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An In-Depth Look At Game Piracy

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the share-and-share-alike dept.

PC Games (Games) 504

TweakGuides is running a detailed examination of PC game piracy. The author begins with a look at the legal, moral, and monetary issues behind copyright infringement, and goes on to measure the scale of game piracy and how it affects developers and publishers. He also discusses some of the intended solutions to piracy. He provides examples of copy protection and DRM schemes that have perhaps done more harm than good, as well as less intrusive measures which are enjoying more success. The author criticizes the "culture of piracy" that has developed, saying. "Fast forward to the 21st century, and piracy has apparently somehow become a political struggle, a fight against greedy corporations and evil copy protection, and in some cases, I've even seen some people refer to the rise of piracy as a 'revolution.' What an absolute farce. ... Piracy is the result of human nature: when faced with the option of getting something for free or paying for it, and in the absence of any significant risks, you don't need complex economic studies to show you that most people will opt for the free route."

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Piracy is the result of human nature (5, Funny)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 5 years ago | (#26184969)

Piracy is the response of all good, thinking people to an epidemic of Ninjas.

Re:Piracy is the result of human nature (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26184993)

Why isn't there a +1 bonehead option?

Re:Piracy is the result of human nature (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26185235)

Not that I would usually care, but why do people believe that
intelligent people are incapable of making mistakes? Even
great people often make mistakes. It is unreasonable to assume that, on the
grounds of their certified education, they will be
essentially flawless. That's obviously not true.
Repuatable folks are still human.

Re:Piracy is the result of human nature (5, Insightful)

cpghost (719344) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185005)

Piracy is what happens near Somalia right now. Oh, you meant copyright infringement? Nevermind...

Re:Piracy is the result of human nature (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26185111)

Oh, please shut the fuck up, you sanctimonius bowl of shit.

Re:Piracy is the result of human nature (5, Funny)

chaoticgeek (874438) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185187)

I still hold to the picture I found online somewhere that explains copyright infringement and piracy. It defines piracy as "Stealing shit on the high seas." Which I find to be much better than what most people say it is... Not to mention it is so much more funny when people bring up piracy and I ask them when they started stealing shit on the high seas.

Re:Piracy is the result of human nature (4, Funny)

johnsonav (1098915) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185251)

That reminds me of when I went to the computer store to buy a new laptop. The salesman asked me if I'd like to buy a mouse too. I told him no. I didn't think it and my cat would get along.

Re:Piracy is the result of human nature (5, Funny)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185359)

Piracy is the attack on a ship or airplane over international waters using another ship or airplane. Unfortunately sky pirates don't seem to exist, they'd be so damn cool they'd counteract global warming in a chinch.

Try this: (5, Funny)

Mateo_LeFou (859634) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185649)

Tell people: "If **AA can refer to unauthorized copying as piracy, it should be fine if we refer to the filing of SLAPPs as 'rape'"

saying. "Fast forward to the 21st century" (2, Insightful)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 5 years ago | (#26184979)

saying. "Fast forward to the 21st century"

I'm already there, you ignorant clod!

People will pirate when it's overpriced. When it's right-priced, most people will gladly pay for it.

Re:saying. "Fast forward to the 21st century" (4, Insightful)

ccguy (1116865) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185075)

When it's right-priced, most people will gladly pay for it.

Yes, but that's subjective. For me, no game is worth more than $5. Not because I'm cheap, but because I hardly ever play, and if it do, it's only for a while. So if you want to get $50 from me you are going to let me play like 10 different games or so. Note that I would still play less time than most gamers.

It's possible though that the model that they'd need to make me a regular customer is just not viable. I don't really care as these days I can live without games. But when I played a lot I couldn't really afford all the games I wanted, and now that I can -within reason- I just don't feel like playing.

Re:saying. "Fast forward to the 21st century" (5, Insightful)

collinstocks (1295204) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185395)

That's what calculus is for. It's so that the people selling the software/music/media/stuff/whatever can graph the people willing to pay against the price. Then they plot their expected profits for each price against that in order to find the optimal price.

People like you and me and anyone else who thinks the products are overpriced are not going to buy them. Either the companies making the products will be forced to lower the price to a more optimal one, or they will be able to keep it at the same price.

The problem is that they are claiming loss of sales for piracy done by people who never would have bought the game in the first place since the price is not right.

Granted, I am not a gamer and don't even bother to download these things since I don't have the time to play them, so take my gaming specific claims with a grain of salt.

Re:saying. "Fast forward to the 21st century" (2, Insightful)

TomHandy (578620) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185401)

But isn't that kind of like saying "No car is worth more than $2000 to me, because I hardly ever drive"? It doesn't seem like the general value of something (as opposed to the individual value you would place on it) should be dictated by what the smaller minority of people who wouldn't use it regularly would be willing to pay for it.

Not saying you're wrong - I actually agree with you in general. As I've found myself playing less games, I've really cut down on paying $50 or $60 for a game when I know I won't play it for more than a few hours. I'll still buy a game if I know I'll get a lot of value out of it.

But my main point is, I don't think they need to reprice games based on people like you and I who don't play much and therefore don't find full price to be worth paying. Going back to my car analogy, I wouldn't expect them to start selling cars for $2000 to satisfy the small contingent of people who rarely if ever drive and therefore wouldn't pay more than that for a car.

Re:saying. "Fast forward to the 21st century" (4, Insightful)

Paltin (983254) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185625)

Except.... you can get a car for $2000.

If no car is worth more to someone then $2000 , that person may very well end up with a car.

Back in ye olden days, things were released to the public domain after a reasonable number of years--- effectively allowing the price to change over time.

Nowadays, with copyright extended effectively indefinitely (few things that are made within my lifetime will have copyright expire within my lifetime.... ) there is a massive problem in how our culture is disseminated. File sharing has arisen partially as an effort to fulfill that gap.

Re:saying. "Fast forward to the 21st century" (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26185771)

That's where the second hand market comes in. Need a cheap car? Buy a used junker. Don't want to pay $50 or $60 for a new game that you'll only play for a couple hours? Buy it used. Oh wait, they want to use DRM and activations to shut down that market too.

Re:saying. "Fast forward to the 21st century" (2, Informative)

Bobnova (1435535) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185089)

saying. "Fast forward to the 21st century"

I'm already there, you ignorant clod!

People will pirate when it's overpriced. When it's right-priced, most people will gladly pay for it.

That's my view. The last entertaining game i found that was decently priced ($20, rather then $60) also happened to be free of copy protection/drm, so i bought it. The fact that it was made by a couple of independents in various coffee shops on their laptops is a bonus, but the low price, addictive gameplay, and lack of DRM is what sold me on it. (In case you can't guess, this'd be World of Goo)

Re:saying. "Fast forward to the 21st century" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26185319)

saying. "Fast forward to the 21st century"

I'm already there, you ignorant clod!

People will pirate when it's overpriced. When it's right-priced, most people will gladly pay for it.

Not exactly accurate. When groups have posted songs for free on websites and only asked that they not be reposted to please download from their official site they wound up within hours on download sites. With some it's about money and not wanting to pay but with others it's about power and control. They get off on pirating material. All the numbers I've heard free downloads of copyrighted games far out number legitimate sales no matter the price point. The post accurately points out that when faced with the option of free or to pay most will go for free, not all but most will.

Re:saying. "Fast forward to the 21st century" (3, Insightful)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185489)

saying. "Fast forward to the 21st century"

I'm already there, you ignorant clod!

People will pirate when it's overpriced. When it's right-priced, most people will gladly pay for it.

It's simple - you don't like the price, don't buy it. Wait for the price to drop. Simply because you don't like the price doesn't mean you can copy the item for free and somehow think it's not stealing.

Re:saying. "Fast forward to the 21st century" (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26185579)

It's simple - you don't like the price, don't buy it. Wait for the price to drop. Simply because you don't like the price doesn't mean you can copy the item for free...

He didn't imply that.

...and somehow think it's not stealing.

It's not stealing. It's copyright infringement. Yes, it's illegal, and (usually) should be. Yes, it's (usually) wrong. But it's still not stealing, and yes, the distinction does matter.

Re:saying. "Fast forward to the 21st century" (5, Insightful)

decoy256 (1335427) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185695)

I would actually tend to agree that video games should not be pirated, but other products I do not have so much of a problem with. For instance, music and movies... Have you seen the commercial they put at the beginning of some movies where it has the stunt coordinator or some such schmuck talking about how piracy could cost him his job and make his kids go hungry. I don't buy it. Movie studios still own the copyrights on movies made 50, 60, 80 years ago. That is FAR too long for anyone to hold a copyright.

The Constitution gives Congress the power...

"To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries"

But when people can "renew" these copyrights indefinitely, progress is not being promoted, but stifled.

Re:saying. "Fast forward to the 21st century" (3, Interesting)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185723)

In general, if something is priced right, I don't mind paying for it. What this means is that I'm a bit of a sucker for sales. The idea behind sales is - "sell to the general public at the retail price, then sell what's left at a sale price to maximize profits." It means that those who ae willing to pay a "premium" to have it right away buy it, and those who aren't in a rush can still become customers at the sale price.

So yes, I agree that high prices don't justify copyright infringement. Then again, how much is there out there that's even worth the cost of a blank dvd?

As to games or songs, I simply can't be bothered. I don't have time to play games (I'd rather read a book, and guess what - I buy them, I don't pirate them) and I got sick of listening to mp3s a long time ago. I want *QUIET*. That's why I prefer my laptop to my desktop - no fan noise.

Software? gnu/linux distros do everything I need it to do, both at work and at home.

As for the people who claim that all pirated game are lost sales, they are wrong. Many of those "lost sales" would never have been made, just as Microsoft can't count me as a lost sale since I use a different OS. I'm simply not their customer, just as many of those "lost sales" would never have taken place if piracy prevention were 100% effective. This is similar to their problem with people selling used games. People sell their used games mostly so that they can buy new games, so it's not like the money doesn't get to them anyway, and the used games "grow the market", same as selling a used car.

The industry is finally seeing the light in a few, rare, instances, and switching to different revenue models - in-game ads, online content, subscription models, etc. In other words, there are solutions that bypass the whole "piracy" problem, rather than treating the customer like a thief.

Re:saying. "Fast forward to the 21st century" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26185511)

You seem to be very wise if I may say so, comrade. Surely you should choose what the right price is - a decider so to speak. And how many games should be made, their content, the times we play them, our careers, our opinions and basically everything else.

Re:saying. "Fast forward to the 21st century" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26185645)

Straw man arguments are lies.

Re:saying. "Fast forward to the 21st century" (1)

HiVizDiver (640486) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185559)

While I admit I can't prove that they won't, can you prove that they will?

Re:saying. "Fast forward to the 21st century" (3, Insightful)

Znork (31774) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185607)

People will pirate when it's overpriced. When it's right-priced, most people will gladly pay for it.

Overpricing is an intrinsic function of monopoly pricing. Revenue is maximized when raising the price would result in so many fewer copies sold that the extra per-copy income no longer outweighs the loss of copies sold.

That means that prices will simply be raised until many consumers simply cannot afford it (arguments like the original articles claims about economies of scale simply indicate lack of economic understanding; less piracy would mean _higher_ price, monopoly pricing limits are completely driven by customer dropoff, economies of scale apply to competitively enforced pricing).

The consumers making up the difference between those who would have bought the product at the lowest-possible competitively priced point and those who would have bought at the monopoly priced point are consumers for whom a free market system would have provided the good, while still allowing it to be produced. The loss of the value they would have derived is known as dead-weight loss, and is one of the most damaging aspects of monopoly laws like copyright. Piracy mitigates that loss of wealth somewhat, and introduces a certain element of competition into the market, keeping prices down, but it's a bad workaround for a problem that could be solved in more productive ways.

