I've talked about piracy in a number of LGJ pieces over the course of 2008. In most of those, I've criticized many approaches to stemming the tide of piracy, not only in games but in other related media as well. I'm not sure if I have any readers at the RIAA, but it appears the music industry has decided to opt for a strategy more in line with what I've described, according to the Wall Street Journal (via GamePolitics). It's definately a move in the right direction for a number of reasons, but would the same apporach work for the game industry? And would it be the right approach?
Let's start by examining the reported new RIAA strategy, which really makes two key changes. First, it alters the strategy to request ISPs issue warnings to file sharers, and then those who continue stand to have their service cut off. The second change is that this strategy goes into action when the RIAA, to quote the article, 'finds a provider's customers making music available online for others to take.' In short, rather than focusing on the demand, they're focusing on the supply. The RIAA does reserve the right to sue repeat offenders, but by and large, they're using the threat of loss of internet as their main punishment rather than lawsuits."Game piracy, like software piracy, is a far more global issue."
Could the game industry do the same? Certainly. Is it a perfect strategy for the game industry? Not quite, but then again, the game industry also hasn't been as active in using lawsuits against the end consumer. Really, there are a few key differences between the means behind video game piracy and music piracy that will limit the success of this strategy in the US. First and foremost, while games are certainly pirated over BitTorrent and other peer to peer means, they are often seeded overseas. Game piracy, like software piracy, is a far more global issue. Music piracy, on the other hand, tends to be far more localized based on music availability and popularity. You're more likely to find a seed of a US album in the US than you are in some of the traditional foreign sources of piracy.
This differential roots itself back to the early days of online piracy. Software and game piracy has been far more consistent, dating back to the warez sites of the 1990s. Music piracy, on the other hand, exploded with the advent of peer to peer file sharing with Napster around the year 2000. Yes, software made its way into the peer to peer realm as well, but it was still a more global entity. What this means is that unless you have the cooperation of international ISPs, then you won't be able to get the same results from the ISP based approach.
Similarly, there's still significant game piracy internationally with hard copies, something that hasn't been nearly as popular in the music piracy circles. It's something that's received new life on eBay in recent years. The game industry, really, has a two front fight whereas the RIAA can largely focus on file sharing. This isn't to say the RIAA doesn't address hard copies of pirated material, just that piracy of that kind isn't as widespread in that medium. "Cracking in and of itself isn't the primary problem, it's the distribution of the cracked copies."
Of course, none of this should suggest that the game industry take up the abandoned approach of the RIAA. In fact, they're by and large already employing a variant on the RIAA's new strategy. Specifically, go after the source of pirated material, not the people who end up with it. It's not even necessarily the most beneficial route to target those who are cracking the software. Cracking in and of itself isn't the primary problem, it's the distribution of the cracked copies. After all, the idea behind piracy prevention is to ensure the developer is compensated through sales for the work they put into the product. Where that is truly hampered is when illegal copies are distributed in the marketplace, and other points in the process, while certainly related and possibly a good source of information to get to the root of the problem, aren't the most efficient place to focus limited resources.
After all, piracy prevention is another business expense, and like any expense, it should be optimized as much as possible. The RIAA has certainly found a way to minimize costly litigation in favor of a new approach. It will be interesting to see if groups like the ESA continue to avoid the RIAA's previous enforcement mistakes in favor of more innovative means of piracy control.
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