I saw this post today Torrent of Free Bits and it reminded me of something I'd thought about.
First, let me make it clear. Piracy of games pisses me off. It's my job to make games, it's damn hard work. 15 to 100 people for two years, 1/4 to 1/2 of that time is often 60 to 80 hour weeks. For someone to pirate it and tell me it's not worth the $40 we ask for all our effort. ***K THEM!
For other media there are other arguments possibly.
Also, some people mention that online games don't have this problem. You pay for the service, not for the game. Fine but that's not all games. In fact that's not even the majority of games. It would suck to never be able to make (and therefore play) a non−online game because piracy had removed the market.
But anyway, that's not the point of this post.
Not game related I've wondered if the activation added to Windows XP and Office XP hurt Microsoft more than it helped. Games are not apps and no game has the market presence of Windows or Office so don't make the mistake of comparing them. That's is not the point.
The thing is, before Office XP and Windows XP it was easy to pirate Windows and Office. Microsoft rightly didn't like this so they added "activation" to make it harder to pirate them. Now when you install Office you have 30 days to "activate" it or it will shut itself off. "Activation" requires either connecting to Microsoft on the net or calling them up. While there are hacks to remove that for the average person that's probably enough to stop them from copying. Yea for MS.
Except, sometimes people do need to word process or spreadsheet something. In the past they would do this by just pirating Office. Now though they are forced to look for an alternative. They find Open Office or Abiword and give it a try. So far MS is not out a sale. But, now they actually have this experience of an alternative solution. An experience they didn't have before. Now where before zero employees had any experience outside of Office they now have experiences with alternatives. They will bring that experience to the office and recommend it to their boss. If they start their own company they might opt to use this new product instead of doing the standard thing and buying Office.
In effect what MS thought was stopping piracy, which it did, is also actually erroding their market.
I don't really think the same is true for games. For the most part I don't believe piracy helps "spread the word". Games are entertainment and generally the word is spread by PR, Marketing and the reputation of the team. Everyone is looking forward to San Andreas and Halo 2 because those teams made such great games in the past.
Also, piracy is unlikely to effect these games as they will sell a zillion copies. Halo 2 probably 3 million. San Andreas probably 8 to 11 million. Games that get effected by piracy are likely the smaller more independant games. The games for which every sale counts.