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Valve: Piracy Is More About Convenience Than Price (gamasutra.com)
277 points by rprouse on Oct 25, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 131 comments

TLDR: "The easiest way to stop piracy is not by putting antipiracy technology to work. It’s by giving those people a service that’s better than what they’re receiving from the pirates," Gabe Newell said.

But it should be noted that Steam's pre-release anti-piracy has no yet been broken. So it's not like they don't do DRM...

Having said that, the conclusion is pretty much in line with what many gamers and pirates have been saying: Stop screwing the customer and creating pirates of them.

I'm lucky enough to live in an English-speaking country, but I'm sure that if I lived in a country that typically sees long delays before localization, I'd find a way to get it early. Even if that meant learning English and engaging in piracy.

These companies understand hype and the way it drives sales, and then completely fail to use that knowledge when it comes to other countries. They won't wait! The hype has pushed them into getting it NOW, by hook or crook.

>But it should be noted that Steam's pre-release anti-piracy has no yet been broken. So it's not like they don't do DRM...

In regards to pre-lease, A bit of a stretch calling what Valve does DRM. The pre-release stuff is straight up encrypted. It's a convenience for the end-user to pre-load the data. Once the game gets released you don't need to contact valve's servers for decryption keys every time you want to play.

Steam itself will install any game I own on any machine I log into. Steam competes directly with The Pirate Bay, and wins.

That's Steam's secret right there, yeah? Use DRM to make the product more convenient, and pirates will pay you for the privilege.

DRM by itself offers no benefit and significant down sides to end users. It's a bitter pill to swallow on its own. Most game makers slap DRM on a game and call it a day, then wonder why users complain. Valve adds enough sugar to their DRM to make it woorthwhile overall. To offset the downsides of DRM you get the benefit of super easy digital distribution, "cloud" storage of game saves and settings, easy installation on multiple computers, etc.

Right, and even if the user does not play it the instant it gets decrypted, the user still benefits by having preloaded days in advance (especially with huge games > 10GB, i.e. BF3). So when the user finally finds time to play a preordered game, it's already sitting in the Steam library, ready to be played.

I think this is one of the things that good DRM can provide the end-user that has been largely ignored by everyone. I mostly blame the industry for ignoring the possibilities, but they're exciting. You could "loan" games to people without physical contact, you can securely transfer ownership of the digital item, you can play your games from anywhere, etc. There's a lot of potential in having strong digital copy protection that protects the rights of all parties.

Well... you can do all these things when there's no DRM at all. It's like counting up all the things you can do in a new modern prison, but it's still a prison.

I'm skeptical that rental business models can work without DRM; the temptation is just too great.

I can see where you're coming from, but in my view the general consumer won't put in the effort to exploit your model if you make it appealing enough. I've known people that rented from blockbuster|netflix and just made rips of the VHS|DVDs for their own collection, but it sure wasn't those pirates that destroyed (or is destroying) their business. GOG sells DRM free games and nothing stops me from giving it away to all my friends, but I still end up paying for a new "copy" when I gift one away.

It doesn't need to though, the key thing with the rental business model is it needs to be easy and convenient enough. It's clear that it's a rental in the name, but people will get pissed off if it's not easy to get the content and outlandishly priced, and just go back to BT.

You can do that sometimes...as long as your key isn't bound to a user account (Battle.net), and as long as you have the patience to get it working (mail the cds, give them your steam account password, find them a crack, etc). Some of those restrictions are reasonable and some aren't.

My point is that good DRM can protect rights of both parties , but never does. Instead, if often restricts the consumer's rights in favor of the publisher. Steam comes closest to balancing interests, but falls short as well.

They also just leave key .exe/.dll files out of the downloadable content until release day. With Dead Island, Steam accidentally distributed debug builds on release, leading to some hilarious misuse of cheats.

I'm pretty sure Steam didn't do that; the developer and publisher are responsible for uploading the bundles to Valve for distribution.

>I'm lucky enough to live in an English-speaking country, but I'm sure that if I lived in a country that typically sees long delays before localization, I'd find a way to get it early. Even if that meant learning English and engaging in piracy.

Add to this that the translations are often very badly broken - my eyes and ears bleed when I play French versions of games. I actually prefer to get the english version through Steam, and I am sure a sizeable fraction of players would agree.

The only successful localization ive seen to date is stracraft2 - so good that I didnt even bother redownloading the english version from Blizzard. Admittedly i havent even been checking out most localized versions for a while - so it may have been improving lately without me noticing.

> I'm lucky enough to live in an English-speaking country, but I'm sure that if I lived in a country that typically sees long delays before localization, I'd find a way to get it early. Even if that meant learning English and engaging in piracy.

Translations are often bad and delayed. This is as true for games as it is true for movies or books. I hate it. The obvious solution is to just get the english versions.

But the worst thing is, there is often no legal or practical way to get the english version. Books are easy. You can get just about any english book through Amazon (.de, .fr, .etc). Movies are somewhat bad. DVDs usually include english language. iTunes doesn't feature (many) english movies, but Ebay sells US iTunes gift cards. Games are actually really hard. It is possible to order from Amazon UK or Amazon US, but shipping will be weeks and there is a good chance you will have to pay customs. Steam requires a VPN and a foreign account and a credit card proxy (Entropay works fine). Not what you would call convenient.

> I'm lucky enough to live in an English-speaking country, but I'm sure that if I lived in a country that typically sees long delays before localization, I'd find a way to get it early.

Localization isn't just bureaucratic nonsense that was conjured up to aggravate gamers in foreign countries - the games actually need to be translated to the local language.

As for if you were living in one of those countries as an expat, as you suggest, that's a very small market and not worth pursuing.

But yet they pirate the games anyway. My guess is that you'll find that a large percentage of "gamers" in non-English speaking countries speak English well enough to understand most games and don't want to wait the 6+ months required to translate the game to their local tongue when they could be playing online against US players.

This was especially true a few years back, when some publishers wouldn't release games in the UK until the "European" translation was finished!

It depends. A shooter? Yeah, piece of cake. An RPG? Sorry, but depending on the country no that many people could understand it well enough to follow the story.

TV Series do get around the moment they get on a torrent site, but many many people can follow them thanks to the subtitles provided by fellow viewers. If not they would have a harder time following them.

the games actually need to be translated to the local language.

Uh. No.

Also, most games are not translated at all.

When I said that most games are not translated I kind of focused on my country (Sweden). If you are from Germany or France you probably have another view of it.

Point is that localization really isn't the only thing that delays a launch in, for instance, Sweden. I guess we have to wait for it to be localized to other parts of Europe before we get to play it in English (or German, but I'd guess that few Swedes prefer German over English). Which is just stupid.

And if it really is translated to Swedish you'd pick English anyway (exception: if you are a group of friends it can be quite fun to laugh at the poor translation).

In a country where you don't dub movies/TV you get quite good at understanding English at a young age and in such a country I don't really think gamers would prefer a localized version anyway.

It is (just bureaucratic nonsense) if they aren't willing to sell a foreign version of the game to those who want it.

Steam uses region codes, much like DVDs, to deny you the language of your choice - because they screw with prices by area and don't want to lose this ability.

Even Steam's DRM is too much. If for whatever reason they disable your account or some of your games there's nothing you can do. Your games are just gone. As if someone came in and cut up your DVDs. Except that if you had had DVDs you could just re-download them and your keys would still work.

EDIT: It was rightly pointed out that I directed my comments to music whereas the topic was games. My thoughts drifted due to the more common association with piracy. Everything I said still applies though. To have a fair discussion, we need to be clear on who is screwing whom and how. And we need to be clear on how they can stop, and whether it is actually within their power to stop.

Original post follows:

Who should stop screwing the customer? And how should they stop?

Any discussion of fixing the music (EDIT: or gaming) industry or stopping piracy needs answers to these questions.

One of the advantages of piracy, one of its conveniences, is that you can get anything you want in one place. But no one is in a position to provide this legally. Spotify (and others (EDIT: such as Steam for games)) would like to, but they can only legally provide what record companies (EDIT: or gaming companies... I think I can stop with the line by line clarifying now; the point is that this applies to all pirated digital content) will provide to them. And they will only provide what it is cost-effective for them to acquire and license. They aren't going to have truly independent artists, because dealing with artists rather than labels isn't cost effective on such a large scale.

The only way to overcome this I can think of is a compulsory license for distributing music, akin to the compulsory license for playing covers. But there's no way I can foresee the unintended consequences of such a fundamental change in how copyright is understood.

But whether or not such a compulsory license is a good idea is not the point. The point is that "stop screwing the customer" is vague to the point of meaninglessness.

There is no law against making your catalog widely available. Yes, currently they seem unable to do so. That isn't the consumers problem (quite literally). Very few things are so awesome that you'll have people begging you to take their money (and root access on their box, the right to revoke the product at any time, etc), so few in fact that the publishers should firmly assume they are not it. If they can't sort that out between themselves, tough shit - customers/pirates/in-betweens will not care. The ball is not in their court and it will be extremely hard to put it there by force.

Who should stop screwing the customer? I thought I was clear on that.

When 90% of the world gets the game in January, and you get the game in July, you feel pretty screwed. Everyone has already explored and spoiled everything. There's very few people left to have a discussion about anything, because they already know. You get to watch everyone else play the game, wishing you could.

That's assuming the game EVER comes to your country. It might not.

And you'll probably pay more for the privilege, even though the game is worth less, for the reasons stated above.

That is, unless you pirate it.

But we're not talking about music piracy. :)

Steam is missing a few major titles (mostly from EA and Blizzard), but it's one of the most complete digital download services. It also seems to be rather indie friendly.

>But we're not talking about music piracy.

But all types of digital piracy are connected by similar economical choices of the consumer.

Valve, iTunes, Spotify, Hulu, and Netflix all combat piracy by being more convenient than the alternative. I'd much rather use those services to get what I want.

However, if content is not readily available digitally, then plenty of people have no problem getting that content via piracy. And the reason they do that is simple: the risk of getting caught and punished is vanishingly small. Even when the RIAA was at it's most aggressive, the number of people sued was trivial compared to the people who were file-sharing.

I think it boils down to this: if you are not in the marketplace, your stuff will be pirated. So get in the digital marketplace and "close the buggy-whip factory" already.

Steam missing EA's titles is a recent development caused by EA starting their own competitor, Origin.

It remains to be seen whether Origin can gain any traction as a (currently) single publisher platform, but it is required by their new releases, just like Steam back at Half-Life 2's release.

Thank you for pointing out my mental lapse. I've edited the post to clarify. I still think the questions are important though.

"Steam's pre-release anti-piracy has no yet been broken"

That's because it can't be broken. You can't break what isn't there. Pre-load only downloads 99% of the game. Let the user download the game sans a few important bits, say the entire executable, and upon release enable download for the last tiny bit. Most retail games release weeks early because it's impossible to stop once the disc hits manufacturing.

Retail discs that require one-time Steam activation can be uncrackable because those important bits aren't on the physical disc. Once a Steam game is unlocked for play it's immediately cracked and released into the wild.

I'm pretty sure that it downloads 100% of the game in an encrypted format, and the decryption keys get sent out on release.

Steam certainly does use DRM, but they use it to provide a service that ends up being providing a better user experience than their competitors. It lets them safely let you do things like download games ahead of the release date or re-download a game from their servers whenever you want onto as many computers as you want.

