The no-win situation is, at its core, a sad state of affairs. Seriously, no one is winning in a no-win situation. In fact, everyone could be said to be losing.
Piracy has been long held to be the dire no-win situation in the video game industry because it represents a perfect culmination of utter loss -- an infinitely copyable product that took millions of dollars to produce being distributed for free. No profit means the studio gets its windows shuttered and no one goes home employed.
Last week, I read an article on PC Gamer that talks about Runic Games's Torchlight. The game is a fantastic spiritual successor to the Diablo series that the company's CEO, Max Schaefer, served as lead designer for. Runic Games was essentially bought by Perfect World, a Chinese MMO company that seeks to release an MMO version of the popular game.
Schaefer has some different views and conclusions about how piracy effects his game. In a nutshell, Schaefer sees no problem with the millions of illegally downloaded copies of Torchlight in Asian markets. When the MMO is released, the brand recognition and audience building that piracy affords will bring in new customers for the eventual MMO, where it is harder to pirate a service. With so many games going online these days with multiplayer components requiring authentication or even a license purchase (as with used versions of PS3 and XBox 360 games), is this the right attitude to have in world where a game's success is made or destroyed based on sales? Is this line of thought able to coexist with the fickle dev studio and publisher system in place now in the industry?
Ultimately, we can learn something from Schaefer's comments, especially about audience building. And, potentially, we can see the future of World of Warcraft's distribution as the game gets a bit heavy in terms of barrier to entry.