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New Research Brings Much Needed Objectivity To Game Piracy Numbers
by E Zachary Knight on 10/21/11 10:10:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

This article was recently published on Techdirt.

Recently, I learned of a trio of researchers who took it upon themselves to objectively study game piracy over BitTorrent and determine some quantifiable data on game piracy. (PDF) The researchers, Anders Drachen, Kevin Bauer and Robert W. D. Veitch, observed a huge lack of objectivity in research from both sides of the piracy debate. They saw a lot of negativity on the side of the industry and positivity on the flip side.

According to Forskning.no, this lack of objectivity has led the games industry to inflate piracy numbers:(from the Google Translation)

These include an influential 2009 report, made by the U.S. trade association for game manufacturers, ESA. It is this which, according Drachen indicate that piracy is two to three times greater - depending on how the ESA press release is interpreted.

The Danish researchers estimate that is 290 million games a year. In comparison indicates ESA figures that 600 million games pirate copies in a year, and because of uncertainties in the measurement method, which is highly secret, the American figures to be considerably larger, according Drachen.

To counteract this subjectivity, the researchers took a sampling of all commercial games from November 2010 to January 2011 and watched the activity of those games on BitTorrent and combined that information with other information on the games, such as genre and review scores. In all, they listed 173 games of interest, of which 127 were found on BitTorrent. Using this data, they came to the following conclusions:

  • The majority of games they tracked had fewer than 50,000 unique peers observed on BitTorrent. At the same time, the 10 most popular games had a combined 5.37 million unique peers.
  • 'Action' games made up the lion's share of BitTorrent activity, comprising 45.61% of unique peers in all. 'Role-Playing Games', of which only 10 were observed, accounted for 15.58% of unique peers. However, when they looked at individual games, 'Action' games were less popular than 'Racing', 'Role-Playing', and 'Simulation' games, comprising 0.95%, 1.6%, 1.43%, and 1.08% respectively.
  • Aggregated review scores correlated positively with the number of unique peers. Meaning, the higher the MetaCritic score, the more unique peers will be found on BitTorrent.
  • In all, observed about 12.6 million unique peers accessing the 127 games on BitTorrent.

The researchers plan to continue their research by observing other features of games such as the ESRB ratings, marketing strategies and international release dates. They also plan to observe time-frequency distribution rates as well. They had already tested this by looking at 20 randomly selected games and found that games have a high peak around initial launch and then drift down to fairly low levels of unique peers.

This is a great first step in bringing objectivity into piracy debates. Hopefully, what will come of this is more interest in objective studies on piracy not just for games but also for other entertainment such as movies and music. The more information that is available will help content creators and distributors to make educated decisions on how to minimize the risk of piracy and better connect with their fans. Sadly, this study has made no headway on any of the major games industry news sites. One would hope that objectivity and quantifiable information would make for some interesting news.


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Comments


Eric Schwarz
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The only issue with this is that BitTorrent is only part of the picture. Warez forums, emulation and ROM-sharing sites for older games, abandonware sites, MegaUpload and other file-sharing sites, black markets, counterfeit products (which are huge in Asia and India but not so much in Europe and North America), all contribute as well. We tend to have a Eurocentric view of the games industry, and our views of piracy are often equally narrow, so it's good to realize that this is only a part of the puzzle, even if it is a significant one.

Simon Ludgate
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I'm not sure that this study tells us anything meaningful. From the perspective of a company that makes its money by selling games, any piracy is a bad thing. Knowing whether its actually 290 million copies or 600 million copies doesn't really make a difference. As far as mitigating risk, the main risk factor for having a game pirated as identified in this study was to have a popular game. That seems like a fairly obvious conclusion. Should companies really be asked to minimize the risk of piracy by minimizing their Metacritic score?

Robert Boyd
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If a game is good enough to be worth playing, then people shouldn't be pirating it; they should be buying it. And if a game isn't good enough to be worth paying, then people shouldn't be pirating it; they shouldn't be playing it at all.



A game being bad is no justification for piracy.



Piracy is a horrible symptom of the entitlement society that we live in. Nobody owes you anything but everyone feels like everyone owes them everything. If people decide to spend time creating a product and wish to sell it, that is their right. If you want that product but refuse to pay, you're not entitled to have it.

