“I don't want to spend a ton of money on a game that's bad...”
September 6, 2016 4:50 PM   Subscribe

The State of PC Piracy in 2016 [PC Gamer] “Piracy seems like it should be so simple, right? Stealing games is wrong. The end. But piracy is one of the most charged, complex, and divisive debates in gaming. Follow a piracy discussion long enough and it will spiral through issues as complicated as international economic policy, the concept of 'ownership' for digital property, game preservation, and the principle of the PC as an unrestricted technology platform. Piracy in 2016, the age of digital distribution, indie gaming, and Steam’s dominance, is a different animal from the PC piracy of 1990 or 2000 or 2010. Unlicensed software distribution is just as illegal as it was when Don’t Copy That Floppy was a meaningful anti-piracy strategy, but our own understanding of the crime and its motivations haven’t kept pace with technology.”

Related:

- PC Piracy Survey Results: 35 Percent of PC Gamers Pirate [PC Gamer]
At some point in their lives, 90 percent of PC gamers have pirated a game. Almost 25 percent of PC gamers have pirated more than 50 games in their lifetimes. Those are two statistics from an anonymous survey we put up on PC Gamer two weeks ago after publishing an investigation into piracy in 2016. We hoped for a few thousand responses. We got 50,742, from PC gamers living in dozens of countries around the world. That’s a lot of data. Before we dig into the results, it’s important to note that this was an open survey, with nothing to stop the respondents from lying or taking it multiple times to skew the results. It’s possible some respondents answered in bad faith—and we have identified where the results skew in jokey ways—but given the size of our response pool, we believe the resulting answers paint a credible picture of piracy in 2016.
- For A Brief Moment, Hackers Beat PC Gaming's Best Anti-Piracy Tech [Vice]
It's been a rough year for gaming piracy. Denuvo [wiki], a relatively new form of Digital Data Rights Management (DRM), has been packed into a series of high-profile PC releases—Rise of the Tomb Raider, DOOM, Inside—and hasn't been broken. Some companies deploy DRM in order to prevent people from downloading games without paying for them. Conversely, other companies like the developer of The Witcher 3, believe DRM's restrictions are alienating and simply trust that most people will pay. For the games using Denuvo, however, piracy has became essentially nonexistent. But things shifted last Friday, when a Bulgarian 19-year-old hacker called Voksi found a loophole. "Its [sic] like the whole scene has come alive suddenly within 24 hours," said one reddit user. Thanks to Voksi, pirates were having a field day. Voksi's loophole used a demo that game developer id Software released for their DOOM reboot, which could be exploited into letting people play the full game without paying for it. This trick was quickly used to make games like Rise of the Tomb Raider (and others that had avoided piracy for months) free for anyone with an Internet connection.
- The Anti-Piracy Tech That's Giving Hackers Fits [Kotaku]
Anti-tamper, according to Deunvo, is different from Digital Rights Management (DRM), which has a historically poor reputation with players. “Anti-tamper prevents the debugging, reverse engineering and changing of executable files,” a company spokesperson told me recently. That’s a confusing non-explanation about how Denuvo works. But since Denuvo seems to have pirates on their heels, they won’t spill their dark secrets to me. [...] Denuvo uses a unique piggybacking approach. Because Steam and Origin require an Internet connection to buy, purchase, and authenticate a game the first time around, Denuvo can ride this wave and collect details about the computer to, in a sense, generate a unique key for that copy of the game. If the game isn’t running on that exact machine, the game can assume the game’s been pirated.
posted by Fizz (72 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
I dislike how expensive some games have become. But, for me, the reason I still spend massive amounts of money on the games I like is because I want to support the developers and creators. Giving them my hard earned money is a way of ensuring that I'll continue to get quality gaming further down the road. It's an investment. I choose with my dollars.

That being said, things are still overpriced. It's one reason why I switched from console gaming into PC gaming. At least on the PC, I can wait patiently for a Steam sale or for the price to drop a few months/years down the road.
posted by Fizz at 5:00 PM on September 6, 2016 [7 favorites]




My piracy completely ended when I started earning enough that it was faster for me to earn money and buy the game, than dig through gobs of technical knowledge to figure out how to get a cracked game to actually run.
posted by rebent at 5:20 PM on September 6, 2016 [57 favorites]


rebent, never underestimate the power of lazy.
posted by Fizz at 5:21 PM on September 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


Yeah, steam did a great job of making piracy for more of a hassle than getting the game legit. That's a big factor in everything. I'll admit to having tried a few games in the past before buying, but usually if I cared for them I bought them outright, otherwise I just deleted it.
posted by Ferreous at 5:25 PM on September 6, 2016 [8 favorites]


If you're curious about how Denuvo works, this post and others by the same author are some of the most detail I've been able to publicly find about its protection scheme.

If it is VMProtect based, I don't know how an unprotected demo would help, but this is likely my lack of familiarity with the space. If anyone has more technical details on them, I'd love further links.
posted by yeahwhatever at 5:26 PM on September 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


The only time I've ever pirated a game is when the legit discs I had were either lost or damaged. In essence, the piracy was of something I already legally owned, but could no longer access. I have never pirated a game I didn't already own at the time I was downloading.

