Piracy, the video game industry's multi-billion dollar problem, may have met its match.
The solution to the illegal copying of video games perhaps isn't a law enforcement task force or volley of lawsuits, but the legitimization of the act itself.
Last week news broke that The Pirate Bay, one of the largest websites in the world dedicated to the illegal downloading of video games, was being purchased by a business group in Sweden with plans on turning the site into a purely legal operation.
Global Gaming Factory X doesn't plan on stopping the downloading of video games, but rather hopes to make enough money to pay the publishers for those downloads.
"We would like to introduce models which entail that content providers and copyright owners get paid for content that is downloaded via the site, " Hans Pandeya, CEO Global Gaming Factory, said in a prepared statement. "The Pirate Bay is a site that is among the top 100 most visited Internet sites in the world. However, in order to live on, The Pirate Bay requires a new business model, which satisfies the requirements and needs of all parties, content providers, broadband operators, end users, and the judiciary."
The news comes just months after a nine-day trial against Stockholm-based Pirate Bay found four guilty of making copyright content available. The four were sentenced to a year in prison each and were fined more than $3 million.
While heralded by industry lobbying group the Entertainment Software Association, the ruling and even the possible closure of The Pirate Bay would likely have little lasting impact on piracy. That's because it doesn't address the people pirating games, just those making it easier to do so.
Billy Pidgeon, an analyst with Game Changer Research, feels that piracy can only really be dealt with by some meeting of the minds.
"I hate to hear the industry talking about how they have to crush piracy, throwing down the gauntlet," Pidgeon said. "The last thing the industry wants to do is alienate their customer base."
People saying that they deserve to take a game for free, Pidgeon adds, is just as absurd.
That's why Pidgeon was so delighted to hear Electronic Arts' reaction to news of their game, The Sims 3, being pirated.
Three weeks before the game was released for sale, it showed up on pirate sites.
John Riccitiello, the head of EA, told Kotaku that they were initially very nervous about the leaked title.
But because the game relies so heavily on online play, something EA can control, gamers who grabbed an early, free version of the title didn't get the full experience, only a taste.
In the end, Riccitiello said, EA decided to think of it as the publisher putting out a really good demo of the game, instead worrying over lost sales.
"Thats great, I love to hear them talk like that," Pidgeon said of EA's take on the issue. "Super distribution (like piracy networks) can be turned into an advantage. It's not necessarily lost sales."
Using the grassroots networks of pirates could allow publishers to reach a much larger audience, including people in regions they don't yet reach. It could also create a sort of ad-hoc iTunes for game distribution, helping publishers and developers get games to people who can't or won't use the standard distribution channels.
In other words, when you can't beat them, use them.
Well Played is a weekly opinion column about the big news of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Feel free to join in the discussion.