This is what is forgotten when we talk about “benefits of piracy” and “sharing culture for free”

Who pays the development costs of the first copy?

Pirate parties explainin their websites how “all benefit from sharing of culture”. I almost agree. Yes, when product is created, and if sharing costs are zero, that indeed means that the whole world can enjoy the existing culture for free. Everybody wins?

Almost. Except the chap who created the first copy. The original piece of culture.

If all games would cost zero and everybody would just use pirated copies, the situation is pretty good. There’s just one question. How do we support those who create new culture? (I’m not saying we necessarily should, but in case we wanna create new culture, who pays the price?)

Game developers blame that pirates are selfish, since pirates don’t give their money to game developers. Pirates blame game developers being selfish, since game developers want to take pirates money.

Both are correct.

And then pirates suggest alternative models, such as these:

Game developers should get money from selling mugs, t-shirts and other stuff. Like angry birds does

This is same as pirate would be saying:

“Let’s produce more plastic crap that somebody else than me should buy”. This means that we will need to start producing crap in order to make games. I find the idea of “in order for me to make games, the world must produce more t-shirts” pretty damn unmotivating. I don’t want more t-shirts and mugs. I want more money, so that I can produce more culture.

Game developers should get money from advertising

The situation is pretty same as with the previous example, but instead of developer getting the money (or mug industry), now the game advertising industry gets the money, and we want world to produce more advertising systems.

Aka, this is same as pirate would say:

“I don’t pay, but those makers of product X should pay so that I can get culture for free”

As a developer, I don’t necessarily want another middle man who would start finding advertising deals for me, taking cut from each sale. This means my funds are used to support producing advertisement systems in the world. Or, if I don’t want middlemen, I will need to spend time hunting down ad deals, which is time I could spend make games (been there, done that)

I too am selfish, like you pirates, but at least I have the guts to admit that. (I’m also pretty good at trolling sometimes).

Also, advertising model clearly isn’t what pirates want, since pirated versions often take those ads away. So, it’s slightly odd to suggest “advertising” when pirated versions lack ads in the first place, or are downloaded through sites that show ads yes – but revenues go to somebody else than the developer.

Game developers should make distribution more convenient, like pirate bay

Pirate bay gets support from ads. Google too. They are big distributors, which make it handy to get stuff for free. This is essentially as saying:

“I don’t wanna support the creators, I wanna support the distributors for showing adult, dating, casino ads, and possibly other industry ads too, which then support those industries – but I don’t wanna support the guy or company who created the first copy. As long as somebody else pays, I’m all good.”

“Game industry needs to develop better ways to distribute”

I think AppStore, Steam, Desura and others are much more convenient distribution channels already for those who are not technically advanced. I’ve tested torrent systems, but I tell you: AppStore for example is a very handy way to get stuff.

And if it’s the “distribution” or “convenience” that you are against, why don’t you do the following:

  1. First get pirate copy of the software
  2. Send money to the developer

This way you would cut all midmen, but developer would see his money.

I know why. Because: “I don’t have money”, said the pirate and took a sip from his ale filled with grog.

If you sip grog, instead of giving that money to a developer. Then you are supporting grog sipping, not culture creation.

Equally well I can say that if I’m spending money I get from game development to grog sipping, this means I’m sipping grog in the expense of the pirates. The difference is this:

  1. I have the guts to say this.
  2. Currently all my game dev money goes back into creating more game dev, and to support my family (and to buy Moomins toys at the expense of your – and mine – grog sipping).

You cannot have cake and eat it too
I’m not totally against piracy. I think it’s okay for example students without money or well, anyone without money to pirate games. As long as these guys then remember to support later when they are productive members of the society and can show support to the industry creators too.