> But it should be noted that Steam's pre-release anti-piracy has no yet been broken. So it's not like they don't do DRM...

I'm not sure what you mean. If you mean that there's been no Steam game that has not been pirated before it was released, I know for a fact the recent game "Orcs Must Die" was pirated. I was impressed playing it at a friends place, tried to buy it on Steam when I got back home but it hadn't been released yet.

>I'm lucky enough to live in an English-speaking country, but I'm sure that if I lived in a country that typically sees long delays before localization, I'd find a way to get it early. Even if that meant learning English and engaging in piracy.

Well lucky you. Steam is no better in this regard than anyone else though; they do region lockouts. Valve doesn't with their games afaik, but Steam certainly does.

They do and it is a pain. There is a way around it though. You can use Steams website to buy games. Use http://store.steampowered.com/?cc=XX where XX is the two letter country code you have access to. They still check address and payment details match but this does allow you to use paypal.

The sooner the content world gets rid of silly region restrictions the better we will all be. It is ridiculous that even with trade agreements North American companies insist on charging non-US customers more for a usually sub-par service.

In many ways, the content world is also limited by local laws. For example, in Canada, media distribution is required to provide a certain amount of Canadian content (iirc). The point is, it's not just one sided.

This only covers radio and television. The CRTC has been very clear it can't/won't regulate online services. See it's decision a few months back about Netflix.

Watch it. If they find out you do that they'll disable the games and perhaps your whole account.

Region coding should be illegal. Or rather, enforcing it.

> .. creating pirates of them.

People choose to become 'pirates' because no one is forcing them to play video games. They have choices—pay for a game, don't play a game (A horrible thing to suggest, I know) or get a game without paying for it (Often called pirating). It's always amused me that people seem to speak of playing videogames as some right that they have and how dare anyone take that away from them.

It was a 250-word article; not sure a tl;dr is warranted. I certainly don't think it should be the top-voted comment.

Yes, it is discouraging seeing willful ignorance (aka, tl;dr) voted up on HN.

If people can't take the time to read the article, they shouldn't comment. Period.

Who said anything about commenting? I often enjoy a tl;dr because a tl;dr will, with more accuracy than the title, tell me whether the article is worth reading.

And yes, I almost always check the comments before reading the article (but I always read the article before commenting).

Oops, my fault.

so, you need to give them everything for free at the fastest bandwidth possible.

The only way to stop piracy is:

1) give all of your stuff out for free 2) have a service that can't be pirated

The reason big companies don't want piracy to become mainstream is because at a certain point, it becomes part of culture and "normal" to just pirate something, which means they won't be able to charge money for it (everyone will expect it for free). This is exactly what is starting to happen.

Back in 1999, there was no antipiracy technology, yet piracy was just as rampant as it is today. We have: Last.fm, Pandora, Youtube, Grooveshark, etc,etc. Yet, people still pirate music.

It's funny because back when Napster first started, everyone said that the artists weren't getting treated right, so that's why they were downloading music. Now that any artist can pretty music start a website with no record label, those reasons have changed.

I don't think it has anything to do with any of those reasons. Nobody wants to spend their hard-earned money on something they can just as easily get for free.

This parallels many of the people protesting wall street: Just as investing in an education doesn't mean you are guaranteed a good job, investing your time and effort in software, music, and movies doesn't mean you are guaranteed a profit.

> Yet, people still pirate music.

Do they really?

I remember 15 years ago when a lot of my friends started building mp3 libraries, ripping the CDs they had, and downloaded huge amounts of music.

Now, none of my friends have their libraries anymore, or care about it at all. They use Spotify, or Last.fm, or something similar and never pirate music, because it's simply too much work to do it, compared to just searching for exactly what they want in some paid service.

People have spent billions of dollars buying music on iTunes. Its pretty obvious that people will pay for things if its more convenient than pirating it.

But piracy hasn't stopped or slowed down.

     Yet, people still pirate music.
I pirate music from time to time, because (1) I can't find the albums I want from my country on iTunes or similar and (2) wages are lower where I live, and these services are still too expensive. Both issues are fixable however.

It's also the case that some people will always pirate stuff -- but does it really matter when the market got a lot bigger? To me it's really not an issue of price -- BUT I do refuse paying for crappy content or for content that's too expensive relative to my monthly revenue.

The biggest problems with the movies/music industries for example is not piracy, but crappy content. For instance I go watch movies at my local movie theater, and I regret paying for 25% of all movies I'm seeing, even though I'm pretty selective about it. That's just sad.

    Nobody wants to spend their hard-earned money 
    on something they can just as easily get for free.
This is true, but the MP3 file itself is not the only thing you're paying for when using iTunes or similar.

Other things would be convenience (searching for stuff on PirateBay is totally not fun), free online backup (100 GB on DropBox is $20 / month - and with my current needs, I would need 3 times that storage and constantly growing) and the insurance that you're buying quality.

You see, even if people prefer Free all the time, people also think that quality reflects directly in the price paid. That's why people still buy Nike shoes, even though there are hundreds of brands producing cheaper clones with reasonable quality.

And back to searching on PirateBay, I can't count the number of times I downloaded something, only to find that it was not what I wanted or that it was of poor quality. Sometimes whole hours would pass until I found something that I liked, or until I gave up.

And that's the thing -- some people will always pirate, but other people will prefer buying if it is more convenient. And yet other people have this feeling of accomplishment when rewarding authors that they like (me included) ... like 2 days ago I bought a copy of an ebook called "The Making of Prince of Persia", even though you can find the whole book in the author's blog.

I wish people would not downvote based on their own personal opinions.