So any kind of rightpricing is fundamentally impossible while the monopoly aspects of the IP system are intact. Articles like this one that buy the IP lobbies arguments hook, line and sinker (assuming ignorance) are hardly productive. The author should do a little less fast-forwarding and a little more actual studying of why the debate has moved beyond his views.

Re:saying. "Fast forward to the 21st century" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26185759)


Re:saying. "Fast forward to the 21st century" (5, Insightful)

nEoN nOoDlE (27594) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185655)

After seeing indie games on bittorrent that cost 5 bucks if purchased I don't think your reasoning holds through. Some people will not purchase at any price, and will pirate it. Price is completely subjective and rarely dictates the quality of the product,, but the perception of quality. The iPhone App Store is a great representation of this. There are a lot of programs that are free, so people start to get the impression that all apps should be free. There are useful apps for $1 that some reviewers consider overpriced. You can't find an app on the app store, no matter the price, that some people will say is overpriced, when these are the same people who will go and buy a $60 game for their XBox, play it for less time than the iPhone app's usefulness, and not think anything of it. If games drop in price to, say, $20. People will find any higher variation of that price "overpriced" as their perception of the price of games now will be worth $20 instead of the $60 they're paying now.

Re:saying. "Fast forward to the 21st century" (1)

GuerreroDelInterfaz (922857) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185741)

saying. "Fast forward to the 21st century"

I'm already there, you ignorant clod!

People will pirate when it's overpriced. When it's right-priced, most people will gladly pay for it.

Once upon a time, in the Atari ST times, I bought every release of the CAD3D/CyberStudio suite. When it moved to the PC, changing its name to 3D Studio, the price was multiplied by *30*, more or less. So, when I also had to move to the PC, I did not of course gave a penny to Autodesk for a badly ported program on an inferior platform...

El Guerrero del Interfaz

File Sharing is not piracy! (5, Funny)

pm_rat_poison (1295589) | more than 5 years ago | (#26184997)

What does gaming have to do with piracy? [filesavr.com]

Re:File Sharing is not piracy! (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26185057)

You're a couple decades late if you're trying to stop this new definition of piracy. It's too late, just accept it into your vocabulary.

Re:File Sharing is not piracy! (3, Insightful)

MtlDty (711230) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185097)

It has always been called piracy. File sharing is a new term that has come into use with p2p software. File sharing is arguably distinctly different, and you probably dont want to muddy the waters between legal filesharing, and illegal piracy.

Re:File Sharing is not piracy! (1)

T0wner (552792) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185117)

He does kind of go into this on page 2 of the article... Just for you the tldr is that the pirates like being called pirates as do the West Indian trading companies... wait a sec.

Re:File Sharing is not piracy! (5, Informative)

mr_matticus (928346) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185127)

"The unauthorized reproduction of another's work." -- Oxford English Dictionary (2006).

"The unauthorized and illegal reproduction or distribution of materials protected by copyright, patent, or trademark law." --Black's Law Dictionary, 8th Ed. (2004).

Lest you think this is some modern invention:

"[T]he test of piracy [is] not whether the identical language, the same words, are used, but whether the substance of the production is unlawfully appropriated." --Drone's Treatise on the Law of Property in Intellectual Productions (1879).

"It's being Printed again and again, by Pyrates" --Daniel Defoe, (1703).

"Pirated works may be seized on importation into those countries of the Union where the original work enjoys legal protection." --Berne Convention Art. 12 (1886).

It has been referred to as piracy in court cases dating all the way back to the 1830s, and notably for scholars of copyright, used in the landmark Folsom decision as well.

Re:File Sharing is not piracy! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26185411)

That was only a few centuries ago, NOT A LONG TIME (I'm european) And it was deliberate over-the-top propaganda back then too.

Re:File Sharing is not piracy! (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185577)

Only a few centuries ago? European civilization from a century ago doesn't look remotely like what it does today. I'm pretty sure that the European languages have changed a lot in the same time too, maybe not as much. The fact that there is such old precedence and that it's not a use that is only a decade ago tells us it's not something new.

I think it's funny that on a web where LOL-speak is commonplace that they complain that "someone else" is trying to change the meaning of words and how they are allowed to use them. Languages are malleable and no one subculture or interest group is going to be able to lay any legitimate claim to being the sole gatekeeper for how the meanings of words change.

Re:File Sharing is not piracy! (5, Funny)

Prefader (1072814) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185593)

That was only a few centuries ago, NOT A LONG TIME (I'm european)

I'd love to know what exactly that's supposed to mean. Does time work differently in Europe than it does in the rest of the world?
These definitions were in use generations ago. Propaganda or not, it's part of the language now.

Re:File Sharing is not piracy! (1)

jensend (71114) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185665)

Modern English has only been around for a few centuries, so that is a long time for an English word. If you excise all words which are less than 300 years old and all words whose etymology had some kind of political influence, you can say goodbye to most of the language. Arguing against the use of the word "piracy" to denote copyright infringement only makes you look foolish. Taking away the name for the deed and giving it another one isn't going to make the deed any more ethical, and it's kind of pompous of people to declare that centuries of language use should be overturned to fit their literalistic whims.

Re:File Sharing is not piracy! (1)

theaveng (1243528) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185453)

Thank you. I am tired of those who try to deny what they do.

I have been pirating games since 1987, and I'm proud of it because I feel it's justified. Why? Because any other product you buy, you can return if it turns-out to be crap, even cars (lemon law). But not media. It is wrong for companies to refuse refunds - it's poor customer service. If a company is proud of their products, then they should be willing to stand by that product, including refunds.

But the entertainment industry does not, therefore I pirate to avoid getting stuck with bad product. I try before I buy.

Re:File Sharing is not piracy! (1)

theaveng (1243528) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185473)

P.S. If the time ever comes that I cannot use Bittorrent or Hulu or some other source to try the new Jurassic Crap Part 20 DVD, then I will be forced to buy the DVD.

I suspect I will be making lots of mail order returns & filing lots of chargebacks. I will not be ripped off by trashy product.

Re:File Sharing is not piracy! (1)

JPLemme (106723) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185485)

First, I didn't realize the use of word "piracy" to describe copyright infringement was that old. +1 Informative.

But I also think that continuing to use the word "piracy" in place of "copyright infringement" only conflates a category of things that are clearly wrong (e.g. making 10,000 copies of a DVD and selling them in local flea markets) with a category of things that are benign (e.g. making a mix tape to give to a friend or posting a video of my toddler dancing to a Prince song). The less pejorative the terms we use, the harder it is for Warner Bros. et al to claim the moral high ground.

For an example of why this is important, see "Digital Rights Management". It almost sounds like a Good Thing when you phrase it that way.

Why do I pirate? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26185009)

I pirate because I have an addiction to worthless things. I pirate to try and fill the hole which has always been sitting there. Drinking doesn't do it, alcohol doesn't do it. The distraction of free music and video games doesn't do it. But I keep on downloading, drinking, and watching. Not because I realize that these things aren't fulfilling, but because I just can't think of anything more convenient to act as a stopgap to the flood of boredom and loneliness.

So I agree, for myself at least. There is no grandiose reason for piracy. It's there, it's easy, and I honestly gave up trying to care a long time ago.

They still don't get it (5, Insightful)

ccguy (1116865) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185011)

when faced with the option of getting something for free or paying for it, and in the absence of any significant risks, you don't need complex economic studies to show you that most people will opt for the free route."

Well, there's always a third route: Not getting that something, meaning that having these three options:

- 1. Play for free
- 2. Play at a cost
- 3. Don't play at all

Many people will sort it 1,3,2.

Also, some people will happily do 2,1,3 as long the price is reasonable and so it what they get.

So... stop trying to get money from people who just don't value your product if it isn't free, because it can't be done. You can piss them off though, and that can hurt your business.

Re:They still don't get it (2, Insightful)

rrcipolla (948799) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185077)

So... stop trying to get money from people who just don't value your product if it isn't free, because it can't be done. You can piss them off though, and that can hurt your business.

If they're only going to use your product for free, how is it hurting business to piss them off? As you stated, they're not going to buy it anyway.

Re:They still don't get it (4, Insightful)

ccguy (1116865) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185113)

If they're only going to use your product for free, how is it hurting business to piss them off? As you stated, they're not going to buy it anyway.

Because using your product for free is not the worst scenario. Just because they don't play it doesn't mean they don't know people who do, or spend time in forums bashing you.

Take slashdot (not literally please): Many people here won't waste a chance to criticize Spore's DRM, even if they don't really care about Spore and wouldn't buy it even if it didn't have any DRM at all. Still, we are _pissed_ at EA for the DRM, and let everyone know.

Re:They still don't get it (2, Insightful)

floodo1 (246910) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185531)

Most people care about EA's DRM as a rights issue. Makes sense that you don't have to be affected to be concerned about how the loss of rights for someone else could potentially lead to the loss of your own rights.

Re:They still don't get it (2, Insightful)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185313)

No, Most people sort it like this:

2 - if reasonably priced
2 - if unreasonably priced but not available free and still within budget

If 'most people' sorted things your way, almost nobody would ever buy a game.

Re:They still don't get it (1)

ccguy (1116865) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185479)

If 'most people' sorted things your way, almost nobody would ever buy a game.

Actually most people start with 3, for games and for everything else that is not essential. That's a fact, people usually have one or two hobbies they can/want assign a non trivial budget two.

So in your business model, consider the fact that no matter how good your product is, some people will only want it free. And if they can't get it, it's fine by them, they'll just forget it exist.

Re:They still don't get it (1)

theaveng (1243528) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185507)

I don't know if I'm "normal" or not, but I like to think most people do what I do:

1 - try it free

2 - buy it if it's good (24, Heroes)

3 - don't buy it if it's trash (Terminator Chronicles) and erase it from the hard drive

Re:They still don't get it (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26185439)

You're a fucking moron, really.

How do you give the freeloaders their free pass without the people willing to pay crying foul?

As a software developer, I've actually gotten emails from customers demanding that I fix some crack because it's not fair they had to pay and others don't.

I get the impression that they would have rather not paid too and regret the purchase.

This is the attitude completely locked down with DRM. I can't imagine how many customers I'd really have if I didn't try to make things hard on the freeloaders.

Re:They still don't get it (4, Insightful)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185441)

So... stop trying to get money from people who just don't value your product if it isn't free, because it can't be done. You can piss them off though, and that can hurt your business.

Heh yeah. Gotta love their logic: "We'll fight piracy by strengthening the 'copy protection' and increasing the value of pirated copies!"

Re:They still don't get it (5, Insightful)

g_adams27 (581237) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185535)

> So... stop trying to get money from people who just don't value your product
> if it isn't free, because it can't be done.

Your premise is flawed. Pirates obviously do value the product even if it's not free, which they show by taking the time and effort to get it.

You seem to be quite confident that huge companies with highly-skilled marketing, accounting, and product research divisions "just don't get it", as if the ideas you present have never crossed their minds. But in fact the article spends a whole section or two discussing the issues that you refer to. For example:

The argument [of economic loss] is straightforward and both intuitively and logically sound: for every pirated copy of a product, there is some potential loss of income to the producer of that product. This is not the same as saying that every pirated copy is a lost sale. What it actually means is that firstly some proportion of the people who are pirating a game would have bought it in the absence of piracy. Equally as important however is the fact that even those who would never have paid the full purchase price for one reason or another may still have paid some lower amount to purchase and play the game which they pirated. This is because by the very act of obtaining and playing a game, they've clearly demonstrated that they place some value on that game. After all, if something is truly 'worthless', consumers won't bother to obtain or use it in the first place, regardless of whether it's free or not. Even if a game only gives the pirate a few hours of enjoyment, that's still worth something. In the absence of piracy they may have purchased the game at a discount several months after its release, or bought it second-hand for example. So the existence of piracy results in some loss of income to PC game developers, publishers, retailers and even other consumers.

