Having just read this interesting opinion piece on The Escapist on the problems that arise from digital media I felt like providing some counter argumentation.
Bob Chipman basically is wary of the business model of the next generation gaming platforms:
But the gumption with which Microsoft has embraced the re-definition of the media itself, the Orwellian wordscape wherein the term “product” is subsumed by “service” and consumers are granted “permission” rather than “ownership,” that development chills me to my bone.
He prefers to own physical copies that are 100% his to own and decide what to do with. Advantages being that should the manufacturing company one day go out of business, at least these products would endure in his ownership. Which is something I agree with. Who would want to lose their games collection because some company closes doors?
Digital media is fundamentally at odds with our economic paradigm. The entire idea of which being that things are naturally scarce, therefore the scarcer something is, the more valuable it must be. It only makes sense to sell a product if it isn’t freely available for everyone already. This of course includes games, and up to recent years, this meant physical media like game cartridges or discs. A game would only be playable if you had the disc inserted in your disc drive, and the data carrier and the data were one for all intends and purposes. Piracy became a problem to this system because it would basically separate these two concepts. You could download a video game from the internet, meaning you could copy the data that comprises the game infinitely and then if you wanted, copy it again onto a disc. Games, like movies or books, are really just data at the end of the day, and data is not a scarce resource. It is abundant. What happens when a resource is abundant? According to the fundamental principles of our economic system, it shouldn’t make sense to sell it. That’s why piracy can’t be beaten without having to basically shackle and control the entire internet, without taking control of an entire infrastructure. Look at SOPA and PIPA as first attempts to do so.
You see, piracy isn’t wrong per se. It just exposes the flaws of the our system and reminds us that were being incredibly silly to try to persist with selling these products.
Counter to this, you could say that not matter what the nature of the good, the people who work on creating these things should be able to make a living off of their work just like workers in any other industry. And you’d be right. But maybe we should consider the opposite direction and ask us: “How could we change this system that the livelihood of people does NOT depend on making money at all IN THE FIRST PLACE?”. My point is that our entire economic system needs a re-think because it is hitting its own limits, and only by patching over the cracks and leaks with legislation and tricks like app stores can companies still operate profitably within it. Digital media is just one of the MANY instances the fundamental flaws in our system become exposed.
I think Chipman is right to be wary of the business practices of Microsoft and co. They are embracing the new paradigms of digital media and try to find ways of monetization, and are now trying to lock their customers into their systems more and more as a result. They offer convenience and cool new features, but the price isn’t the money you pay, but dependence you agree to. It’s just a continuation of the attempts to get us to believe in something like “brand loyalty”, only that this time, it is even more forceful.
But there are obvious advantages to the leveraging of communication technology. They allow us to enjoy things like Smart Glass, or achievements, video calls while playing games, the share button on the PS4 and so forth. These things are all AWESOME. The problem is the dependence on the economic survivability of a single entity like Sony or Microsoft. A step forward in the right direction in this space would be an open platform that provides these possibilities. The issue isn’t that we might lose our digital game libraries in the cloud, it’s that the data is owned by the company that built the cloud. Do you know what cloud doesn’t do this? The peer to peer one on The Pirate Bay.
The only things that speak against torrenting a game now is the lack of integrated services, and the fact that the people who work very hard on the things you download would really like to be compensated for you using it. It’s almost like charity. Messed up, isn’t it?