Sad Little Observations

Posted by Alex Jordan on

1. Not to put too much emphasis on an unscientific sample of the few people that read this blog, but the folks that commented below only managed to name four "unique" video games from the past 5 or 6 years that were also critical and successes: Portal, Mirror's Edge, Wii Fit, and Wii Sports. Of those, Mirror's Edge was a financial bomb, and both Wii games were hand-crafted by Nintendo to show off their latest sensory peripherals.

Oh, and every other game mentioned was a small-scale indie game released by digital distribution. That's kinda scary.

2. This article in Gamasutra by someone justifying game piracy as a response to developers not nurturing a good community for their games is the kind of thing that drives me crazy. His argument is that, since games have no tangible content and, thusly, have no intrinsic value, the prime driver of revenue for a game is how supportive you are of the people playing it. Including, of course, the pirates. Be nice enough to them, and they may be kind enough to give you money.

This makes me want to scream and throw my shit. Of course games have intrinsic value, you dipshit. Just because it isn't solid like a book or DVD doesn't mean that games automatically become only a medium by which you succor fans and get them to give you money for your kindness. No, they're supposed to give you money for access to a copy of the game (digital or otherwise) and the experience they get from playing it! The physical media dodge pisses me off to no end, because the distinction between "physical theft" and "copyright violation" (literally, the "right to copy") covers these exact kinds of situations!

I'm impressed that the dude managed to pretty up the usual bullshit justifications with some sort of artsy, social contract-esque relationship between the developer and the (potential) customer, but it falls apart the moment you realize that developers that place a premium on customer service, like 2D Boy, still take it on the chin. Their World of Goo is an excellent game that was (a) self-published for a low price, and (b) done so without Digital Rights Management (DRM) as steps to entice customers. And still, it had a 90 percent piracy rate. Which means, according to the Gamasutra guy's argument, someone's not keeping up their end of the social bargaaaaaain...

The sad fact of the matter is that PC game developers are working in a market with huge, significant distortions. Piracy is cheap and it's easy, and the complete lack of law enforcement against online piracy allows the crime to occur with absolute impunity. And being as any enforcement would require a revolution in both international law and internet law, I don't expect to see a change anytime soon.

People develop PC games because they love developing games, and the PC represents a large audience and a large (potential) market. They frequently charge money for them not because they hope to sucker people and get rich, but because they love designing games and hope to do it for a living. And they can and should do all sorts of things to entice customer support and loyalty. When I get around to PC development, I for one will do everything in my power to provide a cheap, quality-based, DRM-free experience to both reward and entice my clientele. And even if any hypothetical game of mine has a 90% piracy rate, I hope to hell that the 10% of legitimate customers provide revenue that I'm happy with so that I don't have to worry after the missing 90%.

But let's stop pretending that piracy is anything other than the grinning, leering result of a market distortion, and the albatross around the neck of those developers brave enough to enter that market.