The obvious question that I don't see anyone asking is what happens when pirates build a more convenient service than Steam? There is no way a legitimate digital distributor can offer more convenience when they are saddled with many business and legal limitations.

The obvious question to your obvious question is that if it was possible, wouldn't there be one already?

Well it's not beyond the realm of imagination for pirates to create a platform like Steam but offer all games for free. Torrents are somewhat inaccessible to the average user and they they lack content management support.

PIrates are saddled with legal limitations too. One of the "features" that has allowed torrent sites to be a bit more difficult to challenge is that they're hosting trackers, not actual files. Legal issues affect both sides.

>"We don’t understand what’s going on," he admitted. "All we know is we’re going to keep running these experiments to try and understand better what it is that our customers are telling us."

That's refreshingly honest, I like that. No bluster about how it must have happened because they're so awesome and made such brilliant calculated decisions.

The only 'piracy' I've done recently is to purchase a Kindle book using convulted means (fake US account, Proxy service, using gift card) then crack the DRM on the books so I can read it on my Kindle.

I'm sure the publishers and licensing people think they are very clever restricting content to people in other countries, but in reality, they are shooting both feet off.

The old ways are gone. There is now one global IP market, whether they like it or not. They either get with the program or they lose money and die. Sucks to be them, but that's creative destruction at work. You can't differential price, you can't licence in one market but not another. You either release the content for sale to everyone, or you will be worked around.

This is a massive sticking point for me as an Englishman living in Japan. The huge delay in getting films and, especially, TV over here coupled with the IP address and other restrictions in place by certain providers is a huge encouragement to me to Bittorrent instead. Luckily I now have a UK and US iTunes account that serves me well for most things.

My biggest gripe is with the UK sports companies - a lot of American friends can legally stream NBA, MFL and baseball via a global site that charges for high quality content. The English Premier League and cricket bodies are absolutely blind to this - there is no way for me to legally watch these sports via the web (and cable TV here isn;t possible in my apartment), even though I'd happily pay through the nose to get a fix. Because of this, I'm endlessly looking for ways to catch games via means that they spend huge amounts trying to chase and shut down.

Now that language and communication face such a low barrier, staggered releases and restrictions by market make no sense.

Have you tried using UK and US-based VPNs to get through to the region-locked content? I've spent a couple months in China with a California-based VPS, and I'm able to SSH tunnel to watch everything I want on Hulu.

I;ve tried, with some success. This kinda makes my point though, using shady means to download content because I am of one nationality and living abroad - not exactly an edge case.


I worked in an industry (still do sort of) that took a huge hit from piracy, and reacted by making it more difficult to do things rather than respond to what piracy exposed.

While I still worked at a major I wrote this.

TL;DR summary:

I heard a song on the radio, and used Shazam to look it up. The song was "Forgotten Years" by Midnight Oil, and it was 2008. I tried in vain to buy this song legally before having to finally get it through illegal means (torrents). To offset this, I donated directly to the lead singers political campaign in Australia.

As I stated then and I still believe:

"I believe that the ultimate challenge for media providers is to make systems of actualization which narrow the gap from desire to the fulfillment of said desire. The only true way to fight one form of ubiquity is with another form of ubiquity."

PS: Ironically the video embedded in my blog post is now blocked because it was uploaded by the band's non-US label.

In the olden days, pirating was hard. Hard to get the pirated game, hard to install the crack, hard to get it working again when a new patch came out and often the cracks didn't quite work and you had to find another one in the middle of your playthrough or even restart from the beginning because it broke something in your savegame. Just buying the game meant installing and playing, no hassle.

Today, installing a game you bought is harder than pirating it. You have to activate it, type in a 25 digit code you found on the box (wait, is that a B or a 3? Damnit.). It'll need an internet connection to activate, but the activation server is usually overloaded and doesn't work on launch day. Then it wants to patch itself before letting you play, because the stuff you got on the DVD you bought is actually out of date by the time you get home. You also have to sign up for some stupid web service that you never wanted, and have another login and password that you must not forget (or else you can't play anymore and your savegames are gone with it). Except if it's GFWL (Microsoft's Games for Windows Live). Then you also have to figure out why that damn thing gets stuck in an update loop and makes you log into things just to play an entirely offline, single player game (then you have to install xliveless, which avoids that). Pirating is so much easier. You torrent the thing, unpack it and play, just the way it should be.

I'm glad Gabe Newell gets this, and it's apparent in Valve's Steam (except for some reason they permit GFWL infested games, but at least they warn you about it).

I pay for DirectTV, Verizion FIOS, Netflix, and have an Apple TV, yet I still can't get content delivered how I want it.

The only thing the big networks get right is sports.

If I forget to record something, I have to go to Hulu, where I can't stream it to my TV in HD unless I buy another device. My alternative is to pay 99 cents (or more) on iTunes.

I also have to buy a switch so I don't run out of HDMI ports, and it's a pain in the ass to switch between all of my boxes.

Yeah, piracy is starting to sound good.

Oh...forgot to mention that Netflix's selection currently sucks big time.

I don't mean to sound critical but why do you think networks get sports right? I actually feel like this is one of the worst offenders. Say I want to watch every Chicago Blackhawks game this season (or any other hockey team). Well, then I need to sign up for Versus. In order to get that I need to sign up for a Cable/satellite service. But I don't want all the channels, I watch what I want on broadcast or rent/stream. I just want to be able to watch a game when I have the time. I don't like watching normal shows TV on cable (can't stand commercials), so I rent DVDs or stream it on Netflix. Now there really aren't any options for me to just get sports, without paying way extra for a bunch of crap I don't want.

I can sign up for NHL Center Ice (Internet streaming), but then I don't really get to watch every game online, most are subject to blackouts, playoff games are spotty, Stanley Cup games are nonexistent. And since I don't have cable, I miss local games because it's subject to black out in my team's region.

