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What’s the difference between piracy and used games?

February 21, 2008

I don’t know if that’s a question that’s often asked, but I find myself at a crossroads these days, when thinking about pirating or illegally downloading games.  While in the past I willfully, nay, gleefully bought and downloaded pirated games, the fact that I’m now in the process of making one has given me pause when deciding to look for that torrent or visit my local pirate stall (one of many, as anyone who’s been to southeast asia can confirm).

I’m not here to defend my pirating or downloading of games, because the truth is I know that it’s wrong, regardless of the poverty gap between asian nations and the US and EU.  Also, I have come to realize that no matter how you try to spin the half-truth that publishers are making most of the money anyway, and you’re not really supporting developers by buying their game, well, that’s just something we tell ourselves to assuage our guilt.

But lately, instead of buying or downloading pirated games, I’ve taken to buying used ones, or borrowing from my more wealthy friends.  The net effect of this is almost the same as piracy, in that the developer/publisher makes no extra money from my purchase of a used game or my borrowing of a game.   Downloading then, appears to be the lesser evil since someone must have bought at least one copy of the game to be ripped and shared on the internet, while in piracy the same thing has occurred but someone’s making money off of it.  So can downloading be called mass borrowing?  And if borrowing a game is ok then how can downloading a game on a torent, without paying money for it, be wrong?

Just a stream of consciousness discussion I’ve been having with myself, thought I’d share it with you guys.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. February 21, 2008 12:29 pm

    Actually that is a really good question I’ve pondered before: How come selling used games is even legal??

    I know game publishers are not happy about store chains buying and selling used games (and the same thing goes for used movies)… but why is it legal to profit from this resale, if neither the developer nor the publisher is getting a portion of the profits? Even more puzzling is the fact that chains like GameStop actually make more money from buying and selling a used game than they do with a new one!

    And as far as being a consumer, why even bother buying a game new? Is this business model broken? Am I missing something? (Maybe I am wrong in assuming the publisher gets nothing out of a used game sale…)

  2. February 21, 2008 12:33 pm

    Oh, and in case you were wondering, here is a Forbes article about how much money a game publisher actually makes out of the sale of a $60 game:

    It turns out their final profit is $1.00! Yep, check the article, it’s all broken down in there…

  3. JerrKat permalink
    February 21, 2008 1:08 pm

    When considering used games, how much time from the release has passed? I’ve heard in passing, that the shelf-life of most games is 2 months. How long do they keep printing game discs after release?
    Would you pay full price for a game that is over a year old? Would you purchase said game if it was only available at full price?

    I’m of the opinion that if piracy and used games were non-exsistant, game sales would only marginally increase.

  4. February 21, 2008 3:12 pm

    The eternally relevant dilemma of piracy…

    Just recently i was looking at the website for the R4 device for DS. It seems to be the most popular flashcard for DS, and they’ve come a long way since the first time i was interested in them a year ago, back when they occupied both DS slots.

    As it presently stands, i have absolutely no qualms whatsoever about DL’ing DS games. I don’t have a steady job, games are hard to invest in and purchases rely too much on reviews. I almost see it as equal to music downloads. Even though the record companies were scared shitless about MP3s killing music — aka their business, since artists hardly get anything from record sales anymore, which is why they tour so much (correct me if wrong) — MP3s made sharing music global. It’s the same philosophy.

    The disparity is that i think music downloaders are more inclined to buying their albums than game downloaders are to buying every single title in their file. It’s a different business and so are their pirates. There’s some overlapping, like the honest few (and i mean few) that only DL to demo a game they wanna buy. But the vast majority appears to DL dozens of games and never buy any. I can’t say that i’d be tempted to do any different. I do it with music. I stopped buying music in 2006 after not being able to find a certain Miles Davis CD, so i DL’d the torrent. Torrents opened up my music experience.

    I guess that this has to happen to a game pirater as well, that game piracy helps against GameStop wringing every dollar and cent outta you and hogging it for themselves, and that the mass sharing of games helps more games get recognition like MP3s have done. I hope so anyway; it seems to be the case with me. I still do my part with the feature titles, but for handheld stuff, there’s just no use in making the effort to track down every quirky handheld game you ever had an interest in and pay twice as much as it originally cost to get it. Another thing to think about is the fact that you need extra hardware to pirate DS games, and that restricts pirates to a very tiny percentage of the whole DS installed base. It’s not as easy as music.

    The industry’s still runnin, so piracy is fine by me. When current-console games start getting mass pirated, we can worry.

  5. February 21, 2008 9:39 pm

    That’s the American viewpoint, so here’s the ricebowl one.

    Almost every DS sale here made outside of the major retail stores comes with an R4 or similarly enabled device plus a DVD disc of games, so the barrier to entry is almost nil.

    Current console game have been pirated since the days of the ps1. Hell, even SNES games were being pirated on floppy discs and inserted into a machine that plugged into the cartridge slot. But it really took off with the PS1 because it was so easy to burn CDs and get around the copy protection with modchips. Perhaps the industry shouldn’t be worried then, since they’ve survived that long. But then it took a lot less money to make games int hose days.

