Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Piracy in the Developing World

After a fairly long break I'm back with another post. I've been busy lately and the fact that I bought a PS3 did not help with me finding time to write anything new. As the topic says, my idea to discuss piracy is fueled by several factors. First of all there is a lot of talk about piracy in the games industry and several radical and controversial DRM methods were used by publishers recently. Also the fact that I bought a PS3 got me to think about piracy as well. This is mainly because PS3 is the only modern console/system that has not been cracked successfully so far, although now it seems that a breakthrough has been made.

When I started gaming as a kid growing in a developing country with very limited access to internet, I did not know anything about piracy. I understood nothing about the concept. I would get a game, install it, and apply the crack and play. I thought they were all part of the installation. Then when I got to know things better, I still could not afford a game. A game which costs close to $50 is much more than my parents could afford for my entertainment. So I resorted to buying the illegal copies from the local market. Apart from that, anyone willing to pay and buy the legit version could not do so as there was no place to buy the original games as well. The digital game downloads did not exist at the time and even if they did, the dial up connections that were available at the time would probably take years to download the game. This is the situation of piracy that existed several years back where almost 100% of the people pirated games not solely to rip off from the developer, but since they had no other option.

Now the situation has changed. Numbers of people who can afford games are increasing gradually. Although there are no shops which sell original games other than few shops which sell PS3 games, people who are interested can get their legit copies either through downloads or get their copies shipped from US or suppliers based in East Asia. However, a considerable section of the gaming community still pirate games. This is due to various reasons. 
  • Some pirate games since they simply can’t afford them.
  • Some want to try out the game before actually playing to buy the game. I know a lot of my friends      who bought Call of Duty 4 after pirating the game previously. 
  • Some just don’t want to pay for something that is available for free which basically is ripping off from  the developer.
In Sri Lanka, majority of pirate copy users belong to the latter category, but the intent differs. Some only want to pay for games that only really good. Best example is COD4, most people, even school children found money to buy a copy. It’s the same story with Heroes of Newerth. After playing the beta, most were very impressed with it and somehow bought the game. But most of these people would not pay for any other game which they would play for a few weeks and throw away.

From the point of view of developers and publishers, they see every illegal download as a lost opportunity of sales. On the contrary, majority of people download the games illegally since they get it for free, not because they like the game. Even if they don’t play the game for more than a few days, they’d download it. If by any chance they happen to like the game a lot, they might actually pay and buy the game. The pirate software in that case acts as an unofficial extended demo/beta for some. People who can’t afford a game would not buy the game anyway, no matter how much they wanted it. From a publisher’s point of view, it’s mostly the 2nd and 3rd type they should think about. If they make a game real good, people would buy it if they can somehow afford it. The real piracy concern is about this 3rd category, since it is acceptable that not all games can be like good and popular like HoN or COD. But bringing in drastic DRM measures is not a solution. In this part of the world, an un-crackable game would not be much popular. Recently I got an extra copy of Uncharted 2 and decided to sell it. When I posted a classified in a forum, some people asked me whether this game is available on PC. Anyone in Europe or US who knows his/her gaming knows that Uncharted 2 is the best PS3 exclusive on the planet to-date. Yet it is unknown to a considerable section of the community in this part of the world since they haven’t played it since it was not pirated. Same goes with most PS3 exclusives. Again, from the industry point of view, it might be of no concern since they may not buy the title anyway. But there is a segment of gamers who would buy the game if they first tried it out and got impressed. I think this is one of the main reasons why PS3 is lagging behind in sales of its consoles. People buy other consolers solely not because they like it, but because they can pirate their games. If they like a game they’d buy and play. In my opinion, the piracy is one of those two edged swords. It can help promote the game and in extreme cases it can ruin your sales as well. But it’s a risk worth taking in my opinion. If you don’t allow the game to pirated, people in these parts will not notice the game and you lose the sales anyway. If people pirate, at least some of them would buy the game if they are interested. I don’t think most people would buy a game because they can’t pirate it. There would be people like that, but that segment of gamers may not be as large as the industry thinks, at least not in this part of the world.  If they really like the game and have a passion for it, they would buy it somehow especially for the online play.

The point I'm trying to make is here is that piracy should not be seen as a hindrance to the gaming industry but as an opportunity to promote the games. I agree, there are both pros and cons to this, but the pros are far more worth considering. Also, it should be noted that the situation might be far more different in Europe and US where the larger market share exists. However even there, annoying DRM methods have annoyed and frustrated legitimate users. The Assassin’s Creed 2 is a good example of the point I'm trying to make.

Gaming is the largest entertainment industry now and the competition has become fierce across all genres of the industry. The industry needs to understand how the emerging economies and potential future markets are dealing with the piracy and DRM issues, in more depth.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Gaming in a Developing Country

After a fairly long break, its time to really get down to write about the things i mentioned in my first post. 
As I mentioned in my first post, I would be sharing my experiences and thoughts that I think sheds some light on the experience of gamers in developing nation. The main reason why I selected a theme like this for my article is that, many people either do not care or do not know about the difference the gamers in developing countries experience compared to other developed nations.

