John Riccitiello, the gaming-savvy head of Electronic Arts, doesn't want anyone to pirate games. But those who do, he told Kotaku, present a new market that EA needs to make money from.
By selling people who grab games digitally — without paying for them — post-release downloadable content.
"They can steal the disc, but they can't steal the DLC," he said.
The opportunity to discuss how one of the world's largest publishers might see software-pirating gamers as a potential revenue source emerged last week when Kotaku sat with Riccitiello for a wide-ranging interview about EA's games and future.
Riccitiello spoke energetically about the popularity of the company's downloadable content add-ons. Some of EA's DLC has been free, such as the launch-day offerings of a new town in The Sims 3 or a nudity option in The Saboteur. Others, such as the paid DLC for November's Dragon Age Origins, generated a million downloads in its first week, according to an EA spokesperson.
"The consumer seems to really like this idea that there is extra stuff," Riccitiello said, while expressing surprise that some of this DLC is downloaded so soon after people start playing the games. "The consumer wants more, and when you give them more or sell them more it seems to be extremely well received."
Some of the people buying this DLC are not people who bought the game in a new shrink-wrapped box. That could be seen as a dark cloud, a mass of gamers who play a game without contributing a penny to EA. But around that cloud Riccitiello identified a silver lining: "There's a sizable pirate market and a sizable second sale market and we want to try to generate revenue in that marketplace," he said, pointing to DLC as a way to do it.
The EA boss would prefer people bought their games, of course. "I don't think anybody should pirate anything," he said. "I believe in the artistry of the people who build [the games industry.] I profoundly believe that. And when you steal from us, you steal from them. Having said that, there's a lot of people who do." So encourage those pirates to pay for something, he figures. Riccitiello explained that EA's download services aren't perfect at distinguishing between used copies of games and pirated copies. As a result, he suggested, EA sells DLC to both communities of gamers. And that's how a pirate can turn into a paying customer.
Riccitiello also hopes some of those pirates will come around and become not just DLC purchasers, but game purchasers. He said the music industry erred in "demonizing" its consumers rather than reacting to them. He believes that EA has an obligation to make it enticing for people to play games legitimately. And he hopes that services such as EA Sports' community hub or the BioWare social site that hooks into Dragon Age will make it so alluring that it will be "increasingly less likely that people will pirate because there is so much value on the other side of the door."
Until the pirates are converted there's some DLC they can buy, if they want their game to be more fun and if they'd like to show the people who made the game a little more support.
NOTE: Several readers have commented that PC-based DLC is indeed pirated by some gamers. While this may be the case, I believe Riccitiello's statement that DLC can't be pirated may at least be accurate for console DLC (He hadn't specificed). As noted in the original story above, he hopes that post-release community and content incentivizes pirates to turn into legitimate consumers.