    The industry is also still running mostly because piracy laws are much better enforced in the US and other developed countries, making sure that no matter what happens, there’s already an install base that’s ready to drop some coin for their original copies of games.

    Other sectors of the game industry are starting to feel the hurt though, especially the PC industry, mostly because the people that play PC games have slightly more advanced technical skills than the average console gamer. IE, if you’re able to cope with using windows and torrenting files and whatnot, you’ll have a much easier time understanding how to download and make a game run on your PC without even having to burn it to a disc.

    Still have thoughts about the correlation between music and game piracy, but I’ll save that for another day.

  6. February 21, 2008 10:33 pm

    Man, i’m visiting you someday. Hold down an R4 for me.

    I meant current-GEN consoles, brah. I understand where you’re coming from though. For instance, i can speak for Venezuela in particular. When i was there 2 summers ago, there were little booth tents in the street markets full up with pirated PS, PS2, and Xbox games. It costs next to nothing to get your system modded over there, and i can only imagine how it is now since this was before the DS took off and none of the current consoles were out.

    And the prices for games in a retailer there are out of this (3rd) world. After conversion, everything was at least 20 or 30 dollars more than it shoulda been. I reckon this is because of piracy too, correct? I’m not sure if there’s another reason. But even the rich kids over there aren’t compelled to buy legally at retail.

    In that case yes, it sucks to be a publisher trying to sell your games. But as far as developed countries like the US, Canada, or England, the piracy is pretty much under control. This explains my attitude towards it. But also i can’t shake the indifference towards big publishers anyway. It’s in my bones.

    Great topic, by the way. I just saw this Sony article which persuades devs to develop for the PSN with the bullet point “No used games market”. Guess their hearts are on their sleeves.

  7. February 22, 2008 6:41 pm

    I grew up in Mexico City, and there the prices for purchasing video games legally are ridiculous, being from %50 to %100 more than they are in the U.S. On top of that, getting a hold of a new game is next to impossible! They usually show up over there months after their release here. Retail is practically begging for consumers to buy pirated copies there!

    As for here, I personally break it down like this: I can only complete two or three games per year, but I try out about a dozen. I usually know which two or three are the ones I will be so obsessed about that I will actually finish, and those I have no qualms about buying new at retail prize. The rest I can wait until I find used. And, I usually try to find them during the first month of release in stores that don’t usually deal with games (e.g., not GameStop!), such as used music and movie stores or pawn shops, who have a small bin for video games and usually are clueless as to what used games go for in video game stores (that’s how I got Naruto for $20 for the 360 two or three weeks after its release!) For “classics”, or video games older than six months, I go to GameStop or any video game store if I can’t find them in a pawn shop.

    The cool thing about Xbox LIVE Marketplace is that they let you try out all of the games there, so I have no problem paying the $5 or $10 they ask for those after I know it is a game I really like (because I played it). Smart developers should go in that direction: a $10 downloadable game will give them more profit than a $20 or $30 collection of mini-games, and for the consumers it is cheaper too. And there is no chance to find those in the “used games” bin in a store!

  8. moongirl permalink
    February 25, 2008 3:47 pm

    I’m all for used games, because I also buy used books, CDs, and DVDs. It’s more of me acknowledging that people want to dispose of their entertainment, and it’s better for them to pass it on to someone who will enjoy it rather than throwing it in the trash (we don’t have enough space in the world for our fickle hard copies).

    I WILL NOT pay someone for pirated material because that supports the pirates.

    I WILL pay someone to dispose of their original material that they don’t want anymore – whether it’s a village garage sale or Rasputin or EBGames. At least I didn’t pay a pirate. And having the real thing in your hands is something else.

  9. February 26, 2008 4:31 am

    >>I’m all for used games, because I also buy used books, CDs, and DVDs. It’s more of me acknowledging that people want to dispose of their entertainment

    This is all true, but doesn’t resolve the fact that developers and publishers still don’t make a buck off of it.

    I’ve stopped buying pirated material for a while, but sometimes I wonder, what if publishers just lowered their prices? If they’re really afraid of the pirates and believe that every pirated copy bought is a slice off of their revenue, then why don’t they slash their prices so people won’t have a reason to buy pirated games?

    The easy answer is “people need to get paid for their work, and pirates don’t do any work.” But if publishers priced their games low enough then economies of scale would take over and they’d make the same or more money than if they just kept arresting pirates.

    I don’t know if it’s true but radiohead, with its experimental reelease of “in rainbows” reportedly made more money off of it than with their previous albums. That’s food for thought.

  10. February 26, 2008 3:02 pm

    I believe that price slashing is definitely in order. It worked for Brain Age, didn’t it?

    But i suppose the allure of a full fledged price point is too much to dismiss when certain games have many marketing dollars behind them and a large installed base from the start. Someone needs to set a precedent.

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