BULLSHIT. (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26185071)

If i buy the game. They treat me like a thief. Install things that may or may not fuckup my computer or game. Require the disk to be in the drive. Require activation and other bullshit. Limit the number of installs i can do. Tell me what programs i'm not allowed to use like daemon tools. And costs a shitload for a semi-beta game.

If i pirate the game. I don't have any of that. AND it's free.

Piracy. Better product, lower price.

You're kinda foolish not to pirate anymore...

Re:BULLSHIT. (4, Insightful)

Renraku (518261) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185149)

I remember when just having the disc in the drive was a step up from having to look up codes on page x line y in some book that came with the game. I remember after that, when copy protection was added, and there was a chance it wouldn't work on your computer, even if you bought it fair and square. I remember when they started adding physical programs that would use memory and make things unstable..sometimes refusing to run if some other legitimate programs were open in the background.

I remember loading up Steam and playing games without any of those, but I lost the ability to sell off my games.

I look back at all that and kindly request a damn code sheet or book so I can get to looking up those codes again.


theaveng (1243528) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185541)

I agree 100%. The problem is that technology has advanced. Books were hard to pirate in the 80s so codebooks were effective, but in today's world I can download 3000 pages of Harry Potter directly scanned, and the same is true with a codebook. It's no longer a viable deterrent.

Perhaps those old spinning codewheels would work, but I doubt it.


Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26185201)

Yeah, agreed. I split the middle, though.. buy the box and never open it, and then play from the pirated download. (I do the same with digital tv shows - I'll pay for the drm option and then delete it, and watch the better quality one I can download as an unencumbered file.)

I've mentioned it here before and people poo-poo it since I'm showing the companies that I find DRM acceptable, but you know... it's a balance that works for me. I get the nice experience I'd have in a perfect world, game/movie/tv developers/producers/actors get paid as they would in a perfect world.

I *know* I can't be unique in this, and it makes me wonder how many of the "pirated copies of Spore" are like mine... non-DRM downloads, paired with a 100% retail paid copy that's still in the shrink wrap.


Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26185699)

But you are just feeding the DRM nonsense. You are paying for DRM and then abandoning it for the pirated version.

More Bullshit (4, Insightful)

maz2331 (1104901) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185307)

Some of the copy-protection schemes are also designed to try and kill the secondary ("used games") market off by locking out copies from being reactivated.

The mindset of some of these companies is that a game (or other software) has to generate revenue for them each time it changes hands. In other words, they refuse to accept the "first sale doctrine" at all.

Buying one copy and distributing multiple copies to others is piracy. Uninstalling the thing and giving the disk and key to someone else is not.

It all boils down to greed and control, really.

Re:More Bullshit (1)

theaveng (1243528) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185585)

Yeah that's the part that pisses me off. I should be able to buy Final Fantasy 10-2 at $50, play it, decide it's crap, and sell it to someone else for $40. Or, get a refund. I don't care if it's store credit, but I should be able to return lousy games, not just swallow the loss.

If Sony has its way, I won't be able to do that with Final Fantasy 14. I will be sold an online license, and I'll be stuck with the game, unable to sell it to the next person (because it won't work for them).

A perpetual rental, not ownership.

Seriously (1)

PotatoHead (12771) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185735)

If they don't want to actually sell the game, then it's a rental or subscription. Ok fine. There should be no buy in cost then. Just pay to play, and call it good.

Frankly, I would be ok with that model. At least it's honest.

This whole buy it, but don't own it, and pay to play it too business has just turned me way off. I don't game much, but for consoles where selling off the titles is still viable, as is playing used. Buying new titles right now just isn't all that appealing. They cost too much, and there are a lot of issues.

Retro gaming is fun. Lots of home brew titles to play, and writing one is doable for the average Joe as well. Much better scene. It's open, no hassles, and if you do pay for stuff, chances are it goes right to the guy that wrote the game, packaged it up and sold the copies! That is actually very cool and important to me. I know somebody somewhere did it for the love of it, put together a nice package, and earned the dollars straight up. No middle men, no hassles, just fun.

I've bought a few home brew titles this year. Paid from $20 to $50. Got great packaging, lots of fun, sent a note to the author sharing how fun it was, and it was just a good experience.

Looking at where major league gaming is right now just sucks. I think I'm tuning out for a while.

Oh, and the home brew keeps a value on par or better than commercial titles. How cool is that?

IMHO, building up this model and encouraging more authors to write and publish direct to their audience can only be a good thing.

Re:BULLSHIT. (4, Insightful)

cliffski (65094) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185729)

As a game developer that does not pull any of that shit, if you have the attitude that it means you should pirate ALL games from ALL developers, where is my incentive to try and meet pirates half way?

If pirates treat all developers as evil corporate scum, why are they then surprised that developers adopt the same attitude in reverse?

If people are foolish to not pirate, them I'm foolish to keep making games for the PC. So I'll go work as a plumber instead.
great solution...

10 Page Article VERY LONG (0, Redundant)

the_macman (874383) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185101)


If there's a single topic that's guaranteed to cause heated debate among PC gamers today, it's piracy and the impact it's having on the PC gaming industry. Almost every gamer you speak to has a strong opinion on this topic, ranging from full support for piracy to total condemnation of it. In the past year in particular this issue has really come to a head, with one major PC game developer after another stepping forward to point to piracy as a clear and present danger to the industry.

As a long-time PC gamer, I have to confess that I've become extremely frustrated with reading the numerous discussions and articles on piracy. PC piracy and related topics such as DRM seem to have become so shrouded in illogical excuses, hysteria, scaremongering and uninformed opinions that having a sensible discussion on the topic is virtually impossible. While it's true to say that it's very difficult to obtain completely accurate and conclusive data on piracy and its impacts, it doesn't help that there are a range of vested interests deliberately spreading misinformation on piracy-related issues.

I decided it was time to compile an article which takes a close look at every facet of PC game piracy with a view to hopefully clarifying the debate with a range of facts. I'm not looking to repeat the same old one-sided, superficial examinations of PC piracy that you'll find everywhere else. What this article does is examine PC game piracy in a logical manner, taking into consideration a range of publicly available evidence to provide an informed view of the current state of play. I encourage those of you who are genuinely interested in this topic to take the time to make your way through this rather long but thorough article, as I believe it provides a great deal of food for thought for those willing to read it.
As you may have noticed, this article is quite long. The reason for this is because it tries to do something that other articles on piracy have failed to do: examine this complex and controversial topic in detail and with a wide range of relevant facts and verified information. Other articles take the easy path by slapping together some unsubstantiated opinions and dubious arguments which merely follow whatever the popular sentiment is on this topic, and come to the usual conclusions. Let me be clear: I won't be doing that here. I've invested a great deal of time into actually delving into all the various aspects of this issue, thinking through all the issues and getting a good handle on the situation based on a large amount of publicly available data. Consequently throughout the article you will find numerous references to reputable data sources and first-hand information rather than just hearsay and conjecture.

That's not to say it's just an article filled with data and theory. I've tried very hard to keep things as straightforward as possible, using plain English and plenty of straightforward examples. I've also tried to make this a balanced examination of piracy, however bear in mind that this doesn't mean that all sides of the debate have equally valid arguments. It simply means that I've examined and weighed up all the various arguments and facts, and present the most logical and plausible view in light of these.

You can skip straight to whichever section of the article interests you, but I recommend reading the entire article from start to finish at some point despite its length, as every section contains important information, and the arguments and data spread throughout this article form a complete picture of piracy. Taking small portions of the article out of context in some sort of half-hearted attempt at debasing it is meaningless. If your only interest in reading the article is to quickly skim through it to see if it supports your preconceived notions of piracy, then you're probably better off not bothering with it in the first place.

Note: Because this is a long article, if you find the text size uncomfortable after a while, hold down your CTRL key and use your mouse scrollwheel to adjust the text size to make reading easier (CTRL+0 resets the size back to default).

Full Disclosure

Before going further, I must explain some relevant facts about myself. At 37 years of age, I've been gaming for over 20 years now on a variety of platforms including the Atari 2600, Amiga 500, Nintendo 64, and of course, the PC. I currently game exclusively on the PC and do not own any consoles. I've written over 40 different detailed tweak guides covering a wide range of PC games and various versions of Windows over the past seven years. I am not sponsored by any hardware or software manufacturer of any kind. I am not involved with The Scene, nor do I receive any income from any piracy-related websites. I was not paid or sponsored in any way to write this article. In short, I have little incentive to write a biased article. I feel I'm as qualified as anyone could be to give a balanced view on this topic, free from any commercial interests in either side of the piracy debate.

The Origins of Piracy

The English word 'Pirate' comes from the Latin word pirata, which loosely means "sea robber". Sea pirates have existed for thousands of years, for as long as sea travel itself has existed, just as robbery on land has been around since men began to walk the Earth. While in reality, sea pirates to this day are often brutal, murderous thieves, in popular fiction they've become quite romanticized, particularly during the last century, and are widely seen as sea-borne adventurers, seeking freedom and rebelling against authority. Thus while content owners used the term Piracy to equate copyright infringers with thieves, the infringers themselves like to consider the more romantic, freedom-loving image of Piracy when they use the same term for themselves.

It wasn't until shortly after the invention of the Mechanical Printing Press in 1439 that the term 'pirate' also came to be applied to those who made unauthorized copies of publications: 'Word Pirates' so to speak. The press revolutionized the spread of knowledge in all fields of human endeavor, as well as increasing literacy in the broader community. However it also introduced an entirely new problem for authors: prior to the press, it was difficult for people to duplicate an entire book without permission, and most certainly not on any scale worth worrying about. The press instantly changed all that, and both the printers and the authors of works soon sought protection, both for economic reasons, as well as to ensure that their works remained unaltered and authors were duly credited. The printing press had created a new and growing market of major economic significance, and thus over the next few centuries, printers, authors, pirates and Governments were engaged in a power struggled to determine various laws which controlled precisely where the rights of ownership and reproduction would lie. These laws were not always equitable or just - you can read more details here.

The Legality of Piracy

I'm not a lawyer, so I'm not going to provide a detailed rundown of all the various relevant laws and rights as they apply in every country. What I want to do is briefly cover the key legal aspects relevant to an informed discussion of piracy. Based on common usage around the Internet as well as its commonly accepted legal interpretation, it is accurate to simply say that Piracy equals Copyright Infringement. Modern Copyright is an international legal concept as specified by the Berne Convention first signed in 1886, an agreement to which almost every country in the world is now bound as part of their World Trade Organization membership. Copyright is intended to ensure that those who create original works can maintain exclusive rights over how those works are reproduced and distributed. However this effective monopoly only applies for a fixed period of time after the creator's death, generally from fifty to a hundred years, after which the work can then usually be distributed and used without requiring permission. There are also Fair Use provisions that allow people to use protected copyrighted works at any time without the creator's explicit permission in a limited range of scenarios, such as in reviews, or for use by educational institutions.

There are a lot of misconceptions regarding what is or isn't copyright infringement. The official US Government Copyright FAQ provides a range of answers. These laws will differ in various countries, but in practice much of the information above applies to most other countries because they're also signatories to the Berne Convention. Of particular interest, this FAQ Entry clearly addresses whether it is illegal to download or upload material via Peer to Peer (P2P) networks in the US: "Uploading or downloading works protected by copyright without the authority of the copyright owner is an infringement of the copyright owner's exclusive rights of reproduction and/or distribution." In other words, contrary to popular belief, the simple act of even downloading copyrighted material via torrents for example without the owner's consent is, strictly speaking, illegal in the US. In practical terms however, the best test of whether something is considered copyright infringement, and more importantly, whether the copyright owner will actually pursue action against the infringer, is whether there is any potential for economic loss due to the infringing activity. We examine this concept in the next section.