A large part of that is a matter of ethics, but I think we all well recognize that services like Steam have worked to make many of those concerns moot moving forward, and simply make it much more hassle-free to be in-the-clear.
posted by mystyk at 5:32 PM on September 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


Oh and the other thing that's helped a lot is steam adding the 2 hour gameplay return window. In the past not knowing if a game you bought would run well was a massive reason to pirate first.

Spending 60 bucks on something that doesn't work and is unreturnable is shit.
posted by Ferreous at 5:34 PM on September 6, 2016 [23 favorites]


How much do games cost and how many hours of play do you get from them? Gaming never struck me as particularly expensive for an all-consuming hobby but then again I stopped playing computer games circa Tetris.

I'm asking because I get a distinct "we pirate because we want too and all these reasons are just entitled young people justifications" vibe from these articles. But maybe I'm wrong and games cost $500 for something you'll only use for 2 weeks? I have no idea.
posted by fshgrl at 5:35 PM on September 6, 2016


Eh, I spend money at bad restaurants, and do spend money on a lot of other bad things (bad movies, bad clothes, bad coffee). Why should games be any different?

I do admit I used to pirate more often, but I think the large majority of my pirating was for old arcade and old console emulation. I can't even remember the last time I pirated a game that's less than 15 years old or so.
posted by FJT at 5:38 PM on September 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


I dislike how expensive some games have become.

There's effectively a price ceiling on PC games that applies to base games (DLC, special editions, MMO subscription fees, etc not included) and that's $60. A $60 game in 2016 is a $43 game in 2000, and games certainly cost more than that back then!
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:40 PM on September 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


well, i still say pirating a game is nothing like shoplifting it

especially when none of the shops seem to carry pc games ...
posted by pyramid termite at 5:43 PM on September 6, 2016


How much does it cost and how many hours?

I have many $10 and under games, a lot of $10 to $40 games, and a few over $40. Most new AAA games are over $50, and one should expect to pay that several times over with DLCs.

I expect about one hour of fun per dollar to not feel cheated. Some small games are good for 8 to 10 hours, but if the concept or the art are good, $20 is fine.

The problem is that those are hours of fun, and they are offset by hours of work. If it takes me 4 hours to get the game to install and run, or 10 hours to learn to play, I better get my 40 hours of fun after that.

This weekend I got a bunch of Paradox games on sale. Ended up being like $8 per game. The UI on Crusader Kings 2 is completely unreadable in a moder monitor. The mods to increase text size give a minimal improvement at the expense of broken UI.

The in game tutorial is confusing, and has not been updated for all the patches.

So it was $8 for the game, plus three hours scouring forums for a fix for the UI, plus 1 hour and 45 minutes of trying to complete the tutorial. I gave up and requested a refund.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 5:50 PM on September 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


How much do games cost and how many hours of play do you get from them? Gaming never struck me as particularly expensive for an all-consuming hobby but then again I stopped playing computer games circa Tetris.

It's not expensive on a cost-per-hour-played basis, but generally you pay up front, not by the hour. And if we're talking "all consuming," it's not going to be just one $60 game a year. If you are a gamer who is frugal, youthful, unemployed, or otherwise not blessed with disposable income, that is a difficult proposition without having patience and waiting for sales.
posted by Celsius1414 at 5:56 PM on September 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oddly enough I found I pirated less software once I started using consoles, because I could pick up cheap games out of the second hand bin. A $90 game on release is like, $20 in the second hand bin six months later, so the risk/reward ratio falls into more reward. And I also don't have to worry about the game going poof if I have a hard-drive crash, which is the spectre that haunts all my epurchases. I love having a hard copy of all my media precisely because of data losses.

Steam is another big game changer for pirates, especially for us here in Oz. We've always been gouged for media (looking at you, iTunes Store) so having quick, reliable, and equitably priced games with a return window beats the shit out of my high piracy years $60 in 90s money for a game that may not work.
posted by Jilder at 6:00 PM on September 6, 2016 [1 favorite]



How much do games cost and how many hours of play do you get from them? Gaming never struck me as particularly expensive for an all-consuming hobby but then again I stopped playing computer games circa Tetris.


The hard part of me in terms of PC gaming was keeping up with the hardware. A decent gaming rig is not a cheap investment. I switched to console because you could get a fully functioning machine for the price of a high end graphics card for PC.
posted by Jilder at 6:01 PM on September 6, 2016 [6 favorites]


Almost 25 percent of PC gamers have pirated more than 50 games in their lifetimes. Those are two statistics from an anonymous survey we put up on PC Gamer

oh, so you mean 25% of some unknown percentage of people who play PC games then. I'd be surprised if 25% of all PC gamers have even played 50 different games, but I could be wrong.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 6:02 PM on September 6, 2016 [5 favorites]


As long as you're willing to wait a few months (not as viable, I know, with games that have a strong online multiplayer focus), you can get games stupidly cheap in Steam sales, and there's one of those every few months. Hell, there's at least one game deeply discounted on Steam at basically all times, and you'd be surprised how often it's something worth playing.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:03 PM on September 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


To further complicate things, Nintendo Virtual Console games often use pirate ROMs. Presumably because in many cases, the original binaries aren't available anymore. Nintendo even used pocketNES code for their NES Classics series.
posted by pwnguin at 6:15 PM on September 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


pwnguin, your links seem not to be working for me. Is it just me?
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:37 PM on September 6, 2016


To further complicate things, Nintendo Virtual Console games often use pirate ROMs. Presumably because in many cases, the original binaries aren't available anymore.