Maybe it's better with other sports, but I really wish there was an easier way to select a team I want to follow or pay to watch games as I watch them, and only pay for that. The only station that I thought got things right was Telemundo during the world cup, even though I don't know any more spanish than "no hablo espanol". I watched all the games there since I didn't want to sign up for cable to get ESPN for two months.

Basically I'd just like a way to pay for season passes (and actually get all the games) or get a decent sports channel without paying for a bunch I don't want.

Edit: Sorry if this seemed nonsensical, my frustration with finding an easy way to watch certain sports has gone on for a couple years now.

Living in the UK means I don't have to put up with blackouts, so ignoring that I can say that options for watching US sports are immense compared to what we have in Europe.

The fact that I can pay a hundred bucks and watch any MLB game live or on delay, on my PC, iPad or TV, in HD, with pausing, skipping to inning or batter, picture in picture, and more... that's mind-blowing for me.

Yeah, that sounds very awesome and like exactly what I want. Is this using the MLB streaming service?

I really wish I could do the same thing with hockey games. I just really despise the idea of either paying a chunk of money and not being guaranteed of watching every game, or paying way more for a bunch of stuff I don't want to get almost every game.

Out of curiosity, what sorts of options do you have in Europe?

Yeah, that's with an MLB.tv Premium subscription - and same thing for NBA.

In Europe sports leagues (or at least the ones I've cared about) don't provide their own media options, it's all through TV networks. So you can subscribe to Sky Sports channels which are something like $50-$70/month, you can subscribe to ESPN which is something like $20/month (figures off the top of my head), etc. And then you can watch whatever games they chose to show.

And some games in some sports are shown on free to watch channels such as BBC and ITV, but these are highly limited. For example in football (sorry, soccer) you don't get any league games on BBC/ITV, but they will do the world cup (big international tournament every 4 years), and a few other things now and then.

I'd love to be able to pay for a digital service that gives me all Premier League (top level of soccer in the UK) matches - I tried, with a US proxy, Fox Sports' offering in this area, but the matches on offer were limited, and the video quality was truly terrible. It was painful to watch on my PC, yet alone TV.

Actually, you're right. I wish I could just pay for Sunday Ticket and nothing else. The same goes with some of the soccer channels I don't get but wish I did.

If these services don't provide what you want, why don't you get rid of them? Try no subscription at all for a while, then start adding what truly seems to add value. You'll newly appreciate those services, save money and have more time.

I rarely watch, it's mostly my wife trying to zone out after a long day of changing diapers, but I like having options. I just wish cable companies 'got it.'

There are plenty of people who pay between $10 and $100 a month to have access to a dedicated seedbox in order to maintain ratio requirements on private torrent trackers. These people are a clear example of existing willingness to pay for access to content. Whenever content providers figure this out and can provide a service that has similar selection, availability, portability, and quality, they'll be sitting on a goldmine.

Resistance to change can be blinding. I have my doubts that such a service will exist anytime soon, however much sense it might make for their bottom line.

EDIT: this is in reference to TV/Movie industries, where this is much less of a solved problem than games and music.

Very good point. Here in NZ much of what I want is literally years away from coming out and paying for it through legal means isn't an option. But paying in the form you suggest is an option. It's annoying to have to resort to illegal measures which actually cost money to get something.

It's also interesting to see how piracy builds a market in third world countries without the companies even being present there.

Like their example, Russians were pirating games and software long before Valve or other companies had a presence there, and as soon as they came in, they already had clients.

It was the same with Microsoft's Windows and Office - people got so used to them, for example, in Poland, Latvia, Romania, that they just bought licensed versions when they became available (government orders alone must've made them hundreds of millions in revenue).

I wonder how much of that was deliberate or a seized opportunity at a later date? It never was very difficult to pirate Windows and Office back in the day.

Nowadays if a game isn't on Steam I just won't buy it. Mainly because keeping game CDs around is too much a hassle. When I buy something on Steam, I know I have that game for life and can re-install it quickly on any computer.

Agreed. I'm really hoping that EA sees this in BF3 PC sales and reverses direction. I refuse to be shoehorned into keeping around a different gaming client, if EA pulls their titles then I'm not buying EA on PC.

I don't even have a problem with Origins as a service, but I don't trust EA to keep putting effort into it once they get the marketshare. I trust Valve to do so because they're doing it, right now, as we speak. They even took time out to breathe new life into Mac gaming, a move that earned tons of respect from me.

Using EA's store supports a trend of individual publisher stores and a situation where I have 10 different clients from 10 different companies, something that I am strongly against. It's true that Valve is a publisher as well, but the fact of the matter is they got there first and have proven themselves trustworthy. EA did neither and is now trying to lure us into their gingerbread house with candy and a fake smile. I just don't trust it.

I completely agree with you about the trust issue, but if nothing else comes of this I do hope it forces Valve to reconsider their stance on in-game purchases. EA is completely in the right about that, as much as I hate to agree with them.

> I have that game for life

Not for life, but rather for the life of Steam as a platform. I don't see Valve going away anytime soon, but you never know...

Rumor has it that if Valve went under and Steam was shut down, they'd release a patch to allow their games to continue to function.

But how could you back the games up or move them to another computer?

Same way that you do it now - copy the relevant files out of ~/Steam/steamapps/ to wherever you need. I've gotten around re-downloading huge games because everything you need is in there (when I've already done it once before on a different machine, or when I'm getting a game a local friend of mine already downloaded). The only thing stopping you from playing it is the DRM on the executable, but the mythical Steam-is-dead-here-you-go-patch will solve that.

Torrents. And I bet it would be legal because Valve would do something like releasing the games for free just before they tanked. I'm not so sure about some of the other labels that exist on Steam, though.

