This is a guest post by Cliff Bleszinski, former game designer at Epic Games. During his 20-year tenure at Epic he was deeply involved in the development of Unreal and Gears of War game franchises.
There have been lots of terms that have been tossed around in regards to the current generation of youth. “Millenials” is one that comes to mind. Pop psych books and articles attempt to dissect this generation, as every older generation does every so often. I remember Generation X. Generation Y/Y2K. (The Greatest Generation, who saved us from the Nazi Empire, still wins.)
I was in my 20’s when the Napster revolution came along. Even before that I remember piracy on newsgroups. During the crafting of the first Unreal I remember watching one of my peers downloading Hollywood movies in the background and then watching them on his giant, fat monitor. I remember at the time thinking “Hollywood’s going to shit when they see this.”
The music industry, as broken as it was, was torn to shreds like a family electronics store in the Los Angeles Riots. Only over the last few years has Apple manage to create hardware and an ecosystem that actually gets people to pay for music once again. Even then, have you noticed how much your favorite artist is actually on tour these days? And the high cost of tickets? That’s because they’re not selling anywhere near as much actual music as they used to in the past.
As someone who worked in software for 20+ years (and maybe I’ll return someday) I have often had a lot to say about piracy. There are many different arguments that have been bandied about over the years. The suits claim that it’s straight up theft. The users say it doesn’t impact sales, and, in fact, can help increase mindshare for a product. Then there’s those folks in the middle who, for some reason, buy the product AND pirate it. (F*cking weird, that one.)
There’s an old image that went around a few years back, you might have seen it.
It points out the sheer amount of bullshit that the legitimate, paying user has to go through when he acquires a DVD/Blu-ray. It’s gotten better since then, but there are still plenty of instances of this lunacy. (This is why I just stream movies and TV on my Xbox, even though it’s pricier.)
I had dinner with a certain gaming executive a few months ago and one of the topics we discussed were sales and piracy. He told me he had the numbers of their recent release – a great game that got very good reviews and was enjoyed by many. He said they had stats on the PC version sales versus piracy and the numbers were staggering. It was something around 4-1 in regards to purchased copies versus torrented ones. And we wonder why Blizzard, who often can Do No Wrong, forced us to be online for Diablo 3.
Obviously no one liked what Blizzard pulled, but do you actually blame them for that? Do you think they would have gone through the headache and cost of having those servers up (usually, heh) along with the bad PR and the backlash from their biggest fans if they didn’t see piracy as a major problem with their products?! The results wind up hurting all of us; a group of people who illegally acquire something cause the rest of us, the legitimate customers, to suffer. This isn’t a new concept. If you have a few rule breakers at your office then everyone has to then adhere to whatever new red tape appears. (A few people not pulling their hours? Everyone has to have punch cards now!) Thanks for treating your loyal customers like thieves because of those other assholes!
The thing that I’m not sure Hollywood has even caught on to is how carefree the Millenials are about torrenting content. I’ve been around 20-something friends many times when they just wait and watch for the new episode of Game of Thrones to pop up on their feed, download it, and just fire away. (Yes, I’m that guy who somehow still has young friends, like the guy who hangs out in the High School parking lot with his Camaro after he’s graduated.)
A few years back another young friend posted on Facebook:
“Wow, The Lovely Bones was amazing, brought me to tears. Movie was outstanding.”
I replied “Whoa, it’s not even out yet, you get a screener?”
Her “No I torrented that shit!”
But let’s face it. If you’re a broke college guy and you want to be a part of the cultural zeitgeist you will torrent about as often as you fap, and not feel a single tinge of guilt about it because, hey, it’s HBO, a big, evil corporation, so fuck them! (Remember, fap in your room, not in the shared shower, you drain clogging frat boys.)
I enjoy quality entertainment. The few reality TV shows I actually enjoy are usually the ones about people with careers, like Restaurant Impossible or any Real Estate Porn. (Joe Schmo is amazing also, check that one out.) Similar to my post about the gaming business is the fact that TV executives LOVE pumping out reality TV because:
It’s cheap to shoot.
People eat that garbage up.
Everyone thinks they’re a f*cking celebrity, and are willing to do anything to be on TV and to be paid dirt for it in the process.
Yes, my wife will be on Say Yes to The Dress. Show me a girl who wouldn’t kill to be on that show and I’ll show you someone who has given up.
I remember walking the Red Carpet a few years ago at the Spike Awards and Felicia Day was next to us and we got shoved out of the way by the cast of Jersey Shore. This was right when the show was hitting, mind you. Felicia turns to me and goes “What the heck just happened?” I turn to her and say “Don’t worry, Felicia, in a few years when you’re en route to be the next Tina Fey they’ll be in rehab.” I later heard stories about when The Situation had come to Raleigh he was paid to come to a club and that he was just doing rails of coke, right in the open, as girls lined up to make out with him. We all know what happened to The Situation.
