By Shamus Posted Friday Feb 15, 2008

Filed under: Video Games 80 comments

Jay Barnson linked to a startling article by the Director of Marketing at Reflexive Games, stating that of the people playing their game (Ricochet Infinity) 92% of them were pirated copies. Do read the full article to put that number into perspective.

The Jolly Roger!
I’ve railed against anti-piracy measures before, and I’ve made it clear that no matter how alluring the game is I’m willing to go without rather than pirate it or tolerate onerous DRM. I don’t pretend to know a lot about how piracy works because I don’t engage in it myself. Still, I never would have dreamed the piracy numbers were anywhere near that bad. The article is sketchy on some details, and I’m curious what DRM they had in place originally and how it worked.

Let me try to put some spin on that 92% figure:

* This was well into the lifespan of the game, and it sounds like they were just looking at a snapshot of how many pirated copies were being played at the moment. It could be that a great number of people paid for the game when it was new, but that it has since fallen off the charts and out of notice on various casual game portals. Everyone that wanted the game and was willing to pay for it had done so. They bought it, they played it, and moved on. Therefore the only players still around are pirates who downloaded the game recently. I gather that it takes a while for a torrent to spread around. So as time goes legit sales fall and pirated copies proliferate. It could be that shortly after release that the ratio of pirates to legit users was reversed. More importantly, the all-time ratio might not be nearly as grim.

* It’s possible that a portion of that 92% were people that actually owned a legit copy but circumvented the DRM because it was annoying, or it interfered with their use of the product. (Like having it installed on their PC and laptop, for example.) Again, the original article is just too vague.

* The study didn’t (couldn’t) include people who didn’t take the game “on-line”, whatever that means. This is a breakout game for crying out loud. Okay, it’s a very elegant and sexy looking tenth-generation descendant of breakout, but still: I dunno what the “online” portion is about. If it’s some sort of PvP then I could imagine the more casual moms & dads (who paid for the game) would stick to the single-player stuff (and thus not show up in the study) while the kid in his parent’s basement (who didn’t pay for the game) would favor the part of the game that lets him call other people “fag”, since that’s obviously the big draw with online gaming.

But even if I was right about all of the above, I doubt it would bring that piracy figure into the single digits, which is where I would have guessed it was.

Are the numbers this bad everywhere, or just in casual games? Brad Wardell, founder and president of Stardock, has maintained that piracy is about convenience more than money. I’d imagine that finding a torrent to download and install a 6GB file for something like STALKER would have to be pretty danged inconvenient. A 6GB download would take longer than just driving to the store, anyway. By contrast, I think Ricochet Infinity is one of those games where you download the “demo” for 40MB and then just enter a serial number of some sort to unlock the whole thing. In the case of that sort of game, piracy is far more convenient. (Not that I’m saying this is a valid excuse, I’m just saying that maybe (hopefully) piracy isn’t quite as bad for other sorts of games. Just being “big” might be a sort of inadvertent anti-piracy measure.)


From The Archives:

80 thoughts on “Avast!

  1. 92% sounds atypically high, but I doubt that the norm is single digits.

    I’ve always assumed that it was pretty typical for about two copies to be stolen for every copy that’s sold, plus or minus.

  2. Zukhramm says:

    I live far away from any store selling games, so, downloading them is definitly simpler for me. Still, I don’t pirate much games.

    Anyway, I read this text which I found interesting, about what, if creators cannot charge for selling copies, they should try to sell.


  3. GAZZA says:

    The thing that the article seems to have missed is that, to my mind, it shows that DRM is a complete waste of effort. If Reflexive games have gone to that much extent to try and secure their games and still ended up with 92% pirated, surely the appropriate conclusion is that all that effort was wasted?

    And more to the point, I have avoided buying games because of DRM, and I regularly search for cracks for games that I have bought. Quite clearly DRM isn’t bothering the pirates, only legitimate customers.

  4. Mari says:

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and admit to having “pirated” a few games. Specifically I seem to recall Civ 2. I paid for a new copy of it when it came out. Then I paid for a copy of Civ 2 Gold for the PvP options since my husband and I both enjoyed the game. Only to discover that you HAVE to have the disc in the drive to play the game. So I was supposed to buy a THIRD copy of the game. Instead, I found a way to copy the disc and we played a “pirated” version of the game on one computer while we ran the SECOND disc we had paid for in the other.

    I wonder how many numbers like that are included in those piracy numbers. I mean, I paid for that game not once but twice. And yet the fact that I proceeded to copy the DRMed disc for personal use outweighs that.

    I’m not saying all or even most pirated copies of games are like that but it’s something to consider.

  5. Adam says:

    Having absolutely no statistical evidence to back up my claim that 92% is an outrageous number, I’m going to have to go ahead and say that 92% is an outrageous number.

    I mean, think about that for a second. Out of 1 million people playing, 920 thousand of them pirated the game? I don’t know about that.

    While I have no illusions about the state of piracy, I think that’s a bit of an overstatement.

  6. Nilus says:

    Actually if you know the right places to go getting a pirated copy of any of the most recent games is not hard. 6 Gig will still probably overnight to get but I can I see where waiting a night for a free game better then getting a game right away for 50 bucks.

    I don’t pirate games much anymore. But when I was poor college student I did. I was broke, had a lot of time on my hands and was on a very fast internet connection. I doubt that 92% of the copies of there game are pirated. Especially a game I never heard of. But I bet on a popular title the percentage might be around 50%. I actually think this is one of the reasons MMORPGs are so profitable, its very hard to play them with a pirated copy. So on top of the monthly fees you are probably have about 95%+ people playing with legit bought copies.

  7. Luke Maciak says:

    Shamus – you are actually wrong about the convenience factor. For you or me it might be easier to just go to the store and buy the damn game. However I presume we are not the main “pirate” demographic. Here is a scene I whitnessed at a local Wallmart one day:

    A kid is shopping around with his dad. He grabs a game of the stand and and asks the father if he can get it. The parent looks at the box and loudly exclaims: “60 bucks for a game? Why don’t you download it instead?” So the kid puts the box back on the shelf and they leave.

    That 6GB download starts looking really convenient when you don’t drive, your parents don’t give you enough allowance to afford buying original games on the release date. ;)

    Also you are right about the online thing. From the article I gather that “going online” was optional feature and most of the users didn’t bother with it.

    I man, what do you do when a game you purchased asks you to register online and that registration is optional? I’d venture a guess that around 92% of people would opt not to do it – even if it locked them out of the online play mode, which – let’s face it – can’t be that exciting for a breakout clone. :P

    Also, I presume they were simply doing it wrong. You can effectively compete against piracy using the 8 strategies outlined by Kevin Kelly. I wrote about this very recently. The world has changed – we can no longer sell information the way our grandfather sold it. The sooner people realize it, the faster we can move on and leave the silly notion of “OMG! Teh piratez are ruining my bizness!” thing.

    Edit: oh, I noticed that Zukhramm already linked to Kevin Kelly’s article above. :P

  8. Grant says:

    Don’t forget third world countries. Everywhere I’ve traveled, I’ve seen Internet cafes full of kids playing the latest games for something like 10 cents an hour. so I would venture to guess that those copies aren’t legal. I bet that could make up a huge portion of that 92%.

    Now, it annoys me when game companies imply that these are lost sales. Very few of those people would be able to afford to pay anything near retail for even a single game.


  9. Binks says:

    Wait…Richochet Infinity? Unless I’m mistaken that was one of those games whose DRM was so pathetic that even non-hackers like myself could crack it. They had the license thing ‘hidden’ in the registry, under their name, with the ‘time left on demo’ field right next to it…Oh wait, the article lists that as ‘exploiting’ the DRM…wow, so I guess I am a hacker now :P. I dl’d the demo, played for the hour timelimit, went browsing around it’s files to see if I could get a little more time and stumbled upon that field, game myself another half hour before I uninstalled the game…

    I highly, highly doubt that the percentage is over 40%, tops. The fact that they’re only measuring online players in a casual game is completely flawed, the vast majority of casual gamers are called that because they don’t play online, it’s akin to measuring how many people play the single player in Call of Duty 4 and then determining how many pirated the game % wise from that (if you didn’t know you can play the single player without a license key, you only need that to play online. And since there’s no multiplayer benefit to the singleplayer campaign most online players don’t play that).

  10. Dave says:

    Grant, almost anyone who can afford the hardware to play a recent PC or console game, and afford to maintain a high-speed internet connection, can afford to buy games rather than pirate them. Now, they wouldn’t be able to pay for every game they pirate, but they’d be able to afford some of them. And if piracy were much less common, games would be cheaper (because at least some of the pirated copies would be replaced by legit sales, and because studios wouldn’t feel obliged to spend time and money on DRM and other anti-piracy measures).

  11. David V.S. says:

    Hm. I can only offer anecdotal evidence.

    During my elementary school years many of the computer games my friends and I played (mostly on Apple II computers) were pirated copies. However, we played very few of these very long. If the pirated copies were not around we would not have spent money for that game. If anything, the pirated copies helped the game company by spreading brand name recognition. The “big” games everyone bought (Lode Runner, Ultima, Choplifter, Bard’s Tale, etc.) especially if there were any nifty extras that came in the box, like a cloth map or a wooden coin.

