The Final Fantasy Leak: Situational Ethics with Video Game Piracy?

by on October 5, 2006 · 14 comments

In a previous essay I asked:

“why is it that so few people talk about the role of strong intellectual property rights in the electronic gaming sector? After all, this sector is quite vocal about enforcing their copyrights. And they’re even big supporters of the DMCA. But they never get ridiculed as much as the movie or music guys. Could it be because many IP skeptics love their video games and are willing to give them a free pass while going after Hollywood on copyright issues?”

FFXII.jpg

I find myself wondering the same thing this week in the wake of reports that the eagerly anticipated role-playing game “Final Fantasy XII” has been leaked and is now being distributed across the Internet illegally.

What I find so interesting about this incident is the extent to which many people on news boards like this, this, and this are almost unanimously denouncing those who would distribute or download the game illegally.


Comments like these are typical:

* “Ever since I started working in game development, I’ve become much better about paying for my games. I can see where costs come from, and how much work really goes into games. I’m not really preachy about it, and its nice being able to get my friends deals on games.”

* “Forgetting that pirating is a criminal activity, Final Fantasy XII is supposed to be an absolutely incredible RPG–we strongly encourage gamers to wait a few more weeks for the real game to properly reward Square Enix for their labored work. We don’t mean to be publisher apologists here, but it’s only common decency.” [from 1up.com editors].

* “It’s a shame that Square Enix’ hard work on one of the (with all probability) best PS2 games ever was so close to being spoiled by pirates.”

* “Distributing software in this manner is wrong. This has been said time and time again, but people put in years of blood, sweat and tears to get a game completed. Folks who swipe game info just to be first to have the game are not taking into consideration the people hours involved in its creation. We may not like the giant companies that are involved in the backing of these games, but just think of the lowly art designer that is working tirelessly to meet deadlines. Then think about what you are doing to screw this person out of income he or she earned.”

(and my two personal favorites, despite their vulgar tones:)

* Pirates suck ass. Leave it to a bunch of computer crooks to try to steal and sell something as cool as FFXII. Bitches.”

* (in response to a guy who says he pirates games because he doesn’t like spending money on games and then finding he might not like them :) “So you buy a game and don’t like it? Tough shit! It’s called being a consumer. It’s part of the deal. You buy something, and there is risk involved. If you don’t like it and can’t take it back then too bad. You took a small risk and it didn’t pay off; welcome to the world of modern business exchanges. You want it different, then move to a country where capitalism hasn’t provided so much (including the ability for your dumb ass to steal such nice stuff). . . Stealing makes you a jackass, and trying to justify it with your whiny “oh poor me, the helpless consumer, i am entitled to pirate shit” act is tired and childish. Grow up. If you want to know what the game is like, take some responsibility and YOU put up the damn money. Either that or you can be a whiny chickenshit and just steal it. Your call. . . but we know what you’ve chosen.”

This is pretty powerfully worded stuff and I find it refreshing that so many people are taking a stand against video game piracy. But, again, I find myself wondering why we so rarely hear responses like this when music and movie piracy is the topic of discussion. When I visit news board and discussion groups where music and movie piracy is being debated, the balance of comments is usually far more in the opposite direction, with people concocting every possible excuse in the book for why it’s just fine to take someone else’s creation without giving them one penny in compensation.

And what’s doubly ironic about this is that movie and music content is actually much more affordable than video games. Many movie and music pirates gripe about $18 CDs or $22 DVDs and use that as an excuse for their thievery, but I rarely hear someone using the $40-$60 price of video games as an excuse for pirating them. What gives?

Is industry concentration the rationale? People complain about a handful of music labels or movie studios having too much power or making too much money (as if that’s a good excuse for theft). But if you follow the gaming industry you know that it has grown increasingly concentrated over time and has a handful of big dogs at the top of heap (Electronic Arts, Activision, Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo) holding a big chunk of market share.

So, I think that leaves just two explanations for the apparent situational ethics at work here: Many consumers (particularly the young consumers who do most of the pirating) have a deeper connection with, or appreciation for, the artistic creativity they see and hear in video games than they do the art of movies and music. Second, the video game studios have not been demonized to the extent music labels and movie studios have and, therefore, piracy of movies or music is viewed as an acceptable way to “get back” at them, yet video games piracy is viewed by some as being more harmful to the interests of artists and creators.

In the end, piracy is piracy, regardless of who does it and what type of art they are ripping off. But I just find the situational ethics at work here to be fascinating.

  • http://www.codemonkeyramblings.com MikeT

    Games are geek art, if you will. It’s like the difference between ripping off a boy band and ripping off a small band with a cult following. Both are wrong, but the smaller IP producer has a more human feel about them which makes the situation more personal. That and game companies at least use to have a reputation for really being the IP industry that wanted to be intimately familiar with its audience. The way that movie and music studios just throw crap out and hope people buy it not only doesn’t help, but adds to the sense that they are large, impersonal corporations that are out of touch with their base.

