Piracy might not be as bad of a scourge to business as some people make out. Or at least, that’s what Techdirt’s Timothy Geigner suggests, based on an article about price hikes in the retro video game market. Retro video games are some of the most easily-pirated, most often-emulated media currently available, but the digital files are selling well through GOG (nee Good Old Games), Steam, and old-game marketplaces from Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo.

Prices for the physical artifacts are booming, too. Geigner notes:

It’s always been this way. Collectors of art will always pay for original pieces, or for the items that go along with the actual content. If the public simply wanted everything for free when it came to gaming, anyone could go on the internet and get an emulator and a copy of The Legend of Zelda and have at it. But, of course, there are scarce items that go along with the collectables that can’t be downloaded, and so the prices are paid, even as they rise. And it’s not peanuts we’re talking about here. Estimates for how big the retro-gaming market is come in at something like $200 million per year.

Of course, rare physical stuff basically can’t be pirated, and the more time passes, the rarer it gets, so it’s not really relevant to the question of how piracy affects sales. As for the digital downloads, because the games already long since earned out their production costs during their original sales the companies who own them don’t have a problem with selling the digital downloads cheaply, which is one boost to their sales.

Another is that, honestly, piracy is generally both risky and inconvenient. Maybe the risk of legal action is unlikely, but the risk of malware is endemic—and who wants to deal with that if there’s an alternative? Offer someone a legitimate way to get the goods cheaply and easily and they’ll jump at it unless they’re the cheapest of cheapskates. And cheap cheapskates will always be with us, so you can’t base your business decisions on them.

So perhaps the real lesson is not that piracy doesn’t stifle markets. The real lesson is that a good cheap and convenient market can stifle piracy.


  1. Malware is easily combated through the use of sandboxed virtual machines. The reason that people choose to buy is that the price point is below the indifference point for piracy (think Humble Bundle) or they simply lack the basic technical sophistication to find the goods for free. Compared to 10-15 years ago the amount of technical know how for someone to function online has dropped dramatically so piracy rates are kept in check by ignorance.

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