    During my high school and college years I saw very few copies of pirated games. This may have been because my friends and I favored “long” or “big” games for which the paper manual really helped as far as describing the alien planets, mage spells, etc. For us having the manual replaced by a PDF file would have probably increased piracy. The few pirated games I did see were “oddballs” like Stunts which were catchy, quick to learn, and fun but I never saw in stores anywhere; those were simply cool enough to buy but never seen for sale.

    In my post-undergraduate years everyone I know buys the games, but buys very few of them: maybe 2-3 per year. We all seem to have become grown ups with enough money to spend but not enough time to play many games. If we want something different and small for a few hours, there’s always the online Pop-Cap games. A key to this demographic is replayability: we’ll happily pay $50 for a FPS or RTS game with a lot of replayability, rather than spending $20 twice and having to learn two different games. Sometimes replayability is nothing more than quality: Age of Kings is still selling for full price and has a nice user community, which makes it replayable compared to newer RTS games. The somewhat recent trends to “same game, buy an expansion pack” seems to me targeted at this demographic, which has money and doesn’t want to learn a new game from scratch.

  12. azrhey says:

    I have bought over the years over 100 PC games. I know because I have lately put all of the boxes, guides and other maps in a big box and archived it. I kept the cds with the key-codes in a cd tower. All of them I have cracked one way or the other, mostly to get a no-cd crack but sometimes because I want to play them on my PC and on Mac (why would I need to buy twice the same game for different platforms? I mean I can see paying 50$ for a PC game and then another 5 or 10 extra to have the Mac version of vice versa, you know prove you have one and we will give you the other for cheap! ). One of those is an original Baldur’s Gate which rates high on my top 5 games of all time. I think of it fondly and from time to time install it again and play it again for old time’s sake. Couple of weeks ago ( after two cross Ocean movings in two years ) I discovered that disk 2 of 5 had an ugly scratch and the optical drive didn’t even recognize it. I swear I was ready to buy another copy. I went to several stores, new and used games selling places. Checked on eBay and couple of other places. No where. Found several of the expansion packs that I have already but no game. Called Bioware even ask if they still have copies I would be willing to pay for. They said no, the game is too old, I should try one of their newer titles. Well, screw them. I have most of their newer titles. I have dutifully sent them hundreds of dollars over the years. So I downloaded it. Illegally. And didn’t feel any worse for it. And I can’t promise I won’t do it again. And perhaps next time I won’t event have a good reason. Come to think of it, I bought civ III way back then three times, once I lost the CD in a moving and the second time the cd broke in half due to some stupidity on my part. Perhaps I should have just downloaded illegal copies of the game each time, instead of putting out 45$ each time.

    This bitter reply brought to you by the nagging feeling of being screwed by the Gaming Companies

  13. Eric J says:

    There’s also the fact that it’s a frikkin’ Breakout/Arkanoid ripoff. How many people are going to pay $20 for that when they can play 100 different versions online for free? It may be the slickest version yet, with the best eyecandy ever for this kind of game, but ultimately the gameplay is over 30 years old.

  14. ehlijen says:

    As much as I hate most DRM systems (for their inconvenience *and* spying potential), I have to say that people trying to protect the fruits of their work is only natural.
    Many people claim that “not every pirate would have bought the game anyway”, to which one has to answer: but some would have. Even if only every fith pirate is a lost customer that is a fair amount of money gone. Meaning that game designers recieve less reward than they are due. Meaning that we really shouldn’t be suprised if we end up with a game environment of stagnant clones and sequels that take up an entire shelf while leaving truly imaginitive games to die. No wait…we are almost there already.

    That’s not really the whole story, there’s more to it than I will probably ever know. But I do think that piracy has contributed greatly to the fact that fps’, rts’, hack’n’slashs (aka ‘rpgs’…or so they say) and sims clones are really all we see today.

    Anyone claiming to only pirate games ‘to check them out and would never have bought them’ should really prove it by waiting until they disappear from the shops (at the least). Anything else is just a large african river.

  15. Ericc says:

    Having worked for a major software company in an anti-piracy department (yes, I was–past tense–the bad guy), I got to see first hand the amount of piracy many companies will see.

    Piracy covers different types. From my experience, it ranged from casual (let me borrow your software to balance my books) to extreme (one case we had included a cartel who was selling thousands of copies of software as legal versions. The copies were so good, we had to have someone from manufacturing double check the copy.

    Overall, it was a drop in the bucket. The department I worked in made several million dollars in recovery, but we probably damaged the company’s rep. So the department is now six people (from over forty) who ask nicely and work for minimum wage. All those numbers you see from the BSA (Business Software Alliance) and other companies are made up of pipe dreams and pulled out of their rears.

    While most people don’t want to pay for software, the vast majority won’t pirate because piracy tends to be inconvienient. You have to spend time (not a big issue) but more importantly, you have to know how to pirate. Most people I know who fall into the casual games category have trouble saving a Word document.

    Personally, I don’t play PC games anymore because I’ve got a 360 and a PS3. I’ll rent the games I like and spend my time looking for pR0N with my Mac.

  16. Roy says:

    Most people I know who fall into the casual games category have trouble saving a Word document.

    I have to disagree with this- it’s an old cliche about casual gamers, but, man, there are millions upon millions of casual gamers. For every hardcore HL2 or Unreal Tourney player, there are dozens and dozens of people out there who play a few rounds of the latest tetris or breakout clone over lunch or between meetings. The last stat I saw indicated that there are around 200 million casual gamers. That’s a lot of people, and they’re not all techmorons- a lot of them simply don’t have the time or inclination to get involved in “serious” gaming.

  17. Timon says:

    (long time reader, first time commenter so be nice :) )

    I’d like to comment on some of the arguments being thrown around here:
    1)Convenience: Truly DRM can be a huge pain in the keister especially when it comes to needing the CD. So i often end up getting a NOCD for a game i bought.
    2)Pirates wouldn’t buy games: Speaking only for myself and some friends we did (and some still do) pirate games because we simply could not afford more than one game per month, especially as kids/teens/students. Now i am very willing to buy a game to support the developers BUT if we can only buy one we still want to play the others. So we pirated but we certainly wouldn’t have bought them.
    3) I have yet to encounter a really succesfull copy protection system. Of course i have no figures but i think its probably a giant money waster.
    4)Philosophy: I completely agree with Brad Wardell on treating gamers like customers: if i am treated like a criminal i don’t really feel like giving them my money now do i?
    but on the other hand if paying for the game upfront enables me to download and play (and comment on) every beta (Helloooo Stardock) and install it on every machine i own, well that makes me feel welcome

    5) Lastly i wann comment on the large-scale industrial piracy mentioned by Ericc: I think that therein probably lies the biggest problem of the gaming industry. Frankly i find it disgusting that people try to make a living from other people’s work. BUT i don’t believe that copy protection can protect them against this sort of piracy, especially if the own company cannot tell fake from original.

  18. Viktor says:

    My favorite part of the article is where it says 1000 pirates eliminated=1 sold copy. That in my mind drives home the futility of DRM. It’s targeting people who won’t buy the game anyways, and wasting the companies money to do it. They’d be better off selling ad space in-game. That would let them profit off the number of people who play the game instead of the number who buy it.

  19. I have heard several anecdotes from more hardcore gaming that has run the gamut from as “little” as 50% to as high as 95% (over 18:1). So I have no trouble at all believing the 92% number.

    And Reflexive’s DRM really did suck – though it sounds like they’ve tightened it up in the last couple of years.

    Also, I think the numbers they were using were taken shortly after the game’s release. While it’s several months old now, he’s been sitting on this story for a while.

    Gazza – I thought the article actually went into really great detail about the effectiveness of DRM. A LOT of people are paying attention to that 1000:1 ratio at the end. I think he did a very good job of explaining the effectiveness of DRM in numbers. The author comments on the GameSetWatch reprint that the initial DRM “tightening” was totally worth it (a 70% increase in sales is HUGE), but that the later efforts were iffy at best. I think it’s clear that DRM very quickly runs into the law of diminishing returns. As he states – only 1 in 1000 pirates ended up going legit.

    It’s just nice to see some actual facts and numbers for a change instead of FUD and justifications.

  20. Nilus says:

    Learning how to Pirate isn’t hard. Step 1) Ask people about it till someone “in the know” points you to a bit torrent site, IRC page, etc that has what you are looking for. 2) Sign up to use the page above. The harder it is to find the site and get access the more likely it will have lots of downloads and wont get shutdown quickly. 3) Download the illegal software and follow the included readme on how to crack it. It might require installing a piece of software but it usually is very easy. If the game is up for download then you can bet that someone else has done the hard work and cracked it already. You just need to apply the crack

    Anyone who has the time to find the site, download the code and can read the text files with it can be a pirate. Of course if you are not careful you will end up having a PC full of spyware, virus and other nasty things. What people seem to forget is that people who Illegal host out games and make cracks for them might not be very ethical. There already screwing a software company out of money, don’t be surprised if that crack they made is also designed to screw you out of money as well.

  21. Dev Null says:

    That's a lot of people, and they're not all techmorons- a lot of them simply don't have the time or inclination to get involved in “serious” gaming.