That doesn't make sense- all ROMs are dumped from physical carts. Does Nintendo, or the owner of the copyright of a particular game, not have access to those carts?
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:42 PM on September 6, 2016


I only just started gaming a little, mostly to keep my mind off the election. With Steam offering refunds, I really don't have a motivation to pirate. I already returned one game that was unplayable on my high end but not specialized gaming laptop. No muss, no fuss. I tried to return a game that just wasn't what I thought it would be but I had just a bit over two hours play time So they wouldn't do it. Fair do's, them's the rules.

Also the huge number of let's plays on YouTube really help those of us who are super finicky find the exact game with the exact mechanic and the exact look and feel we want before purchasing. That all pretty much covers all the legit reasons for me to pirate I can think of. Ain't nobody got time for figuring out cracks.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:49 PM on September 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


For VC releases Nintendo used ROMs with iNES headers.
posted by griphus at 6:52 PM on September 6, 2016 [6 favorites]




Crusader Kings II is awesome, but it would be even better with pirates.
posted by Bistle at 7:04 PM on September 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


I used to pirate games because they were too expensive, but now with Steam sales and Humble Bundles and actually-good free-to-play games like Guild Wars 2 and Marvel Heroes and DCUOnline having time to play all the great games I own is far more of a problem than being able to afford good games.

So usually I have no problem enjoying the backlog and waiting a year for games to go on sale, but 2016 has been really unusual for me. I bought Firewatch day 1 because I love and wanted to support the Campo Santo folks (and it was only $20). I got Grow Up right away because Grow Home was one of the most delightful games I've ever played (and Grow Up was only $10?!). I bought The Witness right away because I was afraid of spoilers and was really eager to play it. The $40 price tag seemed kind of steep at the time, but in retrospect I've gotten so much joy out of playing it with my kids that I think I'd be happy if I'd paid $100 for it.

On the other hand, I still play a bunch of emulated console games because they're not available for PC and I'm not going to buy a console when the games look and play better in their emulated version on PC (I never would have finished Rocket: Robot on Wheels or FFIX without an emulator's save-anywhere function). Although even then, when it was easy and cheap to buy PS1 and PS2 games on disks that my computer can read, I usually just bought them instead of pirating them.
posted by straight at 7:06 PM on September 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


Official Companies (although this mostly just seems to be Nintendo, what with them having the oldest library) are running into this problem more and more, and it's got a lot to do with what I'm sure one of those articles has talked about: games as historical objects.

For those confused let's see if I can help out. You're Nintendo, and want to release a whole bunch of games for your Virtual Console service. This is easy enough for the games you own, it might take a multitude of people within the chain of command in your company, but eventually some low level dude working in a warehouse goes and dumps a ROM of Mario 3 off a cartridge they happen to have lying around somewhere.

But if it's for a Third Party game, things get tricky real quick.

Let's use Tecmo Bowl from Griphus' link up there. Tecmo died in 2010. It got bought by Koei, so now Koei owns the rights to Tecmo Bowl. So all Nintendo has to do is get permission from Koei and figure out new Digital Sales rules and stuff. Let's say that goes smoothly.
Cool, but EA is the only company that can use the NFL license. So now someone in Nintendo has to go and remove all NFL logos and StuffTheyCanBeSuedFor. This takes time and money.

So essentially, the Official Release for Tecmo Bowl, is a different product than what you remember popping in your NES twenty years ago. When it comes to Nostalgia, things like this matter. So it's reasonable to assume that someone would much rather run Tecmo Bowl through an emulator and a Bluetooth Controller.

Things only get worse from here when it comes to games that aren't that popular.
posted by WeX Majors at 7:07 PM on September 6, 2016 [9 favorites]


Since we're on the topic of Nintendo piracy, how game piracy has changed over the years, and I actually spoke about this to someone in real life just a couple of days ago, I had kind of a unique introductory experience with games that I guess not every kid had.

My entire start with gaming was pretty much based around game piracy, but in the ancient pre-Internet days. My parents owned a Nintendo Famicom (the Japanese NES) and we lived in Taiwan at the time, so there were always street vendors and market stands selling pirated copies of games. Sometimes they were only one cart to a game and my parents would buy the game if it sounded cool or had some wicked art on the cover. There were no boxes and you could only rely on the small art and a few words on the cart and the dealer's word. Sometimes the carts would claim to 10 games in 1 or 50 games in 1 or 120 games in a single cart. To be honest, any time they had some insane number like 100 or more, it was mostly just the same 20 games and they would do something like have you start in Gradius with a certain weapon or Mario would start in a later level and they'd just number that differently as a "game". Certain multi-game carts were also kinda neat because I remember at least one I owned that had little radio toggle switches on them and you'd have to select the right combination before powering up the cart to get the game you want.