The US also has additional laws related to the copyright on digital content, the most well-known of which is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998. The aim of the DMCA is to make it illegal for people to create and distribute the means by which protection systems on copyrighted digital material can be circumvented - in other words outlawing things like cracks, hacks or physical modifications designed to circumvent Digital Rights Management (DRM) protection for example. The legislation also provides specific protection against copyright infringement on the Internet, a technological development which was obviously not foreseen by the original copyright protection legislation. Just as the printing press brought about a whole new set of problems with regards to unauthorized duplication, the Internet has similarly required specific measures designed to address the new possibilities for piracy it opens up. The important difference between digital piracy and the types of copyright infringement that came before it - such as taping songs off the radio - is that digital piracy allows perfect reproduction with no quality loss. Thus digital copies combined with a mass distribution channel like the Internet equate to far greater potential to cause economic loss to the software and entertainment industries than ever before.

The Rationale for Copyright

Why is copyright necessary? Why can't all information just be distributed without restriction? Copyright falls under the banner of a range of laws controversially referred to as Intellectual Property laws. The aim is to provide intellectual property a similar type of protection as that afforded to physical property. For example, whether you spend your life building houses or writing books, you should be equally entitled to reap the rewards of your labors and have the same sorts of legal protections against people seeking to unfairly benefit from your work without contributing appropriately towards it. It's argued that without protection against such theft, both the builders of houses and the authors of books would have much less incentive to invest their time and money into their respective outputs, particularly because they would stand little chance of earning appropriate income from their work. Ultimately, this would result in far less of both physical and intellectual property being produced. A great deal of innovation comes from extremely large and lengthy investments of time and money, and wouldn't otherwise be viable if a reasonable monetary return couldn't be guaranteed.

A key misunderstanding about copyright which needs to be clarified is that intellectual property is not about restricting the spread of knowledge or thought, or blindly equating these concepts with physical property, despite sensationalist and misleading claims to the contrary. You cannot copyright an idea. A copyright simply protects the particular way in which a work's contents and ideas are expressed. For example the article you're reading right now is automatically protected by copyright and owned by me; that means no-one can just assume the right to copy the article and reproduce it without my permission. However copyright doesn't give me ownership rights over the concepts in this article, nor in any other articles written about piracy, or discussions of piracy, or any other broad variation of this information. In other words only my actual words as arranged on this page are copyright to me. I don't own the general ideas or knowledge contained in this article, so people can discuss and spread these ideas the world over without any limitations, as long as they don't duplicate my exact words, or a close replica of them. Additionally, the fair use provisions of copyright ensure that should someone want to quote a few specific paragraphs of the article (i.e. a small portion which doesn't make reading of the original article redundant), such as for the purpose of reviewing or critiquing the work, they can do so without seeking my permission.

Copyright effectively gives a limited monopoly to the creator for his or her specific works, allowing them exclusive rights for a period of time to use their creation as they see fit, whether it's to generate a profit, to ensure distribution of their work in an unaltered form, or to attach certain terms and conditions to its distribution and usage. This raises another important point which is often confounded by myth and misleading propaganda: copyright does not actually prevent a creator from giving away their work with no restrictions if they so wish. That is, copyright doesn't force a creator to do anything they don't want. If a creator so desires, they can put up their entire creation, including any and all source material, for immediate free and unlimited distribution via any and all means possible. Copyright places the rights over the work, and hence the choice as to what to do with it, squarely in the hands of the creator.

For example the popular GNU General Public License (GPL), under which Linux is distributed for free, actually relies on copyright to enforce it. Without copyright laws the GPL couldn't operate, because it's through the rights that are enforceable under copyright law that the Linux movement can place terms and conditions on their licensing arrangement in the first place. Without copyright, the default and only possible distribution method for anything everywhere would be via the public domain, meaning any work created would instantly be available for everyone else to modify and distribute as they see fit, to profit from or abuse, to distort or even to systematically delete, whether the original creators like it or not.

Only if the creator willingly signs away their rights in some way does the copyright over a piece of work transfer to another party. The best way to illustrate this is with music: if an independent musician writes a song, that song is automatically copyright to him or her, and if they decide to sell copies of that song directly to the public, every single dollar they earn is legally theirs. However many musicians will deliberately choose to sign up with a large record label, because these companies have the means of heavily promoting and distributing the music to a wider audience, thus potentially earning vast sums of money. The rights for the song are then usually signed over to the record label as part of this deal, and they then split the profits with the creator, because there's been cost and effort on the label's part in generating those profits. Whether the profit sharing is always fair or not is up for debate, the issue however is that it was the musician who made the decision to sign up with the record label in the first place. They weren't forced to do it, they did it in the hopes of earning a large income - i.e.: they signed away their rights for money. When people do that, they may get a good deal or a bad deal, just as when someone sells or buys an item of physical property. It's up to each individual to exercise their relevant rights responsibly; neither intellectual nor physical property laws can protect people against their own greed or stupidity.

Physical Theft vs. Copyright Infringement

One significant difference between intellectual and physical property rights is that physical property is composed of finite items, and can only exist in a single place at any time. Intellectual property on the other hand can be effectively infinite in quantity, and can exist in as many places at the same time as required. In practical terms, this means that if you own a car and it's stolen for example, you can no longer use it. However if you own a game and someone copies it from you, this doesn't affect your ability to use that game. This is actually a fundamental issue because it underlies much of the debate surrounding software piracy. In essence the argument is that piracy is a 'victimless crime' because there's no actual loss of property, no loss of the materials used to produce a good or service, and no affect on other consumers of that product. We examine these types of claims in more detail in the Economics of Piracy section, but for now it does bear noting that strictly speaking, it is correct to say that piracy is not theft. As noted earlier, piracy is copyright infringement, and this is distinct from theft of physical property.

Piracy Methods

In the interests of ensuring everyone understands exactly what I'm talking about when referring to various piracy methods throughout this article, here's a quick rundown on the common methods of software piracy used today:

Click to enlarge

Torrents: The BitTorrent protocol was developed in 2001, and is designed around a decentralized Peer to Peer (P2P) network. While the torrent protocol was not solely designed for the purposes of piracy, the attraction of it for pirates is that because it's decentralized, it can't be shut down - no single site or host holds the actual pirated material, at any one time it is on the PCs of millions of different users. Torrent search engine sites are used to find pirated material, but they only provide links to the material and do not store the material itself, so these sites are legal in some countries. Torrent download speeds can be slow at times, and a portion of the data is also uploaded by each person at the same time as they are downloading, to ensure the viability of the network. Torrents are the most popular form of piracy because all a user needs is free torrent client software (pictured above) and a torrent search engine - both are easy to find, there's absolutely no cost and little technical expertise required to get started. Even PC users unaware of torrents soon become aware of them because even a simple Google search for a game, movie or song download can net you a torrent download link and relevant instructions within minutes.

Usenet: Another relatively decentralized network, originally launched in the 1980s to allow people to post messages and share conversations prior to the rise of modern-day web forums, Usenet is now a growing source of piracy. Pirated material is uploaded to .binaries newsgroups which contain data files not text messages and can be retrieved using specialized newsreader clients, some of which are only designed to download files, not view discussions. Usenet is extremely fast, however full Usenet access usually requires a monthly subscription fee, and setting up and using a custom newsreader client to download pirated material can also be slightly more tricky for the technically challenged, so it's not as common as torrents.

File Sharing Services: Legitimate general file sharing services such as Rapidshare are increasingly being used to host a variety of illegal material. The files are stored on the servers owned by these services, and standard HTTP web links to the material can then be shared, allowing anyone to download the material, or search for it on Google, so virtually no technical knowledge is required. However free access to these file sharing services is usually limited in some way, such as restricting the speed or amount which can be downloaded within a certain period. Paid access is required for unrestricted use, and this may discourage some people, especially when downloading larger pirated files such as copies of games which can be several Gigabytes in size.

FTP: File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is a long-standing protocol specifically designed for serving files over the Internet. FTP servers are completely centralized and can easily be shut down if discovered. For this reason, while some members of The Scene will maintain FTP servers for distributing pirated material amongst themselves, access to these servers is deliberately limited to a select group, hence this is not a common piracy method for the general public.

IRC: The Internet Relay Chat (IRC) method was developed in the late 1980s as a means of real-time communication between groups of individuals prior to the popularity of desktop instant messaging clients. Files sharing is a minor function of IRC which has quietly grown over the years, and is now a viable form of piracy in itself. IRC requires client software which is usually free, and most IRC channels can be accessed at no cost. However downloading files via IRC can be technically tricky and even for those aware of how to do it, it may involve waiting in long queues and/or facing other restrictions deliberately imposed by channel owners to prevent excessive leeching by casual users.

Physical Piracy: The oldest form of software piracy, pre-dating the Internet and around for as long as software has been released on portable media, physical piracy essentially involves the selling or swapping of unauthorized physically copied media, such as movie, music or game floppies, CDs or DVDs. Often it is done by friends sharing copies, however in some countries there are lucrative businesses which revolve around mass duplication of physically pirated media, and the subsequent distribution and sale of it at very low prices. In fact some illegally duplicated software is so convincingly real that it's difficult for a buyer to distinguish it from the legitimate version.

The next section looks at The Economics of Piracy, as this is a critical part of why piracy is considered undesirable by copyright owners, and why it is illegal.

I'm originally an Economist by training, but that's not the reason why I've decided to look at the economics of piracy. The fundamental reason why piracy is illegal in most countries is due to the potential Economic Losses that it can incur. This is a highly contentious issue, so an examination of the concepts underlying these arguments is essential to really understanding the potential impacts of piracy. I can see your eyes glazing over already, but don't worry, I'm not going to bore you with long and complicated economic theory, we'll look at it in layman's terms.

Economic Loss

The argument is straightforward and both intuitively and logically sound: for every pirated copy of a product, there is some potential loss of income to the producer of that product. This is not the same as saying that every pirated copy is a lost sale. What it actually means is that firstly some proportion of the people who are pirating a game would have bought it in the absence of piracy. Equally as important however is the fact that even those who would never have paid the full purchase price for one reason or another may still have paid some lower amount to purchase and play the game which they pirated. This is because by the very act of obtaining and playing a game, they've clearly demonstrated that they place some value on that game. After all, if something is truly 'worthless', consumers won't bother to obtain or use it in the first place, regardless of whether it's free or not. Even if a game only gives the pirate a few hours of enjoyment, that's still worth something. In the absence of piracy they may have purchased the game at a discount several months after its release, or bought it second-hand for example. So the existence of piracy results in some loss of income to PC game developers, publishers, retailers and even other consumers.

Pure economic loss is actually very difficult to calculate in precise terms because it's largely hypothetical - there's no way of knowing exactly how many more units of a particular product would have sold if piracy did not exist, or how much money various people would have paid over time to buy discounted or second-hand copies in the absence of piracy for example. However examination of piracy figures combined with sales figures for similar products which are less affected by piracy does provide some indication of the scale of loss.

There are also more subtle aspects to economic loss resulting from piracy, such as damage to a producer's reputation. If a pirated copy of a game doesn't have decent performance or appears to be faulty, either because it's a leaked pre-release version, and/or because the method of removing its copy protection is faulty, and/or the game code has been altered badly in some other way, this can result in negative perceptions of the game's quality and thus further impact on legitimate sales of not only that title, but future titles by the same developer/publisher as well. For example Ubisoft has claimed that the pre-release pirated version of Assassin's Creed not only resulted in many directly lost sales, it also adversely affected the general sales potential for the game because the leaked version has a deliberate bug which crashes the game halfway through, and this resulted in some misleading negative early reviews of the game. Similarly, Titan Quest was leaked early and as noted in this post by the game's developer, the badly cracked pirated copy would crash at certain points in the game because of a deliberate security feature. The misunderstanding over this feature resulted in the game incorrectly being blamed as being a buggy by many people when in reality it was the poor quality cracking of it that was the real culprit, and this adversely affected its reputation and possibly reduced potential sales.

