I haven’t pirated a video game in 3 months. That may seem like nothing to a console gamer or someone who hasn’t ever stolen a video game, but anyone who knows me will tell you that this is shocking news. That’s right, folks, I have stopped pirating video games. I didn’t decide one day to stop, but I just happened to notice the other day that it’d been a while, I didn’t plan on it any time in the future, so realized then and there that I’d stopped. After thinking about it for a while, I’ve landed on the reason for this switch, and I think that it’s in the software development (or digital media as a whole, actually) community’s interest to understand how someone like me could be converted.
I am a pirate…
Before I go into my conversion from video game piracy, let me be abundantly clear about my previous video game usage. I pirated absolutely ridiculous amounts of software. Yeah, the whole world uses bittorrent, and everyone downloads stuff, but please understand that I am in an entirely different category than your average pirate. I downloaded gobs and gobs of data. Anyone who’s seen my file server will tell you that. Operating systems, games, movies, music, TV shows. It became an obsessive compulsive desire to obtain “complete sets” or “HD versions…” of everything to the extent that I wasn’t even consuming 10% of my amassed library. It became more about the download than the content. To put this in perspective, I specifically avoided Comcast in favor of Verizon FIOS because of the 250GB/month data cap. Envisioning that, imagine a complete 180% switch for video games. I still have and continue to download a massive amount of movies, TV shows, and music, but I’ve made the switch for video games. Let’s explore.
Why do I download…?
I’m not a morally barren individual. I actually consider myself to be a pretty rational and logical dude. I admire and strive for good. Downloading digital content is just so damn easy! Not only that, but the repercussions of my actions are so disconnected from the action itself, that I don’t have an emotional connection with the crime. That means there’s no guilt. I don’t see the movie studio adding another 0.0001 onto their balance sheet’s column, and I don’t see the set designer’s decreased income. Frankly, the idea of piracy equaling loss is still very much debatable, so I automatically write that whole scenario off. Video games will keep being released, I’ll keep downloading them, and the world goes round.
Regardless, I’m very aware that I’m obtaining something for free that should be paid for. This mentality doesn’t map to any other facet of my life. I don’t have the urge to grab stuff in the store and run, and I can’t imagine myself being tempted to do so if no one was looking. Perhaps this is because of the reasons I list above, or perhaps there’s a completely different reason. Regardless, I don’t consider this who I am.
Ironically the many attempts to foil piracy have managed to encourage my deviant behavior. DRM for example only served to annoy legitimate consumers, since pirated versions have it stripped. This reinforced my ambivalence towards stealing video games. Why should I pay for a game that’s going to be more annoying than a free pirated version? I don’t believe I’ve ever purchased a video game for myself. Why start now?
Why did I stop pirating video games…?
After much thought and introspection I have come to the conclusion that Steam has finally won me over. Granted, I’ve been using Steam for a long time, while still actively pirating games. I believe the catalyst appeared three months ago when I wanted to play GTA IV. I’ve loved GTA3 – San Andreas, and I was excited to finally give IV a try. (The last time I tried it, I wasn’t in a GTA mood, and I forgot about it for over a year. Ironically I pirated it on this occasion.) I couldn’t find my downloaded copy of GTA IV anywhere, and I just so happened to have some extra cash in my bank account. I noticed that Steam was selling GTA IV for $20 (yes, I realize that it was only $7 this past weekend; I almost cried). “What the hell?” I thought. ”I can be a constructive member of society.” So I purchased the first game I could remember.
Aside from the hellish experience of playing a game powered by Windows Live Games (honestly, why the hell would you put that shit in your software? It’s god-awful. I realize the intention, but not only is it implemented poorly, it’s buggy and useless since I’m using Steam!!!), I gained an appreciation for some things that I had always known but never felt.
- Cracks - When I pirate a game, there’s always the game involved of finding the right crack, without viruses, for the right version, and installing it correctly. Then when updates and DLC for the game come out, the game starts all over again. I’ve gotten really good at this over the years, but knowing that I don’t need to worry about this with Steam (and I’ll never need to worry about this) is very comforting.
- Support – I actually qualify for tech support! It’s been so many years since I actually played a purchased game, that I had completely written off manufacturer support. I’m always at the mercy of the gaming community, which frequently shuns pirates, so it’s the pirate community at the least…which isn’t the most palatable of options.
- Installation Media – I’ll admit, I get a bit of a hard-on for terabyte drives and an archive of ISOs. The geek in me loved the technical and organizational aspect of maintaining a disk image library. That’s why the realization that all of my games can be downloaded to any computer, any number of times, without any installation process or need to manage updates, my media library became irrelevant. I had always understood and appreciated this with my Valve games, but something about offloading all of my other titles to this system triggered a realization of the potential.
- Steam Perks – this factor could get rolled into any of the others, but it’s always nice to mention to helpful features Steam provides such as Steam Cloud, overlay, and Friends.
I didn’t consciously identify all of these things as soon as I purchased GTA IV. As I started using it, however, I started to understand how nice it is to actually own the game (as much one can own a Steam game, although that’s an entirely different argument.) I started picking up some other games that were on sale, such as my favorites from the past: Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, Mirror’s Edge, Assassin’s Creed, Bio-Shock, etc. I had all of these games pirated and installed, but somehow the experience was better through Steam. I didn’t have to play the game through a filter in my mind to compensate for any of the hoops I needed to jump through to get the game to work. I simply let Steam worry about all that, and focused on the games.
Listen up, media corporations…!
What Steam has done is made video games worth it. They stripped out the bullshit and provided a service that’s worth paying for. I haven’t had a change of heart; I’m still a terrible person in your eyes. At this point I’m not even considering the games worth buying, but rather the delivery mechanism. This is probably the same reason why I’m so excited about OnLive. Am I going to continue downloading movies and TV shows? Yes, until something comes along and does to the movie and TV industry what Steam did for games. Developers will still be able to get their products out there and satisfy their artistic needs, and both they and the corporations will get reimbursed for it. We don’t live in a world of morally just people. If I can just as easily get it for free somewhere else, with no reasonable threat of legal ramifications, then your product has no worth to me. If the system makes it too easy to take advantage, that’s exactly what people will do. You corporations do the same thing, because it’s inherently human nature. The burden is on you to innovate your offering to make your product WORTH something.