Piracy will always be huge, there’s no doubt about that. It’s just how the world works. Games, movies, music--all media is easily cracked, copied, and traded. It’s especially true for people who live outside of the United States and other larger countries, as those people don’t have reasonable access. But in the US, despite what has felt like a relative drop in piracy and uptick in legal media consumption, I think the industry is about to be on the cusp of a renewed boom in piracy. If you’re wondering why, well, the answer is game streaming services.
You may be wondering, “I thought we liked services! Isn’t Xbox Game Pass the bee’s knees?” Yes, hypothetical reader who probably doesn’t exist, Xbox Game Pass is, indeed, the business. I like it a lot, or rather, I like that a friend is sharing his membership with me. It’s cool. But what about EA Access? What about PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live? Nintendo’s online gimmick? Ubisoft’s upcoming subscription service? PlayStation Now? Let’s throw a few MMOs on the pile too. You’re probably paying for a few of these, if not most of them. And you probably didn’t stop at just video games.
If you have a modern console, you probably watch shows and movies on it in addition to playing games. These things have, despite all the complaining when this comes up during press briefings, become central devices for millions of living rooms around the country. They’re media swiss army knives, and that means other media is gaming-adjacent. That used to just mean Netflix, but the bubble is about to burst. There’s blood in the water, and the sharks are already in the middle of a feeding frenzy.
There’s Netflix. There’s Hulu. There’s Amazon Prime, which you probably have regardless of whether or not you watched The Tick. Like anime? Too bad nerd, because it’s spread across like five services. Disney’s app is coming, and considering how much Disney owns (and will continue to own), that’s practically a must-have if you want access to movies. Individual movie publishers like Warner Bros. and Criterion are at it too, and there are so many others. You could probably name three dozen subscription-based streaming services and still have some you forgot about. Don’t forget about stuff like music and books. We’ll just stop there.
Streaming services like Netflix blew up because of convenience and price. People started branding themselves with goofy titles like “cable cutters,” because these services were legitimate options to access media easily and affordably. But, that’s all over now. Everyone wants a slice of the pie and wants to cut out the middle-men. But while a company like Ubisoft can save money by having its own service, instead of relying on third parties (which it does anyway), that puts more of a burden on the consumers. If every publisher gets what they want, whenever a player wants a certain game, they’ll have to make sure they have the proper service for it. There’s no umbrella everyone can sit under at this point.
That’s going to make people run screaming back to BitTorrent. As many have noted in media and piracy studies, while you can always count on piracy being around (although its impact on sales is dubious if not nonexistent), most regular folks would rather pay for convenience than learn the difference between seeding and leeching. But what happens when the convenient spaces get exploited to death by suits and end up going so far backwards they end up less convenient than old-school cable packages? The “pirate bay” opens back up again, if you catch my drift.
Piracy is a favorite scapegoat for declining sales, but we haven’t heard about it much lately due to so many high-profile games beating sales records. But there’s only so much Denuvo can do, and if demand jumps back up again due to everyone growing tired of the service economy, we may start seeing those PR excuses again in due time.