Talking to Pirates

Cliff Harris of Positech Games has a blog post out about his conversations with Pirates. The results that he posted make very interesting reading. First off most answers were quite lengthy according to Cliff, with very few under a hundred words. This implies that people put a lot of thought into their answers. He mentions that some of the responses put Tolstoy to shame. You don’t write something that long, unless you have something to communicate. Something important (Note: for those of you who didn’t do the classics, Tolstoy is famous for absolutely enormous novels. Read him. It’s well worth it, but don’t expect to finish in one sitting).

Group 1 – The semi-political ones

I got a few people churning out long arguments about whether or not intellectual property is valid, and claiming that it was censorship, or fascism and other variations on this theme. I’m used to reading all this, and find it completely unconvincing, and to be honest, silly. The really interesting news was that this was a trivial proportion of the total replies.

Cliff says that only a small proportion made this argument – unfortunately he didn’t give numbers, I’ve sent him an email asking if he could share numbers with me.

Group 2 – Money

This *did* surprise me. A LOT of people cited the cost of games as a major reason for pirating. Many were kids with no cash and lots of time to play games, but many were not. I got a lot of peoples life stories, and a ton of them were my age. Even those who didn’t cite cost as their main reason almost always mentioned it at some stage. A lot of anger was directed at the retail $60 games, and console games. People in Australia were especially annoyed about higher prices there. My games were $19-23, but for a lot of people, it was claimed this was far too high. People talked a lot about impulse buying games if they were much cheaper.

Yeah. Gran Turismo Four. What a waste of money. I’d really enjoyed Gran Turismo Three, and still play it. But the money I spent on Four was a total waste. At least at $60.00 it was. If it had have been $20.00 I wouldn’t have complained so much.

Group 3 – Game Quality

This was a big complaint too. And this also surprised me. I have a very low opinion of most new games, especially triple A ones, but it seems I’m not alone. Although there were many and varied complaints about tech support, game stability, bugs and system requirements, it was interesting to hear so many complaints about actual game design and gameplay. Not a single person said they had felt ripped off by a game due to substandard visuals or lack of content. The consensus was that games got boring too quickly, were too derivative, and had gameplay issues. Demos were widely considered to be too short and unrepresentative of the final product. People suspected that the full game was no better than the demo. Almost everyone had a tale of a game that was bought based on hype which turned out to be disappointing.

Yeah. Right. Like Final Fantasy Eight, which was a total loss. You have to wonder what they were thinking off…

Group 4 – DRM

This was expected, but whereas many pirates who debate the issue online are often abusive and aggressive on the topic, most of the DRM complaints were reasonable and well put. People don’t like DRM, we knew that, but the extent to which DRM is turning away people who have no other complaints is possibly misunderstood. If you wanted to change ONE thing to get more pirates to buy games, scrapping DRM is it. These gamers are the low hanging fruit of this whole debate.

Major issue – just totally major. When you install a game, and the DRM makes your system unstable, and slows it down EVEN WHEN THE GAME ISN’T BEING PLAYED SO YOU CAN”T PLAY YOUR OTHER GAMES… Sorry, this is inexcusable. When I bought a game like this, that turned my system into molasses, well I had no compunction in downloading a cracked version that didn’t have the problem.

Group 5 – Digital Distribution

Lots of people claimed to pirate because it was easier than going to shops. Many of them said they pirate everything that’s not on Steam. Steam got a pretty universal thumbs up from everyone. I still don’t get how buying from steam is any different to buying from me, other than you may already have an account on steam. For the record, I’d love to get my games on steam. I wish it was that easy.

Ot used to be fun going game shopping. Some time around 1995-1997 it wasn’t fun any more, because at this point everyone was switching to Windows, and the games all slowed way down. I still have about 500-600 PC CD-Rom games in the house, that I haven’t gotten around to donating to Good Will or the Salvation Army.

But buying online and getting a digital download, that would be a real improvement. You pay, and you are playing as soon as the download completes. Democracy, here I come (and I hope it emulates the British/Canadian parliamentary system, I don’t understand the weird thing that they have down in the States).

Group 6 – Confessions

I got a few people, maybe 5% of the total, who basically said “I do it because I like free stuff and won’t get caught. I’d do the same with anything if I knew I’d get away with it.” This is depressing, but thankfully a small minority. I also got the occasional bit of abuse and sarcasm from hardcore pirates who have decided I am their enemy. Who would have thought that would happen? They give the other 99% of pirates a bad name, and are the reason people don’t listen to pirates.

There’s always going to be a few jerks anywhere. If they weren’t pirating your game, they’d be out siphoning your gas tank so they could have enough petrol to go clubbing.

The answers Cliff got are interesting. Personally I stopped playing because of game play – there wasn’t any. It’s like a lot of Hollywood movies, where they have all these car crashes and chase scenes, but no plot. Than I dumped Windows for being such an incompetent piece of garbage, and it’s a sad but true fact that game designers don’t do a good job of providing Mac OSX and GNU/Linux ports. So I haven’t been playing a lot of games over the past three years. However the time saved made me more productive!

Anyway, Cliff has drawn some interesting conclusions from all this, and is changing parts of his business model to address the issues that came up. I wish him the best of luck in this. I think he’s on the right track, and will see considerable success come his way.

Wayne Borean

January 23, 2010

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