Russian 'Pirate' Unofficially Ports Xbox Live Arcade Game To The PC; Moral Conundrums And Fractured English Ensue

from the in-Soviet-Russia,-the-dept-is-from-you dept

Usually when software is cracked, it’s to remove DRM or other limitations that were inserted to prevent unauthorized reproduction and distribution. Once that’s complete, the unauthorized reproduction and distribution begins, with these illicit copies occasionally ending up in the hands of paying customers who just want the software they paid money for to work correctly. (Funny how that works/doesn’t work.)

That’s the usual scenario. There’s nothing “usual” about Russia, as anybody who’s reworked a Yakov Smirnoff quote/watched a few hundred hours of dash cam footage can attest. A Russian hacker going by the name of Barbarus cracked an Xbox Live Arcade game… to port it to the PC.

Ska Studios released their excellent hack-’n’-slash sequel, The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile, back in 2011, exclusively on the Xbox 360. This was the follow-up to the original The Dishwasher game that won the Dream.Build.Play contest back in 2007, which scored the studio $10,000 and an Xbox Live Arcade publishing contract. So when creating the sequel, Ska and Microsoft were already set up to carry on the exclusive publishing contract on XBLA, which meant that the game never saw a release on any other platforms. But that hasn’t sat well with some people, and now a PC port has been managed outside of any official parties.

Barbarus uploaded his unofficial port to torrent site, but the traffic jump took it down. He has since posted it at Yandex as well. The unofficial port is in (unofficial) beta, but is obviously very popular with PC users (or Xbox users who also want to play the game on their PCs). It also has triggered a bit of backlash in support James Silva, one of the game’s developers. Barbarus posted this in response.

The ethics of publication

The view was expressed that, with respect to the authors, it is not very nice to publish the game on the PC. I have to argue that the part of the authors are not very nice to publish the game exclusively for the Xbox 360, making it impossible for PC gamers to play such a great game.

About Piracy

Piracy – yes, that is bad. On the other hand, we did not steal the game for the Xbox 360; we released it for the PC port. Given that the developers ignored the PC platform, about any loss of profit for them is not out of the question. After all, if they wanted to earn money, then the game would be issued on all available platforms. If the game came out on PC officially, then this thread would not exist.

Barbarus’ arguments defending his actions are not completely without merit. It can be argued that Ska Studios does lose money from this unofficial PC version (diverting Xbox users who now have a way to play the game without purchasing it through the Xbox Live Arcade), but then again, no PC version exists, so any amount of money lost lies in the realm of the theoretical.

On the other hand, James Silva didn’t ignore the PC market. The terms of his contract with Microsoft made it exclusively an Xbox title. Again, one can argue against the limitations of the deal or second-guess Silva’s wisdom in agreeing to these restrictions, but that doesn’t do much to address the issue at hand: how much does Barbarus’ port harm Silva and Ska Studios?

Barbarus goes so far as to claim his liberation of Silva’s game from the confines of the Xbox was a “restoration of justice” rather than piracy. This it clearly isn’t. But it really isn’t piracy either, at least not in the normally accepted sense of the word. It’s somewhere in between, traveling in the gray area usually populated by emulators and fan translations. The original has been altered, made to do things it normally doesn’t (run on other operating systems, speak English) and released to the public.

James Silva’s response is understandably conflicted.

“I guess you could say my reaction is mixed. I’m flattered that there’s this much interest in Vampire Smile on PC. I’m not mad about the crack itself; in fact, I’m actually pretty impressed. But I’m bewildered by the cracker’s attempt to justify the morality of it. He assumes a lot about why Vampire Smile’s not on PC yet, and he could have cleared up a lot of those assumptions by just emailing me. I get that piracy is a service problem, but that’s a consequence, not a justification.”

