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   Close-Up: Video Game Piracy  

Biting the Hand that Feeds, cont.
by Elliot Guisinger

   So it may seem that if someone pirates a game, the creators are out 50 bucks. What's the big deal? These companies make millions, and, in some cases, billions of dollars a year. First of all, for every person who plays that pirated game or makes another copy from it, add an additional 50 dollars. This still may not seem like a lot, but do this for every person who pirates any game in a given year and the industry ends up $3.2 billion in the hole like it did back in 1998. Granted, this only adds up the total market price of all the pirated software and not that actual loss by the publishers from software not purchased. This is effectively the dollar amount of stolen video game software.

   How many people actually pirate games? Macrovision recently announced the results of a gaming piracy study that surveyed population sample of 6,000 PlayStation 2 and Xbox gamers, asking them about their participation in video game piracy. The surveys showed that 21 percent of these gamers play pirated games. 73 percent of these gamers would have bought the game within a month, rather than pirated it if the free copy hadn't become available. Keep in mind that these numbers only include PS2 and Xbox piracy, and they don't mention data on the generally more popular and widespread ROM emulation.

   The same study also revealed that 43 percent of gamers who play pirated software download over 15 pirated titles a year. Over 74 percent of downloaded pirated games come from websites and peer-to-peer networks. 21 percent of pirated games are swapped among friends. Of those who play pirated games, 64 percent have mod-chips installed in their consoles.

   As a short explanation of the data collected for the study, the executive vice president and general manager of Macrovision's Entertainment Technologies Group, Steve Weinstein said, "The prevalence of high-speed Internet, and the availability of pirated games on websites and peer-to-peer networks, have made downloading pirated games relatively easy and widespread...Game piracy will increase rapidly over the coming months and years as gamers hone their downloading methods and behaviors. As the market leader in game content protection, Macrovision commissioned this study to help the industry better understand the primary sources of ongoing revenue displacement."

   According to the study, piracy is going on at a steady pace. Nearly a quarter of all PS2 and Xbox gamers play pirated console games, which require a much greater effort to be able to play than ROMs. It's easy to see why the video game industry should be concerned about this problem. Every game that's pirated is money stolen from game publishers and developers. It's a crime whose only victim is the industry we all love and should be supporting.

   Since piracy is very obviously a crime, what happens to the violators? Well there are two facets to the question. One involves merely obtaining an illegitimate copy of a game and playing it, while the other concerns itself more with copying and distributing pirated games to others, whether for profit or not. As far as only downloading for personal recreation, the risks for legal repercussions are relatively low. The costs of going after individual video game downloaders far outweigh the benefits for publishers and developers. It's more worthwhile for companies to concern themselves with illegal distribution of pirated games. Though the industry tends to be less concerned with individual downloads, violators must be aware that participating in such activities is still breaking the law.

   Those who make copies of games for the purpose of mass distribution across the internet are dealt with more severely. On the lenient side, violators can expect to have the websites that host the illegal material shut down along with their internet connections. Most internet service providers prohibit piracy. On the heavier side of the punishments, violators can expect to have to repay any damages they caused as well as to serve prison time.

When it comes to media piracy, the law is still a bit behind the game. Music piracy is currently being tackled and only recently has movie piracy come under fire. It doesn't seem as though video game piracy is quite yet on the radar, but it will be before long. Gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry, with more and more of that money being lost to piracy each year. There's definitely a cause for concern, it just may take a little longer before the rest of the world is able to see it.

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Sources: GameFAQs | Kingston Technology | IGN

Currents - News Column: 06.04.2005

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