Now I don't have much else to add, but I do notice one bizarre side effect of being introduced to games in this way is there are a few titles that were badly translated or were in Japanese that I had no idea what the game was called at the time. So, there were a couple of games I've played that have left an impression in my mind, where I recall a music tune, a sound effect, or graphic, but I have no idea what "it" is from. A couple months ago I started trying to Google one of these games that most stuck in my memory, where I recalled you played a red ninja and rode a giant frog, and eventually found out it was a Japanese game, called JaJaMaru no Daibouken. So, it was about maybe 30 years later after playing the game and watching my parents play it that I finally found out the title, what it was, and could watch a clip of it on YouTube.
posted by FJT at 7:18 PM on September 6, 2016 [11 favorites]


I used to buy a new game every two weeks from probably 1997-2000. Then I found MMOs, started paying $12.99/mo which translated to about 1/5 of my initial expenses and moved my cost to a fixed annual expenditure.

With the push of pay to play/win games, which is a different paradigm vs traditional MMOs I have been very disappointed with both the quality of the products as well as the value of a given purchase. I haven't seen a single one that scratches the itch.

As a kid I had hundreds of pirated C64 games. I had hundreds of pirated out of print games in the 90s/00s. But at this point, I buy what I play because I can afford it. And if I can't afford it, I don't need to play it.
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:19 PM on September 6, 2016


Ten or so years ago, I used to be a horrible pirate, but not being a pirate is so cheap and easy now.

That said if I ever have a strong desire to play old NES games I will pirate away. Emulation is so much easier than trying to get my old NES working period, much less working on a modern television.
posted by graventy at 7:19 PM on September 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


As a primarily console gamer who really only started playing PC games with steam piracy is something I really haven't dipped my toe into. I did download a crack for a game I purchased because it was using a service (Games for Windows Live) that shut down and I could not even play the game at all without resorting to piracy.

Pricing is really interesting. Right now a brand new boxed game costs me $80 CAD which is way, way too high for me to pay. Like, I'll buy two or three games a year at full price at that range but like, that's way too high. Especially considering that within a year that game will go on sale for at least half price. Plus tons of games now have season passes and get large patches in the first few months that it makes so much more sense to wait for the game to drop in price and get an additional bit of polish.

Like, you'll never be able to curb the sorts of people who feel entitled to something without paying for it but if Denuvo makes them unable or seriously discourages them from piracy and they pick the game up when it's half off I think that's definitely a win.
posted by Neronomius at 7:19 PM on September 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


Emulation is so much easier than trying to get my old NES working period, much less working on a modern television.

Problem solved. Nintendo is reissuing the NES with HDMI support and 30 included games.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:23 PM on September 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


As someone who has (gulp) over a thousand Steam games in their library, and definitely not all from game bundles or bought for a dollar either, I have one or two reasons to nevertheless want DRM cracking to survive. WeX Majors basically covered it: game preservation. And I don't even mean in a museum-archival sense, either.

Take No One Lives Forever, a first-person shooter released in 2001 starring a deadpan female spy in a 1960s Cold War comedy that's equal parts The Avengers, James Bond and Austin Powers. It was popular enough to spawn a gorgeous-looking sequel that featured a knife fight in a house caught in the eye of a tornado. It's an excellent franchise, and you can't buy the PC version on Steam or GOG or any digital service at all. The publishing rights are in limbo, with no one sure of who actually owns what, and the party most likely to own those rights has flat out refused to work with the publisher who recently brought back the System Shock series to digital storefronts.

I can still go on eBay and buy a physical copy of both games and run them on my computer fifteen years later. I know this because I did it two years ago, having finally given up on the possibility of a re-release. I've also done this with Oni, the game Bungie put out just before it unleashed Halo on the world. I was only able to do this because none of those games come with particularly onerous DRM that would prevent me from running the games despite not being the original owner. Imagine instead if those games came with a form of DRM that required online activation. What then? The original servers would be long gone by now. All you have is a useless plastic disc. Or say the games were encumbered by DRM that had never been cracked. How would you ever be able to play those games again?

Piracy in the short term eats into a developer's revenues. But piracy, or something like it, in the long term ensures that a game continues to exist long after the publisher and developer have ceased to care, or even ceased to exist.

Problem solved. Nintendo is reissuing the NES with HDMI support and 30 included games.

If the games you want to play on your NES are one of those 30, then great! If not, emulation is still your only real option.
posted by chrominance at 7:38 PM on September 6, 2016 [9 favorites]


My piracy completely ended when I started earning enough that it was faster for me to earn money and buy the game, than dig through gobs of technical knowledge to figure out how to get a cracked game to actually run.

My piracy ended when I no longer had the patience to play past dying 10 times before I got to the first save point.
posted by srboisvert at 7:40 PM on September 6, 2016


Official Companies (although this mostly just seems to be Nintendo, what with them having the oldest library) are running into this problem more and more

There are the likes of Atari/Intellivision/Coleco which have older libraries and license their IP for the Flashback consoles. They have an ad-hoc collection of third-party titles, which seem to depend on whether the author(s) are alive and have a current email address -- or for titles owned by a larger company, whether they are affordable. The Atari flashback only had two Activision games, for example.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:48 PM on September 6, 2016


Decided to learn to fly the MiG-21 (and learn some Russian).

