Friday, September 14, 2012

Software ≠ Automobiles

Time and time again I keep hearing the argument that video game piracy is evil because it's stealing.  Then almost without fail the comparison to automobile theft is brought up.  Developers, producers, heck even website reviewers do this.  Not to mention there's always a few people on any given internet forum who say this whenever the topic is brought up.  Well, I'm here to tell you that, yes, stealing another person's car is wrong.  But that's not the same thing is as pirating a piece of software.

Let's break this down into three main differences:

First, an illegally downloaded copy of a game does not equate to a lost sale.  When a thief steals something off a store shelf it's commonly refereed to as "shrinkage" and it is lost revenue since the item that was taken can no longer be sold.  This applies to pretty much any form of physical goods, including video games sitting in boxes at your local gaming outlet.  But it's somewhat different with digital software.  Since, there is no way to definitively prove that the person who acquired the game via torrent would have paid money for it to begin with.  This holds especially true when you consider that many pirates don't necessarily have the funds or earnest desire to purchase what they download unlawfully.  So, when companies like Ubisoft claim that they lose more than half their game sales do to pirates I gotta to cry "bullshit!" because there is no way they can know for certain that any of those people would have purchased their game otherwise.  Sometimes this is referred to as victimless crime.

Second, a car costs a considerable amount of resources to make even once schematics have been drawn up and a prototype has been manufactured.  In contrast any piece of software can be duplicated pretty much cost free after it's written.  Yes, developers incur costs during programming because coders have to eat, and for that reason there is need of financial reimbursement for services rendered.  But let me ask you this; if I were to delete a piece of software would that constitute a loss of materials?  Obviously with cars it is, driving your automobile into an active volcano is a sure fire way to lose a big chunk of metal.  It's not easy to replace since more ore will have to mined and processed to make another one.  But with data it's no big deal because it's just a bunch of strings of 0's and 1's which can be replicated with the click of a button.  What I'm getting at here is the concept of digital verses physical.  A lot of people have a hard time wrapping their head around this idea.  Simply put we live in a post information scarcity world, and people who grew up before that time often don't really understand it.

Third, I know for a fact that there are people out there who enjoy driving.  Personally, I was more of a dirt bike kind of guy than a sports car enthusiast.  So, I never really saw the appeal while growing up, but I'll accept that there are people out there who think of cars as a form of entertainment.  For the vast majority of us though I'm pretty sure that automobiles serve primarily as tools to get us (and any stuff we throw in the back) from point A to point B.  Cars are a transportation devices, meant to make our lives easier.  When one of us is the target of automobile theft it's a big deal because that's a very important utility of our daily lives lost.  Video games on the other hand are really just entertainment.  I don't know anyone outside the industry who would get fired from their job if they could no longer play video games.  Yes, it would suck if someone stole your compete collection of Mario Party titles, but lets face it, compared to cars video games are hardly a necessity of life.

So in conclusion apples and oranges.  Anyone who gives you the whole piracy is straight up robbery doesn't really understand the issue and as such has taken an oversimplified view...possibly because they aren't comfortable with the complexities of the modern day world.  Now, let me end this by saying I'm not saying piracy is okay.  What I am saying is there are major fundamental differences between stealing software online and stealing physical products, which muddle the ethics of it all considerably.  Morality aside, people who completely take a pro or anti stance on this issue are really only saying one thing about themselves, namely "I haven't though deeply enough about this."  

1 comment:

  1. Another great article! Although I think your third point is weaker than your first two. The way I think about piracy is not is it ethical or illegal, but rather piracy exists, so how can companies adapt to it. I don’t think trying to use stricter legal action is going to work because 1) Many piraters are under aged, thus making it more difficult to take legal action against them. 2) No matter how strict you make the punishment for piracy there will always be countries which consider it legal and technologies which make it difficult to track piraters. 3) The more companies clamp down on piracy the stronger the resentment becomes, since many piraters are also these companies customers. Perhaps the best approach for companies would be to consider piracy as a competitor to selling their products and changes their practices to make piracy less attractive. I feel there are 3 main reasons why people pirate. 1) The price of the software. Often times people pirate because they don’t feel the cost of the software/movie/music… is worth the quality. So, instead of paying $20 for a movie they are only half interested in, they can pirate it for free. This way, if the movie is terrible you can just stop watching it and it didn’t cost you anything. 2) Another major factor is the convenience. As download speeds increase, it is becoming easier to do a quick search online and download what you want, instead of going to a store or buying it online and waiting for it to arrive at your house. 3) My last point is kind of related to the previous two, but it deals with the quality and convenience to the user as a whole. There is free software out there which lets you sort, search, and watch your movies is a much more user-friendly manner than the current movie watching softwares. As for video games, I have played several titles where the pirated version ran considerably better than the legal copy. I think the companies should take the things that make pirating attractive and incorporate them into their products. The best examples of companies that have taken this approach, which I can think of, are Netflix and Steam. The cost to subscribe to Netflix is very reasonable, and user interface is pretty friendly. Steam has large sales, customer support for their games, a user-friendly interface, and is very convenient to use. Companies need to make the overall advantages of buying their products better than piracy. I think this approach would be better than trying to use legal action or a moral guilt trip that piracy is unethical.