Valve: Pirates are "Underserved Customers"

Software pirates are the bane to the developer’s existence, particularly for the PC game maker. Valve Software, makers of the popular Half-Life series and Steam online games service, have a different view on pirates.

Most anyone who makes his or her living off the sales of software could understandably see pirates as vermin, but surprisingly Valve Software sees those who steal software in a different light.

Valve is one of PC gaming’s strongest supporters, not only designing and releasing all its games with the PC in mind, but also creating arguably the best digital delivery platform of the industry.

In a time when developers and publishers are all looking to consoles for the bulk of sales, Valve keeps the faith in the PC. And rather than seeing those who download PC games illegally as pure filth, Valve views them as a potential opportunity, according to comments from the Game Business Law summit.

"There's a big business feeling that there's piracy," said Jason Holtman, who serves as director of business development and legal affairs at Valve. He then adds, "Pirates are underserved customers.

"When you think about it that way, you think, 'Oh my gosh, I can do some interesting things and make some interesting money off of it.'"

Holtman gave the example that gamers outside of traditional game publisher territories as some being “underserved.” Gamers in Russia, especially those who follow PC games intently, often have no legitimate option of purchasing a game on the same day as their U.S. or even western European counterparts.

Due to publisher agreements, or perhaps just indifference, publishers sometimes would bring the game to Russia six months following the first release. By that time, even pirated copies of the games would be old news. Valve, on the other hand, chooses to release its games day-and-date in Russia.

"We found that our piracy rates dropped off significantly," Holtman said, leading for him to conclude that the PC gaming market still has "tons of undiscovered customers."

Marcus Yam
Marcus Yam served as Tom's Hardware News Director during 2008-2014. He entered tech media in the late 90s and fondly remembers the days when an overclocked Celeron 300A and Voodoo2 SLI comprised a gaming rig with the ultimate street cred.
  • curnel_D
    Even though there will always be people who either just cant afford to buy the games, or 'wont' afford to buy the games, if publishers evolve how they market and publish their games based on the type of gamers who would rather download a game for free to play it for a bit or even just test it out, they'd do a whole lot better than they do now. Now all they do is waste money on more and more DRM schemes that are broken game day anyways.
  • xTalent
    Bit old, but I agree, if people are pirating a game offer them something that there willing to go to a store and buy, heck I pirate games but every game I really liked I've paid for Bioshock, Team Fortress 2, Call of Duty 4, etc which are all Steam Titles.
  • azxcvbnm321
    Let me repost a response since it seems to fit many pirates who try to justify their actions.

    Maybe you can explain to me why the people you know will go and buy the game they just pirated. I think I understand what you mean, they will buy it if they get X amount of hours playing it and know that they'll keep on playing it forever. But a game that only gets them 60 hours of enjoyment, quite a lot I might add, but has no replay value and they'll never buy that game right, because it doesn't fit into their "good enough" category. Yet 60 hours or even 24 hours of enjoyment is quite a lot. A concert only lasts 3 hours or so if you're lucky, yet people pay hundreds of dollars just for that ONE TIME experience right?

    So you're robbing developers that might want to create a cool game that has no replay value like Myst or some other game like that. What's wrong with a game that is set to be an one time experience like a concert or a movie? You've destroyed an entire category of games. So if you and your friends do what I think you do, which is only buy games that have great replay value, you've hurt the industry by pirating. Why would you buy a game that you've already finished thanks to pirating?

    And there are demos out there for you to try, but of course the demos won't satisfy the pirate thief, the purpose is not to sample but to steal and get enjoyment. Then after playing for 30 hours and finishing the game, he can say the game sucked (even though he just spent 30 hours playing it) and justify not buying it. Yes, it's standard psychology for criminals to justify their immoral behavior. Look at Bernie Madoff, he hasn't apologized or looked sorry because he's somehow justified stealing $50 billion of other people's money. He's not wrong, what he did wasn't bad, maybe he gave money to a charity, so he thinks the rich people who he stole from are stingy and he's a modern day Robin Hood. Thus the criminal justifies his theft.

    Companies don't want DRM either, but the damned pirates forced them to, blame the pirates. Wouldn't it be great if we didn't need car alarms and locks on our doors either? But damned thieves force us to and so when I hear an annoying car alarm, I blame the carjacker, not the owner who is forced to protect himself and his property.
  • that_aznpride101
    Very interesting article, I never thought of pirates as people who are "underserved." If the statistics are true that releasing new software early in Russia, this could definitely curb piracy and hopefully reduce DRM.
  • donkeypunch
    I can't blame the pirates for broken DRM measures. Pirates didn't code DRM software like a rootkit thats almost impossible to erase from your HD without a reformat. I also can't blame pirates for games that force me to install steam or windows live just to play an offline game. The kicker is now many games limit how many installs you get on your own computer. It's ridiculous and doesn't slow down piracy in the least.

    PC games have implemented security measures from as far back as I can remember but it was something more logical and simple, like having to type in the 3rd word in the 2nd paragraph on the 12th page of the owners manual--and this was long before online piracy was even an issue.

    It's incredibly frustrating to buy a game and have to jump through multiple hoops and install 3rd party software when the pirated version is simple plug and play.
  • curnel_D
    I dont remember ever actually pirating a game, but I cant tell you how many times I've downloaded the pirate cracks to get rid of stupid piracy counter measures. Ironic, isnt it. lol
  • jrabbitb
    random idea to get a lot of people hooked on your game. suppose you expect 80% of gamers wont be able to get through your game in under a week. so you say "try it for a week, if you get to the end in that time, you dont pay.", but here is the trick, you only have this for the first month. so people will rush to get it and try to beat it in the minimum time, but you will get more sales through the 80% who just cant do it. just a thought i had while reading the article.
  • curnel_D
    48 hours would be a little better. Even with a job, a social life, and charity work, I still usually have time to beat a game a week.
  • p05esto
    Me too. When I purchase software/games I then always go and download and install the cracked versions - just to avoid CD-checks, activation headaches and all of that. I figure having a valid serial is all I need.
  • noahjwhite
    I have to admit that I often download cracked versions of games as well after I purchase them. It's just easier like many have said. The only reason I purchase games these days is because I can afford them. Back in my college days that was not the case. There is NO WAY to stop people from pirating games sans subscription based games like WOW. Every game will be cracked no matter what DRM they use. DRM only serves to aggravate the legitimate buyers. Valve is correct in that many pirates are under served.
    There are numerous reasons why people might chose to pirate a game. One thing that I would like to point out, PC gaming is the ONLY platform where renting a game is NOT an option. If I know that a console game is most likely crap, or I'll finish it in 1 or 2 days, I rent it from blockbuster or gamefly. Maybe a rental service (via a steam-like app) could recoup at least some of the lost revenue. The days of black and white terms needs to end. Marketing and pricing can also go along way towards making PC gaming more attractive. PC game marketing is very poorly done in my opinion. PC gamers generally need to build their own PC's in order to run the latest games. Thus, they are generally tech savvy, and will have no trouble finding, and pirating games. Selling more copies at a cheaper price could be an answer. Downloading a game from a legitimate service like steam should ALWAYS come with a substantial discount over retail. It saves packaging, transport, ect.. substantial overhead.