Tuesday, April 27, 2010

State of the Union Dress

It's a marvelous time to be me.  The sun is shining once again, there are only two weeks of classes left, we're (hopefully) moving to a wonderful new home in a few weeks... all in all, I have no complaints.  Other then how dreadfully easy it is to steal my work.  Well, my hobby work that is, I'm not yet gainfully employed in the video game industry.

Around 2004 I transitioned into the SDE program at CCBC.  It was a breath of fresh air for me, after several semesters of increasingly annoying CIS courses.  I just found straight up business programming to be so not want I wanted to do with my life.  Once you've created one complex and infinitely regressive .SQL database, you've created them all.  So to speak.  The SDE program provided creative alternatives to normal information technology, the ability to use computers for something more then just business applications.  Although ultimately building a game becomes your business, so that's your application, and well... that's just too damned convoluted, so I'm moving on.

At the time, the program had a yearly event called Game Day, where we could all gather, talk about games, play some games, listen to people speachify about games, games, games, games, blah, blah, blah.  It was, of course, an AWESOME good time for all.  And the year they decided to add a Game Design Competition, I was on it like... well... insert your own pithy metaphor here.  I created AlphaCraft, which I am proud to say won first prize in the contest (yeah... I'm modest... don't be a hater).

About two years later, I did a search online.  Not only did AlphaCraft show up on a portal site I had submitted it to, but it showed up on a Yugoslavian game site.  Huh?  It has also shown up on numerous other sites, and even the educational bit I wrote for Gamasutra about the development of the game has been co-opted by other web sites.

None of this is particularly upsetting to me, just a curiosity at this point.  We are talking about a game I did in my free time, that I posted for free to a portal site, so obviously I was not concerned about its appearance "in the wild" so to speak.  But what would be the case if I had instead put out a limited version of AlphaCraft (as I intend to do eventually), with a more extensive pay version to be released as well?  What if the pay version is cracked and distributed around the Internet for free, thus usurping my expected profits? 

Estimates of software piracy have routinely been given since the advent of personal computers.  Here's a study from 1995 that talks about the massive damages the industry has been inflicted with.  Such studies are routinely quoted by a breathless press, who (we should note) have an intrinsic need to promote these figures since they are owned by the same publishers who benefit from stringent copyright regulations.  But there are many other studies that show some level of piracy can actually be good for a product. 

Take this study from 1999.  The concept being promoted - that an increase in pirated copies increases legal and profitable demand as well for a product - makes a good deal of sense.  In this case, it would seem to me that making it somewhat difficult for the average consumer to get your product, while not worrying too much about piracy, will only serve your own interests.  The more people who like something, the more people who are going to purchase legal copies of it.  And there's always the time worn belief that a pirate probably would not have bought your product anyways, so why even count them as a "loss". 

It would seem to me, then, that SOME level of copyright protection that protects your product is a good thing, but not so much it becomes onerous for the average user to deal with.  You then straddle the line between making copyright infringement just difficult enough that most users won't bother to engage in it, and allowing the pirates to promote your product to everyone else so you can increase your overall sales.  This paradigm probably works pretty well for e-books, and I would imagine equally well for video games.  Not so much for music, though, but the 99 cent price point seems to have made a moot point of copyright infringement issues in that arena.  Take that, Napster!  Limewire!  Movies are a whole other issue of course, but until you can download a high def one in less then a half hour, huge and wide scale infringement seems unlikely.

Get too repressive with your DRM, and, well... you end up like Ubisoft, with egg on your collective faces and most people turned off by the very idea of DRM.  Frankly if you buy a single player game, you should get a single player experience, not be required to have to connect to the internet every time you want to launch your legally purchased product (which, by the way, was cracked in a few days). 

All of which leaves me still pondering if piracy is a good thing or a bad thing.  Like everything in life, its a bit of both.  So I'll go merrily on my way this lovely day, and start plotting my imminent return to creating games once we get settled into the new place this summer.

I'll just make sure the pirates can find them, and spread the gospel of Jeff to all....

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