Steam supports generating backup discs and images. They could release a way of using them without requiring online verification.

That's probably a lot longer than my own life expectancy.

I would only think in those terms if I could get to live forever.

Steam used to be a great way to get games at the same time as the USA for the same price. Now it allows access at the same time but with significantly higher prices in Australia.

In this case it is about price. I don't like being ripped off, even if the amount I'm being ripped off is slightly less than if I went into a physical store to buy the game.

So far this behavior is limited to AAA titles from publishers other than Valve, so I'm happy playing indie games and waiting for Half Life 2: Episode 3.

Lifelong game pirater here, back to the Amiga 500 games bought on floppies from a software cracker (yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me! went the into screens)

Australia has always been shafted in price - a AAA game for $110-$120? Total nonsense, even when our dollar was very low.

Steam is largely what's turned my behaviour around. I've always bought a few, pirated a few, but the convenience of Steam is hard to beat. I mostly wait for specials or bundles, and have a lot of indie games (my catalog is up around 200 games, slightly less than half are unplayed bundle-fodder). Mid-year and new year sales are great times for bargains. But a AAA game at a ridiculous price? Hello pirate bay. Duke Nukem Forever at $80? Good luck with that (not that it's a AAA title... but it theoretically occupies that space).

I've found that over the years, with few exceptions, once a game is played, it's done and I don't go back. If I do go back... it's pretty dated and I realise it was better off in the realm of nostalgia. For me the issue of "but what if Steam dies / goes offline - you'll lose all your games!" is a non-issue - I have a couple of racks of dusty game CDs behind me that haven't been opened in years.

Long story short: it's mostly about the convenience, but partly about the price.

I bought a physical copy of The Witcher 2 Premium Edition from play.com and paid €35 I think it was. This included shipping, a physical making of dvd, a physical soundtrack cd, a physical map, a brass coin, physical strategy guide book and more. My point is I got a lot of physical stuff for the price where steam users got digital versions which should have been a lot cheaper to produce. Yet steam charged €45 (since been reduced to €39.99) for the digital version of the premium edition.

Do yourself a favor and get a (preferably pro-rated) host based in the US and set up squid on it.

Not much use without a US billing address.

Convenience of purchase or convenience of ownership/control? I am refusing to use Steam since I cannot be sure that I will be able to play when and however I like. In fact, I can be sure that at some point I would not be able to play my games because I lost internet access and Steam does not let me play (do not reply with "there is offline mode", that mode is a joke as you have to enable it whilst being online).

To me it's the direct opposite. I can't imagine life without Steam anymore, because to have to track down the install media/images of all those games, go through their ridiculous install procedures, updates, etc. every time I have to reinstall Windows or switch the game to a different computer is a tremendous waste of time.

Just FYI, they fixed not being able to start directly into offline mode about a month or so ago.

Nice! Does that mean I can purchase a game and then play it offline for all eternity?

Offline mode has been fixed since at least the start of August, if not longer.

If only broadcast media organisations would take this on board. If a movie or an episode of a popular show is released even one day later via convenient streaming media channels than it is through other traditional mediums, it'll be pirated. Piracy is an international issue and will never ever be solved, or at least reduced significantly, until these companies accept the internet for what it is -- a ubiquitous global distribution channel -- and release content everywhere simultaneously.

What people don't realize about DRM, is that it's asymmetric warfare, and the corporation is in the role of the guerrilla! If you have a popular product and everyone in the universe wants to play your game, then your few development groups (formed against bureaucratic friction) are going up against the vast resources and nearly frictionless meritocracy of the internet. Don't take the pirates on head-on! Be sneaky. For example, err strongly on the side of false negatives (be forgiving) and greatly separate in time pirate detection from any consequences. Never set up a situation where one crack gives the pirate the keys to the kingdom. That's like facing a huge army in a set-piece battle with your guerrillas. Only depend on a given detection scheme for a short while.

Sounds like a great way to give your game a reputation as a bug-ridden piece of shit. This happened to The Witcher.

How about a delivery mechanism that uses technology in a sane manner and doesn't punch paying customers in the face with stupid bullshit?

Sounds like a great way to give your game a reputation as a bug-ridden piece of shit.

Sounds like the same knee-jerk reaction. (Which usually shows you haven't really understood what I'm proposing.) If the consequences are greatly separated in time from detection, and there is strong bias towards false negatives, then the result will be to give the cracked copies a reputation as an incomplete, half-baked piece of crap.

In any case, DRM should never manifest as anything resembling a bug in the game. It should only manifest as a failure of the pirates to do their job and reduced access to online and downloadable content. Remember, guerrilla warfare is about the long term and not the short term. In the short term, there are defeats and retreats for the smaller force, but in the long term, the larger force is persuaded that the effort is no longer worth the reward.

Absolute containment is the essential failed strategy of regular armies taking on the guerrillas. It's also the source of everything you find objectionable about DRM. (Analogy: the armed force that's unpopular with the local population.)

Yeah, I get it. It's not a very complicated idea and it's been tried before. Your mistake is that you assume people are going to attribute the bugs to the cracked copy and not to the game itself.

People will look up the game and see that a level fails to load or the game otherwise breaks at some point, but no mention by the person reporting it that they're using a cracked copy. So they decide not to buy the game.

I'm not even going to bother presenting the evidence that DRM tends to increase piracy rates because I'm sure you've seen it and have simply chosen to ignore it. Just as you've ignored the truly best strategy for deal with guerrilla rebels.

People will look up the game and see that a level fails to load or the game otherwise breaks at some point, but no mention by the person reporting it that they're using a cracked copy. So they decide not to buy the game.

Here's a prime example of not understanding what I'm proposing. This would be the manifestation of DRM as a bug -- which is one of the things I say you should not do!

