Fighting Piracy with Goodwill: More Carrot, Less Stick

Yesterday’s post got me thinking about creative solutions to the problem of piracy. If you take for granted that engineering solutions are insufficient impediments to piracy on their own, then what? Legal solutions are band-aids; at best slowing the phenomenon, at worst enraging consumers… how do you fight the collective will of humanity with a bunch of lawyers?

So, aside from accepting that piracy is a given (and perhaps less-than-horrific) part of life, what can you do? How about give consumers more reasons to pay for the product? Many people choose to purchase multiplayer games (rather than pirate them) because they want to participate in sanctioned and/or ranked online matches with the bulk of the player community. Blizzard has used its service as an effective enticement for years. But why limit social solutions to multiplayer games?

Imagine the following single-player experience: you’re a soldier tasked with sneaking behind enemy lines. Your character is captured and thrown into an empty jail cell. Some of your comrades are held in nearby cells; you can hear them tapping on the walls, and you can tap back. What if the game connected to a sanctioned server and broadcasted your taps to other real people playing this part of the game? Perhaps the players could be encouraged to solve some problem together under real time pressure? (AI could kick in when not enough players are online). This could enrich gameplay and encourage users to purchase games instead of pirate them.

In Grand Theft Auto, you can spray graffiti on the walls. What if players were enabled to customize their graffiti in great detail? The game could automatically upload player-generated graffiti to a server, where it would be randomly downloaded by other game instances. The virtual cityscape would quickly fill up with graffiti, creating a sense of real authenticity. Perhaps players could be enabled to “vote” on other players graffiti, or add to it, or overwrite it?

Implementation aside, my point is: games can tap social forces and user-creativity to enrich play and encourage purchase. Company-sanctioned servers can act as the greatly preferred (if not only) clearinghouse via which access to extra content is obtained.

I’m not advocating for piracy, here. I think that IP protection is vital to a healthy economy, and government/industry should work together to fight infringement. That said, ubiquitious access to the Internet is clearly a double-edged boon to the entertainment business. The question is: can businesspeople and designers take advantage of the opportunity, or will they be left behind by it?

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