Video games and piracy

Video games and piracy

A few years ago, the  magazine PC Gamer submitted an online questionnaire to its readers. The result?

90% of the readers had downloaded at least one video game illegally


Video games are probably one of the sectors in which piracy is most frequent and seems the most natural to users. 


How many times did you hear someone saying: "I like this game, but I'm not going to pay 70 euros / dollars for 15 to 20 hours of gameplay? "or "I'll pirate it, and if I like it, I'll buy a legal copy". And some people do... but not the majority.

Paying for something you already own seems futile.


A history of video game piracy


In the 1980s, video games were exchanged on cassettes or diskettes, which were easy to code and easy - and very cheap - to copy.  The loss of revenue for video game designers was substantial, and the practice was not legally regulated.


To fight against this practice, consoles have been designed – a sophisticated device used for video games only. The games became then complicated and very expensive to copy, and piracy decreased - although some pirates started to copy the consoles.

Big video game companies like Nintendo were able to grow.


In the late 1980s and early 1990s, dedicated servers accessible by modem allowed to centralize pirated copies. This was also the time when the term Warez was coined to describe this pirate scene.

Pirates and game developers were engaged in a technical race - often won by the pirates, who broke technical locks almost as quickly as they appeared.


It was in the early 2000s that peer-to-peer and the democratization of CD and DVD burners really allowed piracy to grow. The ease and relative anonymity helped to democratize digital piracy greatly.

Today, pirate copies of games are sometimes available even before the official release. Sometimes, grabbing a pirate copy is even quicker and easier than actually buying the game.


Hacking and pop culture


On the other hand the video game community has always had a certain admiration for the character of the hacker. The success of the Millennium  books and films in the 2010s or, more recently, series such as MrRobot, focus on the character of the charismatic and aloof hacker, with flickering sanity but above average intelligence - both feared and admired by those around them. The Snowden case has also contributed to a "glamorization" of the image of the hacker - a social activist in search for truth, making a positive contribution to society.

This  much-loved figure in the video game world is therefore reflected on the pirate - for many, pirate and hacker are the same. Hacking gained a positive aura, the perceived risk being very low, and the activity seen as harmless.


This perception is sometimes so positive that some people claim that video game markets in countries such as Korea are partly born from piracy - as described in this article by Dongwon Jo. 


Creative solutions

Indeed, video game designers have partly encouraged this perception of piracy as a game within a game. 

Especially in the 1990s, video game designers looked for creative solutions against piracy. Apart from the very classic word search in the game manual, some fun solutions have been developed.



While these solutions are fun and creative, there is little evidence that they actually allowed to reduce piracy. On the contrary, some people wanted to acquire pirate copies of these games to see these mechanisms in action...


Piracy kills independent designers

What many pirates forget is that pirated games also mean less revenue for companies.

A major player can easily get away with it, but an independent creator will suffer a major loss from each pirated, and therefore not purchased, copy. So much revenue that will not be reinjected into the creation of a new game.

Only the strongest  can survive -  piracy hurts diversity  and independent companies above all. 

For the moment, the most reliable solution is finding and removing pirated copies as soon as they appear.

Don't hesitate to hire a specialized company to help you with this task. 


Newt week, join us for an overview of piracy around the world and a few interesting stats.


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