Bought MiG-21bis module for DCS - it uses Starforce DRM.

Every time I unplug / re-plug a USB peripheral or even change the time on my clock it causes Starforce to think I've installed it on a new computer - I get ten installs per license and now have two left.

The developer has told me they'll re-up my license if I run out of installs, but it's a totally unnecessary embuggerance.

Pirates gonna pirate, patrons gonna pay. DRM is a false economy.
posted by Outside Context Problem at 8:17 PM on September 6, 2016 [7 favorites]


And since I get curious about who owns early 80s video game IP these days:

Atari: owned by Atari SA formerly known as Infogrames, or maybe the other 2 Ataris
Coleco: owned by Coleco Holdings, a subsidiary of River West Brands, who also owns Brim coffee and Nuprin
Intellivision: Purchased by ex-Mattel Intellivision programmers. Sweet!
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:19 PM on September 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


I have- for a certain value of "have" - a bunch of games on Steam that I can no longer play. The games should still work fine, but the Steam client automatically updated itself to a version that doesn't run on OS X 10.6.8, which is the latest version I can run. So basically, DRM took my games away.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:20 PM on September 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


The games should still work fine, but the Steam client automatically updated itself to a version that doesn't run on OS X 10.6.8, which is the latest version I can run. So basically, DRM took my games away.

Back when Steam was first released and I was very angry about the DMCA and reflexively hateful of DRM, this is how I assumed it would be.

But my experience with Steam (and to a lesser extent, battle.net) has been the opposite.

New computer/OS? HD wiped because you wanted a fresh start? Install steam client, enter password (maybe do a pw reset because you forgot the last one) and you're back in business.

No worries about scratched disks or finding the right backup volume or anything else that used to plague me when purity of ownership was so important to me.

I realize that I've gotten the best case scenario out of game DRM, but Steam has kept more of the games I've paid for available to me than physical media ever did. I know that's not everyone's experience though,and it wouldn't surprise me at all to hear that Steam treats it's Mac users as second class citizens.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:55 PM on September 6, 2016 [6 favorites]


I love Steam in general, but it's also a pretty terrible experience for people with very slow, metered, or otherwise limited Internet access. It's been a while since I've tried using it on that sort of connection, but my experience previously suggested that they don't really consider people in that situation. The ability to play non-updated games shouldn't be a huge deal. I don't really need a 5gb patch for minor bugfixes, thanks, especially when that will eat up half of my monthly cap.

As far as piracy goes, I'm surprised that the collection aspect wasn't really mentioned in the PC Gamer article. It says "perhaps 30-35% of all PC gamers pirate games, but the volume of games they pirate is astronomically higher than expected," which certainly squares with some people I met years ago now in University who pirated every damn thing they could get their hands on and... didn't really use any of it, just obsessively cataloged it. (Kind of like the 400ish neglected titles I'm amassing on Steam, now that I mention it, but let's not talk about that).
posted by ODiV at 9:21 PM on September 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


I am an unrepentant pirate, as most people with very low levels of income are. I don't blame anyone for doing it, even to games I myself have made. I don't buy the horror stories of piracy, like that it destroyed the Dreamcast (Sony was the clear killer there, as everyone knew at the time). I've always paid money for commercial games that I care about.

Don't forget downloading ROMs is still piracy, even though the case becomes more laughable with every passing year. But these days I only do it to games I can't really get legally myself, namely retro games. The reason? Steam and Steam key-selling bundles.

It's not because Steam's DRM is particularly difficult to crack. It's that Steam sales make moot every reason I would pirate something. With Steam+bundles, if I wait a year, I can usually get the game at a 90% or more discount. I am happy to give the developers money in exchange, not just for the legal right to play a game, but someone keeping track that I once bought it, and even keeping the game files and saves for me for safe keeping. You see, I love that. Never having to worry about breaking a disk, or losing a key, or even to remember that I once paid for something! It has made Valve, for their faults, one of my favorite companies in gaming. GOG is just as good, in my mind, and focuses mostly on the older games I follow.

Contrast how Steam and GOG make games playable for years and years with how Nintendo so shamelessly exploits the original Legend of Zelda. I counted it up the other day: I own the game five times: once on a GBA cart, once on a Gamecube Zelda collector's disk, once on Wii Virtual Console, once on Wii-U Virtual Console, and once on 3DS Virtual Console. And yet, I play the game more on my PC than any of those places, because the most interesting thing happening in Zelda circles is the program Zelda Randomizer, which I wrote about in my book and for Kotaku, a program that takes the original ROM and remixes it into a new game. Nintendo would never allow for that use, and yet it's become my favorite way to play it.

(If you count that losing a physical cartridge doesn't destroy your rights to the game, then I also "own" it on NES cart. And I once had the Gamecube version of Animal Crossing, which is an especially weird point: technically, the ROM code is on the disk, but there is no way to unlock it. With those included I would own it up to seven times! And yet then the NX comes out I will probably be coerced into paying money for it YET AGAIN. Things like this do much to destroy the "piracy is theft" argument.)