  • Anonymous

    I agree it’s fascinating, but I think I’ll buck a few trends here:

    • I do “pirate” software, but only within the traditional “It’s OK for testing” 24-hour period and only for games.
    • Games like the “Monkey Island” series epitomize what I have so much trouble finding in today’s gaming market. Not only did the entire genre practically fall off the face of the earth when it failed to translate well to primitive 3D, the new environment has seemingly sucked the soul out of the “humorous games” slice of the overall gaming market.
    • I’m an unemployed university student who gets about $50 per month from his parents
    • Games and video drivers are the only exceptions I make to my “no closed-source code” rule
    • As a Linux user who longs for the days when there were more decent games, I’m not going to pay my entire monthly income on something that, even if I do like it, may not yet work inside an emulation layer like Wine.

    Thankfully, most of my favourite games WILL run inside DOSBox, ScummVM and ZSNES and yes, I have paid for every single one of them.

  • http://www.codemonkeyramblings.com MikeT

    Games are geek art, if you will. It’s like the difference between ripping off a boy band and ripping off a small band with a cult following. Both are wrong, but the smaller IP producer has a more human feel about them which makes the situation more personal. That and game companies at least use to have a reputation for really being the IP industry that wanted to be intimately familiar with its audience. The way that movie and music studios just throw crap out and hope people buy it not only doesn’t help, but adds to the sense that they are large, impersonal corporations that are out of touch with their base.

  • Anonymous

    I agree it’s fascinating, but I think I’ll buck a few trends here:

    <ul><li>I do “pirate” software, but only within the traditional “It’s OK for testing” 24-hour period and only for games.</li>
    <li>Games like the “Monkey Island” series epitomize what I have so much trouble finding in today’s gaming market. Not only did the entire genre practically fall off the face of the earth when it failed to translate well to primitive 3D, the new environment has seemingly sucked the soul out of the “humorous games” slice of the overall gaming market.</li>
    <li>I’m an unemployed university student who gets about $50 per month from his parents</li>
    <li>Games and video drivers are the only exceptions I make to my “no closed-source code” rule</li>
    <li>As a Linux user who longs for the days when there were more decent games, I’m not going to pay my entire monthly income on something that, even if I do like it, may not yet work inside an emulation layer like Wine.</li>
    </ul>

    Thankfully, most of my favourite games WILL run inside DOSBox, ScummVM and ZSNES and yes, I have paid for every single one of them.

  • http://techdirt.com/ Mike Masnick

    Could it be because many IP skeptics love their video games and are willing to give them a free pass while going after Hollywood on copyright issues?”

    Adam, are you really suggesting that IP skeptics don’t love their music, movies and TV shows?

  • http://techdirt.com/ Mike Masnick

    I should respond to the other question. I don’t think it’s all that surprising. I don’t think it has anything to do with them being geeks or “more into” games than those other areas.

    I think it has everything to do with how they interact with the content. With movies and music, it’s a passive relationship. You just see it/hear it. With games, you’re playing it, and so you’re more committed to it. You’ve made more of a decision to be involved in it. With straight content, that’s often not the case.

  • http://techdirt.com/ Mike Masnick

    Could it be because many IP skeptics love their video games and are willing to give them a free pass while going after Hollywood on copyright issues?”

    Adam, are you really suggesting that IP skeptics don’t love their music, movies and TV shows?

  • http://techdirt.com/ Mike Masnick

    I should respond to the other question. I don’t think it’s all that surprising. I don’t think it has anything to do with them being geeks or “more into” games than those other areas.

    I think it has everything to do with how they interact with the content. With movies and music, it’s a passive relationship. You just see it/hear it. With games, you’re playing it, and so you’re more committed to it. You’ve made more of a decision to be involved in it. With straight content, that’s often not the case.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/ enigma_foundry

    Well two points:

    1 – recall Blizzard v. BNetD I don’t recall any recent decision that was so poorly thought through, and yet failed to mobilize the storm of criticism it deserved. So, perhaps you are on to something here.

    2 – I think that this speaks volumes about where a certain demographic lives. Yes, they listen to songs, but they don’t respect a song the same way they do a game. A game is an immersive environment, an entire world, in which they may spend quite a few hours. So there’s more value there.

    But, I do think you overstate this, and a few posts here and there don’t convince me (yet, anyway)

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    Well two points:

    1 – recall Blizzard v. BNetD I don’t recall any recent decision that was so poorly thought through, and yet failed to mobilize the storm of criticism it deserved. So, perhaps you are on to something here.

    2 – I think that this speaks volumes about where a certain demographic lives. Yes, they listen to songs, but they don’t respect a song the same way they do a game. A game is an immersive environment, an entire world, in which they may spend quite a few hours. So there’s more value there.

    But, I do think you overstate this, and a few posts here and there don’t convince me (yet, anyway)

  • Jesper WÃ??Ã?¸ldiche

    I believe the difference is in the way, that music/movie industri and the gaming industri treats their customers.

    Both use DRM/Copy protection on their merchandise, but movie/music drm restricts use to a much higher degree than copy protection on games, and requires a lot more hazzle to circumvent.

