Thursday, February 2, 2012


A Case for the Right to Piracy

First off, lets state some things. Making money is not bad, and not evil in and of itself. (Though I hate it out of principle.) The desire to make money (also known as greed) is not inherently evil.
Neither is piracy.
I want to state early on, and as clearly as possible, what piracy really should be viewed as. An alternate payment model. One the content producer is not choosing. Is this bad? Yes and no. Piracy is the consumers way of forcing you off a pay-first basis, and into a pay-later process. The same sort of business deals that go on between companies on a daily basis. You ask for this service (in this case, the constant demand for entertainment service), you are quoted a price (the asking price of the game) and then, after service is rendered and judged good or poor (or in this case, how much you enjoyed it) the servicer is paid.
Think of it like construction. You don’t pay up front for a building that hasn’t been built. You agree on a time it can be done by up front, work out everything that will be in place, then pay when its built. If the demand is big enough, someone will be willing to meet it, even it if means less profit. Why do you think government contracts never get done? The feds pay up front. There’s zero risk calculation involved in the handover of money to any individual. Someone says “this is how much it will take” and they say yes. No corporation is going to risk that much potential loss (especially if they don’t have the entire US budget behind them) on something before its completed and proven to work as specified. If you pay up front, you are getting shafted on your end of the deal.
Shafted.
What if someone takes your service, fitfully rendered, and doesn’t pay?
That person is bad. They are the bad ones now, and the servicer is the one who just got shafted.
Here’s where the argument about ‘taste’ will probably come in. “A book or movie isn’t like a building or a car -- it doesn’t have specifications. Not everyone is going to like every movie.”
Right.
But to me this ones already pretty much solved. Since you pay up front for movies, people don’t go and see movies that they know they wont like. Previews take the guessing game out of entertainment, allowing the consumer significantly less risk when purchasing their allotted “fun time” from an entertainment servicer. That’s already the case, and you’re not getting their sales because if they see your preview, and decide they already don’t like it, then they’re never going to see it. If you offer the movie in your theatres for free (still raking in the insane prices on food and drinks) and then have simple payment options provided in seat or by smarphone app, you will still have people that pay, people who enjoyed the movie. They’ve already eaten and drank at extremely upcharged prices, why should they balk at spending a few more on something they really enjoyed?
Right as the credits roll: “THANK YOU FOR COMING TO THE SHOW, IF YOU LIKED IT, PLEASE SHOW YOUR APPRECIATION WITH A SMALL DONATION. IF NOT, PLEASE TELL US WHY YOU DIDN’T”
Boom. Give some suggested prices, make it a little bigger on the screen or something, then put a custom option.
Think of it like webcomics. An industry that is seriously blowing up in power now. Conventions like PAX cannot be ignored, and the personal people power these artists wield directly through media like twitter, facebook, youtube and their own websites makes the public support of the entire MPAA look like a middle school pep rally. Honestly, I think that’s pretty generous. I just went to a terrible middle school. Most probably have quite a few more attendants. I dont think the MPAA has fans. Not ones it doesn’t pay, anyways.
Think about that. There exist, people who make their livings off of providing a free entertainment service, with their only income advertising, accessories (totes, shirts, figurines, all things the movie industry excels at promoting) and donations. Donations. Everything webcomic artists sell is overpriced. You think it costs 38 dollars to screen a Penny Arcade logo onto a piece of fabric? No, but we pay that much because we fucking love Penny Arcade. I myself have purchased insanely overpriced Steam merchandise, because Valve owns my heart and soul. In large part due to the vast ocean of Half Life (1 and 2) mods and remakes. Do I pay up front for every Valve game? Yes, god yes. But if they started to become terrible, if they truly started failing as a company, I would stop giving them my money. I would play their games to see if they were good before handing it over.
EA, for instance, is on this current list. After Spore was illegally released 3 days early, and then I could not access my pre loaded game on midnight of official release, instead having to wait until noon the day of, I was upset -- even though I already had downloaded the game off TPB. Then, when the game was an awful travesty of what I had been promised, with features of the game noticeably worse than in the damned demo, which only allowed you to make creatures, I was really angry. I had paid up front for something that by the end of my experience, left me drained and vengeful. I honestly played all the fun parts of the game before it officially released. I had already paid for it, why wouldn’t I download it early if I could?
You already had my money.
I haven’t bought an EA game since without watching someone else play it first. I honestly don’t even pirate them because I am not interested in their products unless someone tells me it is really good. I don’t want to bother wasting my time.