Ian Richard
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Johnny, RENTING a game is try before you buy.



Downloading the Demo is try before you buy.



Playing a game at a friends house is try before you buy.



Pirating on the other hand is when you take everything without offering the creators anything in return unless you FEEL like paying them. Instead of helping people to expand gaming's horizons by spreading out the money to more hard-working developers ... pirates only further the belief that they only ways to make money are CoD clones for the masses and DRM for all.



If you don't support the way the industry works... do your research and don't buy crap. You don't agree with their methods... stop buying their goods. But if a game is good to enough for you to play... it's good enough to pay a few bucks for a darn rental.



I'm with Boyd that Piracy is a sad part of todays world. Although, I can't decide whether it's that people feel entitled to everything or if they are just too clueless to realize how much work goes into even low budget games.

Larissa McCutcheon
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@Johnny



Piracy being try before you buy is like saying you only shoplifted a jacket to see if it goes with your shoes. Shoplifters don't go back and pay for the food or clothing they stole. Pirates don't pay for the game they stole. All they might do is justify their *not* buying it with a "well, the game I played through completely several times was terrible, glad I didn't pay for it".



You're not some next generation free-thought warrior, you're just a leech.

Larissa McCutcheon
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@Johnny



By your logic, a photocopy of a $50 bill is legal tender. I mean, no one is out any money. I just made more! Nope, it's still not legal tender and stolen product is still stolen product.



200 people in a studio aren't working to make a pretty coloured box and an artbook insert, they work to make a product in the game. Because you think not physical means not for sale, it still doesn't make it so. The product is the lines of code, the story and dialogue, the art and character and the money paid for the work done. You pay to compensate for money spent and work done, not because you are renting an idea. It's not like some exec sits in an office and shits out a finished game. You have people working on it for years, in all sorts of fields and you think the proper response to those people and their work is to be some ideological freak and tell them what they did is worthless so you stole it.



If you want to make a game about the love story between a Princess and a Plumber, go for it. You'd be a hack, but you can be a hack on your own time.



If, instead, you want to steal the art, coding, sound, music, dialogue and mechanics someone else did, that's not an idea. That's like saying the colour red is free to use, so I'm allowed to steal anything coloured red.



You're conflating idea and product so you can justify stealing someone's work. It's also rich that you steal a coder's work while proclaiming you're doing it because you want to protect them.



Short version: You're not.

John Hahn
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Justin LeGrande
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@Johnny Fox

I think ratifying piracy really depends on a civilization's living conditions, industrial permeation, and market culture. For example, Australians CONSTANTLY get a shaft shoved up their butts from price gouging, so I wouldn't be TOO mad at them for pirating or importing sometimes.



More importantly, though, most of the planet has deplorable support for buying or renting video games. I wouldn't fault someone living in southern Argentina, northern Ethiopia, western Russia, or eastern Iraq for pirating, but I would probably be critical of an American, Western European, or Japanese.



Until more places around the planet are closer in cultural and economic wavelengths, pirating acts as a band-aid for the virtually starved.



@John Hahn

You would be surprised. I volunteer for an independent, non-profiting computer refurbishing and distribution shop in Montgomery County, MD. The county borders Washington, DC, and has historically been well off...until now. The nonprofit outfit, Project Reboot, provides a service for over 1000 computers per year, and the county estimates that over 10k households do not own a computer because they cannot afford it. Not even the $100 ones. We provide them for $10, and even STILL, some people who come have trouble forking over that much!



I would not fault such people for pirating until they are financially stable enough to afford laying down 100s of dollars to support game developers.

Sherman Luong
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What I would like to see is the amount of stuff people download do they actually play it. The true lost due to piracy are those that pirate and play the game. There are many that download for download sake, like an addiction, and store those somewhere and never touch them. I rather would like to see the percentage of who download and uses the software.



Pirated game always tend to trend toward male orientated games. No surprise its action. And naturally the more popular game gets downloaded.



For example. My game on iOS in one month have 13k downloads. According to Analytic Data it shows 12k were pirated users. Since I only gain about 700 in month for that month. Out of the 12k users 6k were active users while the other 6k never even open the game. I feel I lost 6k and not 12k.

