If I were to hazard a guess, when you hear the words ‘videogame’ and ‘piracy’ used together, the first association probably wouldn’t be eyepatches, rude parrots and the shivering of various timbers. A shame, since pirate games haven’t been well represented since the Monkey Island titles.
It’s more likely you’re thinking less ‘plunder on the high seas’ and more ‘pillaging the latest release from one’s preferred torrent site’. Even back in the day, before relatively high-speed broadband made this an option, gamers were making frequent trips to techie meccas in various cities and stocking up on game CDs. To tell the truth, back then I wasn’t even aware of the distinction between a pirated game and a retail copy of the same. Sure, it came to my attention that one was vastly cheaper than the other, but I presumptuously chalked that down to the lack of a proper box or manual. Computer assemblers further added to the confusion by delivering PCs with pre-installed games like Prince of Persia and Alley Cat.
It took a while but I was eventually enlightened as to the error of my ways. That still left me with a sizeable problem — how was I going to afford games while surviving on the meagre allowance of a student? Forget about being funded by the parents; while they would dip into their pockets for books and even music, games didn’t pass muster as constructive entertainment. Once in a while, I could team up with like-minded friends and pool resources for good deals like Starcraft and Diablo packages, or occasionally stumble upon a gem like Battlezone in the bargain bin, but there was no way I could afford any new games. Of course, in those days, PC games were quite expensive and consoles weren’t even officially released in India, both of which seemed to stem from the publishers not considering the country a viable market. That in turn failed to promote a culture of buying games, which eventually settled into a cycle that didn’t really do the developers any favours.
Fortunately, that’s not the case any more, what with subsidised prices for most PC games and legit versions of the Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Nintendo 3 available at several retail outlets. Not to mention digital distros like Steam having frequent sales for many titles.
That doesn’t change the fact that piracy is still rampant, though to many observers it may not seem like an extreme response to certain situations — when you do not have access to the games in question from your place of residence, or when you want to test a PC game on your system and see if it is a playable experience and there is no demo forthcoming from the developers. It is inevitable that not everyone shares that viewpoint, least of all the publishers, many of whom have responded by implementing increasingly intrusive mechanisms in their games in an attempt to curb piracy. Others, like EA, have even stamped their endorsement on fascist proposals like the bill for the Stop Online Piracy Act in the US.
We can only hope that the relationship between developer and customer improves to the point where customers reward the developer for good games with purchases, and developers treat customers with dignity by shipping stable and optimised products, along with a good infrastructure for support. An idealistic view, I know, but until we move closer to that goal, the Jolly Roger remains a banner of ambiguity.