As for Denuvo, let me get out the bullhorn: there is not a single damn game using it that I want to play, let alone pirate.
posted by JHarris at 9:51 PM on September 6, 2016 [12 favorites]


I just play old Dreamcast and Gamecube games and avoid the whole issue. I am stuck in the past.
posted by bongo_x at 9:57 PM on September 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


The problem with hooking an old 8- or 16-bit console up to a modern TV isn't in making the connection; that's fairly straightforward. The problem is that NES and SNES games in particular look awful on a HDTV that is probably several times larger than what the console was originally connected to. CRTs have a sort of natural anti-aliasing inherent to their design, and without this, games look noticeably more pixelated on a crisp 1080p (or worse, 4K) TV.

Super Metroid, running on a 20-year-old SNES connected to my TV by component cables, looks terrible. But if I connect my PC via HDMI and run an emulator, I can choose all sorts of video filters, scaling, and smoothing options to make the output much more visually appealing and closer to the original experience. For now, the only way to do that is with bootleg ROMs.
posted by xedrik at 10:33 PM on September 6, 2016


Oh and the other thing that's helped a lot is steam adding the 2 hour gameplay return window. In the past not knowing if a game you bought would run well was a massive reason to pirate first.

Spending 60 bucks on something that doesn't work and is unreturnable is shit.


In the past I primarily pirated games mostly in order to try them out. If I liked them I would end up buying legit copies even if the pirated copy worked fine.

I have been burned to many times on expensive games that either don't run well or just haven't lived up to the hype. Steam's return window has made this desire disappear. Now I can give it a shot and decide whether to keep it. It's great for this. I've returned a few outright and never looked at them again and some have gone into a 'not worth the initial cost but maybe if it goes on sale list.'

In the long run pirating and now the return window has led me to spend more money on games then I would have if there was no way to try it.
posted by Jalliah at 10:47 PM on September 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


Indeed, games software is one of the few commercial areas where it is considered ok to release a product for sale that has known gaping flaws.
posted by wilful at 10:56 PM on September 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


Super Metroid, running on a 20-year-old SNES connected to my TV by component cables, looks terrible. But if I connect my PC via HDMI and run an emulator, I can choose all sorts of video filters, scaling, and smoothing options to make the output much more visually appealing and closer to the original experience. For now, the only way to do that is with bootleg ROMs.

This is a bit off-track, but... it is worth noting that pretty much all flatscreen televisions introduce some form of lag into the display above that of a CRT. I tried streaming Zelda II some time back, with the stream echoed on an HDMI TV, and discovered I was playing much worse than usual. The lag was too great for me to play effectively. From what I've heard, the use of filters tends to increase that lag.
posted by JHarris at 11:19 PM on September 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm in the same boat as many of you, in that I pirated 8 bit games in my childhood (which gave the publishers exactly 0 lost sales, because I didn't have any money anyways). And now I buy games on Steam and on the Playstation Network, for many of the same reasons others have already stated. But one additional big factor for me is that I really don't want to pull down executable files from the shady corners of the Internet and run them on the same computer that I need to pay the bills and the kids need for schoolwork etc.
posted by Harald74 at 11:27 PM on September 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


The thing that drives me crazy about DRM schemes like Denuvo is people who can buy a game are not the people most likely to pirate it. Keeping someone from pirating your game doesn't convert them into a buyer the vast majority of the time; it just turns them into a person who didn't play your game. A huge number of the people pirating your game simply can't afford to buy it, and DRM is a direct strike at those people for little measurable gain to the developer and publisher.

Most discussions on Metafilter are at least a little sensitive to the poor (although even here we still get some "Well, why didn't they just have the good sense to not be poor? It's working so well for me!") but every time the subject of game "piracy" comes up we have assholes swarming out of the woodwork to insist things like "Some people just feel entitled to everything for free!" (or possibly more egregious things based on a complete lack of understanding of what inflation is). If somebody pulled out this "welfare queen"-type bullshit when we were talking about actual welfare they'd be slapped down, but use the exact same logic and even argument in one of these discussions and people are content to let it slide.

Poor people need access to art and culture every bit as much as rich people, and the fact that there are still so many who would rush to slam the door in their faces is really upsetting.
posted by IAmUnaware at 11:30 PM on September 6, 2016 [5 favorites]


Poor people need access to art and culture every bit as much as rich people

I don't think most would be against that and most people support libraries and museums. I do think we as a society haven't really figured out a better way to do it with a lot of things that are both commercial product and artifact/art. I think we've settled on a form of arbitrary price discrimination where some people pay (and sometimes they can afford to, and other times they borrow to do so) and some people pirate (or counterfeit if it's a real object like a sculpture or maybe even an LV purse).
posted by FJT at 1:05 AM on September 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


and other times they borrow to do so

If you can't afford to buy a game, you probably can't afford to buy it with a credit card.
posted by JHarris at 2:18 AM on September 7, 2016


In the past a lot of DRM schemes basically trained you up to pirate games anyway.
Sometimes you needed to pirate the game to get your legal version running, but more often games would require a certain disc in the drive to play, and of course you didn't always want to go and find the disc, or you'd lost it or it was broken.