    Very true, but I imagine Ericc was exaggerating for effect. His core point is nonetheless true – people who don’t have the time or inclination to get into serious gaming probably also don’t have the time or inclination to learn how to download a pirated version and install a crack.

  22. Shawn says:

    There is something about the article that confuses me, and I’m hoping maybe someone here can explain it. Lets just accept that 92% of people playing the game are pirates. Out of a hundred people, that’s 92 pirates and 8 normal users, or 11.5 pirates for every normal user. They said that preventing 1000 pirated downloads results in one additional sale. So 1000 / 11.5 = roughly 87 normal users required to provide the 1000 pirates necessary to supply an additional sale. It seems reasonable given those numbers that entirely eliminating piracy would provide 1 additional sale per 87 normal users, right? That’s about a 1.15% increase.

    So what’s up with the sales jumping by 70% after their initial anti-piracy step, and why didn’t it happen with the other anti-piracy steps? A 70% boost in sales is gigantic, and not something that a company should lightly throw away. And yet, it seems unrelated to anything mentioned in that article.

  23. ZeroByte says:

    I find it interesting that you pointed out the fact that 92% is a number that is representative over the lifetime of the game. I don’t know if this factoid has been bandied about here but I’ve read somewhere that DRM is most useful for publishers within the first few weeks of a game’s release. This is when pirates have yet to defeat the DRM and I suppose when the publishers can sell the most copies.

    I don’t know if this is true for the casual game space but it does make sense for the big big hardcore games. However I think theres another tangent that is relevant to casual games is internet distribution and the long tail. I don’t have their sales data but I think the theory of the long tail is that publishers can make more by selling more of small volumes of a game over time than through the hits.

    Perhaps with less restrictive DRM/no DRM on their products a casual game publisher could capitalize more on the long tail effect by garnering more goodwill from users by giving them a more pleasing user experience which would facilitate in better word of mouth for their games and if my understanding of the long tail effect is correct, the word of mouth thing is an important factor in creating a long tail thing.

    Of course good luck with finding a publisher who is willing to try this experiment, blinded as they seem to be with the short term. There are exceptions such as Stardock but I think with the advent of Steamworks I don’t see it happening. Valve has essentially made it a plug and play affair to implement strong DRM. Think of all the games that will be tied to their DRM system. Now think about that single massive point of failure. Whoopee!

    Here’s an interesting thought that I came across though, which nicely ties in with Steamworks and the article under discussion. If game developers can have a plug and play DRM system, that would mean that more of their (probably) lean resources are now focused on making the game Fun rather than being focused on implementing DRM that wastes everybody’s time. Now DRM will only have to frustrate the users! Win!

  24. Inane Fedaykin says:

    Online multiplayer sells games because CD keys are the only copy protection that work and that only goes so far as to prevent multiple cd keys from being used at once.

  25. Davesnot says:

    I was all set to agree and disagree with the numbers here.. as an “old” man.. (not GrandmaHardcore old).. I remember sitting in the basement typing in 1s and 0s into my Apple II (gotta add the ).. so we could play defender.. and when we were done.. we had always missed a one or a zero.. so we ended up with defender that didn’t have the ground scrolling ..

    Me and my co-typer were the only 2 kids in the county that did this crap.. and I had the only Apple II (gatta add the plus).. we tried for over an hour at a time to have the computer “hear” the tape so we could input “Karma” from Avalon Hill..

    Would we have pirated.. damn straight.. did we? .. no.. we would’ve had to have a copy of the game to pirate from.. and we’d be the only ones to get it..

    So.. I guess my small town helped keep me honest.. now I don’t pirate.. though, I have been given a pirate copy or two.. I played them like demos.. the two I liked, I bought.. why?? I know how hard it is to write code, get publishers to buy your game.. etc.. that’s why..

    I also remember when I was making a living as a photographer.. shooting action shots of BMX kids.. I couldn’t figure out why I had been getting great orders from the Santa Barbara track.. big mult-print orders.. then suddenly I just got single 5×7 orders.. the crap I sell just to try and re-coup some of the cost..

    I asked a kid about it.. he said that someone’s parent worked at a Kinkos and he told everyone to bring by the prints and he’d make them color copies as big as they wanted..

    Poor kids.. I tried to do something about it.. but.. well.. now they have to have Mom or Dad try to capture the moment in the way Mom and Dad always do.. ineffectively with bad equipment… Way to go parents..

    Speaking of parents.. now I find that _my_ kid is a pirate.. he’s only 5!!! here’s a link to the evidence!!


    Cest la vie..

  26. I should add that while it’s changing a bit on portals, casual games are NOT in the same position as mainstream game sales. They do not front-load all their sales into the first six weeks. In fact, many casual and indie games enjoy better sales their second and third years than their first year.

    It’s a different world, which means these numbers don’t translate directly into the “core” gaming market, which is more mature (and piracy is even more entrenched).

  27. Daemian_Lucifer says:

    Shamus,you forgot one type of piracy:Selling pirated games.Some 5 years ago,you werent even able to buy a legit copy where I live,and even now that you can,there are still loads of street merchants that sell pirated games for a single euro.So tell me,whats more convinient:Buy stalker for 60 dollars and hassle with DRM,or buy a pirate for 2 dollars?And these people arent some shady guys lurking in dark alleys,but some quite well known people that will replace your copy if it doesnt work,and even give you back your money.


    “Grant, almost anyone who can afford the hardware to play a recent PC or console game, and afford to maintain a high-speed internet connection, can afford to buy games rather than pirate them. Now, they wouldn't be able to pay for every game they pirate, but they'd be able to afford some of them. And if piracy were much less common, games would be cheaper (because at least some of the pirated copies would be replaced by legit sales, and because studios wouldn't feel obliged to spend time and money on DRM and other anti-piracy measures).”

    You forget about those people that wouldve bought the game,but didnt due to DRM(shamus and bioshock,for example),which is also a loss of money.

  28. baac says:

    Two observations:

    1) The comment was made by the Director of Marketing. His entire job is to spin for his company.

    2) Saying: “it seemed improbable that those who acquired the game elsewhere or didn't go online were any more likely to have purchased it”,

    is like saying:

    “we interviewed two people, one of whom was a serial killer, and it proves that half the world is made up of serial killers.”

    His assertion – literally – underscores the fact that they have no idea how many copies are pirated, or how it’s affecting them.

    I’m not pro piracy, but I’m sick of media companies telling us how much money they could possibly be making if they shot all pirates, and every POTENTIAL (read: those with a computer) customer forked out for it, regardless of their level of interest. (i.e some people will only play it if it’s free.) It’s all guess work – stop attributing these ridiculous, sensationalist numbers to it.

    Sorry… deep breath… pet peeve of mine.


  29. Mari says:

    Baac brings up a point that’s been bugging me all day. How does one prove a negative? The answer is: one can’t prove a negative.

    IF one were to invade the home of every human on earth right now one could conceivably prove exactly how many pirated copies of games are actually out there. But I’m failing to see many pirates, especially the large-scale ones, standing up shouting, “Me! I’m a pirate!” So I have a lot of doubt about statistics dealing with what percentage of copies of XYZ product are pirated.

    Even assuming those statistics ARE true, though, how does one go on to come up with numbers relating to how many of those pirated copies WOULD have produced sales? Other than randomly pulling numbers out of ones nether regions, the only way I can imagine is to poll the pirates. See my above point about people being reluctant to admit to piracy in the first place. And even if one did poll the pirates – they’re thieves! You’re going to believe them???

    Unless somebody can explain to me HOW these most excellent “statistics” are arrived at, I remain skeptical in the extreme.

  30. Jeff says:

    Speaking as someone who’s got a ton of pirated games… (shhh!)

    The spread of pirated copies decreases as time goes on, not increase. Big blockbuster games get pirated versions out anywhere from 2 weeks after to 1 week before release, from what I’ve seen. During the initial month or so, it’s very easy to get ahold of a copy. After, it takes a while longer. The older (and old being in a scale of weeks here) a game gets, the harder and slower it is to get ahold of a pirated copy. (Igoring the silly people buying pirated games.)

    Casual games like this have a steady rate. The pirated copies come much later, and you never get a huge influx, but a slow semi-steady trickle.

    These two observations I have gathered over quite a few years, with a multitude of games, mind you.

    Combine this with how game sales generally go, where you make a ton of sales initially, and then it trickles off, and the percentages should stay roughly the same.

    Of course, the problem here is that they’re basing their figures on online usage of a predominantly single player, off-line game, and I second Shamus’ thought on who’s inclined to go online. When I play games like this, I don’t particularly care about going online with scoreboards and the like.

    Of all the games I’ve gotten illegally, roughly a third I never really played more than a few minutes before permenantly deleting (thank goodness I didn’t buy), a few I tired of very quickly and never touched again, and some I actually lost interest in before I even installed.

    So how many of these games would I have purchased if I couldn’t download it? Hmm. Over the years… IWD and IWD2, although I never did play through them. It was the premise, and I was high off of the Baldur’s Gate series (which I did buy, as well as Planescape Torment. I do buy the good games). I purchased both NWN and NWN2, although I ended up downloading them again (as well as BG, for that matter). And of course all of them were cracked to save my CD/DVDs.

