Seems like id Software has been going “Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum” to a lot of websites regarding this Doom 3 alpha.
Now id has the perfect legal right to do such things if copyrighted material is being used without permission. There’s no dispute about that.
However, just because you can do something does not mean you should do something. There is often a difference between legality and wisdom.
The leaked Doom 3 alpha is about seven months old. The alpha is more-or-less functional, though it lacks ease-of-use features. With some work, it is networkable, and apparently some have done this. The problem is pretty untweaked and you need the latest and greatest to get this running somewhat well.
The Warez Test
Some have been very quick to call this warez, but is it?
Now I’m not in favor of warez at all, but it’s important to know the reason why I’m not, and see if this alpha meets that criteria.
I think a good definition of warez is “a functional substitute for the legitimate product”. This is bad because if you have a functional substitute for the real product, you have no reason to buy the legitimate product, and thus the creator loses sales.
An exact copy of the finished product obviously qualifies as warez.
A “functional substitute” does not mean an exact copy of the original. By this definition, a “ripped” version of software would also qualify. Nor does it have to be a completely finished product; it just has to work just about as well as the final. So I would call many betas of software warez also.
In the music and movie venues, it seems that even early releases of songs and movies are finished enough to qualify as a “functional substitute.”
Does this alpha meet the warez test?
The question that needs to be asked about this alpha is “Would someone who downloaded and used this continue to use this as a substitute for the finished product?” If the answer is “Yes,” then it is warez. If the answer is “No,” then it isn’t.
I think the answer to this question is “No.” The program is just too raw and untweaked to replace the finished product. It also contains only three levels.
Now this doesn’t at all mean getting yourself a copy of this alpha is legal. It just means that this alpha will not lose sales because people will use this rather than the real thing.
Protection of Novel Ideas
Some may suggest that competitors getting the code will get a headstart on coming up with bigger and better code.
Again, id is within its rights to do that, but one can question the degree of damage caused by such a release.
Let’s say I’m a copycat and avidly download the alpha to steal ideas. The most I can do with it is get assembly language code out of it. Assembly language code is not too easy to read, especially 380 megabytes worth of it. It takes skill and time for programmers to decode it, and they don’t work for free.
More importantly, this is by no means optimized code. The final version of Doom 3 will have about a year’s worth of tweaking, optimizations and modifications to that code, none of which Mr. Copycat has access to.
Mr. Copycat would much rather have, say, yesterday’s build of Doom 3, with at least seven months’ worth of changes and tweaking. That would help him a good deal more.
Yes, getting the alpha helps, but let’s not exaggerate how much.
In due time, id plans on licensing the Doom III engine just like it does the Quake engines. You can actually get the Quake III gaming source code for free; it’s the graphics programming that costs you $250K.
That may seem like a lot of money, but reverse engineering off assembly code isn’t cheap, either.
More importantly, the horse is out of this particular barn. Anybody who might want that code for such nefarious purposes already has it. You want to fix that, invent time travel.
In the meantime, nobody is going to get much of a headstart from seeing a screenshot.
It seems like the strongest practical objection id has to this alpha is that it removes from the company the right to present its work to the public when it deems the work to be ready.
While most understand the highly unfinished nature of the beast, there have been some voiced objections to it, especially about the current hardware requirements for it to run decently.
While the alpha isn’t a “functional equivalent” of the finished product, it probably does give enough of an unauthorized preview to allow people to decide whether or not they’ll want to buy the game.
It’s also quite possible that people may play the alpha for a few months, get their fill, then go on to something else.
Again, though, I have problems finding this a major tragedy.
A Little Too Full Of Themselves?
I’m sorry, but this is a leak of an old demo of a game. This is not like giving al-Queda U.S. nuclear release codes.
This is like a cop watch somebody jaywalking a few blocks away, calling in reinforcements, then pulling guns on everyone in the vicinity. Yeah, the cop is within his rights, but the reaction is disproportionate to the crime.
This isn’t even like leaking a current beta version of the game. I could understand the level of outrage a lot better if that were the case, but it isn’t.
Rather, the kind of reaction I’ve seen from id, both public and private, seems to be more control freaks freaking than anything else. It’s like they’re so outraged, they can’t even coherently state why they’re so outraged.
Maybe they’ve been coding Nazi behavior in the Wolfensteins too long. 🙂
The id people should have said something like the following
“Look guys, we’d really rather you not run this alpha. It’s really old code, and we’ve made a lot of improvements since then, so you really won’t get
a good idea of what the game is like from this. Here’s a couple recent screenshots from the game.”
I don’t think a statement like that would violate national security.
I do think a response like that would have resulted in a lot fewer downloads. Let’s face it, teenagers have a track record of not responding well to authority nor the requisites of copyright law. 🙂 Saying, “Don’t do it because we said so” usually has the opposite effect.
If the control freaks at id want to let their inner Nazis out, use that energy to go after the original leakers.
But it is unwise, if legal, to go whacking away at the people who are going to end up promoting your game and leave a sour taste in their mouths. At the very least, give a clue as to why this is really so bad.
Again, they have the right to do what they’re doing, but it would be much wiser if they didn’t.
Am I Being Hypocritical, Etc., Etc.?
A few have already said, “How can you denounce MP3s, etc., etc and not denounce this?”
That’s simple. I’m not being hypocritical at all; I’m just not being simplistic about this.
I don’t see this as being the same from a practical standpoint as the usual download situation. I just don’t see the level of potential damage you normally have in these situations, simply because I don’t find that Raw Alpha = Finished Product.
I’m not saying that makes downloading this leak good or legal; I’m simply saying it’s just not that big a deal practically and that id is overreacting.
It’s like jaywalking. Yes, it’s a crime. Yes, it’s illegal. No, you shouldn’t shoot jaywalkers fleeing the scene of the crime.