In light of the recent news of the police raid on The Pirate Bay, the infamous torrenting site for music, video games and movies, it gives us the opportunity to talk about pirating and what game developers need to know to respond properly.
Piracy has been a part of the industry for years now and despite continued efforts from developers and law enforcement, is not going away anytime soon. It is extremely important for new developers to understand its impact and reach.
A Brief History of Digital Game Piracy:
Obviously piracy for the Game Industry is where someone distributes free copies of video games without the developer’s consent. For many smaller titles, it’s as easy as uploading the game files to a torrenting site. AAA titles and larger games require much more work to upload not just because of the larger files but also because of the added measures to prevent piracy within their hit game.
Part of the reason for the growth of digital platforms like Steam was the fact that it provided protection against piracy by linking games and game keys to people’s accounts. The reason was that while the files could be easily copied, the game keys that became locked to accounts prevented people from playing hacked copies and made it so that one purchase equaled one playable copy.
This led hackers to find ways to circumvent the system which we won’t be going into detail about here. A recent example would be hackers finding a way to get around the online check-in for SimCity 5 which was a major point of contention among fans.
Before digital platforms, developers made use of DRM copy protection software such as TAGES, Securom and the infamous Starforce. Today, these softwares, or on disc protections, are used less frequently as they tend to have negative effects on legitimate users such as with Starforce having questionable effectiveness.
It has always been a losing battle against hackers and pirates as it’s less about creating protection to outright stop piracy, but finding ways to delay it long enough to make a profit. Extreme cases of piracy have seen hackers finding ways to illegally acquiring game keys and then selling them for profit. The exact amount of money lost due to piracy is impossible to calculate, but many say that it is into the billions at this point.
With that said, let’s talk about some of the common reasons for piracy.
Video games are a very expensive hobby — Whether it’s spending a lot of money on F2P titles, buying gaming consoles, or having to upgrade your computer to run the latest games.
To compound that, many games are priced a lot higher in foreign countries due to exchange rates and other issues. For many people it’s simply too much money to spend. This is where game piracy comes in to provide them with a far cheaper option: AKA zero cost. But there is the debate that due to the high prices to begin with, these people wouldn’t have been able to afford the game at all.
Extreme critics of DLC and microtransactions hate how much games are costing these days to play which further motivates them to pirate as a way to “fight the power.” Speaking of ways to fight against corporations, our next reason is a part of that and when DRM backfires.
One of the problems with DRM and copy protection services is that they can cause headaches for legitimate users. This can be either the game not working properly or having to jump through hoops to get a game to run.
Some of the more annoying forms of DRM are where developers have used multiple DRMs on a single game which can cause conflicts and problems. Case-in-point was Warhammer 40K Dawn of War 2 that, despite being on Steam, still required games for Windows Live to run at the same time resulting in technical issues.
Or the situation with U-Play in its first iteration where you were required to be connected to the Internet at all times even when playing a single-player title otherwise the game would not work.
The SimCity 5 example is another case where a developer placed an additional limitation for playing, resulting in people with poor internet access being unable to play the game they bought.
This is where piracy is viewed as a positive for people as it allows them to get around these annoying issues for gamers. In the past, gamers have bought legitimate copies of a game to support the developer but would run no-CD cracks or a pirated copy to get around any issues that the DRM would have caused.
Another positive is that playing a pirated copy allows someone to test a game to see if they like it when there aren’t any demos available. The decline of game demos over the last few years has made this more and more of a popular option as well.
If you make your game inconvenient because of certain added features, people will look for a way to work around the added features to get the most effective gaming experience possible. Finally, our last reason is one that no developer wants to hear.
There are always going to be people out there who will pirate a game just to pirate it. These are people who may have just wanted to crack the game in the first place or people who pirate things by choice. They were never going to buy your game at all which means you were not going to receive any money from them.
This is where trying to figure out the exact cost to pirating games is difficult. Because if they weren’t going to buy your game in the first place, then how are you losing any money? The harm, however, is if that person decides to upload their pirated copy to people who would have bought it in the first place but opted not to anymore because of the availability of the pirated copy.
The Next Steps:
Now that we’ve talked about what game piracy is and the forms of it, we can turn to the other big question: What can you do about it? Developers have several options available to them with certain pros and cons associated and we’ll talk about that in our next post.