    Execept for at few exeptions that either makes your games unplayable without patching (mainly a problem with older games) or active tries to destroy your hardware (Starforce being the famous example) copy protection on games don’t really restrict you from doing anything, that you could reasonably expect to do with your game – you can install it on different machines, you can sell it when you get bored with it and so on. Some even tries (i’m not saying that they succed) to make it easier for you to migrate your game to other machines (Steam).

    On top of this, the copy protection can be circumventet easily by even a trained monkey by downloading a small file and patching the game.

    DRM on music on the other hand tries hard to limit the fair use of the music you own – preventing you from playing it on more than one player, sell it, listen to it (napster to go), migrate it to other hardware.

    In most cases I would give the industri the benefit of doubt and just asume, that they are sufficiently uninformed to believe, that DRM protects against piracy. But in some cases prorietary DRM is there to asure customer lock in (FairPlay and Zune) and support ‘matching’ hardware.

    In the case of music, you actually get a supperior product by downloading a pirated copy of the internet instead of buying it of iTunes or Napster (eMusic being the notable exeption in this case). That one fact speaks volumes of the way the music industri treats their customers and (it’s reasonable to assume) affect popular oppinion and customer loyalty.

    I’m not saying that this is the one truth or that other commenters don’t have a point, but I believe this to be a significant factor in the low sympathy for the problems of the music industri. And no, this doesn’t in any way justify piracy, but it might help explain it.

    Pardon my english by the way, I’m not a native english speaker.

  • Jesper WÃ??Ã?¸ldiche

    I believe the difference is in the way, that music/movie industri and the gaming industri treats their customers.

    Both use DRM/Copy protection on their merchandise, but movie/music drm restricts use to a much higher degree than copy protection on games, and requires a lot more hazzle to circumvent.

    Execept for at few exeptions that either makes your games unplayable without patching (mainly a problem with older games) or active tries to destroy your hardware (Starforce being the famous example) copy protection on games don’t really restrict you from doing anything, that you could reasonably expect to do with your game – you can install it on different machines, you can sell it when you get bored with it and so on. Some even tries (i’m not saying that they succed) to make it easier for you to migrate your game to other machines (Steam).

    On top of this, the copy protection can be circumventet easily by even a trained monkey by downloading a small file and patching the game.

    DRM on music on the other hand tries hard to limit the fair use of the music you own – preventing you from playing it on more than one player, sell it, listen to it (napster to go), migrate it to other hardware.

    In most cases I would give the industri the benefit of doubt and just asume, that they are sufficiently uninformed to believe, that DRM protects against piracy. But in some cases prorietary DRM is there to asure customer lock in (FairPlay and Zune) and support ‘matching’ hardware.

    In the case of music, you actually get a supperior product by downloading a pirated copy of the internet instead of buying it of iTunes or Napster (eMusic being the notable exeption in this case). That one fact speaks volumes of the way the music industri treats their customers and (it’s reasonable to assume) affect popular oppinion and customer loyalty.

    I’m not saying that this is the one truth or that other commenters don’t have a point, but I believe this to be a significant factor in the low sympathy for the problems of the music industri. And no, this doesn’t in any way justify piracy, but it might help explain it.

    Pardon my english by the way, I’m not a native english speaker.

  • http://www.maclawstudents.com Erik

    I brought up this question with a video game developer friend of mine, and he made an interesting point. In many ways, video games are like office or content creation applications. They’re executables, and video and audio files are treated as mere resources files by executables.

    While many people pirate applications, it still doesn’t seem to be as socially acceptable as p2p filesharing of music and video. Perhaps this is because people perceive applications as requiring more effort on the part of the companies that produces and distributes them.

    The perception may be that content producing companies like Time-Warner are simply packaging the effort of artists, while game development requires a huge affort on the part of a multitude of artists and programmers.

    Of course, this logic fails in many respects. Just ask the thousands of people who were involved in making The Lord of the Rings movies.

    I don’t buy the argument that DRM pushed consumers into pirating music. Distribution of ripped MP3s was not a reaction to DRM, it was a reaction to high prices and an outdated distribution model. Perhaps it was also a manifestation of the belief that in cyberspace, laws don’t (and shouldn’t) apply.

  • http://www.maclawstudents.com Erik

    I brought up this question with a video game developer friend of mine, and he made an interesting point. In many ways, video games are like office or content creation applications. They’re executables, and video and audio files are treated as mere resources files by executables.

    While many people pirate applications, it still doesn’t seem to be as socially acceptable as p2p filesharing of music and video. Perhaps this is because people perceive applications as requiring more effort on the part of the companies that produces and distributes them.

    The perception may be that content producing companies like Time-Warner are simply packaging the effort of artists, while game development requires a huge affort on the part of a multitude of artists and programmers.

    Of course, this logic fails in many respects. Just ask the thousands of people who were involved in making The Lord of the Rings movies.

    I don’t buy the argument that DRM pushed consumers into pirating music. Distribution of ripped MP3s was not a reaction to DRM, it was a reaction to high prices and an outdated distribution model. Perhaps it was also a manifestation of the belief that in cyberspace, laws don’t (and shouldn’t) apply.

Previous post:

Next post: