2011 Game Piracy Observations – Have Consoles Failed the Piracy Litmus Test?

So I’ll let you all draw your own conclusions; but I’ve been mulling over a few articles released earlier this month around the piracy statistics released via TorrentFreak. The first article I read was Tom’s article on Gamasutra titled “Report: Crysis 2 named most-pirated game of 2011”. That article led me to the link he posted that takes you to Ernesto’s article posted up on TorrentFreak titled “The Most Pirated Games of 2011”. They’re both great reads and for those interested in the topic of Piracy I recommend reading through them both; the posted comments are always good to scan as well. However; I think both articles lead me towards wanting to scrutinize these claims in FAR more depth.

Links to both articles here:
Gamasutra: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/39461/Report_Crysis_2_named_mostpirated_game_of_2011.php
TorrentFreak: http://torrentfreak.com/top-10-most-pirated-games-of-2011-111230/

Here’s a screen capture from the latter site that I’ll be discussing: (Attributes/Thanks to TorrentFreak & Ernesto)

So let’s dissect this & put things in more context. Besides the obvious exclusion of PS3 data – what stands out to you all? …………………………. Give up? Here are the things that stand out the most to me.

1) Does anyone see any Games here that lean on Free to Play/Freemium? (w/Micro-transactions)
2) Does anyone see any MMO, or Subscriptions based Games here?
3) Does it strike anyone else that these games all appear to originate in the Western Hemisphere?
4) Aren’t most of these games still leaning heavily on the Retail fire & forget release model?
5) Most of the games listed also stand out as those that are candidates for Secondary Sales.

Ok… yes…. Before I get flamed I do realize that a few of these are dabbling in things like Online Pass, & some platform specific exclusives, Co-Op modes that lean on a great multi-player experience etc., and so forth. However; I really believe that what we’re seeing occur in Piracy is largely (but not always) a function of these ‘Pirated’ games perhaps not taking, or leveraging more fully, the full tool-set of Business Model Options, Game Design Choices, & or Current Technology that can help reduce, or even in some cases eliminate Piracy outright. I honestly don’t get it. That said, not every game might be a good candidate for say the Freemium/Free-to-Play model, or warrants a subscription; however, it seems like the Western Hemisphere’s Game ISVs – could at least consider some form of a hybrid approach to implement at least (1) of these new trends or technologies to tackle Piracy issues. The alternative is to continue to blame the PC for being a bad platform to publish your game on. However; I don’t hear this kind of story coming out of Eastern Hemisphere Games Companies such as: Nexon, TenCent, Shanda, Netease, etc. So again… I’m at a loss as to why. Also; is the PC really that bad to publish on after all? I believe the PC as a platform to bring your games to is far superior as long as one's willing to tap into some of those relatively newer game design choices, business, and distribution models; but it's going to require some changes in our thinking and playing some catch up to other parts of the world. (Note: Worth adding that localizing your content on day 1 release as globally as possible is also extremely important - especially if you want to reduce Piracy)

Last but not least we have to ask ourselves the following question. When looking at the links or the posted pic we see that PC is leading piracy rates, then it’s the Wii, then it’s the Xbox 360. Interestingly enough though, how much of this is due to the active install base of players on those respective platforms? It’s interesting to note that the higher the Install base, the higher the Piracy rates. Mere coincidence? I doubt it. Bear in mind, the volume of GPU capable PC Gamers over say the Xbox 360 platform is at least 4:1. (~250mu to ~60mu). The Wii has to be somewhere in the neighborhood of at least ~85-90mu or ~3:1 PC to Wii Gamers. Which is an extremely conservative estimate by the way for PC Gaming but I digress. So I’ll leave you with this thought. What would the Piracy rates be on the 360, Wii, or even the PS3 *if* the Active User Install base were at least comparable to that of the PC global install base? Sadly… I think what you’d see is comparable rates of Piracy; regardless of what platform a Publisher chooses. The net is this – and in my opinion it appears that: One: Consoles have failed to truly curb Piracy, and Two: As a result we’ve ended up with an experiment in Consoles that have unfortunately held back gaming and left us with sub-par gaming experiences.

Perhaps it’s time to break those shackles?!

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1 comment

anonymous's picture

I would say the best way to compare the piracy rate would be to compare the piracy percentage rather than just the total numbers provided which in themselves arent reliable numbers but an indication of proportion of piracy via torrents for each system.. Except PS3...

The PC has so much more flexibility and zero proprietary hardware just software which makes the job of cracking a game IMO simpler, I mean you dont have to hack your PC first. Im also unsure of your figures for gamers on each system, how can you tell how many PC gamers there are? Yes each console sale is 1 user unit but each GPU enabled PC does not equal a user unit so its very hard to know the total user base for PC.

This does read as a PC gamer wanting to prove that support for PC should remain strong... As a PC and console gamer with no flag for either I would rather have PC games (for the flexibility of settings, superior performance, upgrade-ability, cheaper games, mouse for fps and its other functions as a computer) but exclusives and friends tend towards the console. As a dev I think its hard not so look at the sales figures vs piracy rate and choose console unless you go down the route of micro-transactions which is by far the biggest share of recent PC game sales.

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