Mark Darrah spent nearly a quarter century at BioWare in a career that saw him rise from a programmer on Baldur’s Gate to the executive producer of the Dragon Age series. He left the studio at the end of 2020, shortly after which he launched his own YouTube channel, where he shares videos on everything ranging from old game swag to console certification processes and business models.
In his latest video, Darrah takes on the timeless topic of videogame piracy. Instead of arguing for (or against) a particular perspective, though, he suggests that we’ve all got it wrong to some extent. Publishers who claim massive losses to justify their DRM efforts assume that every pirated copy of a game is a lost full-price sale, but that’s just not so, Darrah argues: Comparing it to police reports of the street value of drugs seized in raids, he says the calculations used to determine lost sales figures “exaggerates and expands the number well beyond what is realistic.”
But pirates who claim their activities have no real impact on the business “are equally coming from a completely ludicrous place,” Darrah continues. Games cost money to make, and while not all pirated copies of games represent lost sales, some definitely do—and while some pirates like to claim they’re doing it to “boycott” a particular games, what publishers see in high rates of piracy isn’t a protest, but sales that could have been made if only it had been able to prevent the piracy, presumably through the imposition of more effective DRM measures.
“If you’re sitting there right now saying, ‘Well, it’s okay that I pirated this game because I never would’ve bought it,’ then why don’t you ask yourself this question: If you never would have purchased this game, why was it so important that you pirate it?” Darrah asks. “Why did you need to play it at all?”
The situation is trickier in countries where games aren’t available. Imports can be impractical, particularly for PC games, which often don’t get a physical release. Piracy might appear to be the only option in such cases, but Darrah warned that it can be a “double-edged sword” in the long run: Potentially large markets like Russia are often overlooked by publishers because piracy is so rampant, which only helps make the piracy problem worse, further driving publishers away.
The only time Darrah considers piracy a legitimate option is when a game simply is not available anymore, anywhere: “It’s hard for me to argue against that. You’re not really taking money out of someone’s hand because they were choosing no longer to even sell it to you.”
Darrah concludes, not surprisingly, that the issue of piracy and its impact on the industry is not black and white, but various shades of grey. “I know you have a justification as to why your particularly piracy is okay,” Darrah concludes. “I’m asking you to stop for a moment, double check that that’s not just an excuse, and that your real reason for piracy isn’t something else.”
No judgment here, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the moral and commercial aspects of piracy aren’t the only hazards of illegally downloading games: Security researchers said earlier this month that pirated games helped spread a trojan that infected more than three million PCs and stole 1.2 terabytes of personal information.
Darrah’s video arrived on the same day that Casey Hudson announced his new venture, Humanoid Studios, which naturally made me wonder if he was involved: He confirmed separately that he is not.