If there was a potential PC market for Silva’s game, Barbarus has beaten him to market (so to speak) with his own game. Barbarus, for his part, has continued to defend his actions, pointing out that his port is far from perfect…

The PC version has a lot of limitations. Cooperative gameplay is unavailable, network gameplay is unavailable, achievments is unavailable…

and offering a bit of an apology to Silva.

I should apologize to James Silva did not put him know before porting. Sorry James. I did not want anything bad. I just wanted to give an opportunity for PC gamers to play this game.

A very strange situation. Most people seem to agree that porting a game without the developers’ permission is just bad form (at the very least). On the other hand, porting a game to a platform where it isn’t currently available does very little harm as it’s sort of hard to damage a market that doesn’t exist. Could it undercut an official port to the PC? Possibly, but it looks as though Silva is choosing to go the route of combating infringement by crafting a bigger, better version of Dishwasher for the PC.

Sorry the game’s not on PC in any official capacity yet! The main reason it’s not is because even though the game was developed on a PC, releasing on PC and working out all of the input, display sizes, graphics options involved is a lot of work (and a lot more work than it sounds like!). I know Dean was working on Dust PC for at least a few months before it was even announced (sorry if I’ve said too much, Dean!), and for us, when Vampire Smile shipped, we were already full speed on Charlie Murder. Once Charlie ships, I’d like to try working on a Vampire Smile PC port, but I’d really like to give it a Director’s cut treatment–rework some areas, add environmental hazards and new enemies, etc., so we wouldn’t really be missing out if there’s a cracked torrent with broken shaders floating around somewhere.

And honestly, out of all the possible responses, Silva’s chosen the best one. Going legal is prohibitively expensive and tends to turn a certain amount of public opinion against you, no matter how right you are. If an unofficial, cracked port exists, it’s not going to be as polished as the original. This weird little saga only adds to the reasons for fans to support Silva when the official PC hits and his graceful handling of this screwed up situation should land Ska Games even more supporters.

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Companies: microsoft, ska studios

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Comments on “Russian 'Pirate' Unofficially Ports Xbox Live Arcade Game To The PC; Moral Conundrums And Fractured English Ensue”

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Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Dumb to use morality

Agreed. Any Nintendo Wii has the ability to emulate a range of other consoles, which is why I softmodded mine the instant I got it. After all, the hardware allows it, no-one’s being harmed and it is, after all, MY hardware.
In case someone jumps in saying I shouldn’t have done it…
1) I bought my Wii second-hand off of someone on Ebay, thus I have no contractual obligation to Nintendo to Not Do Certain Things.
2) The Wii never greeted me with a splash page saying “Press A to agree to these Terms and Conditions”. The first thing it shows you is a Health and Safety warning, which is something completely different

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Dumb to use morality

True. I admit, I was stupid for having said that. In fact, I remember making comments to that effect back when Sony patched out Other OS on the PS3, something along the lines of “When I go to the store to buy a console, I’m not sat down with a contract and a list of things I can and cannot do before I throw my credit card at the cashier”.

Lurker Keith says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Dumb to use morality

You aren’t stupid for point 1. Though the Wii may not have had such a licensing screen (I don’t know personally, I skipped the Wii & used my sister’s for the games I wanted to play), I do remember a licensing screen on the Wii U (sister threatened to move, so I had to get my own console, & since Nintendo is working on a new Zelda for Wii U, why not get the backward compatible system) I had to agree to, or it said I was entitled to return it to the store I bought it from for a refund.

So, some consoles do have a licensing screen now. Having bought the Wii 2nd hand, if it wasn’t set to factory defaults (which may or may not affect the Firmware updates — I’ve heard the Wii U keeps the current Firmware version), you had no way of knowing if the Wii has such a screen on first start up or not.

fogbugzd (profile) says:

Re: Dumb to use morality

I wasn’t saying it was morally justified. But content providers would probably be better off if they understood the problem of piracy in this light. This casts piracy in the light of service issues with economic solutions. Content providers would be better off if they address the economic issues that drive piracy rather than wasting huge amounts of money and political capital trying to get legal solutions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Dumb to use morality

I very much would like the pharma industry to face off against piracy of its products not only that to have to endure a population that starts getting literate in chemistry and producing legally out of patents old drugs that although not top of the line are still useful anyways.

Without piracy software probably be a mirror market of the drug market in the US, it didn’t go that route because a) Hackers are shameless pirates and b) Once they got their act together and found a legal framework(i.e. open source) they started to create real competition that keeps in check the most egregious behavior of companies in that market.

This is the difference between having knowledge and not having it, if you have it, you are not bound by the morality or rules of others, if you don’t you become enslaved by the people who do have that knowledge.

A simple concept really that even politicians understand perfectly, this is why GPS is not the only satellite navigation system in the world.

This is why people start “hacking” drugs in their homes so they start acquiring the know how to ultimately create their own safety net and not have absurd market distortions created by monopolies like prices that make it cheaper to fly to New Zealand to have an operation with first class treatment than it is to have done in the US.

Personally I think pirating what others did is not really that cool, copying like in making your own version of it I would have no moral problems with it ever, even though some people would disagree with that position, but ultimately I see piracy as not a real problem but a symptom of underlying issues that spawn that kind of behavior, I also believe that it can be good thing for the market and consumers since it practically destroy any wet dreams of monopolizing the market by the force of law alone.

Tim Griffiths (profile) says:

Re: Dumb to use morality

One of the points in this video is that the next gen of consoles are going to live or die on exclusive games because they have utterly failed to offer other reasons to buy. There’s no big jump in fidelity and the boxes are becoming more like the PC’s who price can almost match them.

The market is fundamentally different and the result is exclusive games more than ever feel like they are being held hostage as a way to make you buy into a platform you don’t want rather than more reason to buy into one you do.

So in that regard I think there is an argument for this action in that it highlights that people are becoming a little sick of being gated from games they want based on having to choose between platforms that have a huge buy in.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Reverse engineering for interoperability is used to allow a new program to work with the Interfaces or data of an existing program. It does not permit porting or distribution of a modified version of the revers engineered program. I.e., reverse engineering to figure out how to read word files is permitted, but porting word to Linus is not.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

So the problem is modifying the original software? Perhaps a copyright issue, like derivative works?

What would happen, then, if the Russian guy just built a wrapper around the XBox game to allow it to run on Windows?

I ask this because that is what WINE does on Linux: it is a set of libraries that implement the Windows API, allowing Windows applications to run on Linux (with varying degrees of success). And this is legal, AFAIK.

IANAL though.

Arthur Moore (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

What is legal, is modifying your own copy, creating a patch file containing only the modifications and distributing that. Then anyone who has a (preferably legal) copy of the game can use the patch to play on a PC.

The sad thing is the anti DRM provisions of the DMCA still probably make this illegal in the US. Even just a wrapper that gets around DRM is illegal here.

Of course, he just released the whole thing as a torrent file. It would have been much more interesting, legally and morally, if he’d done what we are talking about.

Anonymous Coward says:

when there is/are big companies involved (Microsoft, Apple for example) all thoughts of the customer go straight out thew window. the game was made with the intent purpose of forcing all that wanted to play it to buy an xbox and use xbla. how many times have the customers taken second, third or lower place in the scheme of things? Microsoft weren’t thinking about anything other than how many consoles they could sell, how many games they could sell and to anyone who happens to dip out, tough shit!regardless of the reasons this is now on pc, it’s always the customers that lose out. no one thinks about them until the money is counted and has come up shorter than expected

out_of_the_blue says:

FIrst paragraph admits the real piracy to paying ratio:

occasionally ending up in the hands of paying customers”

You all know it’s hordes of pirates to the few who’ve paid and are inconvenienced by DRM.

