written by Blain Newport on Friday, 2 December, 2011
CD Projekt Red recently talked with PC Gamer about piracy. I normally tune out piracy talk, but CDPR is the only triple A developer not using DRM, so I thought their CEO, Marcin Iwinski, might have an interesting perspective. He really didn't. He walked through a very rough calculation of how many people pirated the game and talked about how educating consumers and offering extras like soundtracks, making-of videos, and books are the only way you can compete with pirates.
You can imagine how disappointed I was when Joystiq and GamesIndustry.biz chose to run his off the cuff piracy figure as their main headline.
Then GamesIndustry.biz ran an editorial on the subject. It was very strange to see an editorial criticizing "the media [for] breathlessly reporting the results of his paper napkin calculations as cold, hard fact", when that site was one of the offenders. Plus the editorial ignored how CD Projekt had beaten the pirates, which seems like what its audience would want. But the editorial was trying to point towards getting better numbers so that we can finally have a proper discussion instead of mindless hand waving.
(You can skip this bit.)
Then the comments were a bunch of mindless hand waving. (Aren't they always?) GamesIndustry is a British business site. Consumers aren't, to my knowledge, even allowed to comment. And the amount of ignorance coming from industry people, especially Chief Marketing Officer Bruce Everiss, was amazing. First he claimed that piracy was the reason publishers stopped working with certain companies. He basically said Commodore and Atari died out due to piracy. There wasn't piracy on the IBM-PC!? This has to be a joke.
This is from a man who worked for Codemasters, a company that moved on from Commodore and Atari computers to the NES, then built a lock-out chip bypass so that they could cheat Nintendo out of licensing fees! So they love piracy when it lines their pockets. Not only that, but he goes on to state that "20% of the workforce were made redundant because of PlayStation 1 piracy".
While I'm sure piracy played a part and layoffs are never cool, isn't it more likely that it was simply easier for management to scapegoat nebulous pirates than to be truthful about their own mistakes? Codemasters created zero intellectual property on the PS1 that I can find. Everything was licensed: sports, toys, even a clothing license, so they were always splitting profits. Plus Codemasters had dumped the budget titles that earned them their success, so they were a budget brand selling full price products.
But that's the real key here. Piracy is a bogeyman. While it is a bad thing for sales, it's a fabulous godsend as a lie.
Publishers have to make PC versions of their games. Shareholders see how much money World of Warcraft and The Sims and Starcraft 2 and little indie games like Minecraft are making on the PC. Publishers have to tell shareholders they have a plan to get that big money, even if they don't. And when they don't, they blame the pirates.
The GI editorial is trying to call out for better information about how much of piracy is really lost sales. It's a nice idea, but why would a publisher pay money for a study that could evaporate their best excuse?
Everybody loves pirates.