    Hmm… I may have forgotten a few, but I’d say over a period of 10 years, I’d have purchased perhaps a half dozen titles if I’d been unable to downlad. KotOR2, if I’d purchased that I’d have been seriously pissed off. KotOR’s worth my money though.

    Generally, copy protection is necessary – to a certain extent. There is been no copy protection, ever, that has not been cracked within a month. Including Valve’s Steam. Stardock as well (although I can’t recall their copy-protect. I vaguely remember it when I purchased GalCiv1, hmm… I do know the expansion pack I pirated and had to do a crack for, iirc. Although the expansion didn’t help extend my gametime much, as I’d already played it for a while and was bored of the whole thing.)

    So a bit of protection is good, to prevent casual users from pirating, but there’s giant segments of the population who’ll buy if there’s copy protect, but get a pirated copy if there isn’t. (Casual users, not casual gamers, because there are hardcore gamers who are utter noobs to technology. As well as being ignorant, but arrogant, asshats.)

    Spending ridiculus amounts of time on copy-protection is just stupid, or at least an anachronism. Simple CD-required will deter a bunch, online activation will deter more, in an escalation of how far a user is willing to go to grab a copy before he just buys it. (Although I have an opposite experience once. I spent 2 days, walking 16 blocks, trying to get ahold of Oblivion. I was willing to pay for the collector’s edition with the shiny coin too, but eventually I gave up and grabbed a copy of my friend, who had pirated it days prior. I wanted a retail, but I couldn’t find it. Can’t say I didn’t try, either.)

    A simple CD protect eliminates users who are unwilling or unable to find a simple crack (a lot don’t trust them, and a few are just ignorant and end up getting viruses instead oc cracks).
    Online activation requires enough effort that a lot more users will just buy the dang thing.

    Hellgate has a nice protection type thing, involuntary though it may be. Single Player requires a CD (which has been cracked, and I have), but it’s currently patched to 0.6. Multiplayer doesn’t require a CD in drive (which I only noticed after forgetting to mount the image) and is version 1.1b (1.2 coming in a week or two.). 0.6 is practically unplayable, heh.

    Goes without saying multiplayer requires an account.

    I love HG:L, playing an engineer. I wish there was a modern FPS/RPG the likes of Deus Ex and System Shock 1/2. (Deus Ex 2 doesn’t count! It never existed, dammit! Deus Ex 3 better actually be fun.)

  31. Nathanael says:

    I would like to add that some games are not even released in some parts of the world, leaving the gamer only with the option of importing the game (and paying hefty taxes doing it) other than pirating it online or buying a pirated copy.

    This is the case for a game that is not mainstream.

  32. Phlux says:

    Between the ages of 15 and 21 I would guess that probably 50-75% of the games I played were pirated. I don’t do it anymore, because I have a good job and I make enough money to support my habit.

    92% seems ridiculously high, and I think it’s probably inflated. There was a bunch of stuff recently about how some ridiculous percentage of Call of Duty 4 PC players were using pirated copies.

    What I want to know is: how do they come up with the figure in the first place? If they know a copy is pirated, why don’t they ban it?

    Maybe they’re using something simple like (copies sold) / (copies seen online). There are many problems with such a simplistic method, though. What about users who never go online? If you have no unique ID system to identify individual installs, how do you know how many UNIQUE players are out there? IP address won’t work…my home IP changes every couple of days, and maybe I install it on a couple different computers.

  33. Hastur says:

    I dont believe piracy reports because the companies that report them have money to gain by deceptively inflating piracy numbers. I think that they (and music industries) use the projected losses to pay less taxes through shady accounting by applying the “theft losses” to thier gross profits and then saying that they didnt make much money and therefore pay less in taxes that they would otherwise have.

  34. Daemian_Lucifer says:

    Even if you didnt like glaciv,it would be a shame not to purchase it when you download it.If for nothing else,then just to support their cause of treating customers like customers.

    EDIT:I forgot to enter the antispam word,but then got back and my text was still there.Opera kick firefoxs a$$>:->

  35. I happen to know Russell personally, and have a great deal of faith in what he was saying. He’s been very candid in the past about the realities of the biz. But even if you don’t know him, this article is particularly believable because the rest of it (once you get that 92% figure and the increase in sales) was basically shredding the “party line” of game publishers and guys like the ESA.

    He indicated his belief that only 1 in 1000 pirated copies of the game actually translated into a lost sale – based on cold, hard numbers.

    But I’m kinda entertained by the people who are jumping to the conclusion that he’s spreading conventional industry FUD without reading the article.

  36. Davesnot says:


    I put the wierdest link.. like ever in my post up there (#25).. I was supposed to be linking to a thing about my kid being a pirate.. and my paste had something my wife was e-mailing around in it.. oopps.. here is the real link…


    and Shamus.. sorry.. for that.. I hang my head in shame.. linking to some random blog about stay-at-home Dads and playgroup politics.. sheez..

    PLEASE all you that went to that.. forgive me.. .. and now if you could get back in the mood I set with my comment and go to my new link… then all would be right with the world..

    And if you like Playmobil .. all the better.

  37. cheesemaster says:

    I buy far more games than I pirate. Most of the time when I pirate a game it’s when I’m simply given the copy by a friend. One of the few times I’ve gone out of my way to pirate a game is recently when I downloaded Deus Ex, and that was only because I couldn’t find a PC copy of it in my entire state , no joke. I think I’m slightly justified in downloading it instead of needing to buy a plane ticket or pay for shipping to get the game.

  38. Grue says:

    I think all of you must know different people than I do. At my job, I would say that everyone makes enough money to afford a $60 video game without much difficulty. But if it’s really easy to pirate, why not do it even if you only save $60?

    One of my friends usually pirates but bought the most recent half-life 2 episode. I think DRM can make people buy games as long as it makes pirating slightly less convenient (although most DRM schemes may not do this).

  39. True – many kinds of DRM / Copy Protection inconvenience honest customers way more than pirates.

  40. blizzardwolf says:

    First of all, Opera for the win. :D

    Secondly, in response to the long-ago post by Nilus, pirating games is actually significantly more complicated for someone like a casual gamer. It seems easy to pirates and tech-savvy people because a lot of it’s second nature by now, but if you ever sit down and try to teach someone who doesn’t have a whole lot of computer know-how the ways of piracy, you start running into things you’d completely forgotten were even issues.

    Let’s start with the process of teaching someone to pirate. Take a casual gamer, can work Excel, MS Word, Powerpoint just fine, occasionally tinkers around on Solitaire, or if they’re feeling really adventurous, maybe the Sims or Civilization.

    Step 1: They need to know what a .torrent is, and how they work, and they’re likely to be a little apprehensive about new and unfamiliar little things like this, probably paranoid about catching viruses at every turn. So you may have to explain what a .torrent is, how they work, and how they download.

    Step 2: Now they have to have a .torrent program, like Azureus, or uTorrent. So you have to get them to download and install that, and as you do reassure them that they are not in fact going to destroy their computer.

    Step 3: Now they have to set up their .torrent program. This usually involves something like port forwarding, and making sure they forward the right port, they do a socket and ping test, and it’s at this point a lot of people are apt to say “Forget it, too complicated, I’ll just go out and buy the game.” And even if they don’t, that risk increases with every future step you have to teach them.

    Step 4: But okay, now you have the .torrent program set up, the .torrent itself is running, and they’re probably gonna have some basic questions like “Why isn’t it downloading? Why is it running so slow? Can I speed it up? Where is it saving to, I don’t see it” etc. (And this isn’t even getting into methods by which they can hide their IP, or check for malicious software as the .torrent is downloading)

    Step 5: Once the .torrent is done, if they downloaded something that simply has a crack and the game, you have to scan the crack, scan the game, and any other executables for potential malware. Now you have to tell them that destroying their computer is a risk, and no matter how much you downplay that risk by saying what a rare occurrence it is, or how all they have to do is run a quick scan, they’re still gonna hear “potential malware/virus/spyware”, get spooked, and probably say no thanks right here. It’s not a mark against their intelligence or a sign of their laziness, they just don’t want to have to learn how to combat things like that for the sake of playing a game.

    Step 6: But supposing they do say “Whatever man” and you run your scan, fine, then at this point the game is probably ready to go. Unfortunately, this type of game download is rarely the case, and not even the most reliable download either. Usually what you get in a game .torrent is the .iso or .mdf, the “disc images” of the game, maybe with a crack included. So now they have to learn how to work something like Daemon Tools, or Alcohol 120%. You have to show them how to load images, burn images, and how the security emulation works. And for these two, particularly if you have the Pro versions, it becomes a whole future chapter of learning.

    And here, this is just the basics. This isn’t taking into account seeds and leechers, how to recognize bogus .torrents, what the safest .torrent sites are, or explaining the risk of being caught, not to mention all the options their .torrent program may offer for speeding torrents, blocking bad ones, hiding IP’s, etc.

    Now again, a lot of this is second nature to pirates because they either don’t have to contend with it much, or they taught themselves how to do it all long ago, so it’s second nature by now. And this is just downloading a game that’s already had its DRM reverse engineered and circumvented, we’re not even talking about going into a game’s code yourself and fixing THAT particular problem.

