Thursday, February 18, 2010

. . . The Cost of Stupidity


In Australia Nintendo has struck a blow for game studios everywhere and called attention to the horrific practice of game piracy by winning a landmark $1.5 Million (AUS $) judgment against a notorious... part-time... Freight worker? Wait a minute...

James Burt (24-years-old) is, by all accounts, your typical geek - he is an adult but he still lives at home. He is employed - but only part-time. He owns at least one of every console produced by the game industry since he was a child. He loves video games - did I mention that he is a geek?

According to the facts as they have been published, visited a large (unnamed) Australian retail store where he was accidentally sold a copy of New Super Mario Brothers for the Wii more than a week before the embargo was removed - which means that the retailer broke the street-date on the game by selling it to him. Burt, who we learned is active in the gaming community online both on the light side (blogging and chat boards for gamers) and on the dark side (blogging and chat boards for pirates).

His father says that he was simply seeking peer-acceptance but I did a little digging since I have some connections of my own in those communities and what I discovered does not mesh with the version that Nintendo has been passing out. It seems that their characterization of Burt as a willful pirate may be little more than wishful thinking on their part - though they were able to twist his arm into agreeing to a horrific private settlement with the company that includes the $1.5 Million AUS damages plus the $100,000 court costs spent by Nintendo in prosecuting Burt.

What actually happened is that Burt mentioned on one of the boards he was active on that he had "scored a copy of New Super Mario Brothers more than a week early!" His joy with his announcement was rather short when some of the board regulars called him out on the matter - basically accusing him of lying.

What Burt should have done at this point is simply ignored them - but instead he allowed them to brow-beat him into posting a rip of the disc to the net. In theory that should not have been too bad - after all there is copy protection on those files that make uploading them not viable, and perhaps that was what Burt was thinking when he did it - here is his proof, and so what? You cannot use the game!

The problem was that not only could they use the game - once they had the full copy available online all that they had to do was rip out the copy protection to make it playable - and that is precisely what they did! Once that was accomplished, the game was uploaded in its modified form all over the net, and an estimated 50,000 people downloaded a playable copy of it.

Okay, first thing - I should admit that this stuns me. Not that it happened, but that there are 50,000 "pirates" who own Wii's! Yes, I have one, and I use it to play games for the Wii before I review them - so I CAN review them - but here is the thing: other than playing games for the purpose of reviewing them, I do not use the Wii for gaming at all. I know, nasty secret that, but the bottom line is I do not like the controller for the Wii - it does not add to the fun for me. Call me a traditional game pad sort of bloke, but there you have it. The result is that my kids play on the Wii, not me.

When Nintendo tracked that copy of the game back to its original poster, they found Burt, and then they sued him. Not because he profited in any way from posting the game to the net - the Japanese gaming giant admits that Burt did not make one single Australian (or any other nation) dime from doing that. No, you see, it was the principal of the thing. Burt uploaded it, therefore Burt must pay. And pay. And pay.

Considering that he is a part-time wage earner with no chance at a six-figure job, what this amounts to is garnished wages for the rest of his life. Nintendo says that they suffered severe losses totaling $1.5 million off of his posting that file online - though they also admit that the game is one of - if not THE - best selling title they have every released in Oz, pulling in over $20 Million (AUS) in revenue in the first seven weeks of sales in Australia alone.

I do not know about you, but I have a lot of mates who play video games - and more than a few who have modded their consoles so that they can play copied games. I personally do not do that - I am not a thief, I am not a pirate, and I do not believe in stealing, even from wealthy video game companies - it is that simple. But let me tell you something that I do know - the people who pirate copies of a given video game are NOT the people that would have legitimately bought that title if they could not get it free!

A lot of the guys I know download these pirated games and often only play them one time! They are not doing it because they want that game, they are - I know this is obvious - doing it because they can.

There is no moral justification - this is not anti-establishment-ism and they are not heroes. What they are in every sense is people who have lost their moral compass. These are the same people I do not leave unattended when they are anywhere near the shelf I keep my personal game library on, because to my thinking if they will steal a game from Nintendo, they will steal a game from me.

The problem here seems to be the pirates, so shouldn't the game company go after them instead of the lonely social outcast who let people he does not know talk him into doing something that, in hindsight I am pretty sure he regrets? Burt did not cost Nintendo a dime - the people who stole their game never would have been paying customers in the first place - so the only conclusion that I can come to is that Nintendo viewed this as a good way to set a precedence so that IF they finally get their hooks into someone who actually is profiting from piracy or has real assets that they could go after - they have already set the low-water line.

What a shame.

That is all I have to say about that.