So you ran an emulated one, or you ran a NoCD crack, or you went and got a cracked version or however just because you'd spent a lot of money on an unplayable thing.
On top of that there was (and often still are) the inevitable technical hurdles (starting at having an optimised autoexec.bat and config.sys to get the trickier ones to play and graduating later on to graphics drivers and OpenGL installs and so on)
So the average PC gamer would often get technically quite proficient to play their legal games, which made the barrier to entry for pirated stuff even lower. Also pirated stuff might already be NoCD cracked or have the copy protect stripped so you didn't need to hunt around for the disc or find the manual (if you still had it) to type in word 7 on page 23.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 2:24 AM on September 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


Poor people need access to art and culture every bit as much as rich people, and the fact that there are still so many who would rush to slam the door in their faces is really upsetting.

There are a lot of excellent free and cheap games; there are Steam sales and reduced Early Access prices; there are Kickstarter games etc. It's not like the only choices today are pirating the latest $60 AAA game or going without.

I don't think I've spent more than $40 on any single game in the last decade. And as much as I play games (hint: a lot) I tend toward buying few and playing them for a long time.
posted by Foosnark at 6:13 AM on September 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


I avoid games with DRM that creates a hardware-based ID because when I upgrade my computer, want to play on a laptop, my hard drive dies etc., playing the game I bought will depend on the servers/customer service/company still existing when I need them and many old games I love have survived their companies. A customer is someone who has both the desire and the income, so it would be nice if companies focused on their paying customers instead. I haven't bought a couple of Ubisoft games due to UPlay, that I would have loved to pay for if they had the simple Steam protection. In contrast, GOG with its DRM-free games, digital manuals, updates for modern OSs and credit for exchange rate differences has earnt a lot of goodwill from me.
posted by ersatz at 6:39 AM on September 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


For now, the only way to do that is with bootleg ROMs.

Nope.
posted by zabuni at 7:34 AM on September 7, 2016


Pirating games as a kid is one of the reasons I'm pretty tech savy with computers. So thank you pirating for helping a poor kid get marketable skills!
posted by mayonnaises at 8:09 AM on September 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


Crusader Kings II is awesome, but it would be even better with pirates.

If you have The Old Gods expansion, you can play as a viking raider. I think the age of piracy probably fits better into EUIV?
posted by nubs at 8:14 AM on September 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah mayonnaises I'm there with you - cracking a game was half the fun of pirating some seedy weird thing just to see how it ran. It gave me experience digging in registries and DLLs and all sorts of good stuff. I haven't pirated a game in years, partly because all the stuff I've been playing on Steam comes from indie one-man developers (like Stardew Valley and Rimworld) and the rest of my gaming happens on my console. Subscriptions and cloud based games just make it so much easier than pirating. I guess the streaming world finally caught up to how I wanted to play, not to mention torrenting stuff like TV shows and what not. Now everything is on a subscription service and I can watch/enjoy it and move on instead of saving a bunch of obscure ISOs in the chance that something might disappear.
posted by msbutah at 8:20 AM on September 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


dig through gobs of technical knowledge to figure out how to get a cracked game to actually run

It's just not like that anymore at all. Completely hassle free if you are going with the big professional warez doodz like CODEX and RELOADED.

I am kind of old school in that I like a copy sitting on my external HD and don't need to remember a password, have an account, rely on Internet connection to access my shit in the cloud.

I actually bought most Paradox titles some many years back and have a Steam account (I think, maybe some other service?) but damned if I can be bothered figuring out how to login, trying to reset my password, yadda yadda when the cracked stuff is right here and needs no middleman to be up and running.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:25 AM on September 7, 2016


I love Steam in general, but it's also a pretty terrible experience for people with very slow, metered, or otherwise limited Internet access.

Yeah... My parents live out in the sticks, with basically spotty Verizon 3g internet. My dad's not a gamer at all, but before last Christmas we somehow ended up reminiscing about old Nintendo games we used to play together back in the day (the first Final Fantasy being a big one). He mentioned that he'd love to try a newer strategy game.

So, knowing their internet connection was shit, I ventured out to Best Buy for the first time in years (they still exist!) and scoured their paltry pc software shelf. I found a 2-for-1 that had Civilization 5 and XCOM, and thought those would be perfect for him, and old enough that they should run on his relatively new laptop. Of course, what was actually on the disc was nothing but a Steam key. So Christmas morning, I had to explain to him what Steam was, how he needed to create an account, download the client - which took forever - then activate the keys, then download the actual game - which was taking hours and using up their limited bandwidth allotment for the month. I had to leave before it was complete. I think the whole experience completely soured him on gaming again, and I doubt he ever got it running. I asked him one time later and he kind of gave a noncommittal grunt, and we never spoke of it again. And that made me really sad. I love Steam, it's so easy and convenient for me, I just take it for granted. But that really opened my eyes to how modern internet culture is really leaving a lot of people behind.
posted by Roommate at 8:33 AM on September 7, 2016 [6 favorites]


That's quite the depressing story Roommate, and you're right. Prior to finally saving up enough to build my own rig as well as investing in a higher speed Internet package, I didn't really feel like gaming was for me. It definitely assumes a certain amount of wealth and leisure privilege.

