Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Assessing the damage from pirates
It is certainly true that in many cases the exact amount of damage done by video game piracy is difficult or even impossible to determine. Fortunately in the case of Blizzard winning the lawsuit against Scape Gaming, who ran a "private" pirate server for WoW, we do have some extremely solid facts that help to assess the damage. Because Scape Gaming wasn't letting play WoW for free, but ran their WoW servers on a Free2Play business model, taking money from players for everything from $1 for 2 levels to $300 for a set of epics. And they got that money via PayPal. So all Blizzard had to do was get an injunction persuading PayPal to tell them how much money Scape Gaming received. The result was an astonishing $3,052,339 in gross revenues. There were 427,000 users in the Scape Gaming community, which made Scott Jenning remark that it is kind of humbling if World of Warcraft thieves get more users than most MMORPGs.
Now some people on this blog made comments comparing video game piracy to a starving man stealing bread to feed his family, or similar arguments on the line of "poor people can't afford those video games, so they have to steal them". But even if we would accept those arguments, I don't see how they could possibly apply in this case. This isn't some poor kids downloading a game from Bittorrent. This is a criminal organization which stole intellectual property from Blizzard and then sold it for $3 million. How can any defender of piracy possibly justify that?
With Captain Kirk and Mr. T making TV spots for World of Warcraft it is extremely unlikely that Scape Gaming and their users made any noticeable positive "word of mouth" contribution to the success of World of Warcraft. And while again we could argue endlessly how much money would have made from the 427,000 players if those had played on official servers instead of pirate servers, *at the very least* we can say that the $3 million Scape Gaming made from running WoW belong rightfully to Blizzard. It is very hard to argue that the people playing on Scape Gaming servers were too poor to afford the real game, when obviously they had up to $300 to spend on virtual WoW items.
So I am quite happy that Scape Gaming got shut down, has to pay Blizzard the $3 million plus another $85 million in statutory damages, which should guarantee that they stay out of business and discourage other pirate server owners as well. As to the 427,000 players of Scape Gaming, I'd say they are sufficiently punished by losing their characters including all the virtual items they bought for them. Maybe they should try the real WoW: You can't buy levels and epics there, but at least the servers aren't likely to shut down anytime soon.