EDITORIAL
Ethical
March 27, 2018
On:
By: Scott Havener

A Discussion of Piracy With UK2000

The X-Plane community has had a certain mix of victorious, jubilant, conquering, and almost arrogant feelings since the launch of X-Plane 11 due to the amount of popular developers finally making their way to our sim. I include myself in this list of people, because how could you not feel this way, especially if you have been using X-Plane for a long time? We always talk about how we are the underdog, and it’s getting a little tired, honestly, but it’s nearly essential in understanding why we act the way we act during this period of victorious-afterglow.

Anybody remember this? Then this? Aaaaand then this? I do. I can’t tell you how defeated I felt, and how I upset I was at Austin for not keeping his mouth shut, whether or not what Orbx said was as a result of his taunting. I am bringing this up now not only to feel good about the fact that we got Orbx after all, but as a reminder that our actions and words have real, tangible consequences, especially in at this time in X-Plane’s history. A snarky comment to a developer may very well push them over the fence to the side of not wanting to develop for X-Plane. We are not dealing with massive corporations here. We can not throw our vicious words into the wind at prospective developers because it feels good to vent with no consequences. In the famous words of Walter White: I suggest we tread lightly.

I’m kind of an anxious guy; when I check the Facebook pages of developers that have just crossed over into Meyer-land, my hands get a little sweaty, no lie. So, imagine what happened when I saw this.

I think I threw up in my mouth a little. All jokes aside though, ‘risking future X-Plane addons’? That’s serious stuff. It felt like Orbx all over again, but this time I was much angrier. It is one thing to give someone harsh words, but to hack demo sceneries? Demo sceneries?

There are some things you just don’t do. And look, having no money sucks. Depending on where you live in the world, it can suck more or less, but it’s always going to suck. I am fortunate enough to have no money in a part of the world where that is less of a problem for me. But, I still don’t steal scenery from people who deserve to be respected, if not paid, which Uk2000 do. I was glad to see that a lot of other people shared my sentiments.

The top is my favorite

I was happy to see so many people echo my thoughts about this, and was even more happy when they clarified that they were not going to stop making sceneries for X-Plane. What did annoy me was this:

Come on, man! Can't you hear him behind your shoulder?!! I found myself wondering why this person would say something so purposefully inflammatory when UK2000 had good intentions behind their post, but this isn't important. What I wanted to seriously understand is why UK2000 would post such a serious statement if they were all good with continuing their work in X-Plane. It sounded too ominous to be just a heads up, even though that is what ultimately wound up being the case. Luckily for us, the problem largely turned out to be one of semantics.

Despite this, I decided to shoot an email to UK2000 to see if they would be willing to talk with me about some of these issues. I got a response from Matt Cox, their X-Plane developer. It turned out to be a lovely conversation! At no point in the conversation did I feel like I was about to throw up. We spoke a little off-the-record, and I will include some elements of this at the end of the article. For now, just enjoy, and listen intently to, what Matt has to say.

Here’s what I asked him.

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Scott: What made you aware specifically of the piracy going on in regards to the X-Plane demos; How does this compare with piracy on other platforms?

Matt: I was first aware of this right at the very beginning of making the demo sceneries for X-Plane. It came to me that adding demo features such as a box at the end of runways can be deleted just as easily as it was added. So, I proceeded to see how people would act if I did this without caution so that people can get an insight into the scenery without having to purchase it. A couple of months down the line, I got a message from someone reminding me that the demo features can easily be removed to make it look like a paid version (Which I was aware of in the beginning). So, I obviously tried to resolve this issue as it was being noticed as an editable piece of software by a few. The only thing I could think of doing to resolve this issue though was to attach the demo features to major objects such as the main terminal of the airport or the ground layers… But after some testing, this wasn’t possible with the software I use due to textures rewriting themselves once something has been repositioned or edited in any way.