Robert Boyd
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Games were being pirated in the DOS era back in the 80s - that's how we got games with primitive DRM like "Enter the second word in the third paragraph on page 20 of the instruction manual" before they'd let you start the game. The reason why piracy is a bigger problem now than it was back in then (and it was a pretty big problem back then) is because back then, you generally had to have access to a physical copy of a game to pirate it. Now, you can just look online and find just about any game on a warez site or via BitTorrent. It has nothing to do with creativity, quality, or the lack thereof.

Michael Lubker
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What about the fact that one of the top games right now (League of Legends) is based on a mod, and most of Valve's games are based on mods?

Matt Ployhar
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The article that Zach posted is definitely a step in the right direction. Thank you for posting this Zach. I agree in that it's refreshing to see more objectivity inserted into this topic. One that is obviously a lightning rod for a lot of people.



Johnny Fox (RL name?): This article - at least to me - starts applying better metrics/methodology towards tracking peers/downlaods; and frankly corroborates a lot of my suspicions on the inflated Piracy #'s as reported by x, y, z Corp.



Would it be safe to summarize your beliefs as follows: You hate America (Apparently we're the only evil capitalist pigs in the world), hate games companies that employ game developers that spend $ to make $ (They're just enslaving us), that everything should be free (Since Socialism has proven to be so morally superior), and that all ideas should simply be open domain (After all there is no original thinking - it's all for the common good). ??? Just curious. It's difficult to not draw those conclusions based on your responses.



I understand your position; but on the other hand I'm not sure there's much upside for the content creators in that vision. It's sounds a little utopian; and frankly I don't think is going to help those that support Piracy much either. Pirates aren't helping the content creators one bit. Why create content if it's simply going to be ripped off? Not talking about the middle men, corporate shirts exacting their tax, etc; in the end...Pirates are no better than the ones they put up as a shield to hide behind to justfiy their actions. And for what end? To alleviate their conscience? I don't see any kind of a Robin Hood theme here.. at least that would have some redeeming qualities towards the action justifying the means.



Piracy has brought us:

- DRM (In a myriad of forms)

- Legislation - not just in the US - but is spreading globally and becoming more invasive (Thank a Pirate)

- Hardware solutions that we're seeing the tip of the iceberg on. (Pirates are going to hate this one)

- Game design changes ranging from MMO subscriptions, Digital Distribution, Free to Play, etc.

- What next?



Anyway... getting back to the what article was really about.... it's about time someone is finally taking a serious look at these statistics.

Larissa McCutcheon
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@Johnny



I went to the site you mentioned and read the one paragraph there. I also looked up Pieter Hintjens. He has exactly zero to say that I've found about stealing video games. Yes, he has a lot to say about software patents as they relate to IBM and Microsoft. I looked through a couple chapters on his book and the only mention I found of piracy is related to music piracy. He's pretty clear about needing a new model for distribution of music for pay but never seems to suggest that stealing it is the answer.



He is working for a more open, for pay system. Nothing he writes suggests that other people's work and property is free for the taking as you do. What he advocates for is a more open dialogue and changes in marketing structures to accommodate new business models.



I did find this on his Twitter: "I'm a small business owner, entrepreneur, I like business. But I hate thieves."

Larissa McCutcheon
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@Johnny



The day after my friends released their free to play, free to download, no DRM game, it was up on websites around the world for 5$ a copy because of people like you. This is what you do to creators of games. You take our ideas and our hard work, you deny us credit and compensation and use what we do for your own selfish ends.



You aren't changing anything about source code, about modding, about IP or support when you steal a game. You're just stealing a game. You make no statements hiding anonymously behind a computer screen with the horde of thieves.



Show me please where Hintjens supports theft of IP. I can find plenty of evidence for his ideas on changing patent regulations and business models (and in between his hyperbole he has some interesting ideas) but nothing about stealing it because you don't want to pay.



And what about support? How many car warranties last the entire lifespan of the car? How long do you have support on the parts in your computer? I know last time I installed anything new, I was SOL after 60 days. If a seam on a 5 year old sweater unravels, can you take it back for an exchange? Are game manufactures obligated to indefinitely support a project? I have some 20 year old floppy discs here, but I would not expect companies (many of whom no longer exist) to support them. A good company will support their product over the life of a project. No company will or should be expected to support the product forever.

