“The Witness” is a video game that was released for PC and PS4 on January 26th, 2016 to amazing sales numbers. The product was released and created by Jonathan Blow and his production company Thekla Inc, most well known for the video game “Braid” that released on the Xbox 360 in August 2008, and went on to become the systems most purchased online-only video game, so it is no surprise that “The Witness” is seeing a large amount of fanfare surrounding it’s release.
However, this is not simply about hoe successful the game is or will go on to be. This is actually about the matter of “Internet Piracy”, the system by which people go on to popular websites and download their favorite media for free under the watch of programs like uTorrent or BitTorrent, which are used to filter p2p networks and connect all multiple networks to form one singular torrent. This is what many in the movie and video game industry call a plague, and is partly responsible for the death of traditional, physical media as we know it and the introduction of fully digital products that we can’t hold with our hands. As of now, despite it’s apparent popularity, “The Witness” sits incredibly low on lists of top torrents, and is seeing a daily spot on the front page of the platform on which it is sold, Steam, almost every single day since it was released.
“But, good games get pirated!” many of those who oppose piracy would say. “I made a good game, and it got pirated, what happened” the corporations like Ubisoft and EA say. They then go on to blame poor sales numbers on rampant piracy, instead of looking at their own games through a critical light. While yes, it is true that genuinely good games have been affected by piracy, that is often because those games are made by corporations and high-end publishers like Bethesda or Zenimax or Rockstar. The WItness is a love affair – Jonathan Blow poured his life into making this game for years, and it shows with the level of detail and straightforwardness in the final product. It is obvious that The Witness is a work of love simply from the outset – not being published by a large corporation, not adhering to the usual standards of big-budget games as the game has no combat or guns of any sort, and the introspective “The Witness” has on itself, constantly spouting quotes from famous philosophers and scientists positing the reason for our existence and where it may take us. It is similar to a game released earlier this year, “The Talos Principle”, and both of those games saw huge sales and minimal piracy.
Good games can beat piracy – it simply depends on whether it is obvious to the pirate whether that work has had love crafted into it, or is simply a regurgitation of models of gaming that are far too familiar at this point in the industry’s life.