Over $300 million dollars was stolen off of just one game, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, in 2009. Obviously, Activision had much more stolen from it with other titles, but MW2 is by far the worst affected. According to TorrentFreak, a staggering 4,100,000 copies of the PC version of MW2 were stolen and 970,000 copies of the Microsoft Xbox 360 version.
Thieves using bit torrents are indulging in the biggest orgy of theft in the history of humanity. When they can steal with no chance of getting caught then they will. How they justify this appalling lack of moral fibre to themselves is beyond me. I have heard a whole litany of empty excuses from the thieves to try and justify their actions, but the fact remains that they are benefiting from other people’s labor that they should have paid for but haven’t. So they are thieves.
And they are stupid because they damage that which they love. Activision are not about to go out of business because of this particular frenzy of stealing. But in the past plenty of other game companies have gone bust because of game theft. And many top creative game developers have left the industry forever. We have lost a huge number of potentially great games to piracy. The company doesn’t even need to go bust, they can just allocate their resources elsewhere. There are nearly as many Nintendo DS consoles in the world as Wiis, PS3s and Xbox 360s combined. So where are all the great DS games? That’s right, piracy stops them even being written.
The fact is that if you want people to work for you creating great games then you have to pay their wages, as they have to pay for their food and rent just like everyone else.
There are a number of possible solutions to this massive stealing problem:
- Educate the thieves. Explain their low morality to them and the harm they do to the development of games. I think this has no chance of succeeding, as they have proven, on a massive scale, that they are perfectly happy to steal.
- Technical protection. This is the best solution. A game console’s main purpose in life is to serve as an anti-piracy dongle. All three current generation home consoles succeed at this, the PS3 works best, followed by the Wii with the Xbox 360 putting up a distinctly average performance. But open, multi-purpose platforms like the PC and the iPhone lack this technical protection and so piracy is rife.
- Alternative business models. Monthly subscriptions and in-game items are increasingly popular alternatives to up-front game purchases. Many people are perfectly happy to spend thousands of dollars on a simple browser game instead.
- Using the ISPs to stop peer-to-peer distribution of stolen IP. This is probably the main viable route. Already implemented in France and proposed for the UK and most other civilized countries. The scale of thieving is so enormous that the thieves are not directly punished, instead they get a warning letter. If they continue to steal they get another warning letter. Then if they ignore both these warnings they are disconnected from the Internet. A very mild course of action against thieves, many of whom have stolen thousands of dollars worth of stuff they should have paid for.
- Publisher activism. Game publishers can go after the thieves that are stealing from them directly. However the thieves don’t like this and indulge in massive online activism to stop it. So the publishers, even though they are morally right to protect their property, are loath to take this sort of action for fear of Streisand effect.
- Government action. There are millions of thieves out there that the government is turning a blind eye to. In fact, government authority is being totally usurped. If I fancied a new Ferrari and went and stole it the police would show a great interest. However, if someone steals a game that I publish, using torrents, they aren’t interested. Yet the Ferrari and the game are both the result of people’s labor.
Eventually something will be done, as stealing on this scale is unsustainable whatever way you look at it. In the meantime ,game development suffers and the thieves are too stupid to realize it.