Remember Crysis? That mediocre first-person shooter with massive hardware requirements that turned “But can it run Crysis” into a phrase that still hasn’t left the geek culture consciousness? The studio behind the game, cleverly named “Crytek,” has been working on the sequel (scheduled for release in late March). An unfinished version has leaked online, prompting the typical responses from clueless tech blogs. The general theme is of authors begging people not to download the game in an attempt to save the Crytek studio, PC gaming, or some combination thereof.
A lot of the usual tropes are trotted out for this one, but it gets old explaining how copying is not theft and downloads do not directly equal lost sales. Instead I’d like to focus on the fact that whether or not people download this unfinished copy of the game is essentially irrelevant—for Crytek, for their publisher EA, and for PC gaming.
What has been leaked isn’t the final copy of the game, but an unfinished version that takes a bit of fiddling to get working right. Didn’t something similar happen a few years ago? Oh, that’s right, back in 2009 there was that unfinished copy of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Here’s the spoiler: Despite being panned by critics, the movie went on to do incredibly well at the box office. The leak certainly didn’t hurt sales, and may have actually helped build excitement. In the gaming world, the same thing happened in 2003 with Half-Life 2, which was leaked not a month and half but a full six months before release and went on to sell 12 million copies.
There’s this ridiculous idea that leaked copies of things mean something different than full final versions—I don’t get it. There are cams of movies, music leaks, DVD screeners, and every so often an in-progress beta of a PC game. These leaks are extremely low-quality compared to what is going to be available hours after release, when uploaders have access to better source material. Are the low download numbers of this game the result of the frothing rants from the likes of Destructoid‘s Jim Sterling, or just because it’s a lot of effort to go through to only play the first part of the game? I’d bet on the latter. Thus, there’s not much point in getting upset—even if the leak hadn’t happened, there will be a copy, and a higher-quality copy at that, available for free on release day. If anything, the leak builds excitement for the game as people wait for the real thing.
I also continue to see support for the idea that leaks and downloading somehow justifies developers abandoning the PC for consoles or using invasive DRM schemes. Clearly, in their haste to blame “pirates,” the content industry’s favorite scapegoat, these people are abandoning all logic. I suppose they are thinking “Well, if the game is just going to be downloaded instead of purchased, we might as well not release it at all.”
This, despite the fact that Crytek and EA make tons of money from games, including PC games (they planned for a PC release, after all). This, despite the fact that if you don’t release it, you’re essentially guaranteeing that you’ll make no income—something Jim Sterling fails to realize when calling for EA to “pull the PC version of Crysis 2 right now.” It’s the same business model put in place by the idiots in the band Brandt Morain, who refuse to sell CDs of their music (and aren’t even popular enough to show up in a quick torrent search). This, despite the fact that DRM has yet to protect anything. This, despite the fact that every console has already been hacked, with perfect versions of popular games available free for the downloading right now.
If Crytek and EA objectively add up their pennies and find out that sales aren’t enough to justify development for the PC, that’s their business decision. But it’s not because of the imagined boogeyman of “piracy”, since plenty of other studios are doing fine releasing primarily for computer and without cumbersome DRM schemes—even though their games also shared free online.
Then there’s the whole aspect of “supporting the studio” by buying and not downloading their game, as though one can’t do both, or wait for a while until the price decreases. It’s almost as ridiculous as buying a commercially produced music album from a retail store to “support the artist.” If creators are really interested in getting direct support from fans, why not just set up a donate link on their websites? This way, fans who actually want to support the people creating what they enjoy can do so regardless of how they choose to obtain the finished product. There could even be a whole series of incentives to donate based around the game world or the process of creating new games rather than simply the game itself. If you want the physical copy of the game (or CD, or whatever), by all means. But you shouldn’t have to purchase something you don’t want or need from a corporate middleman because that is the only way to support the creator.
There isn’t going to be a social backlash against filesharing, no matter how much the content industry and their blogosphere supporters want it to be so. When a perfect copy of something can be made available online and shared directly between fans at no cost, it makes good economic sense to participate. Leaks, rips, and copies are going to be available whether one likes it or not—and it’s okay. Successful game studios will be the ones who give their fans ways of providing financial support that continue to work in that environment—not flying off the handle because filesharing exists.