Monday, May 5, 2008

What ever happened to Fair Use, Piracy and Draconian DRM?

There has been a lot of blog and forum posts about piracy and the evils that it does to the industry, and there can be no doubt that it is not good for the industry, but is the subject so cut and dry being on one level playing field?

This is just my personal opinion and observations and I've nothing to back this up, but it's something I wanted to scribble down all the same.

Piracy has always been around, but I remember back in the day that "fair use" was around and a good thing. If a friend bought a music tape, CD, movie or game, you could borrow it, make your own copy and all was good as fair use of the product. That generally isn't the case. You can still borrow a book and that's okay for some reason, people still borrow a movie, but heaven forbid if someone wanted to borrow a game or a album.

That I think has led to part of the growing problem today, maybe not so much in the numbers involved, but in the empathy felt by people that do it.

Back when I was at university, when games were easier to copy, plenty of folks would chip in to buy a game together and they would either copy it amongst themselves or get a no CD crack for it. That is one sale from a group of three people, which is better than no sale from three people who might download the game now, but back then the cost of a game between a few friends was only a couple of pints of beer and a bag of crisps and copying the game wasn't a hassle so there was less need to search a download. What worked with this approach to having it easy to copy, you still needed your own copy to play a game online, this meant that after single player action was done, you could only play it online in shifts, which meant that most people if they liked the game at all would then go out and buy their own copy anyway, so that's now brought the potential from one to three sales instead of zero sales lost to downloads.

That's obviously a very simplistic approach to combating piracy and increasing sales, but allowing fair use and not crippling peoples ability to copy a product amongst their friends is a simple solution to potentially increasing sales, whether that works or not remains to be seen, but perhaps it should be looked at.

The real issue that these draconian DRM systems were put into place were meant to stop the professional pirate, those gang syndicates or whatever you wish to call them. The problem is, they haven't worked in stopping them, they still copy games easily and sell them to the public via markets, car boot sales, down the pub, or in some countries openly in shops.

These people are the real problem because they are selling a cut price product that you the developer isn't getting a slice of the pie from, and that people who are actually willing to spend some money on the product are giving their money to someone else.

Tackling this area I believe is where the most gains will be found because there is little point in going after the home downloader, chances are they aren't going to pay for the product anyway and will find away of getting it for nothing, and if they couldn't, they would probably end up getting it from that dodgy bloke down the pub, thus not really giving you a sale at the end of the day regardless.

So how can this be tackled? One way is to convince people who are willing to spend money buying a dodgy copy on spending their money on a legit copy, this could be either by lowering the cost of the game, which is an unlikely approach these days and the other approach would be to offer further value for money. This could be as simple as including an audio CD of the music in the game, including a T-shirt of the game or even simpler, a coupon for $10 at Amazon or Cafe Press or whatever. The publisher needs to buck up here because they are the ones in a position to do something, not the developer, because they could negotiate a discount rate for these extra products to be included in the game for minimal cost that would add a lot of extra value to the end buyer. Also, include a proper manual with nice graphics, printed on nice paper, with colour. It's cheap, tacky and cheats people of value when all you get is a CD in the box and perhaps a crappy little tatty black and white printed manual that is useless.

That's one approach, the other, also more publisher focused. Buck the fuck up and put money in to go after those professional pirates, be mercenary if you have to, get private investigators out there to gather evidence on these organisations, compile a neat case that will lead to convictions and seizure of assets and provide it to the legal authorities so that they can take these people on.

Sure that is going to cost money, but do something about the problem rather than waste money on measures that don't work like the DRM's in place. Sure the government and authorities should be doing something about this issue on their own and they do, but it's costly, it's pretty much considered a white collar crime and Joe Public doesn't care, so it's going to get less attention and budget, so help provide that budget and be proactive.

Perhaps a little naive and certainly a simple view and approach to things, but something new has to be tried to encourage people to spend their money because appearing to be the big greedy money giants isn't going to encourage people to not download your product, that approach completely failed in the music industry and something new emerged, iTunes and the ilk. The games industry is a spectacle of talent and innovation and yet some how we are falling short in this area, an area of great importance, WTF?

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