    Now you compare all of this to just going out and spending $60.00 on a game that is malware-free, (or at least that most casual and less tech-savvy gamers trust is so) that you can put the disc in, have a handy little menu to guide you through the 5 or 10 minute install process, and have a game that you know will work when you put the disc in.

    I think if companies were to drop DRM altogether, and make their games as easy to install and play as possible, then compared to how complicated it is for most to pirate, they would probably see a sales boost because buying the game would just be easier. Some people are willing to wait, contend with their .torrents and cracking programs and emulation software, but most are not.

  41. Daemian_Lucifer says:

    Opera 9.x is already set up for downloading torrents,so you dont need any other program,and most of the anti virus softwares are initially set to scan new files as soon as they are downloaded,so that wont be much of a problem.

    As for mounting images,I managed to teach complete computer ignorants to use virtual cds and some of the programs for creating/mounting those.And these were people that dont even know english.

    Also,as I mentioned before,piracy doesnt include just downloading pirated software,but also buying pirated software(which is more hurtful to companies IMO,because someone IS gaining money here,unlike with downloading free games)which is either already cracked,or has a simple crack on the cd(just copy and paste)along with instructions how to use it.

  42. blizzardwolf says:

    Agreed, you can use Opera 9.x and that eliminates the need for a separate program, but now you have to teach them about this whole new browser. Not nearly as much to teach as a .torrent program, but it’s still something new and unfamiliar. Particularly with Opera, if you’re gonna teach them all of it’s bells and whistles while you’re at it.

    I’m not saying that teaching someone about virtual drives and emulation is hard, it’s really not. But it IS far more complicated and involves more work on the part of the student than just buying the game does. Particularly if they don’t have the time to do their own studies and polish what they’ve been taught.

    And of course they can just buy the cracked CD with an instruction manual, and clearly there’s a market for it, but again, you have the concern of viruses, even if it’s only perceived, that turns a lot of people away.

    Let’s take Bioshock for example. If, instead of the complicated process of online activation and the DRM it was bundled with, you could just stick the CD in and play it, like old school Diablo or something, maybe without even a CD key, 2KGames probably would’ve seen their scales skyrocket even among pirates, because it’s just plain easier and less time consuming to do.

  43. Daemian_Lucifer says:

    Price is also an issue here.One of my most usefull programs was sold for mere 5 euros,and had only a CD key protection with online activation.The price includes full online support and updates as well.And Ive been using it dor 2 years now,which is a lot more than most of the games and other programs.

  44. tussock says:

    Hmm. Assuming the reported trend holds, if they could eliminate /every/ pirate, they’d have another doublinf of sales, but 99.8% less downloading traffic than originally.

    They should really consider an ad revenue model ahead of a sales model.

    Ask for the $20 purchase for some irrelevant benefit to capture the people who really want to support the company, and you only need 2c per downloading pirate to beat any anti-piracy measure. Ads go for 5c per click, don’t they? That’s a 150% increase on revenue over anti-piracy measures.

  45. James Pony says:

    Convenience and price. In relation to the value of the game itself to me; how interesting it seems, what the company who made the game is known for.

    I’ve downloaded GAME and FIRST EXPANSION and SECOND EXPANSION, the expansions. I found an affordable box with all three, but EXPANSION THREE, the third expansion, is coming soon and it’d be silly to have EXPANSION THREE separately with the previous installments in a cute, nifty box. When they’re all available in a cute, nifty box, I’ll most likely buy it.

    Then there’s GAME by BIG COMPANY, which was sort of fun but I wouldn’t buy it. I planned to, but I was short on money so I decided to take a look before committing my extensively lacking funds. Because it’s made by BIG COMPANY, it’s very polished, but lacks the depth and character of, say, Valve, SMALL COMPANY and WELL-ESTABLISHED COMPANY’s products.

    I bought the Half-Life box with Opposing Force and Blue Shift. Before that, I’d seen it and played it at a friend’s. When Half-Life 2 came out, I didn’t wait for a demo, I just prepared the cash. It’s the same with all the following Valve games, I don’t need to play a demo or see it at a friend’s. Valve has my money by default.

    Then there’s GAME. It had some very cool concepts, but I didn’t know much about its makers. So I downloaded it. It didn’t run on my old rig, but later the old rig broke so I had to get a new one. I tried GAME once more. I got bored soon. Very meh.

    I’m prepared to buy Starcraft 2 when it comes out, no sneak peeks or anything. Just straight turning money into the game.

    Then there’s some games you just have to download because you can’t find them in the stores. I don’t like buying things on the internet (except with Valve), I don’t trust the delivery system. I like having a physical product in my hands the moment I give money to the cashier at whatever store I’m buying the game from.

    I’m very biased towards overhyped games. Bioshock I wouldn’t have touched anyway, but then I heard all that talk and now I avoid it like the plague.
    People keep telling me how cool this and that is, how deep and shit it is, all the fancy concepts and whatnot. Usually I don’t even try it, but when I’m do, I’m almost invariably disappointed by the lack of depth and character, the horrible execution of the concepts, the awkward interface and controls, the look of it all.
    Usually these games fall into two categories: the pseudo-underground “cool” shit (or atleast that’s the vibe I’m getting from ’em, like it’s somehow, like, soo totally intellectual and shit, like, totally. Dude. Maaannn.) and the superpopular shit by huge-ass companies.

    So the article holds true, pretty much – atleast on my part. If I downloaded it first, there’s a very high chance I wouldn’t buy it anyway, or I CAN’T buy it because it’s not available. Surprisingly, though, most of the games that have the biggest and baddest and most numerous anti-piracy measures are games that I consider to have a content that least justifies the anti-piracy measures (although this only applies to my experiences, naturally, since I don’t even try a lot of stuff out, and if I see someone else play it it usually confirms my suspicions).

    The best anti-piracy measure is making a game of such quality and character that I simply WANT to support the company who made it – a situation where do I only not want the game, but specifically a legimate copy of it.

    Also, I like typing words.

  46. Zaxares says:

    James Pony: “The best anti-piracy measure is making a game of such quality and character that I simply WANT to support the company who made it – a situation where do I only not want the game, but specifically a legimate copy of it.”

    That statement above pretty much sums up my opinion on anti-piracy. In this day and age, law enforcement can only do so much against software piracy without pissing off a lot of your legitimate customer base. The only truly effective way to stop piracy is to build your customer loyalty so they WANT to buy your games. In addition to what James mentioned, you also need to make yourself PERSONAL with your customers. Open a forum. Have regular dialogue between the developers and the players. If people know you as a real person and not just some faceless company representative, they generally are much more reluctant to pirate your software when they know the effects it has on you, as a person.

    I’ve pirated games in the past, I’ll freely admit, when I was young and self-centered and had very little money to actually buy software. Now that I’m older and have a decent paying job, I buy all the software I use (although that doesn’t stop me from seeking out freeware now and again).

  47. Stevan R says:

    I live in Serbia, where average pay is around $500/month, and games are usually more expensive then in USA because of shipping fees, so many games are pirated because alternative is not-playing. I try to buy as much games I like (I play pirated copies first), but many never bought original game, not considering WoW/GW…

  48. Davesnot says:

    Blizzard and Lucifer both hit it… I know people that are so afraid of viruses that they’ve installed so many virus programs that are all constantly downloading updates.. their computers run sooooo slow.. and they always think it because they must have “another” virus.. so the put on more protection..

    I saw one family that had 4 “accounts”.. they left them all logged in.. and they all had Norton (or somethin’) running scans and updates… it took about two hours even to get that thing to answer commands to close all the programs down.. (lord knows they wouldn’t let me touch the power!).. I was tempted to go out to the breaker box and go. oops…

    Buying the pirated copy is the problem.. and that’s what the companies wanna stop..

  49. 70% increase in sales sure seems worthwhile. That is an important point, a bottom line. DRM won’t go away as long as that is true.

    Hellgate has a nice protection type thing, involuntary though it may be. Single Player requires a CD (which has been cracked, and I have), but it's currently patched to 0.6. Multiplayer doesn't require a CD in drive (which I only noticed after forgetting to mount the image) and is version 1.1b (1.2 coming in a week or two.). 0.6 is practically unplayable, heh.

    Now that is probably the wave of the future, consider how much of WoW is pirated …

    What you are talking about is a combination of registration and upgrade on-line, upon verified purchase. Could easily become standard.

  50. Steve C says:

    92% are “pirates”… that number is just bull because they don’t define what they declare to be a “pirate”. Both movie and music industry does the same nonsense as the software industry to come up with piracy numbers. For example this is how the Business Software Alliance comes up with their piracy numbers:

    A) estimate the number of computers shipped in a given market,
    B) determine the average quantity of software installed on those machines.
    C) Total the unit sales figures of BSA’s members for that market.
    Then they solve for X using this formula: “A * B = C + X” And they -declare- that X = piracy.

    With a figure like 92% how did they come to it? I read the articles you linked Shamas and your assumption that it “sounds like they were just looking at a snapshot of how many pirated copies were being played at the moment” … is only an assumption based on the vague article. While your assumption seems reasonable, I have not found the software industry to make reasonable assumptions especially concerning piracy figures.