Offer me your games for free, EA, and you will see my money.
I promise. All DRM has done is make me want to pay less. Pirates often remove such obnoxious features as hardware checking (or in the past, disk checking) that made playing the game completely pointless. I only get to install it three times? I’ve reinstalled Half-Life one more times than I have digits, everywhere I could. Hell, I got a tattoo of Homeworld. If one of the original programmers asked me for a kidney I would probably fucking do it. Spore? Fallout 3? I played them because I’m a huge fanboy, and very moment I did so was a tearing knife-wound upon my soul. I’m less of a fanboy now, because I’ve been let down by the pay-first model so many times.
I suppose that means I don’t promise to pay. Not exactly. I promise to pay if they’re good. That’s where we all should be. Fandom. Fans will pay more. Fans will pay out the ass for things they absolutely do not need.
Do movie studios even have fans? Disney, and Pixar, perhaps. Disney because, well, they’ve enslaved our daughters with princess fantasies and Pixar because they produce a great product. Their movies have started to be less great recently (Cars 2 is a good example. It was good, but not what I consider to be Pixar good) I didn’t see it. I haven’t downloaded it either. I’m just waiting for it to come out on Netflix because that is what is most convenient for me. I used to pirate everything! Now I only do it if acquiring it otherwise is difficult or what I consider to be overpriced.
I want to pay you, just not that much.
I mean that both ways. I’m not willing to pay that much, so I don’t pay. If I could pay less than that much, I would pay.
Why don’t you let me pay?
I’m serious. There is real profit to be found here, as well. True, many webcomic artists live less than royal lives, but you can watch their fortunes improve with their fandom. Random doodles on the internet in their spare time becomes working a part time job to pursue more doodles, which leads to selling those doodles to people who want them or copies of the doodles attached to other things, which leads to quitting your part time job and concentrating on making doodles full-time. This story has repeated itself over and over. The only thing stopping many of these comics from going to the big leagues is that they are arriving late to the game, its very crowded, and the public’s attention spotlight has a narrow beam.
As an entertainment company going to Free to See, you will have to be good. Old time partnerships will not outlast the public’s fickle will. But if you are good, your profits will soar. People are already used to going to the cinema to see films, but because now you can just get them online for free, people are leaving the cinema in droves. That’s because the added experience of seeing it in the cinema is not worth the price they pay -- NOT because they are unwilling to pay. Make the cinema free and you will see lines.
Now there’s this little problem with human greed. People who come to your show, watch your stuff, enjoy it, laughing at your jokes and weeping at your stories, and then don’t pay a dime. Assuming they didn’t bring their own food, you already made money off them, just not as much as you were planning. Otherwise it’s pure loss. How can you make these people pay?
My personal thought? Just let them go. Engage your fans properly and people like this will be ostracized by your own consumers. You may experience the odd lone-wolf thief who just comes in and sees them alone and then runs away, or gaggles of poor teens who just want to see a flick, but that should be okay. Those kinds of kids already sneak into theatres, and the rest are usually spending their parents money, so why not donate if they liked it? Make paying convenient and enforce it just like the silent cellphone mandates (which fans and managers already use to kick people out of theatres) and you will see even these greedsters’ numbers drop.
I am telling you this as a normal, greedy, selfish white man. White people love politeness. After seeing a movie, if you liked it, it’s polite to pay. If you didn’t like it, or paid less than what the content producer thought it was worth, its polite to say why.
So you, the content service, can refine your methods, and produce a better product, that more people are willing to pay for. People only steal movies because they can’t sue someone for making a bad movie, like you would in any other industry where a service has been rendered. There’s no way to get your money back. So people get angry. If you never had to pay, why get angry? You might be annoyed, but if so, you’ll probably leave some feedback.
Take it, content providers, and listen.
Right now, the system works like this:
Consumer has demand. A content producer wants to fill that demand. They have always been paid up front. Therefore they want to make sure they gets paid, and looks at what worked before. After some minor tweaks and changes to what they produced before, the producer tells everyone its going to be amazing and then asks for cash up front.
What happens? The same crap over and over and over again. People don’t want to pay for crap that just looks like the same shit they already own. To make a video game example, Fallout 3 versus Skyrim is a good example.
