Of Goods and Experiences

TLDR : Sell a digital experience, not a digital good.

I would recommend reading this article before you proceed.

Today, an interesting discussion came up during a session on Information Economics. The question that was asked was essentially whether it makes sense to try and protect digital software. And my answer was a resounding no.

The reason for this very emphatic “no” is simply because of the nature of digital goods. Once you have created something digitally and posted it online, there is no conceivable way for you to prevent someone from copying it infinitely. While the avenues for preventing the spread of copyrighted or exclusive information exist, they are incredibly ineffective.

Most companies and governments either don’t understand this, or choose to ignore it. From the youtube DMCA scandals that erupt every few weeks, to GitHub take down requests, all these moves were indicative of the fact that companies were stuck in an old mindset. The one that said that owned whatever goods that they had bought the right to distribute. True as that may be, that doesn’t take into account the digital age.

Piracy is a service problem was a statement made by Gabe Newell. For those unfamiliar with Gabe Newell, he was the creator of Valve, which would eventually create Steam, a platform to download and buy games. It also happens to be the platform of choice for those who wish to play PC games, having a market share upwards of 70%.

Here is also a fun observation. When I was young, many people used to torrent everything, from games, to movies, to e-books, to music. However, as everyone in my peer group got older, we stopped using torrents and simply went for Netflix, Wynk, Steam and many more services. I myself have had a steam account for many years, and the library has expanded considerably since the first time I used it.

Why?

Well, the reason is incredibly simple. Movies changed from being watched in our laptops to being watched on TV. Installing games from the internet is incredibly difficult without the right torrent, and compatibility issues are pretty common. So I used steam and had neither. I could search up any song across a plethora of services, and so I stopped torrenting. If you’ll observe, the goods that were being served did not change. The services did.

I could watch any movie or TV show instantly on Netflix on my TV rather than having to watch it on my laptop. I could relax and kick back on the sofa, eat food and drink beer, all while watching the movie on a pretty big screen. There weren't any issues regarding subtitles, no issues of audio or any other problems I’ve encountered over the years on my laptop.

Steam currently has ProtonPlay, a software that lets me play an incredible number of games on Linux. I don’t have to configure anything (Wine is almost annoying to work with) and I rarely face any issues. I don’t have any difficulties downloading or playing large games and I can find a lot of small indie games I want. I also have the steam workshop for almost every game, where I can search for mods and install them with the click of a button. My games work offline and my saves are stored online. Same for the windows version. As you can note, the service is quite smooth.

You may also take the scenario of Good Old Games, which has no DRM for any of its games. Once you buy a game, you own it. You can download it from their store, and it’ll be in your library forever. You can also download previous versions of games, which is a huge bonus for games that have had changes made to them in later versions.

I can still get my games from thepiratebay and other sites. It’s not like those sites are not accessible, or the files are not available. It’s just that I get a better experience out of the current services that are being offered. Why trade in my better experience for a worse one?

Every software is and has been pirated. Microsoft Office, the Adobe Suite, even the Windows operating system. So trying to prevent that is useless. Instead, convince your users that your service is good. Steam did that and is currently at the top of the charts. Netflix made watching movies easier, and it isn’t uncommon to find people buying or sharing Netflix accounts. Witcher 3, one of the most anticipated games of 2016 and sold more games on GOG than they did on Steam.

All this points that trying to create exclusivity on a digital market is a bad strategy (Please see Epic game store for an example of this) because of the nature of digital goods. Rather, you should attempt to create a better experience than can be got anywhere else.

Note : I have a huge headache, so if this seems devoid of detail do forgive me.

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Aditya Sujith Gudimetla

I do stuff. Like stuff about policy. And book stuff. And gaming stuff. And stuff about life. And stuff about stuff.