    The 92% figure, was it derived similar to the BSA’s formula? Maybe Reflexive Games declared that downloads must equal sales and the difference between the two numbers is “piracy”. That would mean that every failed, stopped, web crawling robot, corrupted etc download would be declared piracy. Then there is also anyone who downloaded it but it failed to run on their system due to specs or the user decided they didn’t like it for whatever reason. (“Going online” is too vague and doesn’t logically relate to the Downloads vs Sales ratios posted later in the article.)

    Perhaps the game included some sort of “phone home” authentication and defeating that in any way (like playing behind a firewall) was erroneously included into the piracy figures. Maybe Reflexive Games included any attempt at access on a particular part of their network (successful or not) to be an attempt to use a pirated copy. Maybe a user opening up multiple server connections (to increase bandwidth) is declared piracy. It could also be (as Luke says above) 92% is the number of people who failed to register the game. 92% could also just be an error in the same manner like the recently “corrected” piracy figures for college students. Those are off the top of my head but there are LOTS of reasons why 92% could be a completely useless figure.

    Note: I’ve never even tried the game. The game’s quality is immaterial to my point that without transparency in the polling/data collection process the “piracy statistics” are no better than fiction.

  51. Steve C says:

    I’m curious what Reflexive Games’ unit sales are as reported on their financial statements. I would like to divide that figure by 0.08 to figure out how many people Reflexive thinks are playing their game. It could easily be an unbelievable number. For example if they sold 400,000 units they are claiming that 5 million people are playing the game.

  52. Steve C says:

    Ericc (comment #15 above) said “Having worked for a major software company in an anti-piracy department… From my experience, it ranged from casual (let me borrow your software to balance my books).”

    Your statement is a perfect example of what I was getting at 2 posts up, it depends on how you define piracy. The software industry has an extremely broad definition of piracy. They think that any 100% legal activity they don’t like must be “piracy” because they don’t like it.

    Ericc please note that loaning/borrowing software is NOT piracy, and is NOT a crime. Software has the same legal status as a physical book. As long as you don’t make/keep a copy you have done nothing wrong. Librarians are NOT pirates and neither is anyone else if they loan/borrow or even rent a book. Same goes for a piece of software.

  53. Rustybadger says:

    I mentioned in another comment on a different post that I’m an FPS addict, and how many of those games I own. At that point it was irrelevant, but here I could go ahead and note that without exception, I grabbed a pirated copy before buying it. There’s no such thing as rental outlets for PC games around here, and of all my friends and acquaintances, I’m the most bleeding-edge, so borrowing it is out of the question. However, once I’ve decided I like a game, I’ll buy it. Sometimes at full retail (Battlefield 2), sometimes at discount once it’s aged a year or so. I now own 5 legit copies of BF2, 4 or 5 of BF1942, a couple of Star Wars Battlefront, and on it goes. Not that all those copies do me any good right now since I don’t have broadband *pout*.

    Back when I got my first computer (1984, Tandy Colour Computer II), there was no way I could afford ANY games. I wrote my own, mostly, and used my parents’ double-cassette recorder to duplicate games from my friends who had the same gear. (DRM on a cassette tape? Ha!) Commodore 64 games were pretty easy to copy too- but by then the software companies were figuring out how to protect their stuff a bit better.

    By the legal definition, I’m probably a pirate (arrrr!). But I don’t let it bother me none. I have enough original copies of everything I’ve ever cracked or downloaded to more than make up for it. Yays!

    But I’m not gonna buy Bioshock, or any other game I can confirm has invasive crap on it (remember that stuff varies from market to market as well- BF2 was rumoured to have some pretty bad stuff on it, but it’s not evident on any of my copies I got here in Canada). It’s way safer to DL a cracked copy that’s had all the nasties blasted out of it.

    Gotta run now and plow the snow off my driveway.

  54. Jeff says:

    Oh, no no no, I DID buy GalCiv. I played it nonstop for like two months and burned out. When the expansion pack came out I didn’t buy a copy. It tweaked my interest for like a day, but I was already burned out… so that was how long I touched it.

    Much like Phlux says, now that I’ve a steady job I don’t pirate much. Back in university, where I couldn’t even get ahold of a game legally (see my story re: Oblivion) I grabbed tons of games. In high school it’d be finances more than access. Right now, I pass by an EB every time I go home from work.

    Another reason is that even for a seasoned guy like me, as games hit the 6 GB mark, I’m disinclined to spend a month or two downloading the thing. The truest form of the “Won’t buy even if you can’t pirate” applies right here – I’m not going to try to download the huge game, but neither am I going to actually buy it. I’ll just not play it.

    Make the games cheaper and I’d own a lot more, even if I end up not playing it much. Something like 20 bucks a pop and I wouldn’t think twice about grabbing a bunch of games, for the sake of convenience.

  55. Yonder says:

    I am another poor college student. I work a part time job which pulls me in an average of 400 dollars a month. After rent, electricity, and food I am down 725 bucks in a fairly cold month, a little more in a really cold month, and quite a bit less during a spring or summer month. Thank goodness my parents are handling my tuition. I have been getting full time jobs over the summer, but it’s not enough, and each year some more of my (at this point very small) life savings goes bye-bye. In this situation it’s very hard to justify a 60 dollar game purchase to myself, much less several of them. I generally allow myself one purchase a school year. Partially the game I consider the best of the year, but mostly the game coming from the studio I most believe deserves my patronage. (This has been Oblivion, Supreme Commander, and Sins of a Solar Empire. I bought the limited edition of SoaSE the day I heard that Stardock was making another zero-DRM game.) When last Christmas rolled around I felt like I had been stingy enough and deserved a treat, so I bought a civ IV expansion pack also, at slightly less than the full price of a game, this was an easier sell to myself.

    In addition to the money, I am very busy at school, and it is hard to fully commit myself to a game, thus I flit from game to game very frequently, 4 hours here, 6 here. Making it feel like a rough deal to buy a full game for that time period. This is even true of the games I have bought, must of which have been impulse buys (I am sad to say) instead of choosing my one game super carefully, I pretty much just weaken one day, make an impulse buy, and then don’t let it happen again for a year.

    Some of the other games I play are games that I bought before coming to college, or games that my family bought and no one else was playing any more, so I brought them up. Another handful are freeware (hip hip hurray for Dwarf Fortress) The rest of the games are pirates. These fall into a couple different categories.

    1. Games that I own and left at home, and rather than have my parents pay to have them shipped 1500 miles, I just download them. Rome:Total War, Caeser IV, Impossible Creatures, and Baldurs Gate II fit this description. RTW I actually have the legal disk copy of now, I remembered to bring it back with me when I went home one break.

    2. The smallest category, games that I have actually, full on pirated. This includes Civ IV and it’s first expansion (BTS is the only one I legitimately own) However my playing time for this is quite short (like I said, even the games I buy I play for a short amount of time) Most of the others are smaller games, I am ashamed to say. Some of the Reflexives are among them, although not the one this article talks about, Defcon is another game. However none of these are games I would have bought if I was unable to pirate them. For example, I was unable to find a copy of Armageddon Empires, I still did not purchase the game.

    3. This category is by far the largest. Both in number of games, and in time played it dwarfs the other two categories put together. Old games, games which are hard to find legitimately, or games where finding them legitimately would involve paying a large amount for some used game, not in any way whatsoever helping the people that made it 8-10 (or more) years ago. This includes X-Com, Master of Orion (1 and 2), Fallout, Majesty,Star Wars Rebellion, SimEarth, Tie Fighter, that’s only computer games too, not going into the NES and SNES roms I have, like Ogre Battle. (It’s possible I am wrong about some of these people not existing any more, if that is the case then we have another 1 or 2 games for the second category.)

    As for the future? I do not plan on grad school, that means that in 2 short years I will have a stable income, larger than my outcome I may not be done paying my student loans, but I will have made progress, and be comfortable knowing that soon that won’t be a significant problem. In short, I will have disposable income. When that happens I don’t see myself ever pirating anything again. Ever. I will still have to budget myself sure, money doesn’t grow on trees. But once I am at the area where I feel like I can buy 4-5 games a year (even if I don’t) that’s pretty much all I need. But once more, as I have alluded to here, I actually prefer older games, there are lots of good games I missed the first time around. I am going to return to the games that I missed, or stole, the first time, and I am going to buy those too. I know what I have done is wrong, and I feel bad about it (for the good games, the games I played more than twenty minutes). Defcon deserves my money, hell, I’ll probably buy Darwinia too, I liked the demo. Armageddon Empires will get my cash, and I’ll buy a nice Civ pack. This goes for freeware games too. For a year now I have known what my first “purchase” will be when I sign on for my first job. It will be a nice amount of money (more than what you would pay for a standard game) to ToadyOne, maker of Dwarf Fortress.

  56. Robel says:

    It`s the truth, and it`s not the truth for just some games. It`s the general truth. Mostly it`s because of the unbalanced world economy (in USA a man earns about $x per month and here in Romania I would say he earns about $x/10, I`m not kidding.) So a $40 game is translated into about 100 Romanian Lions (our currency), which is about, oh, 1/7 of a regular (not low, regular) salary. Yeah, you go buy that game, I`m going to eat, thanks.
    So it`s not the evil corporations’ or the peoples’ fault. It`s just…economy. There are other reasons, of course, but I just explained how it is where I live.