The bottom line is this:

  • Piracy means you don’t want to give your money to the creator (nor other parties involved)
  • Suggesting that we should produce more grog drinking mugs means creators should not get money, but grog mug makers.
  • Developers are selfish, yes – and we have guts to admit it: we want all the money we can so that we can keep on producing culture, and to sip some grog if money is left.
  • Pirates are selfish, but they hide behind some “all for common good by sharing culture to all (let’s forget the chap who created the piece of culture)” clause, meaning they have more money to sip grog.

All this boils down to this:

  • To whom we give our money, gets to decide where it goes (after governments take their cut and spend it to build roads and statues in cities). If pirates keep the money and keep pirating, they decide who gets it. They can give it to developers or to grog industry.
  • We as developers of course want that we get the money (plus some leftover to sip grog).
  • Pirates wanna of course keep the money, so that they have something to buy grog.

At some point developers claim that “hey, we help children by giving to charity” to which pirates respond “so do we, by not giving you the money in the first place”.

Game devs say that “if we have more money, then we have more time to make games” and pirates reply “if I have more money, then I don’t need to go to work so much so that I have more time to play games”. Whose free time is more precious?

I think ease of distribution is important, but totally forgetting the guys who created the stuff that is distributed is somewhat worrying.

I think we are all selfish, all wanna keep decision power at our hands. There are couple of pretty fair models. Kickstarter is one: there everybody gets to decide how much they spend money so that something gets produced. Of course there’s quite a long waiting time, and some stuff doesn’t get produced if there’s no money – but that’s life.

I’ve seen some honest pirates too. They say they pirate because they don’t wanna pay, period. I think there’s nothing we can do about those chaps. They’ve chosen that we creators should not get a penny, because they wanna buy bigger monitor and faster computer to play games. I think in a free society, this must be allowed. We can respond by stopping making games, so that pirate no longer has new games to play. If that’s what society wants, so be it.

But then I’ve seen these pirate parties, who claim that “all win if sharing is free”. That is simply not true. It’s the developer who is funding the development then. The first copy costs.

I’m not saying that it’s the “right way” that it’s the players responsibility to pay – I just feel it’s one of the most fair way. Those who create get money from those who consume the creation.

So, what you think.

Who should pay the first copy? Developer? Players? “Somebody else, as long as it’s not me”?

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. As a future game creator is it better to become “writers” contracting the services of a publisher for the marketing/promotions/distribution? Or is it better to become “publishers” with ownership rights to the game copyright and then contracting the other publisher exclusively for marketing/promotions/distribution?

  2. here is an idea. stop worrying about people who are not your customers. if pirates couldnt pirate. they would not suddenly buy your game. because most pirates pirate everything, even things they would never buy.
    so, a pirate does have one benefit. hes a possible customer. since he is paying nothing for the game he is pirating and probably never will, he then just becomes a platform for further advertisement of your game.
    furthermore, no pirate makes those innane claims. the people who pirate and would pay expect a good service to go along with it. however, must developers go out of their way to make sure they get the worst service possible to ironically.. stop pirates!

  3. good point. I wouldn’t be surprised if more and more games would have online elements in them. If game logic happens in servers (and account info is verified), it’s tougher to pirate.

  4. I think Piracy can be adapted around. I mean games are so flexible in what they are that they can get around piracy in ways other forms of entertainment can’t. LOL(league of legends), pretty much skipped piracy with its system, where it makes money from 20% of its user base and allows access to everyone, making it more popular at the same time. Games can all adjust to this kind of model, especially when the online experience is the main part, then it pretty much solves itself.

    Also I find advertising in games to be… very minimal… I mean why aren’t I flooded with coke adds during load times? that seems very sensible to me.

    Through a combination of in game purchasable items and adverts i think games can attract an even larger audience whilst not having to deal with pirates.

  5. Good points.

    Other things that came to my mind:

    I actually tried to check torrent thing to download some movie yesterday. Not to watch the movie, but to check how convenient it is.