You'll notice throughout this article that I don't provide specific examples of actual dollar loss figures; again this is because economic loss is notoriously difficult to measure, and those who have attempted to measure it usually grossly under- or over-state it, such as pointed out in this article. But bear in mind that just because something is difficult to measure with accuracy, doesn't mean that it's not significant. We'll see just how potentially significant a bit later on.

The Free Rider Problem

If for some reason you don't accept that there is some economic loss associated with piracy, there's an equally important economic concept worth considering: the Free Rider Problem. This is a general problem facing a range of goods and services, not necessarily related to piracy, and essentially it states that those who actually pay for a good or service are bearing all the costs of production while those who get the good or service for free are not contributing at all. The classic example is for Government services such as roads, hospitals, welfare and defence. Every citizen can access and hence directly or indirectly benefit from these services, but if left solely up to voluntary contributions, most individuals would likely not pay much if anything for them, citing a range of excuses. Therefore the Government enforces involuntary contributions from all applicable citizens in the form of taxes. If it didn't, many of these essential services could not be adequately provided as the costs of provision would outweigh the voluntary contributions.

In the case of PC games which can often cost tens of millions of dollars to develop, distribute and support, the costs are first borne solely by the developer and/or publisher, typically over several years during development, and then eventually only passed on to those consumers who actually purchase the game. Pirates who illegally obtain the game for free receive exactly the same benefits without contributing anything at all to the game's developers. This results in two issues: the first is an obvious lack of equity in the distribution of the costs; the second is that if the number of people who legitimately purchase a game is not high enough, developers will not be able to justify the costs of PC game development, and will attempt to adjust how they conduct their business to make development viable again. This can include measures ranging from simply cutting development and support costs which can lower game quality, through to completely shifting their focus to a new audience and/or new platform on which development is viable. We look at these issues more closely in the PC vs. Console and Changing Business Models sections.

The free rider problem is not a static issue. It usually grows over time as people catch on to the fact that they can get away with obtaining something without contributing, and hence more and more people go from being contributors to free riders. This is normal human behavior because contributing incurs costs of various kinds, and consumers inherently try to minimize their costs if at all possible.

Ironically, even pirates implicitly recognize the free rider problem, most notably by distinguishing between those who are 'leechers' and those who contribute something. There are various methods used within piracy to stem the tide of free riders, because of the potential harm they can cause to the system. Usenet for example requires monthly subscription fees to access; FTP piracy requires login details to monitor and prevent abuse; file sharing services limit the amount of free downloads and require payment for full access. However it's the most popular piracy channel, the Torrent protocol, which faces the greatest exposure to the free rider issue. As a result, by default all torrent client software is designed to ensure that those downloading pirated material also automatically upload a proportion of it at the same time. Indeed aside from certain torrent trackers being entirely private to prevent excessive public leeching, some torrent trackers enforce a specific 'share ratio', meaning those who don't contribute a certain amount eventually can't download. The BitThief software demonstrates this issue perfectly. The program is specifically designed as part of a scientific experiment to allow leeching (downloading/benefiting) without seeding (uploading/contributing) on torrents, and the developers note in their findings that:

        The lack of incentives to upload potentially results in a total collapse of the [torrent] network, implying that it is essential for a completely decentralized system to incorporate protocols that ensure a fair sharing of resources.

Even the groups which are part of The Scene - the private and elite originators of most pirated material - often make public statements specifically targeting the generally non-contributive and damaging nature of P2P and other non-scene piracy. For example the scene group 'Reloaded' announce at the beginning of their pirated games the following:

        We, RELOADED members, would like You - Dear User, to know the following:

        1. We do not want You to spread our releases outside of The Scene.
        2. Do NOT contact technical support if You have some issues with our releases.
        3. We hate Peer2peer networks (torrents, bearshare, â¦), rapidshare etc.
        4. We do not make our releases for YOU - Mr. P2P user, we make them for The Sceners, who contribute something - unlike YOU.
        5. To all people who repack our cracks/keygens with spyware/malware: F*** YOU
        6. We do NOT fix game bugs, unless we can.

        And the most important:
        7. IF YOU LIKE THIS OR ANY OTHER GAME: BUY IT!!! (Yes, we mean it)

As the points above indicate, even among pirates themselves, there is clear acknowledgement of the fact that the concept of free riding and a lack of contribution are a significant problem to the viability of the system as a whole. Whether it's hypocritical of The Scene to make such statements given their material forms the backbone of P2P piracy can be debated, however obviously even the most hardcore of pirates recognize the concept that taking without giving something in return is not a sustainable outcome, which is precisely what pirating games without giving the developers or publishers anything in return is all about.

Economies of Scale

Piracy can also result in higher prices for those who are legitimate purchasers, based on the well-known concept of Economies of Scale: the less copies of a game which can be sold, the higher the unit cost and thus the higher the likely sale price. While digital distribution can help reduce production and distribution costs, the major fixed cost of developing the game remains the same and must be covered from sales revenue. The less copies of a game are sold (or are predicted to be sold), the less room the publisher has to lower the retail price of a game. So escalating piracy creates a vicious circle, because less legitimate sales mean prices typically start off high and remain high, with less scope for discounts, which in turn makes it much more likely that a game will be pirated under the excuse that games are too expensive. As we'll see in the following sections however, games which are lower in price are still pirated heavily, so simply reducing the price is not necessarily a viable solution to this problem for games companies.

Piracy & Marketing

One of the economic arguments in support of piracy is that it imparts benefits to the producers because the mass distribution of pirated copies of a product effectively provides valuable free publicity and marketing via word of mouth. This can be particularly useful for low budget releases which don't have large marketing budgets. For example if a hesitant purchaser obtains a pirated copy of a little-known game and then loves it, there's no doubt they're much more likely to encourage their friends to get that game. This argument is logically sound, in that there is indeed a great deal of power in the way in which widespread positive word of mouth can influence the perceptions and decisions of the general public, and propel an otherwise unknown or underrated game to greater popularity.

However the argument deliberately ignores one fundamental problem: there's no evidence to suggest that positive word of mouth from pirates results in anything other than more people pirating a particularly popular game. After all, if a person can tell others about a pirated game he likes, he can just as easily tell them how and where to obtain it illegally, or give them a copy for example. So it's unclear as to how much this additional positive word of mouth due to piracy actually results in increased sales rather than simply increased piracy. Looking at the data in the next two sections, we can see that the more popular a game, the significantly higher the number of people pirating it, though sales may also benefit as well. So the net effect of this claim is unclear.

As a corollary of the marketing argument, many people will also point out that a pirated copy of a game allows them to sample a game before committing to its purchase. This makes sense, especially in cases where a game doesn't have a demo - this is one of the reasons why I recommend in the conclusion to this article that developers should release demos for their games. However again there's no solid evidence to substantiate the fact that a pirated copy leads to a purchase. In fact given that a pirated copy is a perfect duplicate of a retail copy, and hence there is no quality difference between the two, logically it would be rare for consumers to pirate a game, play it, and then go out and purchase essentially the same game again at additional cost. Certainly given the very large numbers of pirated copies via torrent which we see in the next section, if a large proportion of those people eventually purchased the game they had pirated, then PC game sales would be extremely high rather than being many times lower than the console equivalents. Similarly, examining the evidence related to tech support requests by pirates for example, it seems the majority of people playing pirated versions don't have access to a legitimate version. To be sure, some proportion of the people who pirate a game may wind up purchasing a legitimate copy purely in a bid to support the developers or to resolve problems. More often however it will likely be to gain access to the multiplayer component of a game, or to get DRM-protected downloadable content for example. In any case the evidence does not support the claim that anything beyond a minority of pirates actually wind up purchasing the games they pirate.

Now that you have a basic grounding in the Economic arguments behind the piracy debate, the next section starts us on a closer examination of the actual data, beginning with The Scale of Piracy.

In the previous sections we focused on the background and theory behind piracy. It's critical to understand these if you want to conduct an informed debate about piracy. Far too many people happily spread all sorts of nonsense about piracy-related issues such as copyright without any understanding of the fundamentals involved. In any case there have been various arguments made in the previous sections which now need to be substantiated with a range of facts and practical examples, and that's what this and the following sections attempt to do.

Let's pause for a moment and consider the following: there's no such thing as 'conclusive evidence' when it comes to piracy. Why? Because by definition piracy is an illegal activity, and thus is deliberately hidden from view. People conducting piracy don't include details of such activities in any official forms they fill out and send to the tax office for example. Individuals engaging in piracy also have a high probability of falsely reporting the extent and nature of their illegal activities and intentions in various surveys and studies, partly due to the negative perceptions they may face, partly to justify their own actions, and partly out of fear of being prosecuted. I worked for several years in the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and I know that statisticians are taught never to apply any moral standards to measuring illegal activities. They strive to measure both legal and illegal activities equally where they are significant enough for inclusion. The problem lies in the fact that it's very difficult to accurately measure piracy, thus there is no conclusive data on piracy which everyone will accept. Instead, to piece together a broad but reasonably accurate picture of piracy we must rely on a wide range of relevant indicators and logical deductions. None of this is perfect, however by comparing, combining and overlapping various data sources and data types, combined with logical deductions, I'm confident that this article contains a reasonably accurate and solid picture of the scale and impact of PC game piracy.

The first step in determining piracy's impact on PC gaming is to see on what sort of scale it is being conducted. There are several ways of gaining an insight into just how large piracy is, and we look at these below:

The Popularity of Piracy Sites

A common measure of a website's relative popularity is through the site Alexa. Alexa's traffic rankings are based on various data, some of which they don't reveal, so while it's not clear precisely how representative Alexa's sample is, for our purposes it should be sufficiently accurate as a broad indicator of relative popularity. Accordingly, I input the addresses of some popular piracy-specific websites, and the results were quite interesting:

The Pirate Bay: A popular torrent search engine, is in the Top 120 Websites globally, and in countries like Sweden it's around the Top 10.

Mininova: A popular torrent search engine, is in the Top 80 Websites globally, and in countries like Pakistan, Algeria, Australia and Greece, it's around the Top 30.

Isohunt: A popular torrent search engine, is in the Top 200 Websites globally.

Rapidshare: A general file-sharing service used heavily for hosting illegal material, is in the Top 12 Websites globally.

Many other less significant piracy-related websites also sit in the top few thousand sites in the world, such as Releaselog and Newzleech.

Clearly, by hosting or just linking to illegal material, a site can draw in a huge amount of traffic, to the point where it can project the site into the highly-coveted top few hundred or few thousand sites in the world. Considering there are over 180 million sites in the world today (excluding personal web spaces and the like), this is no small accomplishment. This gives us one impression of the popularity and hence scale of piracy. As an aside, the potential income from owning a piracy-related site is very large; there are literally tens if not hundreds of millions of visitors to each of the sites in the top 100, and it's no coincidence that piracy-related sites are also some of the most ad-covered sites as well, generating massive amounts of money for their owners - we examine this issue in more detail in the Conclusion section.

Piracy as a Proportion of Total Internet Usage

While the sites which provide links to pirated material are at the top of the web popularity list, there's evidence that Peer to Peer (P2P) traffic in particular is monstrously high as a proportion of total Internet traffic. This Report from Multimedia Intelligence shows that at present, P2P traffic makes up approximately 44% of all consumer Internet traffic globally (33.6% in North America). Similarly, this data from Ipoque also points to P2P traffic accounting for a large proportion of all Internet traffic, as much as 54% in places like Southern Europe. Both data sources point out that the vast majority of P2P data currently being shared is, as you'd expect, pirated material, with 70% of it being audio and video files (i.e. songs and movies). The data paints a fairly solid picture of the Internet being absolutely saturated with pirated material, where up to half of all Internet traffic can be composed of illegally shared files at any time.