Before I write any further, I should stress what I mean by developing and developed countries in the context of this article. Developing countries are countries like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan and to some extent India and any other nation where the IT infrastructure, data link capacities (bandwidth) and hardware availability are quite low. Also more importantly the financial strength of the people who want to game. When your income is low, you cannot afford to spend on non essential "luxuries" such as gaming. What I mean by developed countries are countries where the IT infrastructure is more high tech with better data links and better availability of hardware. Unlike in the case of developing nations, the financial strength of individuals is much more better in these countries allowing people to spend money on gaming as a hobby, entertainment medium or as a passion. For example US, UK, Australia, and almost all of European countries fall under this developed nations category. However some Asian countries which are not considered as developed countries in a political context can be viewed as developed countries in my opinion for the context of this article. Some of these countries are Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia and China. Although a considerable portion of the population  in these countries live under the poverty line to categorize these countries as developed nations, these countries have yet another considerable portion of the population with access to good IT infrastructure with money to spent on gaming.

As you read what I have just written above, it would be obvious that in a developing country, only a small portion of the population would have access to computers. Only a minute percentage of who have access would take the liberty to game. Although the situation is mostly improving in Asia, still there's a long way to go before the standards can be raised close developed nations. The main problem I see as a gamer in a developing country is the financial strength of individuals. People do not have enough money to spend on hobbies, past times or what ever their passion may be. Most people have other basic needs to worried about.

If you consider the middle income families, which is a far less percentage compared to developed nations, most do not bother to spend on entertainment media such as games. There are many reasons to as why people do not like to game or spend money on gaming even if they could. Most Asian families still adheres to deep rooted traditional values which creates a mind set more resistant to change. Especially technology related changes and this is more severe when it comes to technology related entertainment. Most parents consider gaming not only as a hindrance against studies, but as an addiction similar to drugs. Also there is the plethora of usual gaming critic points such as promotion of violence and foul language. This is somewhat more relevant in some developing nations where there are no regulatory bodies to make sure minor's do not get access to mature content. The main reason for this is the piracy which is prevalent in this part of the world. However i will not touch on piracy on this article because that issue warrants a separate article.

In a background like this, a passionate gamer finds it difficult to cling on to gaming because he/she would be facing a lot of challenges. First off, a gamer would have to buy a computer or a console to play on, which is quite expensive for most teenagers or youths. Only a lucky few could afford them at an early age by their own. They would have to get the monetary support from their parents to get the necessary hardware. So comes the first problems he/she faces. If they somehow get the hardware running, they would somehow get the gaming software for an affordable price which are almost all the time pirated. Since most people either do not have access to internet or do not have access to legitimate copies, a considerable portion is cut off from the gaming community. They simply play the single player modes. Some play the multiplayer games on cracked servers and socialize with gamers from around the world. But this is a very low percenatage. Then comes the issue of internet infrastructure. Although i do not have a fare knowledge about the internet rates and service quality in other countries, i can tell you experiences about the situation here in Sri Lanka. Broadband internet is expensive for most people. The affordable packages for most house holds are the 512k and 1M connections which are pretty primitive compared to developed nations.Also due to routing issues most players experience high pings to servers even in East Asia sometimes. Unless you are really passionate these frustrating experiences might keep a casual gamer away from multiplayer gaming. Only Multiplayer servers i have seen available here in SL are games like COD4 and CS. These servers are also fairly new, but lags most of the time. Also the lack of gamers in the community results in the players who play become isolated and find it hard to take part in tournaments or other major events. Its difficult to play with people in another geographical area if your connection is not up to standards and you end up frustrated in the end.

The situation is of course improving in most developing countries, but still there are lot of issues and difficulties gamers face in this part of the world.It would be quite sometimes before the standards would improve, until then gamers in developing world would have to endure certain things that most gamers would take for granted.

I think this gives an idea about a lot of things happening in this part of the world, but there might be more things to add and discuss regarding things. They would be disagreements with what i have written. Its time to hear your thoughts on this.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Whats coming up

Since this is my first blog post, i think its the perfect moment to introduce myself and let the people know what you can expect from my blog. I'm a 24 year old guy living in Sri Lanka. I'm an avid gamer who started to play games when i was about 9 years old in my brothers old 386. Currently I'm employed as a software engineer, which has somewhat limited my time as a gamer. Although i may not be one of the most skilled gamers, I'm an avid gamer in heart and soul. I mainly play FPS and RTS genre games. However i also enjoy playing racing, RPG and football games as well. I guess that's enough about me for the time being.

One of the main reasons to start my blog was to let people know about being a gamer in a developing country in the Asian region where people find it difficult to understand games as an entertainment medium. In the coming weeks and months, i would be writing down my thoughts on the status of gamers in a country like Sri Lanka and other developing countries. Apart from that I would be sharing my thoughts on some of the games and concepts that captured my interest. Although I do not plan to write reviews on games, I would be sharing my thoughts on some ideas and arguments that are floating around the games industry.

Since most of what I write are from my personal experience, I would like to see different thoughts and sides to the things I will be writing in my blog.

I think this would be a sufficient preview of things to come.