Anyway, back on topic. We’re in a golden era of scripted television.
I mean, the fact that Breaking Bad is even allowed to exist now blows my mind. The Walking Dead can be uneven but is enjoying a spectacular success. (I liked zombies before it was cool, dammit.)
Let’s get back to Game of Thrones.
(I always hear Tim Schafer singing that song with Jack Black in my head for some reason. You can’t unhear it.)
No, I haven’t read the books. I hear they’re spectacular, but this blog is about piracy and entertainment.
Season 3 is returning at the end of the month, and to be frank, my wife and I are BEYOND F*CKING STOKED.
Ever have a show that’s that good that even on demand or recorded on your DVR you still watch the opening credits as a way of getting hyped up for what’s coming? I used to do this with The Sopranos. I felt like I had to get eased into Tony’s Jersey underworld with the smooth sounds of A3.
When Season 1 of “Thrones” hit all of my awesome nerdy friends were gushing about it. “You HAVE to watch this. It’s amazing. Blah blah blah.” I tuned it out. I was down on any sort of sword fantasy epic at the time; it really wasn’t my cup of tea right then. Eventually after hearing all of the buzz about what happens at the end of Season 1 (I somehow managed to avoid that spoiler) Lauren and I sat down to watch the pilot.
20 minutes in our jaws were on the floor and we were hooked. Never mind the sounds we made at the end of the episode when the tower scene went down.
This was quality, epic television. It was layered, well written, and complex. It was violent, unpredictable, and filled with surprisingly human moments. Characters you rooted for and bad guys you hissed at. Darned near Shakespearean it was. Keeping up with all of the characters, the mythology, and the plotlines was work in and of itself. (We’re rooting for Daenerys, by the way.) In this digital, crowded world you actually want your show to be dense and layered and discussed, as it drives tweets, forum posts, and overall hype.
Those of you who know me know my cable conundrum. We have Time Warner cable and their horrible DVR box along with HBO/Shotime on demand. And, as much as I hate it, I’m not ready to cut the cord. I don’t torrent, so finding every show that I enjoy watching is a comedic shuffle between inputs. Sometimes we’ll use our Apple TV, or Amazon Video, or cable, or Xbox. (We’d use Netflix, but there’s seldom anything actually streaming on it.) My cable box likes to randomly not record shows, or misses them, or just stutters, or cut off the ends of the shows…it’s a nonstop fight that’s probably going to end with us going Office Space on the f*cking thing one of these days. (I swear the thing is like TiVo’s retarded little brother from 2003.)
So we then tried alternate ways to get “Thrones” and had this experience.
Kevin was previously responsible for Warner Brother’s home entertainment and now is running the whole place. (I sent him that Oatmeal article, he got a chuckle out of it.) He’s one of those Hollywood guys who really isn’t at all what you’d think a Hollywood guy would be. He’s genuine, funny, and affable. He’s a guy you’d like to have a beer with. The first time I met him the first thing out of my mouth was “Why isn’t ‘Thrones’ on iTunes?” He told me to check out HBO GO, which we now use on our Xbox. It’s actually an enjoyable setup, but the process of configuring it was a gong show. (I’m the kind of person that, after 4-5 annoying steps for signing up for something will often just walk away.)
A peer of mine and I got into a heated argument in his office about this very subject. I told him that HBO should sell their shows A La Carte. I told him my suspicion that every day goes by from when the show airs to when the DVDs/Blu-rays come out is a day where thousands of folks who might have bought them to watch the show have just torrented the damned thing. His response was that it’s HBO’s freedom to sell their products however they see fit, and that they’ve chosen the subscription model. There have been news stories that have said that that model is what allows for this quality, more expensive to produce television to see the light of day.
It’s no secret that people pirate the hell out of “Thrones.”
And this news hit the other day.
Ultimately what gets me about all of this, and the point that I’m getting at, is that while I know we can’t educate people about piracy, I can’t help but think that, as a paying HBO subscriber, I’m paying for the show that other people are illegally acquiring.
It feels like some sort of…”Entertainment Welfare” to me.
And then I start thinking about the cast. I think about the harsh filming locations that they have to endure for months. I think about the CG house that’s been contracted to bring this world to life. I think about the cameramen who are uprooted from their families to film in other countries, the writers, hell, finally George R Martin himself who busted his ass to bring us this incredible world.
And I can’t help but think… if you pirate my favorite TV show of all time…
You’re kind of a dick.
Just like with used games, if everyone torrented all quality entertainment then it would, in fact, go away.
Then we’d have to just sit at home watching f*cking Harlem Shake videos.
(Edit: Some have mentioned the issues with region limiting. That, just like waiting to ship the DVD/Blu-ray set, they’re just baiting people to torrent. I’m sure they do it for a reason…it doesn’t make it suck any less.)
Republished with permission.