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Thursday, October 5, 2006

The Final Fantasy Leak: Situational Ethics with Video Game Piracy?
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In a previous essay I asked:

"why is it that so few people talk about the role of strong intellectual property rights in the electronic gaming sector? After all, this sector is quite vocal about enforcing their copyrights. And they're even big supporters of the DMCA. But they never get ridiculed as much as the movie or music guys. Could it be because many IP skeptics love their video games and are willing to give them a free pass while going after Hollywood on copyright issues?"

I find myself wondering the same thing this week in the wake of reports that the eagerly anticipated role-playing game "Final Fantasy XII" has been leaked and is now being distributed across the Internet illegally.

What I find so interesting about this incident is the extent to which many people on news boards like this, this, and this are almost unanimously denouncing those who would distribute or download the game illegally.

Comments like these are typical:

* "Ever since I started working in game development, I've become much better about paying for my games. I can see where costs come from, and how much work really goes into games. I'm not really preachy about it, and its nice being able to get my friends deals on games."

* "Forgetting that pirating is a criminal activity, Final Fantasy XII is supposed to be an absolutely incredible RPG -- we strongly encourage gamers to wait a few more weeks for the real game to properly reward Square Enix for their labored work. We don't mean to be publisher apologists here, but it's only common decency." [from 1up.com editors].

* "It's a shame that Square Enix' hard work on one of the (with all probability) best PS2 games ever was so close to being spoiled by pirates."

* "Distributing software in this manner is wrong. This has been said time and time again, but people put in years of blood, sweat and tears to get a game completed. Folks who swipe game info just to be first to have the game are not taking into consideration the people hours involved in its creation. We may not like the giant companies that are involved in the backing of these games, but just think of the lowly art designer that is working tirelessly to meet deadlines. Then think about what you are doing to screw this person out of income he or she earned."

(and my two personal favorites, despite their vulgar tones…)

* Pirates suck ass. Leave it to a bunch of computer crooks to try to steal and sell something as cool as FFXII. Bitches."

* (in response to a guy who says he pirates games because he doesn't like spending money on games and then finding he might not like them…) "So you buy a game and don't like it? Tough shit! It's called being a consumer. It's part of the deal. You buy something, and there is risk involved. If you don't like it and can't take it back then too bad. You took a small risk and it didn't pay off; welcome to the world of modern business exchanges. You want it different, then move to a country where capitalism hasn't provided so much (including the ability for your dumb ass to steal such nice stuff). . . Stealing makes you a jackass, and trying to justify it with your whiny "oh poor me, the helpless consumer, i am entitled to pirate shit" act is tired and childish. Grow up. If you want to know what the game is like, take some responsibility and YOU put up the damn money. Either that or you can be a whiny chickenshit and just steal it. Your call. . . but we know what you've chosen."

This is pretty powerfully worded stuff and I find it refreshing that so many people are taking a stand against video game piracy. But, again, I find myself wondering why we so rarely hear responses like this when music and movie piracy is the topic of discussion. When I visit news board and discussion groups where music and movie piracy is being debated, the balance of comments is usually far more in the opposite direction, with people concocting every possible excuse in the book for why it's just fine to take someone else's creation without giving them one penny in compensation.

And what's doubly ironic about this is that movie and music content is actually much more affordable than video games. Many movie and music pirates gripe about $18 CDs or $22 DVDs and use that as an excuse for their thievery, but I rarely hear someone using the $40-$60 price of video games as an excuse for pirating them. What gives?

Is industry concentration the rationale? People complain about a handful of music labels or movie studios having too much power or making too much money (as if that's a good excuse for theft). But if you follow the gaming industry you know that it has grown increasingly concentrated over time and has a handful of big dogs at the top of heap (Electronic Arts, Activision, Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo) holding a big chunk of market share.

So, I think that leaves just two explanations for the apparent situational ethics at work here: Many consumers (particularly the young consumers who do most of the pirating) have a deeper connection with, or appreciation for, the artistic creativity they see and hear in video games than they do the art of movies and music. Second, the video game studios have not been demonized to the extent music labels and movie studios have and, therefore, piracy of movies or music is viewed as an acceptable way to "get back" at them, yet video games piracy is viewed by some as being more harmful to the interests of artists and creators.

In the end, piracy is piracy, regardless of who does it and what type of art they are ripping off. But I just find the situational ethics at work here to be fascinating.

posted by Adam Thierer @ 12:38 PM | Innovation , Mass Media

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I ran across this article randomly when looking for some FFXII images heh...

"And what's doubly ironic about this is that movie and music content is actually much more affordable than video games. Many movie and music pirates gripe about $18 CDs or $22 DVDs and use that as an excuse for their thievery, but I rarely hear someone using the $40-$60 price of video games as an excuse for pirating them. What gives?"

I can tell you a couple reasons. For one consider value. For a 22 dollar dvd you are getting on average 2 hours of entertainment. At most 3 to 5 if it has a ton of extra features, which are usually a whole lot less entertaining. Some will watch the movie several times if its one they really enjoy. Lets say on average its watched 3 times. That's still only what, 6 to 10 hours entertainment? Now take FFXII, a game that you can easily spend 100 hours being engrossed by. Even if it is 60 bucks, that what, 60 cents an hour? Vs. the movies 2.20 to 11 bucks an hour? Cds are even worse, unless of course its a band you want to listen to on end for the rest of your life, but we all know how rare that is.

The other reason I believe is yes, the music and movie industry has lost respect in the eye of the average person.

You have to look at history too, people have been sharing music for ages. Before recorded music, it was shared by playing it live in your own home with your family, or by hearing someone at a pub or festival play. After that, music boxes and early recordings were shared. Then there was radio, for the added price of some mental garbage commercials, you could hear music for the price of owning a device to play it. Then there came along cassette tapes, and people taped radio shows and dubbed each others tapes. When VCR's came along people would do this with movies. My parents own a large volume of Movies taped off of television. No one talks about this as being illegal, because as far as I know, it is not. It was said it was only illegal if you made money off of that copy, and private viewings were fine. Well, when they made those laws they didn't predict that their profits would be cut into because more people would copy and freely distribute and thus wouldn't buy their original copies.

So as you can see, its sort of been a natural progression with movies and music. But video games are late players, and always needed highly special equipment to play them. Also, to even play a pirated video game you need to spend money to modify your console, and risk destroying your console in the process. The video game industry also has a good history of listening to what the fans want, and not trying to tell the fans what they want. Do you ever see a movie, that during the development phases they have a forum up asking for fans input on various parts of the movie and if this or this would be better? I've seen that on several game sites, but never a movie. Its probably not as feasible but hey, it does get fan respect for the video game industry up. The list could go on you know.

Hope this helps.

Posted by: Anonymous at April 10, 2007 12:14 PM

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