Don't Be Stingy, There's Enough Hate to Go Around
In grappling with Alex Di Stasi's blog post, Don't Hate On Ubisoft For DRM Issues, Hate Pirates, I had to admit that a lot of the points he brings up are valid, and even correct. But while we could haggle over the details (I'm more than happy to do so), principles are what matters. And in a debate such as this, you can't afford to operate with an "ends justify the means" mentality.
I'll take Alex's arguments point by point. Firstly, he refers to World of Goo, which supposedly lost most of its profits to piracy. I'd like to point out that we don't even have accurate metrics for top selling games, much less metrics for sales vs. piracy. Steam doesn't release their sales numbers and neither does Direct-2-Drive. The calculations that people throw out are just (very) rough estimates. But let's say, for the sake of argument, that those numbers are accurate. Does one game imply an entire trend? Hardly.
Take a look at developer Stardock. They have released their stock of games (Galactic Civilizations, Sins of a Solar Empire, etc.) with no DRM present. By Alex's assertions, they should have gone bankrupt. The opposite is true. Yes, they are hit with piracy like anyone else, but they've also thrived and become the champion of consumer/producer trust.
I'm sure we could go back and forth, naming examples of successes and failures but again, these arguments really miss the point. Let's move onto principles, which Alex also addressed. I brought up my relative lack of wealth, not as a justification for pirating games (of course it isn't), but as a way of explaining the motivation. People pirate games (and steal from Best Buy) because they want something that they can't afford. That's just the motivating factor. Anyone that uses it as a reason as to why they are entitled to pirate software should be laughed out of any serious discussion.
The reason I view potentially joining the pirates as a form of protest lies in the core principle that Ubisoft is adopting. First, let me get down to basics: In any capitalistic exchange, there is an implication of trust and mutual respect between the two parties involved. A producer provides a service or product that is presented for exchange, in good faith, with the consumer, who provides capital (presumably legally acquired). Enter the criminal element. If we were to imagine this in basic terms, Ubisoft's store has been burglarized, just as everyone else's store has. Some choose to rebuild the same as they were, some choose to install an unobstructive alarm system, and Ubisoft takes a different approach. They choose to invite people into their store, take their money, and then immediately clap shackles on their wrists, claiming that the burglars made them do it. At that instant, all trust is lost between producer and consumer. To Ubisoft, everyone is now a potential burglar and they think that taking the money while failing to provide their promised service or product is fair. It's not. It breaks the most essential rule of capitalism: value for value.
I said in my original blog that joining the pirates would be a protest, not a freebie grab. Alex is right that a boycott is the "high road". I fully support the notion and hope that it happens. But a boycott, like everything else in this debate, has no metrics. You know what does have a pretty accurate metric? The seeder/leecher numbers on a pirating site. I could care less about the something-for-nothing aspect of it. I'm more interested in adding my number to the growing list of seeders and leechers. I want to show Ubisoft that their methods don't promote good will among consenting individuals. They actually create the exact opposite: distrust and animosity, in the extreme. Whereas before the piracy was random and contained little to no malice, now it contains a surgical, laser-like red hot antipathy. And now that I've been spat on for being a paying customer, I, too, want to break into that asshole's shop after sundown, torch and pitchfork in hand, and rob the place blind. Not because I want the merchandise, but because I want to hurt that damn shopkeeper just as he hurt me by stealing my money. And make no mistake, when I pay for something and then am denied access to it, my money was stolen. I'll gladly burn (or in this case, delete) the ill gotten gains without ever using them if it means that Ubisoft can't dupe another poor sucker into entering his "store".
All of that said, I'm not going to pirate Ubisoft games. It's tempting, but despite all of the animosity, I do prefer the high road. I would root for Ubisoft too, Alex, because I do think piracy is an evil, morally bankrupt practice. The problem is that Ubisoft is operating without any morals of its own, matching the pirates in their lack of ethical legitimacy. In any other situation, I would have legal recourse because Ubisoft is in breach of so many ethical standards that it makes my head spin. But because we don't even own the games we pay for anymore (thanks to 50 page-long end user agreements that we must sign before playing), all we can do is hope that daddy Ubisoft will be kind to us. That's like giving a national leader absolute power and then hoping he turns out to be magnanimous. History records how those situations usually turn out.
Ubisoft, if it continues to fail to understand the basic concepts of capitalism and punish the customer rather than the pirate (let's not even get into that debate, because it is equally damning of DRM), will eventually destroy its own brand name. It's already begun, if the miserable online population of The Settlers 7 is any indication. And the fact of the matter is, other publishers are doing just fine without taking extreme methods like this. For example, EA's Mass Effect 2's Cerberus network provides incentives for legally buying the game, rather than punishments. Here we have outside-the-box, creative thinking that leads to a positive solution, while at the same time combating the urge to pirate. Instead of doing what great capitalists have done for millennia, using a potential challenge as merely another launching pad for the next great idea, Ubisoft has decided that they were wronged, and we need to take a step back into the dark ages, until people stop being so mean to them.
Pirates, currently, are a force of nature. You can fight the wind, but in the end, the wind is unaffected by your pathetic flailing and you are left tired and defeated. Why not try inventing a sail, instead? Alex is right. Be mad at pirates. While you are at it, be mad at poverty and unfairness, too. Once you are done with that useless exercise, focus your attention where it could actually make a difference. If you have any self-respect as a human being, choose to put your hard-earned money in the hands of someone who will respect you for it and provide you with a fair, value for value exchange. Right now, that's pretty much everyone except Ubisoft.
And now, once again, I'm going to leave you with the screen that I've been seeing consistently for the past week. And, no I'm not exaggerating, I've even been seeing it all day today, as I try to write a review of the damn thing. I post it again in an attempt to capture just a little of the frustration that the average gamer will feel. Just like in my various posts in the matter, this screen just keeps popping up and I'm helpless to stop it.
Would you like to pay $50 to have the pleasure of seeing this screen, randomly, half the time you try to play? Or do you actually have some dignity left?