Mercurio noted that the ECA's response has been to engage the industry in a dialogue on the subject in hopes of securing fair use rights for consumers.
The discussion eventually turned to industry strategies, with the panelists agreeing that publishers and developers are certainly entitled to take steps to deter piracy. They recognized, though, the hardships law-abiding consumers face when the industry implements invasive or cumbersome copyright protection technology. They also noted that new DRM tech is often cracked as soon as it's introduced, and that cumbersome methods may in some cases actually provide gamers with another rationalization for piracy.
Melissinos suggested that the industry might benefit from a universal, reliable, unobtrusive form of protection, citing the widespread use of sim cards in the cell phone and cable television industries. Della Rocca countered by arguing that new business models, such as those that involve subscriptions or microtransactions, should and ultimately will be the industry's approach. Della Rocca said he believed developers could still produce the strong narrative titles that many gamers enjoy under such business models. The panelists and audience also discussed the value of physical media, acknowledging the way special edition pack-ins motivate many gamers not just to buy games, but to spend more money than they normally would.
Audience members' questions, comments, and arguments were eventually cut short in the interest of time. Given the subject, it was certainly no surprise that discussion turned up more questions than answers. As the panel neared its close, though, a theme emerged. Mercurio explained that the ECA had found some success in opening a discussion between consumers and industry representatives, and she said she believes the industry is listening. Melissinos wrapped up the panel with an impassioned appeal to gamers urging them to engage in the debate, educate the industry, and help change the law through the ECA and political process.