    First I needed to go through pages long text on “how to download”. There was screenshots and instructions on how to do it. Then I searched (searching was easy), and then found out versions where “sounds are horrible, somebody is giggling in the back”. Others commented “good quality” etc.

    Then somebody said “damn slow downloading, please people – share more”.

    Then… I noticed Steam sale via twitter, clicked buy (remembered my details), took 4 secs to visit paypal and type password and all ok. Now I can download the game whenever I want, fast. (Steam too has problems: sometimes you cannot play if Steam servers are down)

    I do think that there must be convenient way to download the stuff. I’m not perhaps in favor of legalizing “free sharing of whatever stuff”, since that’s effectively same as letting Spotify/Steam/PirateBay other distributors to take any product they want, crack it, and then distribute (or help distribute) it conveniently. Leaving creators nothing nor incentive to do anything.

    But… it’s complex take. I do think overall it’s best for everybody if we focus on serving those who actually pay as conveniently as possible, remembering to ensure each gets piece of the cake:
    – customer gets pro service and decent price
    – distributor gets their share for prodiving ease of sharing & payments,
    – and creators get their fair share for creating the piece of art.

    I think we are now fighting hard to find a balance that hopefully is win-win-win situation for all of us.

  6. Just throwing a thought here:
    Company releases it’s games for free, distributing without drm, in the most convenient ways for the consumer (like torrent for example). Company also tells consumers how to give money to the company, like an optional payment or donation. In other words game developement companies would change into charity organisations supporting game developement with funds from donations.

    Could this kind of a system work in todays world? Would you pay the recommended price for an AAA game if it was optional? Would enough people answer yes to that question to make it possible for the developers to create more games?

    If I understand you correctly, Juuso, this is what you’re subtly asking in your recent articles: are people responsible enough to give the developers the support they deserve if there were no regulations or sanctions?

  7. As a future game creator is it better to become “writers” contracting the services of a publisher for the marketing/promotions/distribution? Or is it better to become “publishers” with ownership rights to the game copyright and then contracting the other publisher exclusively for marketing/promotions/distribution?

  8. Grog tax has issues too.

    First… who gets to decide which game devs get the money? 8)

  9. “If they can’t make something good enough that people are willing to pay for it, then they shouldn’t be making it at all.”
    100% agree on this.

  10. The only benefit of piracy I believe in is that it’s free advertising for the game. And even that is iffy when the game has a demo version out.

    Pirates exist, and they will pirate. There’s no way around that. But it isn’t good business practice to punish legitimate customers with crippling DRM systems for the crimes of the pirate.

    For example, I recently moved and was without internet on my Desktop for a while. When I went to play a game I had purchased via Steam, it wouldn’t let me. I had to be online, in order to go into offline mode in order to play games with no internet. That made me very glad that I’ve never paid full price for a Steam game, and now I never will. Every single Steam game has already lost half its value due to the fact that we will lose access to them shortly after Steam gets shut down in a few decades (or less… Who knows?) Now that I know I won’t be able to play them if the internet goes down unexpectedly, they aren’t even worth half their initial price.

    I just played, and beat, The Force Unleashed 2 in 6 hours. Made me glad I hadn’t pre-ordered that one, $60 for a 6 hour game is not worth it. (Also, why all the hate for that game? It was fun!) I’ve bought 3 or so of the Humble Indie Bundle’s. And proceeded to only play a few of the games for a total of less than 20hrs. That’s why I’d never pay the normal ~$20 asking prices for games like The World of Goo.

    On the other side of the coin, I bought Halo 3: ODST for the full price, and have never regretted it. It’s one of the best games I’ve ever played, and I’ve gotten plenty of bang for my buck out of it.

    So, in the end, the value of a game is based entirely on how much enjoyment I got out of it. ODST was likely worth more than what I paid, and The Force Unleashed 2 would have been worth the full price if it had been 3 times as long. Most of the Humble Bundle games were worthless, but I didn’t pay much for them, so I don’t mind. I know there are development costs, but I don’t really care. Games are entertainment, they waste time I should spend doing something more constructive, so it’s up to the developer/producer to convince me to spend my time and money on it. If they can’t make something I’m willing to buy, then why would it matter to me if they close shop?