Global Piracy Rates

Piracy is a worldwide phenomenon, however the rates of piracy are not the same around the world; in some countries piracy is much higher than in others, for a range of reasons. The Business Software Alliance (BSA) commissioned IDC to regularly measure PC software piracy rates around the world, and the latest results are published in this Global Piracy Software Study (PDF). The report shows the estimated piracy rate by region for 2006 and 2007:

Click to enlarge

Note that the results are for all PC software, including operating systems and business software, as well as games. Interestingly, although the piracy rate is falling slightly in most regions, the shift in piracy towards developing regions, and the sheer size of these regions, has resulted in an increase in the average global piracy rate from 35% to 38% between 2006 and 2007. As can be seen, the piracy rates in all countries are very high - the lowest is 21% in North America, and it averages from 30-60% in all other regions. The breakdown by individual country can be seen here. The report concludes that "...by the end of 2007, there were more than one billion PCs installed around the world; nearly half have pirated software on them."

It may be tempting to believe that piracy has always been on the rise, but that's not correct. The 2002 BSA Report shows that between 1996 and 1999, global piracy rates were actually declining every year:

Click to enlarge

Though the report itself fails to make any mention of the Internet, I believe it seems not uncoincidental that the reversal in the falling rate of piracy occurs at around the same time as Internet usage started to become increasingly more popular among the general population, particularly as a means of distributing illegal software.

An important issue worth noting is the dollar loss figures used in the above reports. I don't agree with them because as discussed in the Economics of Piracy section, it's incorrect to simply assume that every piece of pirated software is equivalent to a full-price lost sale. This is especially true in some countries where software can be almost prohibitively expensive. For example, in China and India, two huge markets with a great deal of piracy, the average salaries even for well-paid professionals is much, much lower than their western equivalents. This Mercer Survey shows that in 2007, someone at the 'IT Manager' level earned on average in US dollars: $25,000 in India, $33,700 in China, $88,000 in Australia and $107,500 in the US. Yet until recently, Microsoft would charge roughly the same price for Windows Vista in China as it did in the US. As this article notes, in late 2007 Microsoft lowered the price for its latest Windows OS in China, for example lowering Vista Home Premium from $238USD to $118USD. However as the article also notes, in practice given many Chinese workers live on annual salaries ranging from $300 to $1000 a year, these price cuts are still not going to make Vista anywhere near affordable for most workers. By the same token, one has to wonder how many of these workers would even own a PC, much less one capable of running Vista.

Another key issue is the availability of software in certain regions. In some countries the availability of certain software is limited, whether due to fewer retail outlets, economic sanctions, or simply because the publisher/distributor deliberately delays or never releases the software in certain regions. This obviously has an impact on increasing piracy, because if consumers are unable to obtain a legitimate copy without experiencing additional costs and/or delays, then piracy becomes a far more attractive option.

The key point then is to consider a range of factors when examining global piracy rates: local software prices, local salaries, general cost of living, and the timely availability of software. In other words when examining piracy by region it's wholly inaccurate to simply calculate that a pirated copy of a PC game in China or India equates to the same potential loss in income as a pirated copy of a PC game in the US or Europe for example.

In any case, we can conclude that the proportional rates of piracy shown above do indicate quite clearly that the scale of piracy is very high all around the world, and that there must be some genuine and likely quite significant economic losses incurred in aggregate due to all this piracy, even if it's not on the basis of each pirated copy being a full-price lost sale.

Game-Specific Piracy Data

The data above indicates the general scale piracy, but the issue at hand is an examination of the piracy of PC games. A reasonably robust method of gauging the approximate scale of PC game piracy is to look at the torrents for the pirated releases of recent big-name games. In most cases there are multiple torrents available for the same game, however below I simply post a brief summary of the numbers involved from only a few of the more popular individual torrents and what they add up to as of the start of December 2008, using the popular torrent search engine Mininova:

Crysis Warhead (released Sept. 16 2008):

Crysis Warhead Multi-11 Full-Rip Skullptura - 84,139
Crysis Warhead MULTi10 CLONEDVD-iMMXpC - 54,029
Crysis Warhead-RELOADED - 36,240
Crysis WarHead 2008 - 29,836
CrYsis Warhead [MULTi10][CLONEDVD][FullGame][CrackIncl] KaYz 2008 - 22,784
Crysis Warhead CLONEDVD PC [English] - 16,039

The sample of torrents above adds up to 243,067 downloads for the PC version in just over a two month period. Note that Warhead sells for $29.99 as opposed to the $49.99 for a standard game.

Fallout 3 (released Oct. 30 2008):

PC Version:

Fallout 3-RELOADED--cgauravâ-- - 75,152
Fallout 3 Full-Rip Skullptura - 72,987
Fallout 3-RELOADED.[sitenameremoved.org] - 48,926
Fallout 3 [PC] - 45,130
Fallout.3-RELOADED.[sitenameremoved.com] - 12,226
Fallout 3-RELOADED [Full ISO/RPG/2008] - 12,110
FALLOUT 3-TRiViUM - 5,032

I counted almost 90 individual torrents for the full PC version of Fallout 3. The small sample listed above adds up to 271,563 downloads in a one month period.

XBox 360 Version:

Fallout 3 USA XBOX360-RUiNS - 6,649
Fallout 3 READNFO XBOX360-Seed4ME - 5,612
Fallout 3 PAL XBOX360-GLoBAL - 4,220
Fallout 3 GERMAN-0x0007 - 2,336
Fallout 3 USA PROPER RETAIL XBOX360-x360inT - 1,171

I counted around 30 individual torrents for the XBox 360 version of Fallout 3. The sample listed above adds up to 19,988 downloads in a one month period.

PS3 Version:

I couldn't find any Fallout 3 torrents which were labelled as or appeared to be for the PS3.

Call of Duty 4 (released Nov. 6 2007):

PC Version:

Call of duty 4 [PC-DVD] [English] 3876100 TPB - 205,277
Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare Full-Rip Skullptura - 111,310
Call Of Duty 4 Modern Warfare [English][PCDVD] - 96,082
Call Of Duty 4 [PCFullGame][Eng-DvD][CrackIncl] KaYZ 2008 - 43,805
Call Of Duty 4-Razor1911 - 40,839
Call Of Duty 4-Razor1911 [sitenameremoved.com] - 21,456
Call Of Duty 4 - 18,295
++sitenameremoved com++-Call of Duty 4 DVD Modern Warfare - 17,212
Call of Duty(R) 4 - Modern Warfare - 12,300

I counted over 100 active torrents for the PC version of this game, a year after its release. The sample listed above adds up to 566,000 downloads in a one year period.

XBox 360 Version:

XBOX 360 Call Of Duty 4 Modern Warface [PAL] - 12,231
Call Of Duty 4 PAL FR XBOX360-PROPER - 11,758
[Xbox360-ITA]Call Of Duty 4- Modern Warfare - 9,702
Call Of Duty 4 Modern Warfare PAL FRENCH XBOX 360 - 9,277
Call Of Duty 4 Modern Warface PAL XBOX360-GAC[sitenameremoved.org] - 7,182
Call of Duty 4 [PAL - Spanish - XBOX360] - 5,194
Call Of Duty 4 ENG XBOX360 - 3,513

There were around 20 XBox 360 torrents for this game, and the sample listed above adds up to 58,857 downloads.

PS3 Version:

Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare USA PS3-PARADOX - 24,185
Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare PAL PS3-MRN () - 9,484
Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare PAL PS3-MRN - 6,876
Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare USA PS3-PARADOX[sitenameremoved.net] - 5,382
Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare USA PS3-PARADOX[sitenameremoved.org] - 3,683
Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare USA PS3-PARADOX[sitenameremoved.org] - 3,065

There were only 6 PS3-labelled torrents for this game, and I've listed all of them above, adding up to 52,657 downloads over the past year.

For those questioning whether these figures are even remotely accurate, one well-known piracy site recently released a Top 10 Pirated PC Games of 2008 listing, and they even went so far as to insist that torrent figures compiled in this manner should be highly accurate. Their figures also show that my conservative sums above noticeably understate the actual level of torrent piracy:

Click to enlarge

Remember, none of these torrent figures take into account other forms of piracy which are also substantial, such as File Sharing (e.g. Rapidshare), Usenet, FTP, IRC and of course physical piracy, so they may still significantly understate the true scale of piracy. However they do clearly indicate that piracy is rampant. As we'll see later on, many PC games don't usually sell beyond 1-2 million copies throughout their entire lives, so when the number of torrent downloads in one year for some games approaches that level as shown above, it's a substantial level of piracy.

So far the information in this section has provided us with enough data to make some initial observations:

Game piracy is not being conducted on a small scale, it is clearly substantial. Pirated copies are easily and widely available; some games even up to a year old can have up to a hundred active torrents through which someone can obtain the game.

Piracy of the PC versions is orders of magnitude above that of the console versions in the cases we examined. For example Call of Duty 4 has five times as many downloads on the PC version as it does on the XBox 360 and PS3 versions combined. As we will see in the PC vs. Console section, this also appears to line up with its apparent sales ratio: five times as many sales on consoles than on PC. Similarly, Fallout 3 has almost ten times as many PC downloads as it does console downloads, supported by its general sales ratios.

More popular/desirable games are pirated more heavily than less popular games. The entire top 10 pirated games list doesn't contain any truly unpopular games, indeed some of the most popular good quality games of 2007/08 appear on the list. Similarly when searching torrents, I found more popular games have far more individual torrent listings than less popular games. This clearly contradicts the claim that 'good games get pirated less' - we see more evidence of the fallacy of this claim throughout this article.

Finally, on the contentious topic of DRM, aside from Spore whose audience may well have fallen victim to DRM-induced hysteria, the presence of intrusive DRM appears not to increase piracy of a game. For example Call of Duty 4, Assassin's Creed and Crysis all have no intrusive DRM whatsoever: they all use basic SafeDisc copy protection with no install limits, no online activation, and no major reports of protection-related issues. Yet all were pirated heavily enough to have the dubious distinction of being in the Top 10 downloaded games list. But strangely absent from the list are several popular games which do use more intrusive DRM: BioShock, Crysis Warhead, and Mass Effect. This indicates quite clearly that intrusive DRM is not the main reason why some games are pirated more heavily than others. We examine this issue in more detail in the Copy Protection & DRM section.

These initial findings shed some interesting light on both the scale and nature of piracy. However examining torrent piracy is only one way to measure the scale of PC game piracy. Gaming companies have other ways in which they can determine and cross-check how many non-legitimate versions of their games are in use. One method which is reasonably robust - and coincidentally highlights one of the directly measurable costs of piracy - is to look at tech support requests made by people who are using a pirated copy of a game. There are several examples which cement the picture of both the scale of piracy being extremely high compared to legitimate sales, and the direct costs of piracy also being high due to their imposition on limited tech support resources. Mike Russell, QA Manager of Ritual Entertainment, makers of the SiN Episodes games, discusses the impact of the scale of piracy on tech support in this article:

        Some recent calculations revealed that, last week, gamers with pirated copies of Emergence requesting support outnumbered gamers with legitimate copies of Emergence requesting support by a ratio of nearly five to one. This, understandably, is a source of great frustration for Russell, who is essentially performing two jobs at Ritual and who only has a finite amount of time to spend on each. Responses he has received when attempting to troubleshoot problems have laid painfully bare which users are playing the game illegally. "What's Steam?" one asked. "I don't have one," replied another when asked for his Steam ID. "Oh, my copy didn't come with an installer," replied yet another user, "it's in a folder on a DVD. I just drag it to my machine and then run the game." For an independently funded developer such as Ritual, these time sinks and lost sales have a clear and measurable impact on the company's income and, thus, its long term self-sufficiency.

