I’ve noticed something a few times in the past, and it always puzzles me a little.
This has been brought back into my thoughts due to the recent Steam refunds goings on, and the weirdly negative reaction its received from a lot of people. My instinctive reaction was ‘GOOD’, and no amount of concerns about how it could be improved, or how Valve lose out less than devs, will make me think instead ‘BAD’. It’s a step in the right direction, and even if it steps too far, it’s a step that needed to be made.
This brought up a lot of thoughts I’ve had about how gamers have been perceived lately, the way they are represented, and how things have stacked up against them more and more with regard to consumer rights, and how in particular gaming, or entertainment in general, doesn’t seem to be considered important to human well-being, when compared to any of the more basic needs. I’m not sure I agree entirely with this.
People on my twitter or Facebook feeds are often decrying the sharp increase in the use of food banks in the UK, cursing the Tories for increasing the wealth gap, watching troubling TV shows about families struggling to cope. Looking for any way to help. Such compassion, it warms my heart. When it comes to people living on the poverty line, you would donate money to charities, fight to keep the welfare and NHS intact, would forgive someone stealing food in a heart-beat and hearing of their plight would throw money by the tens of thousands at a justgiving, to make sure the person in question could support themselves. It happens all the time.
Despite all the rumours we’ve heard, humanity can be a lovely bunch. But somehow, generally, this philosophy doesn’t seem to extend to people’s general quality of living and capacity for entertainment, in which of this generation a vast majority of that is found on the internet. Feed yourself for free, and get medical care for free. It’s on us! We’re here to help!
But heaven forbid you take advantage of the internet to cheat your way to free entertainment. It’s like entertainment doesn’t count. You need to get off your ass and work, and buy the game, or get that Netflix subscription, buy that boxed set. Pirates are the worst. SCUM. Leeching off others hard work.
Okay, not everyone is that hard line, but in a world that’s just a few years past a pretty heavy financial crisis, conservative governments sticking the knife into the poor, bankers and corporate tax avoidance, food bank reliance on the rise, poverty on the up, welfare systems becoming more and more restrictive and exclusionary. Isn’t it a wonderful thing that no matter how shitty a person’s life may become on account of any of this, for the cost of an internet connection, they are provided with an almost infinite wealth of entertainment? What a time to be alive!
Sure, there are those in the middle, between the ‘try before you buys’ and the ‘can’t afford to buys’, who you would lose out on. That mythical hazy boogeyman that no one in the universe could likely put an accurate number on. And sure, yes, there are those who will try and abuse the refund system on Steam. These people exist. They will always exist. They always have existed.
But, it’s fairly obvious if you think about it for even a moment that pretty much everyone out there would much rather have a huge list of great games proudly displayed on their Steam profile, auto updating, Steam Workshop, and online play, than having a bunch of gold discs on a shelf burnt from malware infected ISOs and requiring 30 incremental patches to play. This is plain to see. Gamers have pride in their game collection in exactly the same way others have pride in their record collections, MP3 collections, stamp collections, boxset collections. Who out there wouldn’t much prefer a special edition Bluray boxed set of the entire of Game of Thrones series sat proudly on their shelf to a bunch of avis in a directory, no matter how they came to watch the show week by week? And once you watched the entire thing, how many of you would truly then return it to Amazon just because that was an option? Don’t underestimate the value people place on ownership of digital goods, when that’s pretty much all people have now. This is a pretty universal thing. The fact that half the games bought on Steam are never played, but are likely picked up in sales in a ‘gotta-catch-em-all’ frenzy, trading keys or appealing for a gift on reddit, crafting of badges and chasing of achievements goes to show how much stock a vast amount of gamers put in their gaming profiles and how much value a legitimate Steam copy of a game has to gamers.
This holds true for these phantom Steam refund abusers too. If your game’s good, if owning your game is an improvement to their Steam library, if their friends play it, it bears replays well, or if they use the Workshop in it, have achievements and badges for it. Even just that they are proud to own it, most people will want to keep it on their game lists if they can afford it. And if they can’t afford it? Do I really want to go to bed knowing their money is in our bank account?
Let us not pretend that it’s anything but a minority who actually relish pirating games, and playing them for free, denying the creators any money, and enjoying that fact. There are many that are more apathetic about it too, for sure. They just don’t care, or think about it too deeply, and maybe they can afford to buy. There are also plenty out there who would curse the name of people downloading illegal copies of their game on one hand, whilst queuing up Game.Of.Thrones.S05e08.avi without a moment’s self-reflection. But then there are an absolute ton of people out there to whom paying even £3-4 on a video game is an unjustifiable expense, perhaps geeks to the core fallen on hard times, who without such things as piracy, or being able to get a refund on a game if it turned out to be a bad purchase, would not be able to enjoy life to a capacity that we all should have the right to. Just as an argument could be made that we just suck up the expenses of those exploiting welfare because it provides a greater good, a net gain, to society on the whole, and after thousands of years of strife and toil and pain, humanity finally has a way to entertain and preoccupy the ever growing numbers of people in the world who are capable of obtaining an internet connection.
What good is being able to continue living if the things you find pleasure in are out of reach, and you’re constantly maligned for bowing to the temptation to get it all for free anyway? These people wouldn’t have bought the game anyway, and personally speaking, I’d rather they were playing it, talking about it, enjoying it, perhaps even telling their friends about it. If we don’t treat them like criminals, they may even buy a copy to support us once they get past the hard times?
I look at my own life, and I edit all these, on the face of it trivial and non essential, things, the TV shows, the movies, the games, from my life, and it would be dramatically poorer because of it. A large chunk of my free time is filled with these activities. I can afford to buy a game when I want to buy a game. I can afford to buy a boxed set of Amazon at a moment’s notice. It’d be very easy to get on my soap box and state that ‘it’s only $5, you cheap skates!’
A few people making creative works may have to deal with making less money for their work, without actually knowing how much, if at all, for sure, maybe? Probably some.
We may be losing money. We may be losing nothing. We may be gaining money due to word of mouth? We have no clue. If people are losing out, then that’s a huge shame. It sucks.
However, if a million people who can’t afford to pay for any kind of premium entertainment, or trips or holidays, have a more enjoyable life because of it, at what point isn’t that a fair trade? Even if a few of them are sniggering and rubbing their hands while they do it?