An idea for your dad, maybe as a birthday or father's day gift or some special occasion. Grab his computer one weekend when he's out of town and take it back to your place where you have a better Internet connection and do all the set up ahead of time for him. Install a few strategy games and then take it back to his place and he'll be set up. You can always disable automatic updates so that he won't have to kill his Internet for a subsequent DLC patch or something. Just an idea, sounds easier to say than do, but I feel bad that he was soured on the whole thing, especially when there are some amazing strategy games out there waiting for him to enjoy. Cheers.
posted by Fizz at 8:54 AM on September 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


Zelda Randomizer, which I wrote about in my book and for Kotaku, a program that takes the original ROM and remixes it into a new game. Nintendo would never allow for that use, and yet it's become my favorite way to play it.

You know, I could get behind a Zelda Dungeon Maker game. Maybe for NX. There's enough visual styles with the same isometrics to make that interesting, and the game is fairly block oriented even in Link Between Worlds.

Realistically, the things that make dungeons neat are the unique items and dungeon effects, and maybe that's a problem, but maybe something like https://blockly-games.appspot.com/ could be introduced to let people reprogram enemy behavior, or even your unique items.
posted by pwnguin at 9:00 AM on September 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Alternately, Roommate, just find the stand alone files through use of your torrent client, put them on a memory stick and bring them over next time. You have already paid for them so no guilt.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:07 AM on September 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Pre-Steam: play games you didn't pay for!
Post-Steam: pay for games you will never play
posted by trunk muffins at 12:14 PM on September 7, 2016 [8 favorites]


And yet people complain about that! I'd much rather have it in case I'd one day like to play it, even if it means I've paid some small money to the dev for the chance, rather than the opposite. Steam makes it easy to just maintain a collection of those things and not worry about it.
posted by JHarris at 4:34 PM on September 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


I love Steam, it's so easy and convenient for me, I just take it for granted. But that really opened my eyes to how modern internet culture is really leaving a lot of people behind.

I'm in the same boat internet-wise. I recently bought Civ V on Steam with all the expansions and DLC, and downloaded and installed the game at Starbuck's on my laptop. Later the same day, I manually copied the game files to my desktop machine (as described on Steam's website), and I started up and played the game without incident. IIRC, I had to update the Steam client on my desktop before moving the game files, but it was not a large download.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:38 PM on September 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


Pre-Steam: play games you didn't pay for!
Post-Steam: pay for games you will never play


Who wants a bookshelf that only has books you've already read?
posted by straight at 3:10 AM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


As krinklyfig says, it is possible to copy the game install files between computers, even if you have different Steam accounts on each machine, to save you from having to re-download repeatedly.
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 7:57 AM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Pre-Steam: play games you didn't pay for!
Post-Steam: pay for games you will never play


Of course, the chief innovation here is massive discounting. Which I'm sure occurred to publishers before, but as companies whose business model relies upon a series of large up front investments, the idea of jeopardizing that by lowering the barrier to entry was likely not appealing. When all you do is chase higher margins, you open up opportunities for someone to outcompete you on volume.

Notably, it's been 4 years since valve last released anything close to a blockbuster game. Not clear if this is because management wants to focus on improving the Steam platform, or if Steam throws off so much cash it covers for their many other project management sins.
posted by pwnguin at 12:10 PM on September 10, 2016


Notably, it's been 4 years since valve last released anything close to a blockbuster game.

With Valve managing Dota2, TF2, and Counter-Strike, that's a little bit like chiding the NFL or the NBA for not coming up with any "new" games in the past few years.
posted by straight at 2:55 PM on September 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


For instance Valve sold enough Dota2 tournament-related stuff to fund a $20,000,000 prize pool for The International, with 25% of their sales going into the pool. So Dota2 made them at least $60 million from just that one annual event.
posted by straight at 3:03 PM on September 10, 2016


That's a fair point, and while LoL appears to be a bigger community than DotA 2, I'll concede the point that they've been investing an entirely different business model focusing on continual improvement rather than big releases. My cursory scan of Wikipedia's list of Valve games obscured that.

So based on the additional research, Valve remains mysterious. It's not particularly interested in growth, sitting at something like 330 employees and negligible management hierarchy. It shouldn't be the case that purported huge successes like DotA2 come at the cost of making additional successful games. On the contrary one would imagine they'd be seeking to reinvest that. I suppose they're reinvesting in a bigger DotA2 community, but you'd think they'd have more to show for it. Or at least be hiring to support such growth. I do see they're signing a lease for more space, so I guess look for a hiring push next year, but even if they double their employee count from 300 to 600, they're still 300 short of the 1000 that Riot is at.
posted by pwnguin at 8:53 PM on September 10, 2016


The continual success of Steam as a platform shows that they're reinvesting pretty wisely. Its dominance might seem like a foregone conclusion, but giants do topple.
posted by ODiV at 9:27 PM on September 10, 2016


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