John Hahn
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Jeremiah Slaczka
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Bravo Johnny, good trolling. I was entertained.

Jeremiah Slaczka
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@ Johnny



I liked your comment!

Lars Doucet
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Johnny -



You have some thought-provoking ideas. Have you developed any games that you'd like to showcase here as examples of your philosophy? What business model would you propose that avoids the problems with Intellectual Property monopolies, etc, you outline but still has a reasonable chance of bringing enough of a return to justify the investment of working on it?

Lars Doucet
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So, let me see if I'm understanding you correctly:



1) Making modern AAA games is too costly (agreed)

2) We need government intervention in the markets and a subsidy for game development to preserve the industry while we secure (permanent?) R&D money for game development research, much like we have for science and medicine?



Interesting solution. Government budgets - rightly or wrongly - are being cut across the board and it seems that all of us are going to be facing austerity measures soon. Do you think your proposals are likely in the current economic climate?



If so, would it be a better solution to perhaps just make less costly games and move away from AAA development to something that is more sustainable and cost-effective?

John Hahn
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John Hahn
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John Hahn
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Edit

John Hahn
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Luis Guimaraes
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Like it or not, streaming will become reality. It's the new arcade machine, but you can access it remotely. There's only one way to stop game piracy: to make it so hardware demanding that it's impossible to run on client side.

Justin LeGrande
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Please excuse my double post, I'm interested in your thoughts.



@Johnny Fox

I think ratifying piracy really depends on a civilization's living conditions, industrial permeation, and market culture. For example, Australians CONSTANTLY get a shaft shoved up their butts from price gouging, so I wouldn't be TOO mad at them for pirating or importing sometimes.



More importantly, though, most of the planet has deplorable support for buying, renting, or maintaining of any video games. I wouldn't fault someone living in southern Argentina, northern Ethiopia, western Russia, or eastern Iraq for pirating, but I would probably be critical of an American, Western European, or Japanese.



Until more places around the planet are closer in cultural and economic wavelengths, pirating acts as a band-aid for the virtually starved.



@John Hahn

You would be surprised. I volunteer for an independent, non-profiting computer refurbishing and distribution shop in Montgomery County, MD. The county borders Washington, DC, and has historically been well off...until now. The nonprofit outfit, Project Reboot, provides a service for over 1000 computers per year, and the county estimates that over 10k households do not own a computer because they cannot afford it. Not even the $100 ones. We provide them for $10, and even STILL, some people who come have trouble forking over that much!



I would not fault such people for pirating until they are financially stable enough to afford laying down 100s of dollars to support game developers.

John Hahn
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I'm bowing out of the conversation.

Jonathan Jennings
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The only issue I usually have with articles like these is that more often than not they come off as pirates trying to downplay there affect on any industry at all. is piracy hurtful to most industries sure....is it a surefire path to the death of media? no. to me piracy debates are up there with those about politics or religion they tend to be more like ideal-based shouting matches rather than actual discussions of the subject matter itself and its effects on the general public.

E Zachary Knight
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And this is exactly the reason why these researchers decided to tackle the issue. They wanted to pull back the bias and look at the raw data beneath. That is want they showed to us and what they want to continue to do.



I look forward to seeing more research from these guys.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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Interesting. I refreshed to see if there were any new comments only to watch the comment count drop from 54 to 27. Could someone explain what happened?

Lars Doucet
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I think someone got banned.

John Hahn
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Well, Johnny Fox was obviously a fake name, and he was going around promoting piracy and telling everyone they weren't intellectually sophisticated enough to understand his point of view. It was only a matter of time before he got the axe.



That's why I erased all of my discourse with him and removed myself from the conversation. I could see he wasn't on the level.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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Ah, yeah, I thought he made some good points at first but then he started getting offensive. I don't think I've ever witnessed such a comment drop before.

John Hahn
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Well, most people on these message boards have a generally friendly, cool, and helpful demeanor. His entire tone was very pompous and arrogant. He acted like he was some over educated aristocrat who was forced to talk to peasants or something. It was just odd. Most game developers wear t-shirts and jeans to work for God's sake.

E Zachary Knight
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Yeah, that is a bit sad. While he was a troll through and through his comments were entertaining.



Thank you everyone else for your level headed and engaging comments.


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