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Sunday, September 09, 2007

One Frustrated Consumer, To Go

If I don't intend to buy a game, is it OK to pirate it? The God and/or EULA-fearing mind would deliver a firm, 'Certainly not, infidel' to a query of this kind, yet I'll persist for the sake of madness, heathens, and blog posts greater than one sentence in length. Let's lay a framework for what will surely earn us rigorous flagellation in the afterlife: my question specifically regards Medieval 2: Total War, which is an ace game and the receiver of hearty compliments across the known world when it came to review-time, yet in using Rome's engine and Medieval 1's source material, it's hardly pushing the boundaries of what The Creative Assembly can achieve. I'll concede that I've made a value-judgement: that Medieval 2's full-price is not worth the samey entertainment I'll receive in playing it. My logic is based on an assumption and could therefore be incorrect.

Through acts of digital piracy, we circumvent the monetary reward-giving that our economy relies upon to drive creativity. The Creative Assembly is thus aptly named because it consists of a group that have come to be united through their profession and the knowledge that their efforts in developing games will provide them with an income and livelihood, stability of existence and intellectual stimulation. I ask you: do we need a games industry for games innovation? A misnomer of a suggestion would be that mod teams excel at applying their skills for creativity, and at no cost to the end-user, framing their serious hobby in a loftier light than those of career-professionals. I say 'misnomer' because the modder's existence is reactive - the act of modification is applied to another group's product - and therefore the foundation of games modding lies upon the software-ceiling defined by a (not necessarily, but often) financially incentivized group.

Piracy is wrong, according to the publishers of games, because the act of creation requires resources (in terms of necessary hardware and software, talented people and their wages), and that these resources were applied under the knowledge that, as in a car factory, the final product would be of greater monetary worth than the combined expenditure. I think that there's something sadly remiss with the computer game industry of today. Whilst a game's demo and many reviews could be analogous to the 'test drive' of a new car - both serve to be testament to the quality of the product and an aid to the consumer's certainty that they'd be correct to make a purchase - cars tend to vary in quality depending on the price a customer is willing to pay, yet computer game prices remain static (according to their system) and only the age rating fluctuates. Game publishers encourage their developers to produce their games at regular and frequent intervals, knowing that they will sell regardless of quality. A game therefore requires itself to be on the shelf and ready for sale before it risks becoming a financial liability. It is thus wrong for publishers to claim that piracy stifles creativity because, I suggest, piracy is a reflection of a game's lack of innovation and, additionally, a game's quality is dictated by market forces long before a publisher could be aware of the harm piracy may do to their game's sales.

I'd like gaming to be placed back at the fingertips of the enthusiast. If energy and curiosity were the driving force behind game creation, and donations were the method of revenue being earned, then I'm sure we'd see a return to technically simple but terrifically original games being in the majority. I believe that the capitalist market-system produces little of worth (see the military-industrial complex), that it engages its consumers in a downward spiral of lowering expectations and rising prices.

So, back to my original question: If I don't intend to buy a game, is it OK to pirate it? I'm sure that it is not. The fact stands that Medieval 2: Total War was produced with economic venture in mind and that I'd be abusing my power as a net-savvy irate individual if I were to obtain a copy against the will of its developers. Instead of swallowing this grey goo that trails all over the face of modern gaming, thinking that we've achieved a sly victory because we've eaten a shallow meal for free, we should be producing our own artefacts of worth: sumptuous everlasting cascades that we can each banquet upon together, rather than queue for yet another McDonalds to be eaten hurriedly amongst greasy, slouched figures in an endless cycle of fast-food life. I, for one, will make a point to create alongside my consumption. In fact, I'll model my life upon the Kinder Egg :)

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