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Fragmenting Digital Ecosystems Re-Open the Sea Lanes for Pirates

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By Nelson Schneider - 09/15/19 at 03:42 PM CT

When Electronic Arts and Ubisoft launched their respective digital storefronts, launchers, and gaming clients in 2011/2012, they, in essence, created a wedge. When lumberjacks use wedges, it’s to amplify mechanical force and split a single large log into two (or more) smaller portions. Most recently, Epic Games has donned the plaid flannel shirt and stocking cap of legend, shoving their own wedge in with the others and thoroughly beating on it. The result is a heavily-fractured PC gaming ecosystem that requires a separate third-party program to half-assedly pull the splinters back together into something resembling the original log.

Other media has suffered even more severely through these acts of splitting and fragmentation, and are now beginning to reap their just desserts. When Netflix was the only game in town for movie and TV show rentals and/or streaming, everyone used it, everyone loved it, and everyone felt like they were getting their money’s worth out of their ONE subscription. Piracy rates plummeted. But with more and more IP rights-holders taking their balls and going home to their own half-assed clients with, most importantly (to them), separate subscription fees, end users are no longer happy. And when end users are no longer happy, it gives copyright infringing privateers the opening they need to offer a better alternative.

Recent information from the federal government – which inexplicably wastes our taxpayer dollars on trivial stuff like fighting copyright infringement – reveals that unofficial pirate streaming sites are now streaming more video than Netflix. And these aren’t just free pirate sites. No! They charge subscriptions as well.

Just think about that for a second. When Netflix was the only streaming platform, and everyone could stream all the shows and movies they wanted to see on that platform for a single, reasonable monthly subscription, piracy rates cratered. Yet in the face of content fragmentation and a new additional subscription service appearing every few months, infringing services – which still offer ALL of the content for one fee – are flourishing.

Gabe Newell (a.k.a., Lord GabeN), CEO of Valve, the company behind Steam, the original digital gaming storefront, went on record in 2011 proclaiming his belief that piracy can be best combated by providing a better service than the pirates, which is exactly what services like Steam and Netflix did. But because services like Steam and Netflix rely on third parties to provide content, and those third-parties are endlessly greedy and overinflate the value of their content as much as possible, it should not, sadly, come as a surprise, not only that fragmentation has come to these digital ecosystems, but is almost entirely driven by profit margins.

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