Friday, August 5, 2011

Pirates, Players, and Meat

I just ran across this great interview and follow-up that IGN conducted with the guys from Team Meat (Super Meat Boy, Binding of Isaac). It brings up some really interesting perspectives and food for thought on the ever-controversial topic of Piracy.
I posted a lengthy article about it before, stating my personal stance as well as my rationale for it, but I think it's important and fruitful to examine other arguments and perspectives on controversial issues like these. Piracy is a problem not of morality, but of technology. As a society moving into an increasingly technological age, with many of our goods and services no longer having tangible counterparts (or even tangibility, period), we are faced with more and more ambiguous situations where we have to make decisions that will undoubtedly shape the world to come.

Examining every aspect of these situations is the key to making the right ones.
In summary (because I won't blame you for not wanting to suffer through my previous article - it's long and just...long), I don't agree with piracy as a practice. I believe it has far more negatives than positives, and operates on a principle that is unethical and ultimately proceeds from and produces individuals that are riddled with selfishness, entitlement, and dishonesty. I believe it detracts from the quality and respect that creators of works deserve when their works are enjoyed, and deters new talent from entering into a medium that is heavily pirated. But this is only one view.

The other side of the story (one which I am less inclined to believe in) is that piracy increases sales. Piracy is good. Piracy results in increased exposure, increased revenue, and increased respect, quality, and honesty. What Ed McMillen and Tom Refenes argue in this interview is compelling, if true. But it does make some serious sense; Piracy is a direct measure of popularity. It is unfiltered, unhyped, unmanipulated, organic data. Piracy data in this technological age is the fairest, most accurate measure of an item's cultural worth.

Considering the article cited in my lengthy piracy rant, close to 50% of all internet traffic around the world is dedicated to file-sharing. That means over half of internet USAGE is about people talking to people and basically saying hey, this is cool, here's a copy that I'd like you to experience. And, as Team Meat put it,
  • "... I firmly believe that when this group of people pirates something, and they love it, they will go out of their way to talk about how much they do and in turn get other people to buy it. I've witnessed this countless times by many people including myself, and this is why I strongly believe piracy can be very good for some games."
 But McMillen isn't completely unaware of the risks of piracy either. The important thing is that his viewpoint helps to balance out views like mine (and others) and point the compass towards that hallowed middle ground.

I think there is agreement on both sides regarding the fact that there is a battle to be had here, but to be honest many people aren't willing to concede that we haven't really gotten all the facts straight yet. This type of anecdotal evidence is the key to balancing out the cold logic that the industry seems to be using, and we, the consumers, are caught in the midst of these contradictory claims. We have to be willing to admit the truth of both sides so as to find that solid middle ground which carefully preserves the principles that hold us together while adapting to the new and the fantastic that is to come.

While I may not share all the sentiments of Team Meat on this issue, I certainly do respect their insights. And to that I say: