Sony is giving us a first look at the video games for the next-generation game console, the PlayStation 5 (PS5). Many Thais I have encountered expressed excitement after having seen some fantastic tech demo for the game console.
The first thing that struck me was that the most excited people are largely aged between 25-35. The second thing was that no one mentioned pirated games on the PS5 at all.
While this is a refreshing thing to see, what did change? Why is video game piracy much less prevalent now in Thailand?
Let’s take a trip.
Down the memory lane to Pantip Plaza
Around 1998-2005, at Pantip Plaza, Fortune Town or Khlong Thom, you would see rows of shops showing ink-jet printed covers of software hanging on their shelves.
Most of them, of course, were pirated. But back then when we were primary school kids, we didn’t know much about piracy. We thought that was the only way people get their software or video games.
The software would be sold on a per disc basis. A Windows software’s going price was about 100-200 baht per disc, depending on where you buy it. For PlayStation 1 (PS1) games, it was only 20-25 baht per disc.
“They’re so cheap,” that’s the memory from my childhood.
Looking back, it wasn’t hard to see why this was so. Leaving price out of the equation, lack of education about piracy was probably to blame. I didn’t recall at any point my primary school taught me about intellectual property and piracy in a computer class, but I was taught HTML.
Distributors going all out
In 1999, following the economic crisis, the government began cracking down more aggressively on piracy. The evening news would routinely cover the police inspecting Pantip Plaza for pirated software and counterfeits.
But of course, after the police raided and closed down shops, the next day it’s back to business.
It was around 2001 when most of us primary school kids learned that there was such a thing as a “real copy”. For that, we had to thank the distributor of the video games Diablo 2 and Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2.
It was one of the first to introduce the “genuine” video game experience. You had to buy the game at about twice the price (but still only 480 baht) of pirated copies. But you would get a beautiful art box with a manual printed in Thai.
It got better.
Electronic Arts Inc decided to launch its first Thai localization ever in any video game. It was SimCity 3000. This was quickly followed by another game that would be impossible for many Thais to enjoy without localization, The Sims.
Before these distributors entered the Thai market, genuine copies of the same game would cost us 2,100 baht.
Localization of video games at a more affordable price was much welcomed.
Go Modded or Go Home
Gamers playing console games in Thailand weren’t as lucky as PC gamers. It was almost impossible to buy genuine copies of console games in Thailand, partly because neither Nintendo or Sony properly marketed their gaming platforms here.
Consoles such as PS1 or PlayStation 2 (PS2) were mostly sold already-modified (modded) to run pirated software copies (yes, those 20-25 baht ones). Buyers didn’t have much choice apart from picking between the Japanese model or the Hong Kong model. All of which were modded to play pirated discs, but they worked slightly differently (for the geeks out there: NTSC vs PAL).
The introduction of DVD technology in the PS2 shook up the piracy market quite a bit, as it was no longer as simple as popping in fake game discs. Some parts, such as the laser lens, were said to degrade much quicker if modders kept using it to read counterfeit games.
It was no longer cheap to play pirate.
Accessibility and multiplayer gaming paved pay for reduced piracy
In 2007, PlayStation 3 (PS3) was the first console officially marketed in Thailand by Sony. It was finally possible for Thai gamers to simply visit any shopping mall to get the machine and the games.
The underlying tech of the PS3 marked the death of widespread piracy on the platform, thanks to the Blu-ray disc, making the production of pirated games so costly that it was no longer worth-it for sellers.
PS3, which coincided with the wide availability of broadband connections in Thailand, came with online functions as the standard for every machine. The game needed to continually update and authenticate with its servers to play online, therefore pirate-gamers would never be able to join with their friends online.
Thai gamers could finally link their bank or credit accounts with stores such as PlayStation Network or Steam to purchase games online. Before this, Thai gamers had to create a fake account with residence in the USA or Hong Kong to buy and download their games from these stores.
Easy access proved to help get rid of video game piracy.
Emerging Free-to-Play trends
There are still many gamers out there in Thailand that don’t pay for video games. But that doesn’t mean they’re pirating.
High-quality free-to-play video games are prevalent on all platforms. To name a few popular ones out there, RoV, PUBG and Call of Duty: Warzone.
Players need only to own a device, whether it is their Android phone or a PlayStation 4. With access to the internet, they may enjoy a full gaming experience without having to shed a satang.
Many gamers set themselves as passive gamers, as they don’t own or play video games themselves, but consume video games by watching streamers play through Twitch or YouTube.
Thai gaming community today
To say that video game piracy in Thailand is gone would be plain wrong. There are a lot of underground communities that are exploiting and distributing pirated games.
But the gaming community today is different. Thai gamers see video games as a form of art, not dissimilar to films or novels. Pirating is to disrespect the work put in by the creators of the video games and is greatly frowned upon by the community.
The statistics quoted by the Business Software Alliance, a non-profit trade group (sponsored by Microsoft), showed that Thailand’s software piracy rate in 2017 dropped to 66%. Still high, but it was a massive decrease from 79% as reported in 2005.
Not to mention that Thailand has also been tackling the esports industry since 2013.
It is also important to note here that the millennials aged 25-35 are climbing up the income ladder and willing to pay more.
A typical triple-A video game in Thailand today costs 1,890 baht a copy. Not cheap, but not out of reach either. Especially considering the unit cost, where one may enjoy up to 80 hours of entertainment.
That’s cheaper than going to the cinema on a per-hour basis.
With Sony PlayStation recently making Thailand its priority market in Asia and the anticipation people have for PS5, there’s no question that this year will be a big year for the gaming community in Thailand.