Bethesda Softworks, makers of The Elder Scrolls series and most recently Fallout 3 had this to say on the issue of the scale and costs of piracy-related tech support:

        The amount of times we see stuff coming through where itâ(TM)s like, the resolution to the problem was [the] guy had a pirated copy of the game⦠The amount of money we spend supporting people who didnâ(TM)t pay us for the game in the first placeâ¦itâ(TM)s fâ"ing ludicrous. We talk to other developers, guys who are [like] âYeah, itâ(TM)s a third, itâ(TM)s 50% of our [customer] support.â(TM)

Similarly the developers of a popular free mod called Portal: Prelude also speak out about the level of piracy of the game Portal which they've witnessed:

        Seriously guys, stop sending us emails because you can't install the game, because you can't launch the game, or because you have weird errors everywhere. We're not going to help you make the mod work on pirated versions of Portal or without Steam. This mod needs an original and legit Portal because it also uses some of the content of Half-Life 2 that extends Portal. Of course, this content doesn't seem to be included in the pirated version of Portal.

In fact piracy of Portal is an interesting case to examine. A quick search on Mininova currently reveals around 30 active torrents for The Orange Box, a game package released in November 2007 of which Portal was a part. For those who don't know, The Orange Box is famous for being one of the best gaming deals of 2007/2008 - five major games in one package (Half Life 2, HL2: Episode 1, HL2: Episode 2, Team Fortress 2, Portal) all for the price of a standard game, distributed via Steam with no intrusive DRM, and receiving nothing but praise from reviewers and gamers alike. Yet here are people who not only pirated this game, but are also requesting support for it.

I've saved an excellent example for last. As an indication that not only is the scale of piracy generally high across all types of games, but more importantly, that it seems to have little to do with DRM, big greedy game companies, or the high price of games, let's take a look at a game called World of Goo, recently released by a small independent developer called 2D Boy consisting of a team of 3 people. It's available as a digital download, selling for less than $20 on Steam, it has no intrusive DRM, and it's received nothing but praise, reflected in a Metacritic Score of 90%/95%. This should be precisely the recipe for preventing piracy according to some, but unfortunately the truth is less convenient: the developer of the game has stated that World of Goo has an approximate piracy rate of 90%. Regardless of the precise level of piracy, the key point to consider is that World of Goo addresses every single item on the checklist of excuses which people usually present for pirating games - yet it is still being pirated quite heavily.

Having established that there's a major disparity between PC and console piracy in this section, in the following section we look more closely at the differences between the PC and consoles.

In the previous section we managed to establish with a range of publicly available data that piracy is being conducted on a massive scale at the moment - up to half of all Internet traffic is composed of pirated material, there's an average global piracy rate of 38% for all software, and popular PC Games are being downloaded in their hundreds of thousands of pirated copies via torrents. No doubt by now some of you will be shaking your heads, saying that even if all this is true, who's to say that all this piracy is actually having any impact on sales. I encourage you to continue reading as we explore the various implications which the data has opened up.

In this section we look at a rather significant recent change in the gaming industry which some people have attributed to piracy: the way in which most major games developers are shifting focus towards making games designed specifically for the popular gaming consoles. On the surface, the issue seems quite straightforward - console games are selling much more than PC games, probably because of the much higher numbers of console gamers, so developers are simply following the trend, and in the process conveniently scapegoating piracy to cover their greedy motives. But is this really what's occurring?

The Move to Consoles

A noticeable change in PC gaming over the past few years has been the move away from PC exclusives. More and more games are now being developed first and foremost for the popular gaming consoles: the XBox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii. The fundamental reason for this is a large discrepancy in sales figures - console versions of games routinely outsell the PC versions by many times the number of units. Ok, so what does this phenomenon have to do with piracy? Well as it happens, the majority of PC developers are laying at least part of the blame for their decision to move to focusing on console-based development squarely in the lap of piracy:

Cevat Yerli of Crytek, the makers of Far Cry, Crysis and Crysis Warhead has publicly stated:

        We are suffering currently from the huge piracy that is encompassing Crysis. We seem to lead the charts in piracy by a large margin, a chart leading that is not desirable. I believe thatâ(TM)s the core problem of PC Gaming, piracy, to the degree [that PC gamers who] pirate games inherently destroy the platform. Similar games on consoles sell factors of 4-5 more. It was a big lesson for us and I believe we wonâ(TM)t have PC exclusives as we did with Crysis in future.

John Carmack, often called the 'father of PC gaming', and co-founder of id software, makers of the Doom and Quake series, recently stated:

        It's hard to second guess exactly what the reasons are. You can say piracy. You can say user migration, but the ground truth is just that the sales numbers on the PC are not what they used to be and are not what they are on the consoles.

Cliffy B, lead creator at Epic Games, makers of the Unreal Tournament and Gears of Wars series, has been quite outspoken on this topic:

        Here's the problem right now; the person who is savvy enough to want to have a good PC to upgrade their video card, is a person who is savvy enough to know bit torrent to know all the elements so they can pirate software. Therefore, high-end videogames are suffering very much on the PC. Right now, it makes sense for us to focus on Xbox 360 for a number of reasons. Not least PCs with multiple configurations and piracy.

Chris Taylor of Gas Powered Games, makers of Supreme Commander, also chimes in with his assessment: ...people are going to stop making [games] on the PC because of my earlier point, what's happened on the PC with piracy. The economics are ugly right now on the PC. You're not going to see these gigantic, epic investments of dollars on the PC when it just doesn't work. The economics have to work. You're going to see those investments made on the console side and it's going to become a more console-centric investment. And then you're going to see them ported back over to the PC and that creates a different experience on the PC.

Robert Bowling, Community Manager at Infinity Ward, the makers of games such as Call of Duty 2 and Call of Duty 4, provided a fairly blunt opinion on the issue. He made a blog post entitled 'They Wonder Why People Donâ(TM)t Make PC Games Any More', the title of his post along with the contents clearly linking the move away from PC game development with piracy:

        On another PC related note, we pulled some disturbing numbers this past week about

Re:10 Page Article VERY LONG (2, Interesting)

ccguy (1116865) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185161)

Obviously you are aiming at a cheap +5 informative.

Would be nice to respect other people's work, as these people weren't obviously aiming at 10 cheap ad pages.

Morals (4, Interesting)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185143)

Piracy is the result of human nature: when faced with the option of getting something for free or paying for it, and in the absence of any significant risks, you don't need complex economic studies to show you that most people will opt for the free route.

Right, there's also moral values in the balance. To some people piracy is all bad, to some people everything should be free, to some other people it's fine to pirate from big studios but not from small developers who try to make a living out of it. It's called moral values. It varies from people to people, with also varying degrees of importance in the role it plays in decision making.

What about quality of the product? (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26185157)

The OP suggests that "most people will opt for the free route" simply because the product is free. I would argue that due to overly restrictive DRM, people prefer the free route because "hacked" or pirated products are better. I buy DVDs, but I wouldn't buy DRMed movies because it's effectively wasted money -- one day those movies will be unwatchable.

Also, in the field of ebooks, often it is possible to find an ebook that's been pirated when no legal copy exists for sale. In this case, the publishing companies are not servicing a demand that is clearly present. Sure, I could scan in my own paper copy of the book, but why go to the trouble when someone else has already done it?

is he an idiot? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26185167)

I stopped reading when he told me that Usenet is now becoming a rapidly growing file-sharing method. Usenet is a rapidly declining file-sharing method that I would guess peaked in the mid/late nineties. Does anyone seriously use Usenet for piracy these days?

Re:is he an idiot? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26185329)

I don't know. Having not been on usenet since my *LAST* ISP quit supporting it like 5+ years ago I haven't has a chance to check. However I'd heard a while back that a number of 0 day groups still used it for initial distribution before it hit torrents or whatnot.

Although then again I've also heard it's still mainly private FTP servers, which as a whole date back to the wee days of the internet.

Re:is he an idiot? (1)

FishWithAHammer (957772) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185629)

Ever see a torrent that's full of .rar file segments?

They're full of .rar chunks because that's how the 0-day group released it on usenet.

DRM (5, Insightful)

Kranerian (1427183) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185175)

The article goes on an extensive analogy about DRM equaling Door Locks, and it completely misses the point. Yes, DRm prevents the majority of hackers from being able to do anything to the actual, hard copy of the game. This is worthless, though. All it take is for one person to break through the protection and upload it to a torrent site, and then everybody with internet access can have the game for free. It does not matter that most people couldn't break the encryption themselves. They don't need to, because somebody else already has.

Re:DRM (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26185415)

You're missing the point, there is a time element you're forgetting about. If the DRM can prevent a zero-day or day-one crack, then the DRM has done its job. If the DRM is cracked or if the game is released early than their sales (which are naturally highest on release day) are noticeably and unquestionably cannibalized.

Sure all DRM is eventually broken, but as long as it's done after major sales has died down, they don't care.

Better Support from the Scene (3, Insightful)

critical_point (1430417) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185189)

The bottom line is that the Scene provides better long-term support then most game companies ever have, and I only like to buy the games that I can and will indefinitely far into the future, which usually requires some variety of cracks and emulators, which is why even the games I have bought in the past are not installed in favor of the infringed+enhanced versions.

Re:Better Support from the Scene (1)

AlexMax2742 (602517) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185339)

If that's true, then why does the article assert that a non-trivial portion of the people calling support lines for games are using pirated copies?

excuse me, mr. idiot (1, Troll)

unity100 (970058) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185283)

"Fast forward to the 21st century, and piracy has apparently somehow become a political struggle, a fight against greedy corporations and evil copy protection, and in some cases, I've even seen some people refer to the rise of piracy as a 'revolution.' What an absolute farce. ... Piracy is the result of human nature: when faced with the option of getting something for free or paying for it, and in the absence of any significant risks, you don't need complex economic studies to show you that most people will opt for the free route.

and political struggles and revolutions are EXACTLY that.

an unglorified movement of 'rabble', at least at the start, which developes into a formatted, defined ideological struggle.

if you had seen french revolutionaries in 1789, you would want to spray them with insecticide. it was a total stampede of barbarians. but then, in 2-3 years' time, it has become the very thing that awarded your sorry ass with the modern social guidelines about human rights, civil conduct we know today.

piracy is exactly like that. just like it was back in 17th century, in which mercantilism was the order of the day. smugglers and pirates and traders ignored royal laws and edicts and traded with the nations they were barred from trading. the nations who were prevented from trading turned to piracy. no armada was able to stop piracy up until end of 16th century, when countries eased mercantilist laws and started trading with each other. then piracy waned like an extinguishing candle.

same goes with software/music/movie piracy. IF, you are not providing a product that justifies it cost with EVERY aspect of itself, people WILL pirate and even out the thing. even if it takes more hassle to actually find a good, acceptable, virus free, quality copy of the game, movie, music, and even if it takes days to download and set up to watch (those horrible codecs and filters), even if it is missing on features .... AS LONG AS the hassle justifies the thing, they will do it.

now imagine something different. imagine that, im able to acquire a game i need for $10. imagine that i can acquire it online at any time, directly download it to my computer in just half an hour. imagine it works regardless of where i put it, without any installation, shitty copy protection, problems, anything. do you think, unless im really in need of cash, AND i have the means to pay that company online through internet without any security/privacy issues, i still would go through the hassle that is pirating ?

i wouldnt. and i dont. and IF i was in desperate need of $10, you wouldnt take my money regardless of the laws or enforcements you might have put out. thats a segment of society that is never going to be able to pay for those, so get charging them out of your mind already.

an excellent example is spore. there was too much hype about the game, and the premise looked good. so, i go, buy it, shelling out $30, thinking it was a game worthy of my cash. i come home, i install the thing, only to discover that it is shitting with my computer, trying to install stuff i do not want on it. i go get a crack for the exe so it wont be disturbing MY property in a way i dont want. i actually, had to, CRACK a game i have PAID for. this is an irony that can kill people.

