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Piracy Is A Cultural Opportunity; Embrace It

Originally Published on Techdirt.

Piracy has become a force of nature in the entertainment world. No matter what you make or how you release it, there are pirates waiting around the corner to try to get it for free. No matter what you try to stop this from happening, you just can’t — much like a storm, you have no control over its movements and power. All that is left is to embrace it and hope to harness the storm’s power for your own benefit.

This is what Daniel Cook from Spry Fox has decided is best. In a reprint of his comments at Gamasutra, Daniel explains that piracy is a fun activity that can be harnessed for good.

Being a ‘pirate’ was being part of a community. You and your friends shared games like social gaming gifts on Facebook. It didn’t cost you anything to copy a game and give it to someone. A game was a social token to chat about, a gesture of kindness to reciprocate. A key takeaway from that time is that copying and sharing vast quantities of digital goods is a deeply fun, social and highly useful activity. This is a new thing, a new behavior in a post-scarcity world.

This is perhaps the most commonly ignored or overlooked aspect of piracy by those who want to end it. For many people, sharing games, movies and music is a fun activity that allows them to share what they love with their friends. Despite what those who seek to stop piracy think, there is very little animosity involved in the activity. It is this love of sharing that can be, as Daniel puts it, hacked for the benefit of the creator.

With shareware, we hacked the copying behavior. People would play the random floppies and some of clever programs would say “Hey! Did you know that you can pay for this?” And a small portion of users did. ‘Pirate’ and ‘consumer’ are not mutually exclusive properties. In our capitalist society, almost everyone (with a few notable exceptions) is trained to buy stuff. People who like checking out new software for free are really just another audience of potential consumers.

It was just recently that Ubisoft learned a similar lesson. That the percentage of people who pay for single purchase games is about the same as those that pay in free to play games. If you want people to pay for games, one of the best ways to get them to do so is to let them experience the game first and for free. By giving fans the ability to share the games with others who may not have heard about it on their own, you can expand the pool of potential paying customers.

Unfortunately, there are many creators and gatekeepers out there that want to vilify such behavior. They can’t fathom that someone is playing, listening, reading, watching their work without paying for it. They see no benefit in it. This mindset has dangerous outcomes for their paying customers.

It has been a really confusing time for businesses. Some lashed out by labeling consumers as evil, some tried to protect the old ways with DRM. Relationships with customers…who see themselves as just having fun sharing cool stuff…became antagonistic. 30 years. When you raise kids in a warzone, they grow up parroting propaganda. No wonder the conversation is polarized.

It is actions like adding DRM, anti-piracy ads and threatening fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars that will end up costing the entertainment industry more in the long run. As those in the industry seek to threaten and lash out at paying customers, many of those customers will begin to lash out as well. They will end up doing exactly what the industry wants to stop, pirate. For many purchasers of games, it often starts by downloading cracks for games in order to remove restrictive DRM. But there is a lot that can be done to turn the tide.

Detach yourself from the emotions of history. Give up the past forms of what games were. Adapt to the current environment with one eye firmly fixed upon the future.

People copying digital goods as an inherently joyful social activity is an opportunity. It is an artistic opportunity. It is a business opportunity. It is a cultural opportunity.

There are opportunities out there that many creators have found and are enjoying. It can be things like adding a “Cockroach Edition” to your payment options. It can be adding pirate hats to all your characters and putting the game on the Pirate Bay. It could be giving players the ability to set their own price. It could be anything really. By embracing the sharing culture of your fans, you can expand you fan base and increase the potential to make a living.

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