Piracy is something you hear about quite often in gaming, especially on the PC side of things. It's hard to go a week without someone trotting out those discouraging statistics showing that far more people will steal a game than pay for it, or just how much internet traffic is dedicated solely to piracy. It's not a fun topic, to be sure.

Piracy tends to get a little divisive, too. Ordinary gamers on the receiving end tend to feel like they're being accused, like they did something wrong. Anti-piracy advocates can be a little strident sometimes. Who can blame them, though? Developers put a ton of work into a game and people blatantly take it. Game studios quite literally cannot function if they don't get paid. They don't develop games out of the goodness of their heart. They have to eat just like everyone else.

Solving piracy has proven elusive. Some developers try to ignore it and release their games without any sort of copyright protection software (DRM). Unfortunately, those games get pirated pretty heavily. Other publishers, especially Ubisoft, try to release games with as much DRM as possible. Those games get pirated pretty heavily anyway, and they irritate legitimate customers.

Seriously, guys. What the hell.

It kind of looks like there's no solution for this sort of problem. If games get pirated with and without DRM, how does an honest developer boost sales? It's a tough question. Unfortunately, the discussion about piracy often denigrates into name-calling and personal insults. A lot of that is due to frustration over not finding a solution, I think.

To be honest, I lied in the title. There is no magic bullet for piracy. It's far too large a problem to ever be tacked easily. There is, however, one thing that greatly decreases piracy. It's absurdly simple but surprisingly powerful.

The average gamer (myself included) does not have a ton of patience. We don't like to jump through hoops and fight against stringent DRM just to play our games. One of the most commonly-cited reasons for piracy is that it's just the easiest way to play a game or watch a television show. Probably the best example of this is a very persuasive comic (warning: profanity) from The Oatmeal summing up why so many people (including myself) have turned to occasional piracy.

For example, Game of Thrones. HBO's Emmy-winning drama is probably the best fantasy series of the past decade. Geeks such as myself love the show. It's gritty, realistic, sweeping, epic... and only available to HBO subscribers. No problem, right? Geeks will support something they love (even Star Wars in 3D). Surely HBO included another way for us to watch the show other than paying around $100 a month for an HBO subscription.

Oh wait, no they didn't. Game of Thrones was available (legally) to only HBO subscribers for an entire year. The first season didn't release on DVD until around the start of season two. That's ridiculous. Fans don't want to wait an entire year to watch an amazing show. This leaves us with two options: a ridiculously expensive HBO subscription, or piracy.

Editor's note: It has been pointed out that this paragraph might be a teensy bit illegal. It has been redacted.

Hm. Looking back over this blog, that last bit sounds a little entitled. It's not like we geeks have some right to the show and HBO has to bend over backwards to accommodate us.


On the other hand...

That's exactly what should happen. Companies should actively work to give us convenient ways to buy their stuff. Is that whiny and entitled? Yep. However, if HBO wants my money, then they should give me a reasonable option. That's called customer service.

The same lesson could really go for game developers. If a publisher wants to cripple their game with intrusive, annoying DRM, then gamers won't bother with the legal copy crippled with copyright protection. They'll just steal the game. Nobody understands this lesson better than Valve. Their online game service Steam is a superb example of how to cater to your customers' every entitled need. Steam is successful because it's actually more convenient than piracy.

Seriously, the power of convenience should never be underestimated. I browse Reddit quite often, and one of the most common themes in discussions of piracy is "I would buy it if I could." People who live in other countries (e.g. not the United States) often don't have any legal way to access movies or TV shows or games. When that happens, piracy is literally the only option.

That's really the point here. People who make games or music or movies, don't hamstring legal customers with rules and regulations. When given a chance, a surprisingly large number of people will do the right thing and pay for a game. Just give them the chance.