6 hours of gameplay, another 3 hours of forced gameplay on the weekend, another 4 hours more on sunday, and i decide game wasnt worth either my 30 bucks, or the hassle i went through for the cracking. now i think, if i had known that it was going to be like that beforehand, i wouldnt even take the hassle of pirating and acquiring it through the internet even.

too few are the games im going paying and buying boxed. and they generally happen to be the same software houses' stuff. you know, bioware, blizzard and so on. the companies who actually at least TRY to continue the pre-1995 (advent of the cd) era of innovative, entertaining game development. substance over looks, content over technology.

what is more horrible, i have reduced 'acquiring' any games through 'unofficial' channels, since i noticed that what i acquired i play less and less, due to inherent suckage, and then stopped 'acquiring' altogether.

it is corporation's fault. yea, exactly. precisely.

customers want what's below :

- a product that they would be willing to play/watch/listen. a product that is 'good'.
- a product that is easy to acquire and easy to use
- a product that is fairly priced, ACCEPTABLY priced, based on the above.

now lets get real, neither game, nor movie or music industry is not giving #1 since the last 15 years anymore.

- the game industry went mass manufacturing in mid 90s, and they are just putting out vector based 3d graphics and sound loaded crap, one after another, all resembling each other. some are even doing Impregnable Justice MCLMXXIV. everyone is bent on just rehashing old concepts and taking people's money.
- the music industry have gone the way of computer generated music and djs in order to dodge royalty fees. djs are easily bullied and controlled, comptuer generated music costs much lower than any work of art. therefore we are seeing innumerable songs that have a certain hook and rhythm that repeats endlessly, with a woman/man occasionally repeatedly uttering some words or rhyme somewhere, and thats it. original songwriting, catchy, melodic tunes have gone bust, too few remaining
- movie industry was always repeating itself. even 'remastering' old movies and putting them in box offices AGAIN. sometimes making SAME movies at the SAME time, like deep impact and armageddon. unbelievable.

the equation, therefore, breaks at the prerequisite #1. we are social creatures, we have the need for entertainment, but the entertainment that is out there does not satisfy us anymore. but, since everyone is doing the same thing, we are just subconsciously suppressing it, and going along with the crowd. piracy becomes just a pointer of how half assedly we take the entertainment we are 'enjoying'.

Re:excuse me, mr. idiot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26185327)

You are an idiot. RTFA.

Something missing (2, Interesting)

xbytor (215790) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185287)

I know there are people like myself who purchase games, don't install them, but do install a downloaded copy that has the DRM restrictions removed. This may or may not be viable with Steam-related DRM, but I'm anti-social enough that online multiplayer doesn't really hold a whole lot of appeal for me. And if I did decide that I absolutely had to play something online, I setup an account just for that game so that I could resell my original copy (with the account info) when I was finished with it.

Most of "their" Statistics have no source (1)

theaveng (1243528) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185325)

You'll often hear these companies say something like, "$100 billion is lost to piracy ever year," but when you ask for a source, then cannot provide one. Sure they might say something like "I copied it from XYZ document," but that document doesn't list a source either. It's a factoid that comes from nowhere.

A society that holds itself to embrace science, rationality, and logic should ignore numbers that have no sources. Do not accept numbers that came from no place.

Re:Most of "their" Statistics have no source (2, Funny)

similar_name (1164087) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185501)

A society that holds itself to embrace science, rationality, and logic should ignore numbers that have no sources. Do not accept numbers that came from no place.

Where is that society? I would love to move there.

Sociological Studies Disagree (4, Insightful)

99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185353)

Piracy is the result of human nature: when faced with the option of getting something for free or paying for it, and in the absence of any significant risks, you don't need complex economic studies to show you that most people will opt for the free route."

The article summary includes the following quote, but it doesn't actually seem to be the case if you actually study the issue. In many studies it has been shown that "honor systems" result in fewer thefts than systems where there are technological or potential criminal penalties. In many, many cases building a system of trust and relying upon people's morals and ethics is the most effective solution.

I scanned this article and then gave up because it seemed unoriginal and completely one-sided. If you can't even understand the perspective of people on one side of an issue, how can you rant for so many pages about your perspective on it?

Instead of... (2, Interesting)

Enderandrew (866215) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185387)

Instead of debating whether or not piracy should be called piracy, how about we discuss that actual issue of how piracy affects games, and what effect DRM has on piracy.

Honestly, I think the solution is to provide benefits to paying for the game. You're not going to stop piracy through DRM. And DRM may chase off paying customers. So about instead of pushing people away, you attract customers with benefits?

For instance, online play that is only accessible to paying customers might convince pirates who downloaded your game to start paying for it.

Re:Instead of... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26185513)

Honestly, I think the solution is to provide benefits to paying for the game. You're not going to stop piracy through DRM. And DRM may chase off paying customers. So about instead of pushing people away, you attract customers with benefits?

So did you actually read the article or are you naturally that thick? DRM doesn't stop piracy indefinitely, but as long as it works long enough for the initial rush of sales to die down, they fine with that. It's when the DRM is ineffective enough to be cracked zero-day or day-one that they consider a failure, because then piracy takes a measurable chunk out of their sales.

Re:Instead of... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26185591)

That's under the assumption that it is an issue.

It's assumed by many content publishers that it is a big issue (and has been since the beginning), but there is no way to determine that. Look at it this way, we will assume, for the sake of argument, that someone obtains illegal copies of games. Why do they do this?

1. Not enough money to purchase the game.
You gain: Word of mouth for good games.
You lose: Word of mouth for bad games. At worst, you lose one sale. Generally, nothing is lost.

2. Game is too riddled with DRM and consumers want what they pay for.
You gain: Nothing.
You lose: Word of mouth.

3. You cannot return a game after buying it, so you would like to see what you're getting first.
You gain: Word of mouth, if it is a good game.
You lose: Nothing, assuming the user buys it. A sale, assuming the user does not buy it. Word of mouth, assuming it is a bad game.

4. Game is far too low in quality for its current price point, but some people want to play it now because it's new and fresh. They do not have to want to wait for price drops - if price drops ever occur before it's pulled from the shelves.
You gain: Nothing.
You lose: A sale.

Can't really think of any other common ones at the moment, but that's a fairly solid list.

If you look at these, you are sadly mistaken to focus on copyright infringement as the issue - or as an issue at all. You may lose a sale here or there, but for every sale you lose, you gain players of your game and thus, word of mouth.

There is NO POSSIBLE WAY to measure the full effect of copyright infringement, so to assume that it is an issue is fallacious at best. Start concentrating on quality, and then we'll talk about how much money you're losing. Oh wait.

Piracy is the future, the now (2, Insightful)

bowlburner (1435887) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185463)

Try before you buy. Why is it that we have to pay for a game before we play it? Why don't trials or evaluation periods exist for all games like they do for other applications? Don't say short-sighted demos or one-sided reviews do any justice. They don't. The gaming industry has coasted far too long on the "pay first, be disappointed after" system and is in need of an adjustment; this is why piracy is rampant. Why would anyone want to pay for a game not worth the money? Only good game developers that have fulfilled my gaming desires get my money: Blizzard and Valve.

I'm not blindly buying another Hellgate: London.

Keep pirating. Buy the games you like. Let the weak game developers wilt and die. This will only cause the market to shift to the games we truly desire or at least a system that doesn't rob you up front and leave you sore after.

Re:Piracy is the future, the now (1)

FishWithAHammer (957772) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185651)

Keep pirating. Buy the games you like.

The problem with this is that far, far too many people will go "keep pirating--buy nothing."

Re:Piracy is the future, the now (1)

cliffski (65094) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185749)

why do I have to buy my house before I live in it?
Why do I have to buy my laptop before I get to take it home and play games on it
Why did I have to pay for my holiday before I got on the plane?

WTF is wrong with people that they think they have a RIGHT to enjoy other peoples work for free, and then consider if they feel generous enough, they might flip them a few cents later.
Is that how YOU get paid?

Free Riders (2, Interesting)

hhallahh (1378697) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185493)

Until people understand basic economics, people will simply conceptualize piracy as stealing from "the Man" or whatever rather than recognizing that it both drives producers out of the market and drives up prices for the paying customers who have to be responsible for recouping the development costs. Undoubtedly a lot of anti-piracy measures taken have only made things worse, but that shouldn't obfuscate the fact that piracy is a huge problem. Unfortunately, the impact of piracy on markets is largely invisible to customers, while the benefits (paying $0 vs. paying the shelf price) are anything but. The post-hoc ethical justifications are particularly disgusting... I really loved the ironic discussion of how file-sharing systems used for free-riding pirates have to deal with their own free-riding issues.

Somebody paid me to play (1)

moteyalpha (1228680) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185571)

I was contacted by a company the other day and they have a new game called "drone" and they said they would pay me to play it. I could fly a simulated plane in a virtual world and blow stuff up.All I had to do is sign a piece of paper and use their terminals. They said it was as realistic as you could get. I think the game was made by a company called USAF, or something like that. So why use the free version when somebody will pay you to play? </dark_humor>
Some binary bits may have been harmed in the production of this comment.
As far as the article, a reasonably priced product will be easier to purchase and an expensive one will be more profitable to pirate. I don't think pirates go after ship loads of potatoes as much as diamonds. I personally find that FOSS games are entertaining enough for me and often educational, and I probably learn more playing with the source than the games themselves.

Too much money, not enough game (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26185603)

I bought my first computer in '95. I spent every extra penny I could get on games. I bought them and was happy. I traded my Dune 2 floppies for Civ 1 floppies and then those for something else. It is the trading of games that was big on the minds of anti-piracy corporations. They wanted to stop this. By '97 I was buying two of three new games a month (and so was my roommate). We had well over 100 boxes each.

1997-1999 were great years for gamers. New companies were breaking new ground; big companies were breaking the sound and graphics barriers. I spent thousands of dollars in just a few years supporting the games I loved so much. I still had fresh memories of my first computer game: Eamon. The new sounds and graphics were getting better all the time and game-play was imporving.

Then it all changed. Well, not all, just most. Large firms started to pump out games that were nearly identical. Instead of innovating they just polished. They needed to make money faster. I am all for capitalism (I purchased 1 and 2 ... TY Trevor Chan), but they were making games that had less than two weeks playability. These were not $9.99 games; they were $39.99 and $49.99.

Don't get me wrong there were diamonds in lumps of coal. Small indie dev houses still get my money from time to time. I have purchased EVERY Civ and both Diablos. I have purchased 15 or so MMOs that all were played less than a month. I purchase a lot of games, but I download them first and see if they are worth the $$$ and time. Sadly, most are not. I wish I could find games worth $50.

I am happy and excited when I buy a new game. I love the new challenges and soon to be stories of multi-player action. Many games are made with the 15 minute gamer in mind. They only want to play for 15 furious minutes and then try again. I want to call in to work for two days while I stay up and save the princess.

When devs make decent games .. I buy them, but so many games are crap now-a-days I refuse to buy until I try.

Culture does not require fighting piracy... (2, Interesting)

gweihir (88907) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185615)

What is needed for culture to evolve and flourish is hat the creatives make a decent living. That does mean enough people have to be willing to pay. For music, this is clearly the case, if you expect "normal" earnings and stipulate reasonable talent. Same for other areas.

For business however, piracy is a problem. Cultural business aims at dominating and creating a mainstream, were a relatively low-quality product is sold in high numbers. People realize the low quality level and are often pirating or not interested at all. Ftom the point of view of evolving culture, the business apporach is very harmful. should it fail permanently and go away, at least todays networked world with very low publishing cost can expetc culture to get richer and more interesting.

Of course the people that get rich on the talent of others will say everything, lie, cheat and steal in order to keep their revenue flowing.

So Pirates are bad, mkay, and DRM is good, mkay... (2, Interesting)

CharonX (522492) | more than 5 years ago | (#26185639)

The article is quite biased anti-piracy, pro DRM.
Instead of taking a balanced close look at the causes of piracy the same old (pro-piracy) arguments are assembled into strawmen and then quickly ripped apart. When the focus turns to DRM there is a lot of handwaving and chanting "if I don't want it to be true it will not be".
A shame really.
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