Video game developers suffer from piracy, however, there are multiple reasons why games are pirated in the first place.
Video game piracy. You may have heard that it’s a myth or that it doesn’t hurt anyone. Well, that’s a lie. Video game piracy is more of a problem than you may know or believe. Now whether you believe it or not, it does hurt some companies much more than others. The big AAA companies don’t hurt as much as the indie devs, who suffer greatly when their game is pirated.
Who Does Piracy effect?
People pirate games for a number of reasons, some of these reasons are: I don’t have the money, this game isn’t available in my country or region, the game is no longer made and legal copies are too expensive, to see if a game will run on my computer, having to buy the same game multiple times, etc. Here’s one example of someone purchasing a game multiple times. “I can’t tell you how many copies of Starcraft or Diablo 2 I’ve purchased, probably a dozen across the two titles. I know that I’ve purchased it multiple times, at varying prices, over the years. At some point, buying it over and over (this was before Blizzard allowed people to digitally register their purchases for re-download) gets really old really fast. (Plunkett, 2015)”
How does this ultimately affect companies? Take indie studio Hunted Cow for example. Their paid iOS game Battle Dungeon was taken down for four months due to piracy. “Unfortunately we have taken Battle Dungeon down for the foreseeable future. This was due to high levels of server load created by large numbers of pirated copies of the game. The high load revealed technical issues which we don’t feel we can fix to the level that our paying customers deserve.” Here you can read the full article. Additionally, players that bought the game or anything in it were fully reimbursed.
Another example is Demigod from Stardock. The publisher has always taken a strong stand against Digital Rights Managment or DRM. However, on day zero of the game’s release, it did not run as intended even though they stress tested for up to 50,000 users. On the day of release, there were 140,000 users online, of which approximately 18,000 were legitimate users. This, of course, did not make a good first impression with buyers, or critics as they blamed the company for the terrible server issues and thus their reviews suffered. By the time anything was done the damage had already been dealt, and this certainly had an effect on sales. As you can see pirating a game not only affects the devs financially but could also affect their credibility as a studio and could put them out of business for good.
Preserving Older Titles
Here’s one quote that tries to validate piracy regarding title preservation, and makes a very good point but it doesn’t justify it by any means.
“Many games are disappearing into history, and many developers and publishers are doing little or nothing to preserve them. Hardware is failing, physical media is frail, and some of these games will simply be lost. Digital distribution is making it worse (see P.T., a game I’m terrified will vanish). From what I’ve seen both in the business and out on the internet, it seems like the pirates are the most effective at preserving this history. I’m not talking about people off ripping Xbox 360 and PS4 games, I’m talking about organized efforts like TOSEC, Redump, etc. I applaud the efforts of groups like the Strong Museum, they’re the kinds of people I would most like to see spearheading this effort, but their hands are tied by the law and there’s only so much they can do.”
Like every argument, there are two sides to the piracy issue. On the one hand it’s legally wrong, but what if in their eyes they’re preserving history? Think of it like this, floppy disks have a lifespan of 1-30 years most things started getting stored on floppy disks over 30 years ago, that means that by now most of that knowledge is or would be lost if we followed the government’s laws and never copied things illegally. To some, pirates are historians, taking information off those old floppy disks and uploading it to the internet and preserving it. Whereas books decay over centuries, technology decays over decades. We can think of sites like abandonware like online interactive museums just waiting to be explored. Technologizer talks more here about why history needs software piracy.
The reason piracy is as big a problem that it is is because much like a black market there aren’t any official numbers or a big database that records every illegal download of each game so it’s hard to tell how big this problem really is. What makes it even harder is the fact that there are no physical copies or paper trail to follow to try and make a rough estimate. In 2012, in an interview with gamesindustry, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot said “On PC it’s only around five to seven percent of the players who pay for F2P, but normally on PC it’s only about five to seven per cent who pay anyway, the rest is pirated. It’s around a 93-95 percent piracy rate, so it ends up at about the same percentage.”
Those sounds like some pretty astronomical numbers if you ask me, although Yves didn’t state as to whether or not he was talking about the PC industry as a whole or if he was only talking about certain games or countries. When pcgamer asked Chris Early, VP of Digital Publishing at Ubisoft, about what CEO Yves said four years ago he said “At the time, our internal and external research showed that it reached [93-95%] for some popular PC titles,” Another company called Greenheart Games the makers of Game dev tycoon said on their website here that on day one of release that 93.6% of players had pirated their game. \
After Yves statements in 2012 an Intel employee Matt Ployher published a post crunching piracy rates and global sales using the best data available to him. By taking the top five games from the most visited torrent sites and doing some cross platform comparing he guessed that 17.6 million copies or roughly 14.6% of the global PC gaming market were illegal downloads. When Ployher looked at the data from Steam’s voluntary hardware survey which at the time included common torrent applications he found that only 30-35% of PCs had torrents on their computers, and even assuming that all of them were used to download games still only put’s the numbers at 15-35% of PC gamers steal their games. When I looked pirate bays top 100 I only found 1 game, that being the sims 4.
It would not surprise me if a majority of the numbers stated above were from other countries, such as Russia, Africa, or Asia. Because unlike other forms of media, video game prices are not adjusted for currency. As you might know, a standard price for a brand new game in the U.S is about $60. However, this is not the case in all countries. IGN did a small study to try and find out where the cheapest games in the world are sold. They looked at game prices in in the following countries. U.S, AU, NZ, JP, UK, EU, CA. They converted the prices to U.S dollars to make things simpler. The games they looked at were. L.A Noire (Xbox 360, Ps3), Portal2 (PC), Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii 1st party), The Conduit2 (Wii 3rd party), Super Street Fighter 4 3D (3ds), and Dissidia 012 (PSP). They found that in every instance except for Portal that the U.S had the cheapest games, and that Australia had the most expensive games. We’ll use L.A Noire for example, in those countries. U.S($59.99) AU,($116.58) NZ, ($98.74) JP,($95.79) UK, ($81.86) EU ($75.34) CA, ($61.89)
What do you think of piracy? Do you think piracy deserves the same level of punishment as walking into a store and stealing a TV or game system? Do you agree with any of the points made above? Do you think piracy should be talked about more? Do you think all pirates fall under the same banner? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook, or Twitter.