“Most people seem to agree that porting a game without the developers’ permission is just bad form (at the very least).” — That’s based on common law principles, the same as all copyright: who makes it owns it. But it’s quickly ignored here whenever that principle gets in the way of Mega(upload) or other grifters getting cash off someone else’s product. You’ve no consistency except on money, and then it’s entirely subjective, not to say selfish: pirates to avoid paying, grifters to divert income streams, but you do generously allow that the producers can try to scrape up what little is left by competing with free from honest people, plus selling T-shirts.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: FIrst paragraph admits the real piracy to paying ratio:

“Common law, also known as case law or precedent, is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals,[1] as opposed to Civil (Codified/Continental) Law set on statutes adopted through the legislative/parliamentary process and/or regulations issued by the executive branch on base of the parliamentary statutes.”

” Charles II of England was concerned by the unregulated copying of books and passed the Licensing of the Press Act 1662 by Act of Parliament,[4] which established a register of licensed books and required a copy to be deposited with the Stationers’ Company, essentially continuing the licensing of material that had long been in effect…
The British Statute of Anne (1710)”

“The Copyright Clause of the United States Constitution (1787) authorized copyright legislation:”
(same article)

Copyright is NOT Common Law. It was not decided on a case by case basis by judges. It’s origins lie in the parliamentary areas of government. It was enacted by STATUTE, so please, shut the fuck up with your common law bullshit. It is outright false, as false as saying the moon is made of cheese.

Baldaur Regis (profile) says:

Re: Re: FIrst paragraph admits the real piracy to paying ratio:

And let’s not forget:

The doctrine [of Common Law Copyright] was repudiated by the courts in the United Kingdom (Donaldson v. Beckett, 1774) and the United States (Wheaton v. Peters, 1834). In both countries, the courts found that copyright is a limited right created by the legislature under statutes and subject to the conditions and terms the legislature sees fit to impose.

So this asshat is arguing a position repudiated in the 19th century.

Karl (profile) says:

Re: Re: FIrst paragraph admits the real piracy to paying ratio:

so please, shut the fuck up with your common law bullshit.

Don’t even bother asking. I’ve already refuted this point, to him directly:

He’s obviously not capable of listening to reason. He’s just here to recite the same old lies, while believing he’s proved something. In other words, he’s only interested in making an ass out of himself.

dennis deems (profile) says:

Re: FIrst paragraph admits the real piracy to paying ratio:

“Most people seem to agree that porting a game without the developers’ permission is just bad form (at the very least).” — That’s based on common law principles, the same as all copyright: who makes it owns it.

It has nothing at all to do with common law principles, and everything to do with common courtesy. And incidentally, the concept of ownership is all but meaningless in the digital realm.

Androgynous Cowherd says:

Once Charlie ships, I’d like to try working on a Vampire Smile PC port, but I’d really like to give it a Director’s cut treatment–rework some areas, add environmental hazards and new enemies, etc., so we wouldn’t really be missing out if there’s a cracked torrent with broken shaders floating around somewhere.

Oh, look — once again it’s competition that’s incentivizing innovation, not exclusivity. He wants to have a better PC port than the Russian one. Without the Russian port to motivate it, there likely wouldn’t have ever been any “director’s cut”.

Anyone who still thinks that anything remotely resembling copyright is fit for purpose (where that purpose is “promote the progress”) at this point must be stark, raving mad.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Port this

Never say never, peddle to the metal techniques do exist that make it possible, if it was not Virtual Box, XEN, QEMU wouldn’t be possible.

Even a MAME port is not out of question it would be painlessly slow but could be done.

The real problem is speed not the emulation, which can be addressed by some clever engineering.

Anonymous Coward says:

Vocabulary Modification

I would HIGHLY recommend Techdirt start using the words “those who are party to unlicensed distribution” instead of “pirates.”

Similar vocabulary changes in the European Parliment have shown a pretty impressive increase in how much people think when digesting information related to copyright-related legislation.

Maybe its positive impact could be replicated on internet news sites and their readerships too.

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