The anime industry needs to beat out piracy, and Steam offers an example for ways to beat the pirates.

To some, the death knell of KissAnime marked a triumph for the anime industry, while for others, it meant the loss of an illegal place to access, as is their defense, unavailable or unaffordable shows. Anime piracy has become a heated topic on social media, and many have come under intense criticism for their thoughts. One particularly controversial take was a tweet from Funimation voice actor Alex Moore that compared anime piracy to colonialism, which came across to many Twitter users as extremely tone-deaf.

Despite the efforts of executives, voice actors and many consumers to dissuade it, the problem of anime piracy remains difficult to resolve. Japan has elected to develop harsher punishments for illegal anime and manga distribution and downloading, but such measures will likely prove unable to solve the bigger problem of anime piracy. Some have even argued, controversially, that attempting to reduce anime piracy with lawsuits will only cost the anime industry and alienate the overseas community, with the implication that this would consequently lead to less revenue from the industry's main source of income, merchandise. Regardless, the heated discussions on social media make one thing abundantly clear: new policies and anti-piracy messages are, unfortunately, unlikely to completely solve the endemic problem of anime piracy overnight. But this shouldn't deter attempts to do so: any arguments defending piracy, no matter how well articulated, fall flat next to the simple point that piracy is stealing. Robbing creators of their work is not just a financial issue, it's an ethical one, too.

Discouraging piracy is a matter of action, not words. In particular, anime distributors would do well to continue making anime even more accessible and affordable. Just this week, Crunchyroll has done just that with its new, tiered membership that offers subscribers cheaper packages and different incentives at each level. But they don't need to reinvent the wheel: this approach has already been taken before by Steam, Valve's digital video game distribution service.

None would argue that Steam completely stopped the piracy of video games, because it didn't. Research from Tru Optik shows that the video game industry lost nearly $75 billion due to piracy in 2014. However, it's untrue to say that Steam wasn't successful in combating piracy to a certain degree. Gabe Newell, co-founder and president of Valve, stated that "They're [piracy rates] low enough that we don't really spend any time [on it]," and further elaborated the importance of service value in a 2010 interview with PC Gamer: "Once you create service value for customers, ongoing service value, piracy seems to disappear, right? It's like 'Oh, you're still doing something for me? I don't mind the fact that I paid for this.'"

In other words, Newell attributes Steam's success against the practice of piracy to Steam's greater service value -- something that anime is sorely lacking. For one, accessing anime is already incredibly difficult in many countries outside of the United States and Japan, as licensing troubles make certain shows nearly impossible to access. Moreover, even if an anime is licensed, anime distributors have a history of providing low-quality or inaccurate subtitles -- something that greatly affects the experience of watching an anime. That's not to say that fansubs are any better, as many fansubs fall very short in terms of quality as well, but consider that many pirate anime sites now simply take the official subs and re-upload them (sometimes after a few tweaks) on their own sites. In other words, the pirated version of a show is offering the exact same service value as an official release, if not less.

In summary, pirate websites offer the same product as official distributors but for free, which is a big problem. If the anime industry wants to beat out piracy, which it needs to, that means offering a better product than the piraters is essential. To help with that, here are two possible actions.

Greater Accessibility

The first action is to work on greater accessibility for all languages and regions. To highlight the difference between regions, one can look to the catalog per country for Crunchyroll. In 2017, the United States had access to 848 shows, whereas Germany and France had access to only 353 and 345, respectively. Many have expressed their frustration at seeing an advertisement for an anime, only to find that it's unavailable in their country.

Despite the complications of regional licensing, the difference in accessibility to content means that much more work can be put into it. Many have taken to social media to rightly rail against piracy but until these shortcomings are actually addressed, anime piracy will, sadly, remain the "best" option in the eyes of many under the thin justification that they can't access some shows legally.

Beating The Piraters With Incentives

The other step that can be taken to increase a legal distributor's service value is to offer a better product than their pirated counterpart. Steam did this with achievements, the multiplayer option to play games with your Steam friends list and much more. Anime distributors can create similar options that increase the service value of their platform, such as a native feature that allows you to watch anime with your friends in real-time -- a feature incredibly useful for a world under lockdown and something sites like many users went to for, and continue to do so on

That's not to say that progress hasn't already been made in this area. Funimation hosted FunimationCon 2020 at the start of July, while Crunchyroll has its virtual expo coming up early next month and, as previously mentioned, has already overhauled its membership packages to offer fans even more for less. There's a lot of other things that distributors can provide for an eager consumer base, and in doing so, can bring many anime watchers into the fold of legality, which has to be the end goal. At the end of the day, the best incentive of all is reminding anime fans that the industry and creators they love need to make a living. Simply put, if you really love anime, you should pay for it.