I think that people are still willing to pay for PC games as a service. That's what massively multiplayer games are effectively doing. These days, you can often download the game client at the cost of the bandwidth to do it ("free" in the eyes of many), but you pay for access to the servers that are maintained for the players, and you may also pay for expansions.

There are pirate servers, of course, but those suffer from instability, as well as the high probability of disappearing once Big Company X goes after them. That's not a risk that many players want to take, given the time investment that is often made in such games; so they pay to play.

Of course. From games to music to movies, when you limit the utility of a legitimately purchased product you will only serve to make the pirated version that much more appealing. Case in point: I can buy a movie from a Hollywood studio in Japan, but I play it on my US DVD player. If I were to pirate that same movie - I can save $20 and watch it anywhere! Localization and DRM = terrible concepts.

When I can get a game for free that has fewer restrictions than something I pay for then the system is broken.

Looking at you Ubisoft.

Piracy has never been more convenient in gaming than the traditional route, even with DRM. How convenient is it to download 4GB, follow cryptic instructions, apply a crack, be banned from online play, be unable to update patches, etc. I'm sure a small few pirate games due to DRM reasons but price is the main reason.

Hmm? Piracy is incredibly convenient. Cracks are consistent and easy to use, updates generally appear regularly, you can pass the installer to your friends offline, and you can happily play without internet connection long after the official servers die out.

Online play is a different matter, since you might have centralised server-side authentication. Online multiplayer is a definite advantage to going legit. Otherwise, piracy is nothing if not convenient.

he's totally right. I have almost bought more games in a year of having a Steam account than in the last 10 years and i prefer to buy them on Steam for the "convenience" of it's "cloud based" service.

I know that I didn't buy games before Steam, or at least as much as I do now. But price is also a factor. I really have to think about it when a game costs more than $15, but Steam usually has good games on sale anyway. Steam and other digital distributors have made me more of a gamer.

I buy, play, then sell games.

Steam does not let me do this; thus those games are more expensive to me. I do not buy Steam games.

Who buys used PC games? Why should I trust you not to have copied the CD key? This is a reasonable enough argument for not buying digital titles on a console, but seems irrelevant in regards to the topic at hand, which is PC gaming.

Here's a stack exchange question about retail boxed games with Steam activation:


>I finished both games and I was thinking of reselling them or giving them to a friend to play. However, these are both Steam activated games that had a required Steam registration code I had to enter -- and validate on Steam -- as part of the installation.

Here's the website for CEX - a UK shop - with second hand PC games:


You haven't addressed his issue, at all.

The problem with used PC sales is that, particularly when it comes to multiplayer games, there is no way to guarantee that the seller isn't going to hang on to the CD key and keep using it.

I've long since moved onto Steam, but I remember very distinctly that before digital distribution, stores outright refused to take used PC games that are primarily multiplayer, and made no guarantees about multiplayer CD key validity for the rest. It's a huge gaping hole in the used market.

Now look at that page you linked to - of the ten games on that page, only one has a multiplayer component, and even then it was far from what the game was known for. Second-hand multiplayer PC games simply aren't resellable.

That page was the first (of many) listed by price, highest first. They have over 3,000 games in stock. People buy them; people sell them.

The people selling them know that they can risk cash on a new game; if it's bad they can sell it secondhand and buy something else. Stopping sales of secondhand games (which is something that some people want to do; and is something that is clearly happening) stiffs the customer. You buy the right to use the content, but you may never ever transfer that right.

This desire to restrict what people can do with content is baffling to most customers yet rife within industry.

When Disney were shown domestic video players they were worried that you could not tell how many people were in the room watching the video; how could you charge people to watch a movie if you didn't know how many people were watching it? See also their attempts to create a "watch once" video.

And all this inconvenience to real customers - people who want to buy games (and who need to sell them second hand to afford it) has zero impact on pirates. I suspect (but have no evidence) that it doesn't send any money to the people creating the games either.

I don't see the relevancy of the StackExchange question at all.

As for the business that resells PC games, they are doing so at great risk to themselves. I'm aware of every small game store in Toronto and I have never seen one that would even begin to consider reselling PC games. There might be a way to do it with a strictly warehouse model but in a brick and mortar situation it's just not feasible. Simply verifying if CD keys are active would absorb way too much time and money.

One business has made a go at it, it's still hardly standard for the industry and TBH I wouldn't buy anything from them and neither would 99% of people. The CD Key system is designed for one user/one seat. Anything past that is strictly on the honour system. As someone who has been burned by pirated hardware carts, I don't trust a used PC game for a second.

This is not a common thing at all, and I still think the "reselling used games" argument is basically irrelevant when it comes to PC games. We lost that fight decades ago, it's time to move on.

>I don't see the relevancy of the StackExchange question at all.

The parent asked "Who sells PC games anyway?" The stack exchange question is from someone who wanted to sell / give away retail boxed games with Steam activation.

I never meant that I didn't think anyone wanted do, just that nobody does it. The StackExchange question doesn't contribute to that, he wanted to but found out he couldn't and so he didn't.

I would suggest that you pay attention to the prices on Steam during Summer and holiday sales. You can get best selling, triple-A titles for less than five dollars. I think Mass Effect 2 was down to 3 dollars.

At the sale prices I would think that the convenience of being able to download it from Steam would outweigh not being able to re-sell it for you.

Unfortunately for you, the game's industry is slowly and inevitably moving towards personal subscription based purchases.

This is slowly driving down the price of games (which is a good thing), and hopefully it'll lead to higher revenues for publishers so (the good ones) can continue to make more and better games.

More money for publishers and cheaper games for individuals? I think it's pretty win-win. The second hand game market really short changes the publishers, and it's very expensive to make a top title!

