Why Major Corporations Still Don’t Understand the Internet
Recently, the craze around the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, has driven level-headed internet users to a maddened psychosis equivalent to a visit to 4chan. For those unfamiliar with the subject, here’s a quick synopsis done analogously to this breakfast burrito that I’m eating.
You see, like this burrito, the internet is filled with all kinds of diverse, inspired content created by various individuals. The ham could be a YouTube video of a girl covering a Death Cab for Cutie song on her guitar; the cheese is, quite obviously, a Facebook link to a website that puts Herman Cain’s head on a tap-dancing llama that recites his most widely criticized remarks (I wish I had a link for that). The tortilla is the blanket that covers them all – typically, content made by labels, major media conglomerates and, quintessentially, the wealthy. What makes this internet burrito so delicious is the combination of all these ingredients along with the warm, cozy tortilla blanket cuddling them all so closely and greasily together.
Now, enter SOPA: A disease-ridden bubonic plague of a bill attempting to eliminate the majority, if not all, of unlicensed, reproduced copyrighted content. To be fair, the underlying premise of the bill has a good purpose in eliminating illegal redistribution of copyrighted content, and we’d all like to make sure that the cooks get rid of all the nasty fish bits that shimmy their way in. But that’s not what this is all about. This bill, with its horribly written legislature and “kill-everything-at-once” attitude would get rid of our delicious ham, eggs, and melty cheesy goodness, leaving us with a bland, boring tortilla and nothing more.
Luckily for us, those who would pass this SOPA bill into law are being met at the pass by logical, forward-thinking members of congress (at least as it pertains to this issue), including Utah’s own Jason Chaffetz, who made a statement along the lines of the following: “We are trying to perform surgery on the internet…and we don’t have any surgeons.” Many other representatives pushed the necessity of further studies, expert opinions, and specificity regarding the language contained in the bill.
What leads me to the topic of conversation for this post, however, is not the legal deliberation of the bill. After all, we all know it’s horse-hockey (horses playing hockey), and there’s plenty of other conversations you can read into to further your knowledge in the matter. No, what bothers me most is the fact that this bill is publicly backed by 27 major corporations, including Microsoft, Apple, and McAfee. Members of the Business Software Alliance would have this bill be put into law in its current form, aware of all of the possible repercussions. Why would a company like Apple, a seemingly innovative and people-oriented organization, condone a roundabout censorship of the internet?
The simple view is that corporations exist to make money.
But what they’re missing out on is the inevitability of a changing market structure. The economic procedures that created beneficial profit margins and lucrative sales models are steadily being rendered obsolete by a global scheme inclined to the future of consumer behavior. As frequently as people are lining up to buy Sony’s next stupid box thing (NSFW), there is an ever-increasing ratio of people realizing just how ridiculous the whole idea really is. Therein lies the backbone of what the internet has done to the average consumer over its lifespan.
As the internet grows stronger, corporations lose their hold over an otherwise blindly captivated audience.
The internet is, after all, simply a giant community of individuals. Prosperity and celebrity certainly still exist within its confines, but the beauty of its nature lies in the flat world that it still manages to uphold. Famous athletes respond directly to fans on Twitter, and you can get an email response from a game developer for any question you may have to ask them – options that, outside of the internet, are generally unavailable. As that community has grown, their knowledge of the world around them increases exponentially via the compounding of information, opinions, and experiences that all us individuals have come across in our unique lives. This user database contradicts a corporate entity’s desire to generally outsmart you, and create a “necessity” in your life while protecting its own interest of the bottom line: making money.
Now, to be clear, I’m not trying to turn you against corporations. What I’m trying to do is understand the refusal of significant players in the business world to adopt new tendencies, while they stubbornly cling to the ways that old Grandpappy would have done it back in his day.
How does this apply to gaming?
Aside from the obvious downsides of SOPA, we gamers are suffering from the detriments of corporations struggling to protect their content. Used game sales and pirated software have created a state of panic on the providers side of the industry, leading to perhaps less-than-desirable methods of return fire. Online passes and DRM are aimed exclusively at preventing the consumer from distributing the content outside of the means by which the provider wishes to do so, and further-restricting methods are certainly not far from the future. These methods have been met with general hatred and mistrust, creating disdain for the major developers who are seen as the stereotypical money-hungry bastards that we all have grown to hate so fondly.
Now, take a look at the polar opposite, falling in line with the new media model: Humble Indie Bundle. Simply put, these game packages are compilations of games created by indie developers. You can pay whatever you deem appropriate, and receive DRM-free codes to download all of the games as much as you like, and even gift them to friends. Sounds like a wide open window for piracy, right? Yet the latest bundle has sold over 315,000 copies at an average of $5.29 per bundle.
Another recent example is the media experiment conducted by comedian Louis CK. On his website, Louis currently has available a five dollar copy of his latest stand-up special, Live at the Beacon Theater (NSFW). The purchases are made via PayPal, and paid directly to Louis CK himself, with no middle man or big business contracts to speak of. Straight from the man himself: “No DRM, no regional restrictions, no crap. You can download this file, play it as much as you like, burn it to a DVD, whatever.” Again, this independent, well-known creator of content has flung the door wide open for internet hooligans to do their dirty work. But yet again, the numbers are there, as Louis has recorded over $200,000 profit in less than two weeks.
It should be noted that the reported success of these projects certainly does not represent an absence of piracy within them, as it most certainly has taken place. What should be gathered from this is that an approach from a corporate entity, individual or otherwise, to be as down-to-earth and humanized as possible, is received very well by the consumers of that content.
The weaving of human discourse via online interaction creates a sense of companionship defined by trust and loyalty. While gaming fans could have simply paid $0.01 for six awesome games by talented developers, they instead chose to support those people and, in turn, allow them to continue doing what they love.
So what do folks like EA and Activision do in order to regain our trust?
It would appear logical to simply trust us in return.