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p4head.jpg (8375 bytes)   July 2000

Come along with me to the Congo land/I’ve got a zebra by the tail/and a python in my hand ("Hello viewers!")

It’s time for some truth, chums. So I’m just going to come right out and say it: Piracy is good.

The villagers are looking for some cowboy blood!



Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, "Ah, S Campbell is simply attempting to be controversial, or is using a cunning bit of sarcasm where he’ll cleverly turn it around by the end of the column and prove that, in fact, all pirates are evil pigs who should be killed." But you’re wrong.

The simple fact is, the real truth about piracy is something the entire video games industry already knows, and freely admits in private conversation. And I think it’s about time you all knew it too.



The real truth about piracy is this: Piracy brings enormous benefits to the video games industry. It generates profit, serves as hundreds of millions of pounds-worth of free advertising and marketing, and can play a huge part in ensuring the success of a machine.

Now, some of those claims might seem plainly illogical to an idiot, so I’ll explain them one by one, in a way that hopefully even a total buffoon won’t be able to fail to understand.

Are you ready? Then we’ll begin.




This one, at first, sounds entirely self-disproving. But think about it. Piracy, in real-world financial terms, doesn’t cause games firms to "lose" any money whatsoever. In accounting, what you’ve never had, you can’t miss.

However, if someone buys a Playstation (say) purely because they know they can get cheap pirate games for it, they WILL, beyond any shadow of a doubt, occasionally buy "real" games too, bringing Sony and the game publisher money they’d otherwise never have had.



And in case you doubt that pirates do occasionally buy real games, think about this: Where do pirate games come from? Every game that gets pirated, someone had to actually buy at some point, or they’d have had nothing TO pirate. Do you see?

And that’s even before you think about games which need special hardware (like Time Crisis, or Pokemon Stadium), or games bought as presents, or the fact that sometimes even pirates just like to have the pretty box and the proper instruction manual. So let’s move on.




This one, to be honest, is a lot more obvious. It stands to reason that the more people who see and play with any particular games machine, the more people are likely to want one of their own. Word-of-mouth is the most elusive and most desirable form of marketing there is, and it’s free.

So the more Playstations and PS games that are out there, however they GET out there, the more chance there is of Sony selling even more Playstations and games to yet more people (see Truth 1).



There’s even more to it than that, though. Part of making a console successful is getting lots of third parties to develop for it (as Nintendo and Sega have found to their cost lately). And the main way you get developers to develop games for your console is by selling lots of consoles.

It doesn’t matter why or how all those consoles were sold - if you can tell developers "There are 50 million potential customers out there for your games", they WILL develop those games, and they’ll worry about piracy later.




In part, of course, this follows on from Truth 2 – if you sell 50 million machines, then even if nobody ever buys any games for any of them, the machine itself is still a success. But again, there’s more to it than that.

Software companies make more money from pirateable consoles than non-pirateable ones too. Why do you think EA, for example, still develop for the piracy-riddled Playstation, but not for Sega’s piracy-free (until this month) DC?



Partly, of course, companies still develop for pirate-friendly consoles because they think that one day they’ll defeat piracy through protection and sell even more games. But much more than that, it’s because they know Truth 1 – even pirates buy games sometimes.

The Dreamcast has proved that piracy CAN be stopped, or at least greatly reduced/delayed. Yet the PS2 has only been out for weeks, and already you can buy pirated games for it. Do you think this was an accident? Do you think Sony just FORGOT to protect it properly?



(If you do believe that, you’ll probably believe that it’s just a coincidence that PS1, the most-pirated console format of all time, has also been, by miles, the most successful and profitable console of all time.)

Of course, the games industry will never openly admit that it likes piracy really. It has to pretend to fight it, by spending pathetically tiny sums of money going around closing down the odd market stall. (The entire UK games business pays for fewer than 10 such investigators for the whole country.)



I work in the games industry, chums. If piracy hurt it, it would be hurting me, and believe me I’d want it stopped pronto. If it wanted to, the games business has both the money and the means to stop all piracy practically overnight. But it chooses not to do so.

And maybe, the next time you’re tempted to believe the industry’s hysterical propaganda on the subject, or swallow the scare-mongering rubbish spouted by the pathetic collection of stooges that passes for the games press, you should ask yourself why that is.

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