Imagine how much Portal 2 cost Valve to make, was it worth it?

>Unfortunately for you, the game's industry is slowly and inevitably moving towards personal subscription based purchases.

It's my guess that this model will work until the first major publisher, for whatever reason, collapses - or simply stops bothering with providing access to older games. Then people will realize how insane and retarded this entire system of "paying for access" is. Same goes for cloud computing, by the way.

Besides, you are confusing publishers and developers. Valve is a rare case where both are one and the same, making them a very weird exception, but in general, direct distribution is bad for publishers (which is a good thing). It's really the same as with the (major) labels.

>Imagine how much Portal 2 cost Valve to make, was it worth it?

Valve is also a rare case in that they still make games worth playing. Most of the rest of the industry is a sea of bland, uncreative genericness with fancy graphics. I acknowledge Valve for this, but I still refuse to pay for access to games. I want a copy that plays where I want, whenever I want, and that still works three decades from now.

Until this insanity stops, I hoist the black flag. Yarr.

How about this alternative: "Until this insanity stops, I don't purchase their product, and instead buy indy games or games from publishers that support my policies". Voting with your wallet will encourage these policies in developers.

If you don't adopt this approach, you look more like the normal "entitled, rationalising pirate", a story I see regularly going something like:

1) I want games that aren't just fancy graphics! Give me gameplay, and I'll pay! 2) Oh, so there are these games now. Well, now I want easy access! Give me downloads, and I'll pay! 3) Hold on, I can download? Well, now they're too expensive! Make them cheaper and I'll pay! 4) So iOS games are about $4.99 for a high quality title? Well, that's still to expensive! Make them cheaper, and I'll pay! 5) Oooo, $0.99. Well, that was published by EA, sooo - use a publisher that doesn't use DRM on any title, ever, even back in time and I'll pay! n + 1) Insert new demand here, then I'll pay!

The result here being that, actually, said person didn't actually want any of these things. They just want excuses to rationalise away their taking the work of a group of people that they evidently do want (otherwise, why bother pirating it) without any kind of remuneration so they can do those crazy greedy things like feeding their family and raising their kids.

You should check out the roaring indie game scene. The Humble Indie bundle (http://www.humblebundle.com) has given me spectacular gameplay for very little money. (No, I don't pay pennies for the bundle).

I know a bit about and highly respect the indie scene. They are, in my opinion, the future of game development in general. I paid for the second bundle, and was highly entertained for quite a while. It's a very cool project.

Slightly offtopic, but Wolfire has also written one of my favorite articles/blog posts as of recent, as well - http://blog.wolfire.com/2009/07/linear-algebra-for-game-deve...

Thanks for the link! The concept from part 3 of treating the axes as unit vectors that default to (1, 0) and (0, 1) but can be rotated at will really helped bridge the gap in my mind between rotating vectors "manually" and using matrix multiplication.

I love buying these bundles to support the charities and the developers even though I never really play the games. But it does seem to me that there is more innovation occurring in the indie space than from the mainstream developers.

> The second hand game market really short changes the publishers, and it's very expensive to make a top title!

No, it doesn't.

"The second hand car market really short changes the auto manufacturers."

A better analogy is "the second hand book market really short changes the book publishers (or authors)".

This is definitely a better analogy, but I actually agree that the second-hand games market is hurting the publishers, particularly the legitimised selling of pre-owned titles by bricks and mortar retailers.

There are always going to be x% of people who will get hold of the game for free (and x is going to rise as the means of obtaining them gets easier). So let's say 1,000,000 people are interested in playing 'Super Mega Hooper!' and 500,000 will find a way to obtain this for nothing. Before the dramatic rise in pre-owned sales, 500,000 would buy it from a retailer, and 500,000 lots of cut would go to the publisher. Now, only - say - 250,000 lots of cut go to the publisher with the other 250,000 people giving more of a cut to the retailer.

I'd say that over the last ten years of so the average price of a full-price game has remained reasonably constant given inflation, and the cost to produce (AAA) games has risen. Therefore: net loss to publishers using the traditional retail model.

(Of course, there has been plenty of opportunity for publishers to move away from the traditional model, but I'd argue that the culture of buying pre-owned is definitely having an affect on them.)

If you're comparing the experience of playing a video game to a physical good, yes, but really you're paying for the right of use to interactive content. Comparing 'owning' a video game to owning a car is fallacious.

I think you'll find that when you look at car ownership rights and digital content ownership rights there is completely different legislation and laws for both, and with good reason.

The physical media distribution of a game has merely been a cost effective delivery method. If publishers could distribute their games directly to your device over the internet or whatever they'd have done that as a first option.

If the contract of sale determines that your license is non-transferrable then, well, that's that, if the publisher can enforce it. It's the way things are going for digital content, get used to it!

The car-intellectual property comparison is dubious when the MPAA is comparing downloading movies to carjacking, and it's equally dubious in this situation.

When you're sold a DVD in a game on it, you're buying the physical DVD to the same degree to which you're buying the wrapper when you buy a candy bar - as a container of the useful purchase. When you're buying a car, you're buying a car.

Your analogy doesn't really show anything. The candybar is consumed on use. Software isn't, but they're trying to make it so.

I don't sell games, but if you wait a short time (or purchase indie titles) you may end up "paying" the same amount as purchasing a title new and then selling it a while later. There's a huge number of games available on Steam for $10 or less, and often you can get "4 packs" for a rebate and sell them to your friends.

In my area, the only reasonable way to buy and sell used games is online. But during the holidays, Steam sells a lot of games at a 75-90% discount. During those sales, I spend on Steam what I'd normally spend on postage.

I also get a lot of titles by smaller developers that are only available digitally, too.


That is certainly has been known for centuries.

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