Play a two-handed warrior in both games and your experience will feel identical. The only difference will be textures and a few abilities. Game engines are expensive, yes, I understand that’s potentially why they don’t do anything interesting beyond what they have, but there’s no innovation, because there’s no need. I play Skyrim on my roommate’s computer, and have not paid for it. He did. I didn’t want to purchase it outright because Bethesda’s last two RPGs were disappointing. Skyrim is like the good version of Oblivion and Fallout put together. I wish I had paid for that instead of those two, because I felt like my experience with the other was worth significantly less than 60 dollars each. But still worth money.
Advertising guarantees initial sales regardless of quality, and since its a pay-first model, you as the consumer, lose. If you’re a movie that’s bad or badly advertised, you’ll drop almost instantly on or after opening night. Here’s where making it free actually helps. Free shit means more people. Offer something for free and you will have instant interest. Good/well advertised movies already sell out, forcing people to either choose another or leave. Choosing another means spending the same amount of money that you were willing to spend on something you wanted and forcing you to spend it on something you’re not sure that you’re interested in. That’s a risk, and people don’t want to take those. Offer it for free, and the risk of financial loss is removed. Your movie may not seem as good as the movie they wanted to see, but hey, its free isn’t it? Then at the end, when they are pleasantly surprised at the quality of your movie, they pay. Maybe not as much as they would have paid for that thing they wanted to see and asked for, but its more than you would have made. No more empty theatres. Constant food sales. And we all know that $10 popcorn and $5 drinks are where the money is being made.
People watch online because it’s convenient and they don’t feel like they have to be perfectly entertained at every second. If its free, and good enough, they’ll take it. But when they really want to be entertained, or they really enjoyed something, they will pay. Denying this forces potential customers into the hands of Russian streamers, who make money off of you with additional advertising, viruses and malware. Why let foreign mobsters make money off your product just because you’re unwilling to make it more convenient for your consumers to watch it?
They’re doing it anyways. You’re not stopping anyone from streaming things illegally if they dont feel its worth paying for. We -- my actual roommate and I -- are ditching cable and going full streaming because paying for something that also has advertising when I can get it for free still with advertising on the internet, is insane and stupid. The only thing on cable we wanted was sports, but there are no custom cable packages. So now we will stream them, and somehow give money to god-knows who unless its on FSN or ESPN3, because there is not other way to get the kind of service we are looking for.
The demand is there, and its not being met because the pay-first model encourages static behaviors and playing safe. Guys, people are still going to see romantic comedies over and over again, even if they are all the same plot. LIFE is the same plot. People aren’t going to stop going to the theatres unless you force them away. Because you’re not letting me pay you some other way, we are going away. Movies, video games, books, newspapers, its all the same. There will always be blockbuster games that require a lot of money, but if you have a good enough reputation, and rabid enough fans, they will pay years ahead of time for your product. They will make financially irresponsible decisions just to ensure the release of their next favourite thing.
Lets sum up.
People who take something, enjoy it, use it and don’t, are bad. That is evil, so to speak.
People who make a shitty product, lie to you about it and ask for money up front, are bad. That is evil.
With boy pay-first and pay-later models, you are relying on both sides holding up their side of the bargain.
With one, you assume the content you receive will be of high quality. With the other, you assume people who receive your service and were satisfied to pay.
With both, if that agreement breaks down, everything suffers. The key difference is in who controls the market. Or rather, attempts to control the market. Only the consumer, in the end, controls the market. The people are too numerous to be defeated. Pay-first has brought us to a situation in which the suppliers are attempting to control the direction and flow of demand. That is not how this works.
Demand flows. Supply meets demand. Demand does not go where supply permits unless forced, and no one likes being forced. There is no reason to force anyone anywhere for entertainment. Entertainment is demanded everywhere and can be provided in any form. Attempting to control your market to keep your medium alive will only result in extinction. I’m sure actual theatres attempted to fight the onslaught of cinema, but they ultimately failed. Cinema was cheap and easy to do. Now traditional theatre is a niche market, profitable but only through extreme prices -- that people are willing to pay.
Cinema is going down that road because home video is even cheaper and Youtube is free, but there’s only one problem.
Almost every movie coming out of Hollywood is shit.
No one is going to pay fifty dollars a seat for Battleship. But I would definitely pay $5. Not $11 though.

Just sayin.

1 comment:

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