So again, I brushed this off my shoulders, thinking nothing of it and giving the demo sceneries another chance to see how they will keep on doing on a new platform (despite the current issues I mentioned earlier).

Until we reached last week where things went a bit pear shaped… I got a message from someone telling me that my work had been posted on a site. The message came with the following screenshot:

Now, as you can see, the creator of the post said in the comments “tweaked demo versions, I am not sure if there actually is a difference compared to the full version”. So that implied that the user didn’t even have to get these scenery copies off a paying customer in the first place. Also, the link that was provided to download these free copies of the scenery was a ‘Mega’ download link.

Once I seen this post, I immediately told Gary to take down the demo versions (Just for X-Plane) until we have a new way of getting around this.

I also contacted Mega.nz to remove the download link straight away, which they did, which I was quite pleased about as this one copy has been eliminated (for now).

The next morning (When the demo sceneries were removed) Gary made a statement which you may have seen on the Facebook page or UK2000 Forums explaining the difficulty of the X-Plane demo’s and that some people have ruined it for others.

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When comparing this specific piracy issue to other platforms, we are aware of how much sheer piracy goes on throughout the Flight Sim industry (Across all platforms). However, the demo’s we provided for X-Plane are different…

The trouble with X-Plane’s third-party sceneries is that there is no real way to protect them as it is just a folder in the Custom Scenery. Whereas in a different platform (Such as P3D – No hard feelings guys), people are able to use DRM to activate, things go in different folders such as effects and scenery doesn’t just go in one place anymore.

However, with everyone on X-Plane having access to World Editor and Overlay Editor, this meant the demo features could simply be deleted in a few clicks. Whereas in a sim such as P3D, you can’t just delete the demo features as people do not have access to the editing software and it is in BGL format which makes it even harder to edit. This is why only the X-Plane demos were taken down.

What made you feel you had to post something about it?

Obviously, we’re going to have to let our customers know at some point that the demos are no longer available for X-Plane. So, we posted about how “some X-Plane users seem to have a hard time understanding how to be an honest person” which is implying that the pirates in the X-Plane community can’t be honest to anyone. This is purely because they’re keeping their stolen goods on a ‘secret’ website(s).

We obviously wanted to also raise awareness of piracy in the flight simulator industry as we have never really mentioned it in X-Plane but we have done a couple of times for other simulators. It’s obviously an ongoing and never-ending battle to resolve the issues but by raising awareness, we want people to know that what is going on is highly illegal. You wouldn’t walk into someone’s house and steal their things, would you?

How has piracy affected your ability to remain solvent/operational in the past? Does it make up a large enough amount of lost revenue to affect business on a day-to-day basis?

Me being just the guy that converts the sceneries to X-Plane, it doesn’t affect me at all. Yeah… It’s going to be annoying or frustrating at times but once something has been reported, I take down the pirated link, it’s as simple as that.

However, of course it is going to decrease sales. Not just for UK2000 but for everyone as it isn’t just UK2000 that is affected by piracy. So, you lose a sale to due piracy meaning you lose money, simple as that.

I’d also like to add here that I have tried to resolve this issue by contacting Laminar Research about this ongoing issue numerous times but they don’t seem to take any interest. I mentioned password protecting sceneries in WED to them but they just said it’s highly unlikely this will ever be implemented. X-Plane scenery needs better protection; I hope you’re reading this Laminar Research.

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Obviously, this is a lot to chew on. Putting in an effort to explore potential possibilities of protecting scenery from piracy seems like it would be a useful venture. After this interview, Matt thanked me for the questions and made sure to say that "X-Plane seems to have a great community, so UK2000 would like to thank you for the support ever since we first started developing for the platform."

I know that piracy will continue in our volatile community until the end of time, and I know that I will always get sweaty palms when checking FlyTampa's Facebook page from now on. However, I can hope that discussions like these will continue, because next time we might not be so lucky.

OPINION

By: Scott Havener
March 27, 2018
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