  57. Chris Arndt says:

    Here’s a notion of anti-piracy being a pain in the ass.

    I made/make copies of (nearly) all my CD-ROM games so I don’t accidentally scratch my originals with standard wear and tear. It’s a great idea.

    I got the Starcraft Warchest for Christmas one year.

    I continued my customary practice.

    Last year or so I lost the original and case for the Expansion Pack…. I still have the original Starcrat itself, and I have the walk-through manuals.

    So the old school anti-piracy measure has royally screwed me out of playing Starcaft expansion! I hate it. I actually, genuinely feel sad about this material loss.

  58. ArchU says:

    I have had a similar game obtaining history to Jeff (#54) it seems in that I used to pirate games due to lack of funding but since I have steady work I usually no longer do.

    Let me explain this: whilst my policy is to not pirate games a 30 minute trial of a game or a first-level demo may not be enough of a preview to a game to indicate it’s worth. I have at times paid a premium for a game to discover it was a bad investment (especially before I had the spare bandwidth to download demos) and usually after the introductory stages. If a game starts shaping up to be genuinely a good product then I’ll spend on it.

    I also totally agree with Chris’ (#57) comment. Backing up software is useful, just so long as DRM doesn’t cripple the copy. Expanding on the convenience issue, it’s ludicrous that so many games still require the original media to be inserted in the drive to play. I’d rather set up a crack or virtual DVD drive to handle that part instead of swapping out the disc for every game.

  59. Lee Davis says:

    Most people I know who fall into the casual games category have trouble saving a Word document.

    Ericc, you clearly don't know me; I'm only a casual gamer because I find Linux kernel tweaking to be more interesting, and because I'm not willing to put up with the crap game publishers have put in to frustrate thieves.

    IMO, copy protection shouldn't be any more necessary than locking up candy bars. It should be possible to trust people not to steal. But since people are unfortunately willing to steal games, it's become necessary for the game publishers to make it really inconvenient for honest customers to consume their product.

    I don't use stolen software. Not any. Somebody worked hard to produce that code, they set a price on their work, and I have the choice of paying that price, stealing from them, or not buying the product. There is no moral excuse for stealing; property rights are fundamental to civilization, and we ignore them at our peril.

    What I hope is that producers of intellectual property will realize it is in their best interest to understand that their revenues can no longer rationally be based on the costs of distribution. Kevin Kelly recently published an article discussing what is valuable in a free-distrubution information economy. It's well worth reading.

  60. Jeff says:

    The candy store is a good analogy, actually.

    You don’t leave the candy around in a place that, after working hours, don’t close doors or have anyone watching.

    Lock the door at night. That deters a giant amount of potential thieves. Add in a security system – that deters more. Have a roaming security guard – that’ll deter even more.

    Eventually though, you hit the point where your paying customers get annoyed, but those who insist on stealing the candy STILL DO, even if they have to go all Ocean’s Eleven to do it. Having tracking devices and body cavity searches, candy-sniffing hounds, and a private army watching and escorting everyone will still not stop Ocean’s Eleven, but will piss off the customers as well as add pointless expenses that drive up prices and reduces more customers… while STILL HAVING IT STOLEN.

    Pointless. Make it more convenient, and cheaper to buy, and everyone will get it. Even people who earn 8 bucks an hour tend not to steal a one dollar candy bar.

  61. Daemian_Lucifer says:

    Lee Davis:

    “Somebody worked hard to produce that code, they set a price on their work”

    Except that its not like that for most software.Only a smaller fraction of the price is the price for creating the software,and larger part goes to publishers and retailers.How else do you explain that a well written program bought directly from the creator costs around $10 and one made by a huge name costs $50 .And how come retailers can sell their games for $10 or less once the hype about the game is gone,and still dont lose money.

  62. Thijs says:

    by the way: for all the people who feel bad to have downloaded a game they already own: technically that is not pirating. If I recall correctly, it isn’t even illegal to download software and use it, as long as you have the original version. And as that is very hard to check (they have to drop by your homes) downloading and using is not illegal. Spreading copyrighted material is illegal, so sharing your files is too.

    Correct me if I am wrong.

    Having said that, there is no way in which the writers of the article can know how many gamers play illegal, except if the number of people playing the game greatly outnumbers the number that bought it.

  63. Thijs says:

    To take the other side:

    Is videogaming such a basic right that you can steal games when you are poor? I did it too, and don’t do it anymore now I have more income, but the argument is not right. Do you walk away in restaurants without paying, because you are poor? Or steal really cool cars… Having no money for a luxury product sucks, but it does not justify stealing. If you want a game really bad, you can save for it, or ask it for christmas. Or buy really cheap games… (I mostly buy games at 5 to 10 euro’s; does it matter that they are last year’s?) It seems that people, and especially the video gamers generation, get so spoiled with luxury these days that they cannot make the distinction between things they need and things they want. Not to point the finger by the way, I’m as guilty as the rest of this phenomenom.

  64. guy says:

    I bought galciv2 direct download, and after figuring out the interface to get it in the first place, got the bundle pack in 20 minutes. pretty good for that file size

  65. guy says:

    @damien lucifer
    you see, it doesn’t cost 50 bucks to make A copy, but it does cost 10 million bucks to make the game. it takes 100 collage grads several years to make a mainstream game. the creator has to pay them. by the time all the hype has died down and it’s two years later, each disc costs the creators $5, including shipping and handling. there is a reason why starcraft and starcraft battle chest cost the same. a one-four man job doesn’t cost nearly as much, but mainstream games can have more graphics people than indie companies have people.

  66. Miako says:

    Stupid, stupid companies.

    Smart companies exploit ‘hackers’ (better known as your more intelligent gamers) to create new content, that will in turn entice new people to play (and some fraction of those new people will find it easier to buy your product than steal it).

    Having played Thief, I would not replay it, but will download fan missions aplenty.

    Almost all the games that I have in the house are pirated (downloaded everything pre-Thief, because they’re smaller).

    Nonetheless, I did buy the SuperShiny Version of Oblivion — to appreciate the quality forgery.

    And I’d pay a hundred bucks, cheerfully, to see the real StarControl3 (not the stupid sequel they made), or to see Anachronox finished.

    Shamus, you should go e-mail Iron Crown Enterprises and ask how much of their products get sold via .pdfs versus realbooks.

    Loyal customers are loyal customers, and I’d wager that both Martin and Gerrold get a good deal of income from the “feed the starving writer” buttons they’ve got on their websites (those translate to ‘finish the damn book already’ in grumpy person talk).

  67. Miako says:

    I has a legal copy at home that says it is illegal. Don’t ask me, that was the company’s decision (I’m told it was cheaper to print that way).

  68. Zukhramm says:

    I don’t like they way piracy is seen as theft. It’s illegal, and bad argubly. However, it’s not theft. Stealing requiers taking something. Making a perfekt copy is not stealing, it’s a crime, but not the same crime as stealing something is.

    As for piracy, I can very well admit that I do download things illegally. At this day and age, we have the ability to almost without effort replicate anything that’s digital and spread it to almost anywhere. Should this not be something really good?

    I believe that the industries are the ones needing to change their ways. They need to realize that we live today and not 50 years ago. They need to accept, and even work with, the fact that things are like they are. They need to find ways of making money that are not based on a number of sold copies.

    In a worst case scenario, where we for argument’s sake say it’s impossible to make money off of books, movies and music, these would still excist. Yes, there’d be a drop in quality, probably the most in movies, the least in music and books. But they would still exsist, because in now way would people stop being creative. And if today’s industries die, new ones will be created.

    The questions really are: What are we going to protect? At what price? And at who’s cost?

  69. Luke Maciak says:

    @Thijs – sorry, your argument is invalid because copyright infringement != theft. What does the game publisher lose when you illegally download a game you cannot afford? Absolutely nothing. It doesn’t count as a “lost sale” because you would never buy it anyway.

    It does not affect them in any way – they do not incur bandwidth costs, distribution costs or anything. This is why piracy is such an ambiguous gray area.

    The rest of your points are correct. Yes, it is currently illegal. As a law abiding citizen, you should not be downloading. But you are not steeling – you are infringing on someones exclusive distribution right.

  70. Daemian_Lucifer says:

    @damien lucifer
    “you see, it doesn't cost 50 bucks to make A copy, but it does cost 10 million bucks to make the game. it takes 100 collage grads several years to make a mainstream game. the creator has to pay them. by the time all the hype has died down and it's two years later, each disc costs the creators $5, including shipping and handling. there is a reason why starcraft and starcraft battle chest cost the same. a one-four man job doesn't cost nearly as much, but mainstream games can have more graphics people than indie companies have people.”

    Actually it doesnt cost $10 million to make a game,it costs $10 to make AND market it.Marketing takes up at least half that figure.And if it was all just about development,how come the orange box costs less than if its parts were bought separatelly,even if downloaded and not bought in physical packages?Furthermore,if something costs X to make,and its made in million copies,you charge each copy for X/million increased by 10%-100%,and not increased by 400%.You do charge something so atrociously high only if it is bloody good.Furthermore,you cannot just make another clone of something decades old like mario and expect people to believe you spent $10 million just to develop its new shiney graphics.

