Piracy: A game developer’s perspective

There are several perspectives about the ethics of piracy that hit the news every day, but it is often from the extreme sides of each camp that says that piracy is all bad or all good. Rarely do creators come out and express their true feelings in print, for fear of backlash from other sides of the debate.

One game developer, however, has decided to make his point of view heard.


Jeff Vogel, Indie game designer and founder of Spiderweb software, posted a lengthy essay on his blog this week entitled “Sometimes it’s OK to Steal My Games”. The post is an honest and insightful piece on piracy and Vogel’s admittedly mixed feelings on the subject.

“When I’m being honest with myself, which happens sometimes, I have to admit that piracy is not an absolute evil. That I do get things out of it, even when I’m the one being ripped off.” Vogel says


He goes on to describe letters that he receives from people who claim to not be able to afford his games and ask for free license keys. He believes that most of the letters are really from financially disadvantaged kids who can’t afford to go buy a copy of the game, but don’t want to illegally download it. Per Vogel’s ultimate drive to maintain his income stream in order to provide for his family, he openly admits that these letters get deleted without being answered. However, Vogel also admits that he hopes the kid has ultimately just pirated the game and gotten some enjoyment from it.

Why would someone ever wish their content to be pirated?

“Someone who is facing long-term unemployment and bankruptcy probably should not pay for my game. And, in that case, if stealing my game gives them a temporary reprieve from their misery (and there’s a lot of misery out there right now), I’m cool with that. I’m happy to help. These are my fellow citizens, and I want to help out how I can,” explains Vogel.


In the end, Vogel doesn’t completely support piracy, of course. His one request of game pirates, to keep the industry afloat, is for them to buy at least one deserving product per year.

“It’s tempting to say you should support some small Indie, like me, who is just working hard to support his family. But I don’t believe that. The people who made Starcraft 2 have families too. No, buy the game that you feel most deserves to be rewarded. Who gave you the most fun, or carried the industry forward, or that you felt treated you fairly.”

I’ve got to say that I agree with Jeff Vogel. I’ve been guilty of downloading music and software myself, in leaner times of my life. Yeah, I knew it was stealing. No, I didn’t feel good about it. But in some cases, illegally downloading software has given me the tools I needed to better myself. Now that I’m better off, I make it a point to give back to those who I’ve “stolen” from in the past. It’s not right, it’s not ideal, but it’s the way the world works sometimes.

Can there be a balance between piracy and purchases? Not likely, since the “honor system” rarely seems to work in any capacity. But my hope is that people take Vogel’s words to heart and pay sometimes, if they can.

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