Trouble Thinking

December 10, 2010


Filed under: Interesting Things — Tags: , , , — Durandal @ 5:33 pm

At some point, I probably would have written a post about piracy and my thoughts on it, with the understanding that those of you without my brain couldn’t possibly process the nuances of the topic without a little outside assistance. It’s looking like that won’t be necessary now, as I’ve found an opinion piece so close to my own thoughts as to render them redundant.

David Brothers, of the blog 4thLetter, makes a compelling case that widespread piracy hasn’t so much killed any of the industries it affects as it has altered them.

“In the past, if you wanted to watch a tv show, you had to tune in at the right time or hope someone taped it for you (which was probably technically illegal). If you wanted to buy an album or hear a song, you needed the radio or a record shop. Video games? Go to Funcoland. Books? Hit the library. And on and on and on.”

The internet, and piracy, changed that forever. For the first time, non-physical media became a possibility. MP3s caused a catastrophic drop in the perceived value of music. Being able to store hundreds, or thousands, of songs on a computer, and later an mp3 player, makes you rethink how you approach music. You don’t have to buy albums that are half filler just to get the two or three songs you like. You can just get those songs. Even if you like all of an album, you don’t need a six foot high stack of jewel cases any more. It fits in your pocket.

Piracy isn’t just about getting things for free, it’s about convenience. For a long time, despite the shit you needed to go through in order to successfully download something, piracy was significantly more convenient in addition to not costing anything. But industries have stepped up. Steam, and other digital download services, are successfully combating PC piracy not by shoving a shitload of DRM into products (though there is some, more than I’d like) but by offering an excellent, approachable, useful service that provides reasonable prices and frequent sales. Why bother finding a workable torrent/crack on some godawful little site when you can pay $5 for the game, integration into a nice little UI, achievements, and hook-ups to friends? Speaking of achievements, as Mr. Brothers points out:

“Achievements and Trophies on 360 and PS3 are other anti-piracy measures. You don’t get to partake in competing with your friends over your gamerscore if you pirate. If you don’t believe that score chasing is a huge part of gaming culture right now, find out how many of your Xbox owning friends played through King Kong because it gave away 1000 gamerpoints around launch time. Make sure to ask them if they enjoyed playing through that game, too. Go ahead. I’ll wait. No, I won’t, because the answer is “almost all of them” and “none of them,” in that order.”

Piracy isn’t fair. Hell, it isn’t even legal. But that doesn’t free you from the obligation to compete. You don’t suddenly win all your money back when you’ve complained enough. No amount of Anti-Piracy rhetoric or legislation is going to change the fact that one of your competitors is some dude in a foreign country with a DVD burner, a T1 line, and some adspace to sell. And all around us is evidence that you can compete with that kind of free. iTunes is doing spectacular business. Steam, Direct2Drive, the X-Box Live and PSN marketplaces, the Kindle, the iPhone, NetFlix, all of these products are successfully answering piracy by actually giving customers the kind of instant gratification they want. In every way but price, they’re better than piracy. And they’re reaping the rewards.

And if piracy gets more sophisticated? Simpler to use? Well, be prepared to make your product better too. I won’t be weeping for you.

“Piracy changed the game. It has hurt a lot of people, and that sucks, but at the same time, it’s created a world where being conservative makes you a dinosaur. It’s forced companies to evolve and actually listen to what their customers want. The world changed. Screaming about how illegal or unfair it is isn’t going to fix much. We’re at a point where almost all of the medium we consume is being adjusted to fit into a brand new paradigm. Whether comics or movies or tv or music, physical media is diversifying and digital media is rapidly expanding. Everything changes, usually for unfair reasons. Pay attention to what came before, look at what people want, and adjust accordingly. You can evolve or die.”

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