    And yes,piracy is not theft.There are much better ways that can be used to charge for your work:Give the game for free and support it by adds.Or give the game for free and set up some limit of the money you need for your next project and take donations towards it.If you made something good,people will pay you(Im sure that blizzard and valve would make a fortune with this tactics).Or give the game for free,but charge its online play.

  71. Daemian_Lucifer said:

    How else do you explain that a well written program bought directly from the creator costs around $10 and one made by a huge name costs $50.

    I don’t. I also don’t try to explain why what is essentially a hunk of soot or some goo slapped on a piece of canvas can sell for millions. That’s what it costs. If you take something without the owner’s agreement, that’s theft. The owner has agreed to sell it for a certain price. The fact that you don’t like the price does not entitle you to steal it.

    Zukhramm said:

    Stealing requiers taking something. Making a perfekt copy is not stealing, it's a crime, but not the same crime as stealing something is.

    You’re splitting semantic hairs, and not very well. Webster’s defines “theft” as “the act of stealing”, and “to steal” as “to take the property of another wrongfully and especially as a habitual or regular practice.” The current state of our civilization recognizes intellectual property. The fact that no physical object is changed may alter the legal definition of the crime committed, but the moral consequences, in my opinion, are the same as stealing a physical object.

    I agree that the business models of the game industry, recording industry, movie industry, and so forth, are fundamentally broken. That does not, in my opinion, excuse stealing from them.

    Obviously, my opinion is not a popular one.

    EDIT: Just noticed this machine signs my posts with my nickname; this is Lee Davis, from above.

  72. guy says:

    maybe, you know, valve is taking advantage of it’s immense earnings on previous games to provide a discout. for the other sales methods: Adds are annoying. especially in the quantities it would take to pay for the three year development cycle. donations are not going to earn that much. Blizzard especiallly won’t want to switch to that, given their profit margin of 43% charging for online play means you don’t get paid by the people who only do single player. we exist, and make up a noticeable portion of the market share. the median annual income for entry level programmers is $50,000. graphics designers earn somewhat less, at $43,000. sim spore, which has a smaller team than normal thanks to procedural generation, has a development team of 70. assuming an even split of graphics artists and programmers, all entry level, the annual cost is $3,255,000. for a three year development cycle, the total cost is $9,765,000. now, the highest sales figure for any game not an MMO is 9 million for starcraft. enough of that happened after it’s drop from $50 that it is still on the shelves 10 years later. assuming, for simplicity, that they all sold for $50, they profited $395,235,000 total, not counting battlenet and patching support. This is the most successful game on the PC that is not subscription based. it also may well have had more than 70 people, but development team sizes have ballooned since, so it’s not totally unreasonable. mind, this figure is massively inflated, but i didn’t feel like trying to figure out how many copies were sold at other price ranges

    EDIT: The graphics artist figure is overall, not at entry level

  73. Bruceongames says:

    We live in an age were many millions of people get away with stealing (6 million in the UK alone) . And they think nothing of it. They get all their entertainment for free. They download games, music and films at will.

  74. As somebody who is knee-deep in the piracy scene, I can address some of this stuff.

    First of all, given that this is a casual game, I can almost guarantee that the 92% statistic is false as it is presented. People have been making up or fudging statistics on piracy for as long as piracy has existed, and there is no backing in this case. In fact, the statistic comes from an unsourced quote starting with “it looks like around.” I haven’t done any research of my own, but it would take more than this to convince me that any game, much less a casual game, has this high a piracy rate.

    The reason I say casual games probably have a low piracy rate is because the target audience of casual games is people who have little time to invest in gaming or little experience. This same demographic is largely unskilled with computers, and does not know how to use torrents. Hardcore games, like BioShock, are much more widely pirated.

    People pirate things for several reasons. Young people tend to pirate games often because they have little disposable income, or because they can’t purchase a game due to age restrictions. Before getting a job, most of my game collection was pirated (and most of the rest was freeware or open source). People who actually have a high disposable income, and enjoy a game, will usually buy it. Of course, there are exceptions; plenty of people could afford to pay but just don’t want to.

    Many people, as you theorized, pirate games because of the inconvenience of DRM. Of these, some will also buy a legal copy but not install it, and some will just not buy the game out of spite for it being infected. With the exception of games distributed over Steam, which I will never support, I am in the former camp, and not so much as an insert-cd-to-play game resides on my hard drive un-cracked.

    The final reason for piracy is demoing. Smart consumers will not pay money for something without a taste of what they are buying, and games are no exception. I often pirate games that I don’t think have an adequate demo, and that’s pretty much every game these days. The games I pirate just to demo always get either tossed aside because they aren’t very good, or bought (once again, except Steam games).

    Also, you mentioned that finding a torrent for a 6GB game would be inconvenient. In fact, it’s not inconvenient at all. I pirated STALKER and completed it before buying it. After reading your blog post about it, I found it in 5 minutes, and the download took about 8 hours.

    Anyway, I’m not trying to glamorize piracy, I just want to point out that it’s not all about getting without paying like some developers would like you to believe.

  75. Miako says:

    I would also like to point out that it is ‘easy’ to ‘difficult’ to get legal ‘free copies’ of things. Game Reviewers get previews, Book Editors get galleys, the list goes on.

    I’m told that to have a complementary copy of Bioshock in my home, I would need to sell more than half a soul to the company (they need coders bad, apparently).

  76. guy says:

    Right, it’s about demoing games that have bad demos, and getting without paying. we really should link to the rampant coyote’s post on when twisted metal got pirated.

  77. Jeff says:

    If many millions of people get away with piracy (not for redistribution), I believe the relevant phrase here with regards to intellectual property is “Paradigm shift”.

    Apples sells a song for how much now? And makes how much sales? Like I said about the diminishing returns of escalating security, make it work for you. Recognize motive, and circumvent it. I’m willing to bet that a large amount of iTunes customers used to pirate music all the time. By putting a more convenient distribution method and severely cutting price, Apple managed to cut down on piracy and increase its profits. No DRM in sight.

  78. Chris Arndt says:

    I just want to whine some more about my lost Starcraft.

  79. Dreadjaws says:

    I know this is old (and I know I start all my comments with the same phrase, but I’m just going through your archives), but I have a small contribution to make.

    I live in South America, in a small country named Uruguay. While our cities and population are more or less the same kind they are in the US (that is, we don’t live in caves and we have the latest technological advances at our disposal), we suffer from being mostly ignored by software companies.

    That means that, apart from a couple of obvious big companies who have branch offices all over the world (like Microsoft), software companies don’t care too much about bringing their products here. So people are left with two choices:
    a) purchase the software at outrageous prices up to at least 300% of the original (that I’ve seen, I’m sure there are even higher prices) or
    b) use pirated software

    The lack of care by the companies and the government has caused a strange situation in my country: it’s not technically illegal to pirate software. Since no one bothers to enforce software copyright laws (except for Microsoft software) you’ll see pirated software and games being sold by legitimate companies everywhere.

    Also, every few blocks you’ll see regular people selling pirated copies of software and games, for PC and consoles, along with legitimate items, like joysticks, mice or memory cards. This presents and interesting situation, which I’ll analyze in parts:
    1) The lack of information pertinent about software and copyright and the extensive proliferation of piracy makes people not realize that what they’re doing is a bad thing. They just think it’s normal. That’s why they scoff at the idea of purchasing legal copies of games in specialized stores, claiming things like it’s not worth to pay so much for just a fancier copy, and in their minds they’re not doing anything illegal anyway.
    2) People who actually realize this is an illegal procedure still won’t purchase the originals because the idea of free or cheaper software is so ingrained in their minds that they laugh at the idea of paying for it. Even though they wouldn’t dream at the idea of doing the same with, say, books or clothes.
    3) People who realize this is illegal and decide they want to start purchasing original software find it very difficult because their lifes are modeled around the usage of pirated software. This means they’ll suddenly start having to spend money in areas they didn’t before and some will have second thoughts about if it’s worth the hassle.

    I can speak from experience, because up until a few years ago, I didn’t know all of this was illegal. The moment I realized it (when internet became a bigger part of my life), I vowed to start getting all my software the legal way. And it was not easy. The discovery of digital distribution was a blessing, since the import taxes for retail software are inconceivable here. For a while, most of my digital purchases were copies of games I had already played in an illegitimate way. And I still do it to this day whenever I find a game I remember having played when I was a teen but didn’t get in its original form (GOG is a great help with this).

    The thing is, most of these analysis fail to take into account people who, like most in my country, have no idea what piracy is. And those people comprise, if not the majority of the population in the internet, at least a great deal. Maybe 92% of the players are pirating, but I guarantee that at least 50% of them have no idea they’re doing it.

    To this day, I try to convert anyone I can to the legitimate way. Most people laugh at me, but some listen, and I’m hoping more will in the future.

  80. Lee says:

    Hi. I’m amused by how people like to complicate this issue. It’s simple. A guy works hard to produce a game. People want to play that game. But lots of people don’t want to pay what the seller charges. So they steal the game. Because it’s easy to steal digital content. The thieves don’t care if the guy starves, or has to go back working at McDonalds because the good programming jobs are gone due to outsourcing or H1B visas. I mean, what’s hard to understand about people just taking what they want without paying for it? They are thieves, get it?

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