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Making the piracy problem worse

10 Years Ago This Month: Some publishers look at the recording industry's disastrous reaction to file-sharing and basically copy it

The games industry moves pretty fast, and there's a tendency for all involved to look constantly to what's next without so much worrying about what came before. That said, even an industry so entrenched in the now can learn from its past. So to refresh our collective memory and perhaps offer some perspective on our field's history, GamesIndustry.biz runs this monthly feature highlighting happenings in gaming from exactly a decade ago.

A Pirate's Life For Us

It's hard to find a facet of the games industry that hasn't undergone some drastic changes in the past decade, but one that doesn't get enough attention is the nature of piracy. It's still around, of course, but the advent of free-to-play games has taken away much of the incentive to pirate while the ubiquity of constantly connected devices has given platforms and publishers more tools to verify the people playing their games are doing so legitimately.

The music industry's reaction to piracy made a bad problem worse, yet there were some in games who wanted to copy it anyway

10 years ago, piracy was a much more pressing topic, especially as the music industry's Napster-induced upheaval was still fresh in everyone's minds. The music industry's reaction to piracy made a bad problem worse, yet there were some in games who wanted to copy it for their own anyway.

For example, the Entertainment Software Association tapped the Recording Industry Association of America's senior VP of litigation and legal affairs Kenneth Doroshow to be its general counsel. Doroshow's RIAA tenure came during a span when the trade group filed suit against 35,000 individual people for pirating music online in a public relations nightmare that generated headlines about how the group was suing single mothers, children, people with serious disabilities, and in one case, a dead woman. (The group said it would be changing its tactics several months' after Doroshow's departure.)

Fortunately, the ESA did not onboard the RIAA's tactics along with Doroshow. However, a group of European game developers and publishers saw what the RIAA had been doing and apparently thought, "That sounds good to us," threatening to sue 25,000 people identified as file-sharing their games unless they coughed up £300 in restitution. That group included Atari, Codemasters, Reality Pump, Techland, and Topware Interactive.

Then-EA Sports boss Peter Moore played the voice of reason in response to those threats, saying, "I'm not a huge fan of trying to punish your consumer. Albeit these people have clearly stolen intellectual property, I think there are better ways of resolving this within our power as developers and publishers.

"Yes, we've got to find solutions. We absolutely should crack down on piracy. People put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into their content and deserve to get paid for it. It's absolutely wrong; it is stealing.

"But at the same time, I think there are better solutions than chasing people for money. I'm not sure what they are, other than to build game experiences that make it more difficult for there to be any value in pirating games."

And that's pretty much what EA and a lot of other developers and publishers have done. Even Atari and its fellow litigious game makers quietly dropped their pursuit of individuals a few months later.

A decade on, we're still writing stories about the cat-and-mouse games between hackers and publishers, but we're also running stories about reports that find piracy doesn't hurt sales, or developers who pirate their own game rather than see it benefit key resellers.

Next Gen When Again?

While platform holders were talking about longer console cycles around 2008, John Carmack doubted their commitment to the idea. The id Software developer instead believed that the temptation to get a first-mover advantage in the next-gen race would be too much to resist.

"It would be great if this generation of consoles lasted twice as long as the last one, if we had a viable eight-year commercial lifespan for this generation of titles, and I know some people are saying this is the plan - I don't think it's going to turn out that way," Carmack said.

John Carmack was worried that the console cycle would restart before Rage could be release. Even with multiple delays, it arrived in October of 2011, two full years before its console platforms received successors.

Microsoft had kickstarted that generation with the 2005 release of the Xbox 360, just four years after it took its first steps into console hardware with the Xbox. However, the Xbox 360 would indeed go eight years before being replaced by the Xbox One, and remained a commercially viable platform for a while after that. Sony's PlayStation 3 enjoyed seven years as Sony's top-of-the-line console, while the Nintendo Wii lasted six years before being supplanted by the Wii U.

Carmack wasn't the only one to underestimate the lifespan of last gen systems. Crytek president and CEO Cevat Yerli expected the PS4 and the next Xbox to arrive in 2011 or 2012, even though he said there would be good reasons to debut them in 2010. (The PS4 and Xbox One launched one week apart during November of 2013.) Analyst Colin Sebastian then echoed that sentiment, saying the consensus among industry watchers was that the new boxes would most likely hit in 2012, with the possible exception of Nintendo launching its next console a little earlier. (The Wii U launched in November of 2012.)

Sony's talked a lot about a 10-year console cycle, so maybe it shouldn't be surprising that we're going through much of the same next-gen speculation a full decade later. Ubisoft's Yves Guillemot said late last year that the next PlayStation and Xbox would arrive in 2019 at the earliest, while reports of Microsoft's next-gen plans have put a 2020 release date out there. If nothing else, it seems likely that the latest batch of "this console generation will be the last one" prognosticators will once again find themselves mistaken.


● As an example of how cautiously the industry approached digital distribution, Capcom initially refused to digitally distribute the PC version of Devil May Cry 4 or some of its other titles apparently due to piracy concerns. In a rare bit of candor about internal disagreements, the company's North and South American vice president of strategic planning Christian Svensson explained it was explicitly an issue of Capcom Japan not allowing the game to be sold digitally despite his own advice. Capcom Japan eventually came around and Devil May Cry 4 for PC would be released digitally in late 2009.

● Sony of 2008: "We like to provide as many services as possible for free - we already provide our network access for gameplay for free - and the interesting thing about the network side and the Internet business is that there's a variety of revenue sources. Not necessarily getting people to pay, but with advertising and so on."

● Sony of 2013: lol jk

● Sometimes executives with publicly traded companies have to say obtuse things because the market would punish them for an honest assessment of their business. That's why every now and then you get absurd headlines like "No threat from digital distribution, says GameStop."

● Remember when Mythic VP and GM Mark Jacobs tried to defend the studio's decision to not properly credit the people who worked on Warhammer Online unless they were on the team when it shipped? Mythic isn't around anymore, but it's still worth pointing out that's a garbage policy.

● For a very brief time, the Xbox 360 was sold out in Japan and beat the PS3's hardware sales thanks to the release of Namco Bandai's Tales of Vesperia, which was Xbox 360-exclusive for a full year after its debut.

● In talking about plans to license Spore for film and TV, Will Wright said he believed the brand had greater potential than The Sims to reach a broad audience. (Whether that was true or not, that potential would not be realized.)

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Brendan Sinclair avatar

Brendan Sinclair

Managing Editor

Brendan joined GamesIndustry.biz in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at GameSpot in the US.