Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Piracy's Natural Evolution

(This was written for GamesObscura last spring and never published due to the meandering and not really about gaming nature of it. Figured I would throw it here since I did spend the time writing it after all. Enjoy)

With rumors about the next generation of consoles swirling about the internet, it seems like most people are assuming the worst: they will really crack down on used sales and piracy from within the hardware itself. But it won’t work; you know that, I know that, everyone except the executives themselves seems to know it.
The problem they face is larger than the gaming, music, movie, or any venue of their industry. It is a paradigm shift between entertainment as a product to entertainment as a service, and it has been gaining steam for decades.
With the advent of recordable media, illegal sharing of content was bound to happen, and you can see it start its uphill climb with the VHS and tape cassette. Warnings were stuck on all VHS tapes and still show when you start or finish any movie today. The music industry claimed that they were being killed by home recording, so the punk group Dead Kennedy’s left B-sides of an album blank with messages to encourage copying material and distributing it against the wishes of the "Home Taping Is Killing Music!" campaign (this was seriously a thing). It wasn't something new that began with the internet. It had dug its claws into the industry well before that.
It was pitched as the end of media as we knew it, and although I'm certain no one in the industry seriously thought it was true at the time, they were right. It would just take a couple decades longer than their campaigns scare-tactics tried to tell us and it would be a lot more subversive than they could have imagined.
On a personal level, it was never a moral question. I grew up taping songs off the radio rather than buying them in stores. Friends and I would swap tapes, record songs from each other, and if someone actually bought the full cassette, we would let friends copy it without a second thought. We were young and broke; without money or jobs, this was the only way of sharing and collecting what we liked. Once the late 90's hit, we had moved from the radio and cassettes to the internet and CDs/MP3s. And for many, once the bandwidth allowed it, they started downloading movies, games, and just about anything else they could. None of us really thought of it as stealing or even piracy. We were just sharing what we liked with others. I think, for many, the assumption was that the host paid for the original content.
It wasn't malicious in nature, it was just sharing. It was an evolution of what we grew up doing... we just had a larger friend base to distribute it with now. It had become a culture of its own and in cases of limited prints, live recordings, or foreign releases, it was our only way of securing them.
But, being in the future, we know that it did hurt some people. It put new and used stores out of business, it forced record companies to stop wasting so much money as their deathgrip on consumers loosened, it forced bands to stop living quite so extravagantly, and it made a lot of people look silly for not figuring out a way to make legitimate money off the internet sooner. Most of this happened in the early to mid 2000s and we all know the tragedies the entertainment industry suffered. They remind us of it every chance they get by punishing those who actually purchase their media by sealing it shut with archaic DRM measures. They still have not adapted to the times.
They keep viewing every pirated copy downloaded as a lost customer, instead of a gained fan.  They keep punishing rightful owners of content instead of providing incentives to buy new over buying used or pirating, because that's easiest. They keep punishing fans that buy used versions by locking content behind Online Passes instead of rewarding new purchases with extra stuff. They keep betting on big budget releases over smaller projects that aren't as liable to blow up in their faces. They keep hoping that people will come back around to their view of entertainment as a product instead of a service, so they can keep on milking it for all its worth.
But it won't happen. It reeks of desperation and harkens back to a time long past. It is what unsuccessful and scared creators/executives blame for their lack of success, their inability to stay creative and relevant, their dwindling consumer and fan-base. They are a dinosaur, frantically migrating to avoid extinction, clinging to life as they know it, as the world changes all around them.
So, if Sony and Microsoft are determined to kill console gaming with a barrage of DRM measures, I say let them. Refuse to buy their products. Go to the places that supply content without a deathgrip on what you pay for (Steam, GOG, Desura, indie-developers, etc). Tell them, with your money, not a petition, that they are going about this the wrong way; that they have to adapt to stay alive; that we won't put up with a future full of DRM and OnlinePasses.
If they want to die, I say let them. The creators and their content will go where ever the gamers are. The only thing we have to fear are a few slow quarters and perhaps a few lost franchises, as people transition to where we tell them to be. But, whatever happens, let's make sure it's a place that isn't so dystopian and tyrannical as the decrepit corporate conglomerates would like it to remain.
The paradigm has shifted. The power of change is in our hands. Let's ensure that their clinging to the past will only make them a part of it.

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