    The initial copy of a game what is developed by the developer. Thus, the person that pays for the initial copy, has to be the developer. It’s up to them to create something that is worth both my time and money. If they can’t make something good enough that people are willing to pay for it, then they shouldn’t be making it at all. Or, at least, they should have a fall back plan so they can learn from the mistake and proceed to make something new that is worth it.

  11. There seem to be two types of pirates: the dirty, bearded, eye-patched swashbucklers and the fancy dressed, gentleman gansters. Former are straight enough to say “just because I won’t pay”. The latter are some kind of wimps seeking for an excuse for their unethical behaviour.

    Digital distribution and replication made piracy a breeze. Not having to physically rob real people or steal their property does not make it a peccadillo. It just makes it easier to hide.

    IMO the whole piracy thing is just a manifestation of missing foresight and moral. “Others pay, I take it for free”. This works as long as other people are no pirates. Pirates just exist because paying folks enable them to exist. They are the honest man’s shadow. If the honest does not pay the pirate will starve to.

    Who has to pay? Let’s introduce a new grog tax. You get games for free but your thirst has to cover game devs hunger. Hit pirates where it hurts the most, the same way game producers have to suffer.

  12. This is a good take on a very hairy problem. I myself have been living off copyright fees, I’ve worked in TV and movies, and for a hobby I write, do a bit of game coding, play in bands that have published albums, etc. So both my livelihood and hobbies are pretty tightly tied to the whole copyright institution.

    Nevertheless I’m pro-piracy to a certain degree. Or, at least, I’m against the idiocy of the current media companies, and their horrible inertia in adapting their revenue model to reflect the wishes of the consumers for the last decade and a half. I do firmly believe that the creator should be paid for his trouble, but the creator and his intermediaries should be willing to sell what the customers want, not to dictate what and how they should consume.

    The best way to fight piracy is to give functional and easy to use legal alternatives: re Spotify, Steam etc. Of course, herein lies a problem: in the last decade the dumb**** publishing industry has created a generation of consumers who rightfully think that illegal = easy, legal = cumbersome, hard to use and wonky, and media industry = rich callous cunts who are totally out of touch with the consumer base. This is something that will take time to change, and the only way to hasten this is to publish even better and easier to use legal alternatives, and keep drumming them.

    Also, one problem I’ve found in the pirate ideology is that “culture” is often treated like one singular monolith, whereas my Harrison-Stetson gut feeling is that the method of consumption of music, movies and games are totally different. I mean, when I was a kid, I used to copy a lot of music to those godfangled music killing c-cassettes. As an adult, when I came to some disposable income, I’ve bought those same albums in a couple of different versions, and since I became a fan of the artist, I’ve bought their other stuff, gone to gigs and so on. The illegal copying was indeed free publicity there. With games and movies… not so much. Once I’ve seen them or played them through, there’s really no incentive for me to go and buy them anymore. Sure, there are collectors who do that too, but I’m not really sure how many of those are there.

    The fact is, though, that those who pirate the most also spend the most money on media products, and I’d like to see much more research about this. This is something where I’d like to see both sides of the argument look at the current research and try to see what it actually says, not only how does it back their own opinion of the issue.

    And yeah, sometimes ideology gets mixed up with idiocy. I can stomach a penniless kid or a student pirating a game/movie or two, because really – he wouldn’t pay for them in any case. Also, pirating stuff for where there’s no legal alternative is more or less a victimless crime – who loses there and what? Then again, a working, adult “ideological pirate” who pulls over 2000 euros per month in salaries and who pirates a 10 euro indie game or a shareware program because “culture wants to be free” can choke for all I care.

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