Extortion Industry

This text was shared anonymously in response to Against New Games. With the author's blessings, we are hosting it here.

Extortion Industry


If you think you've ever purchased or owned a game, you've been lied to. Games are software, information. The troublesome thing about information is that it's not a tangible, irreproducible good. It can't be traded. The only thing that can be exchanged are the ownership rights associated with that information.

Instead, what you've paid money for is a service. You're paying for rent to a license that gives you the right to use the game. The license you've rented is the only thing that distinguishes you from someone who pirated the same software. Without the license, you are liable to be sued under "copyright infringement" by the company that maintains ownership of the copyright. This is written out clearly, if in fine print, in every End User License Agreement and, yes, the rent can be revoked at will without warning or consequence.

The software itself is not important. The game is already freely available across the internet. It's playing (or sharing) the game without possessing the appropriate license that leaves you vulnerable to a lawsuit.

Protection Racket

So why is this point important? Ask yourself, if the game can already be found and played for free, what value is the company providing in exchange for your money? What service does renting their license provide?

Protection from their own threat. You're renting a license to not be sued. In any other industry this is known as a protection racket: manufacture a threat where one did not exist before, require payment to be protected from it. In videogames, this is known as business.

Distortion of Copyright Law

How do they get away with it? Extortion is normally illegal because only the State has the right to threaten violence. So they use the State, by employing a distorted definition of copyright law and embroiling individuals in a massive, unwinnable lawsuits.

"Selling" Information is Unethical

"But they authored the game!"

Authoring a thing does not give anyone a right to extortion. It also doesn't entitle anyone to profit. Profit is made by providing a good or service with real value to consumers, which is determined by supplying a thing with unmet demand. The price paid is derived from that value provided. By nature of information's reproducibility, any software released into the public can be expected to be shared freely and widely. In other words, information is a product with infinite supply. Regardless of how much demand is present, a product with infinite supply does not have real value.

Instead of competing fairly in the free market by finding a way to provide value for the customer, the industry just resorted to extortion by exploiting a loophole in copyright law. In this way they could artificially set the price to whatever they want, and threaten anyone who attempts to obtain it for its real value of $0.

Why games would still be made

It should go without saying but a market whose entire provided value relies on state intervention is not natural. Videogames will continue to exist even if the state-backed extortion racket suddenly ended, because in a free market, if there's demand for a thing, a way to produce it will always be found.

Extortion is definitely not the only possible way to monetize videogames, it's just the easiest and most profitable. New incentive models will quickly be developed. They might take the form of returning to an emphasis on physical collector's items, or looking towards ad-based revenue, or some other unseen models. It might mean seeing a de-emphasisis on commercialism through non-profit/donations or FOSS-style group contribution. It's impossible to tell, but what is certain is models will be developed to meet all the demand that exists, be it for high-budget AAA spectacles or low-tech indie experiments.

Extortion has become Dogma

The industry has accomplished instilling the disingenous idea that games are goods that need to be bought to be played. The sophistic language of "purchasing" "buying" or "owning" is used to cloud the extortive nature of the transaction: the reality that a protection license is being rented, not a game "bought". Any thing sold at a price is participating in extortion, and developer or distributor that makes use of that language is complicit in normalizing it.

People have fallen for it so hard that even knowing their extortion is a bluff, they feel being willingly exploited is somehow the right thing to do. It's not.

Supporting Developers Ethically

Authors Cannot Control Distribution or Reception

Authorship over a game gives the creator the right to say they made it. That's it. It doesn't give them the right to control in any way how people receive the work, what they think of it or what they do with it.

Once the game is released into the public domain, it is beyond the developer's control. They can do nothing to stop anyone from sharing it or playing, even if they wanted to. And the consumer has every right to enjoy the game in any way they please. They have no obligation to reward the developer for making it, for any reason. Donation is always a choice.

Developers are not entitled to Profits

It should always be remembered that the developer is not entitled to make money off his game just because he took the time to make it.

If the author wanted to profit of their work, they should have considered producing something with real value. It is not the onus of the consumer to pay an artificially high price derived from the work put into the product, and ignore the real price-value of the product, just because of the producer's own failure to be market efficient. And it certainly does not justify them to resort to extortion to reap unrealized profits they feel entitled to.

"Buy Games You Like"

In reality, the extortion threats are fairly empty. They work well to scare the average consumer, but most enthuisasts know it is easy to escape culpability with proper security measures. Yet, it is commonly suggested enthuisasts have a duty to buy games they enjoy in order to support the ongoing development of videogames, anyway.

If the extortion threat is meaningless, the protection license becomes meaningless too. Then what does it mean to "purchase" a game? There is no value being provided in the transaction, not even the artifical protection value. Thus, it's a donation. The only reason enthusiasts do this is to support the company they like, same as someone might contribute to a church or charity organization.

The difference is that they are supporting extortionists, hiding behind disingenous langauge, such that donation is most often not an available option. Supporting them means "buying" from them which means giving yourself up to their exploitation - but knowingly. Calling their extortion bluff, yet paying them the protection money anyway.

Is this really a sustainable support model? The adage of "paying for games you like" is a noble assertion at its surface, but is there really much nobility in choosing to be exploited?

Donations, Not Purchases

Games should only be supported if they are released ethically.

There is no ethical way to "sell" games. A developer must expect and accept that their game will be shared freely the moment it is released to the public domain. If the developer charges any more than $0 they are performing extortion. If they use the disingenous language of extortion (e.g. "Pay What You Want") they are complicit in its normalization.

Donate What You Want is the only ethical model.

On Piracy

It's often said on videogame forums that pirates are exploiting developers, are entitled and are acting immoral. In reality, the opposite is true in each case.

Developers are Entitled, Not Consumers

The developers feel entitled to a profit despite making a valueless product. There is no justification for this. They feel so strongly entitled to their undeserved profits they regularly resort to both extortion and violating the freedom of information.

Conversely, the only entitlement piracy employs is the human right to the freedom of information.

Developers are performing Exploitation, not Pirates

Developer entitlement manages to be both an act of extortion and a violation of two separate human rights. I invite you to find a level of exploitation more extreme.

Pirates fighting against them in an unpaid effort to secure the right to internet freedom for the greater community cannot possibly be construed as exploitative, yet here we are.

Buying Games is Immoral, not Pirating them

If you "purchase" a game, you're supporting and continuing the extortion industry. Doing so knowingly is unethical.

If you only play and donate to games released ethically and ignore all others, you are playing a part in hurting the extortion industry through boycotting and supporting the non-harmful alternative. This is good, but it's not the best you can do.

Piracy works directly to undermine the extortion industry, through cracking and sharing its unethically released software. They work solely out of good will in the name of securing the right to information freedom. Even taking the passive role of simply downloading pirated games, supports the alternative that directly hurts the extortion industry, rather than simply boycotting it. Piracy of any form is the most ethical action you can take.