Where’s the Scepticism?
Cynicism, I have previously opined, is a much overrated concept. It’s a way of making oneself feel smarter than the rest of society without actually having to do any of the pesky legwork of, oh, checking if you are right, for example. Genuine scepticism, on the other hand –the doubting of claims without evidence– is something we could all do with.
Which brings me to a recent story featuring Ubisoft boss Yves Guillemot claiming a 93-95% piracy rate for Ubisoft games on PC. This claim has been uncritically repeated on many sites, the first major exception to this being Rock Paper Shotgun (and later Destructoid). But this isn’t even about how this is being propagated: I wonder how it even got that far.
Journalists, among other things, are supposed to have a talent for asking the right questions. When someone throws out a figure like 93-95% piracy, surely –SURELY– the right question is: How are you figuring that remarkable statistic out? Let’s not reject it out of hand, but to put into other words how surprising that figure is, they are claiming that for every million copies of a PC game they sell, an average of 19 million copies are being illegally downloaded or obtained through some other means. That’s a lot. That’s the sort of figure that invites follow-up questions.
The makers of World of Goo claimed a piracy rate of a mere 82%, a figure that was in fact investigated (again, with some good RPS reporting on it) and so the least I’d expect is for Ubisoft’s claim to come under some similar scrutiny. If the figure is accurate, it’s incredible and raises some serious questions about Ubisoft’s DRM strategy. If, more likely, it is based on some all-too-common statistical wrong-headedness, then it’s another hard lesson, both in how much you can trust what big publishers say, and the lack of rigour with which claims like this are reported.
Given that some journalists seem incapable of asking even the most basic of follow-up questions, if Yves Guillemot had smeared jam all over himself during the interview and declared “I AM THE TOAST MAN!” the headline would presumably have been “Ubisoft Boss Is A Superhero.”