Study Claims Video Game Piracy Not As Pervasive As Thought
May 14, 2013

Uncovering Piracy Myths

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Piracy is an ongoing issue for content producers like musicians, entertainment studios and video game developers. It´s a fight which many believe to be heated; one that involves the FBI, arrests, and hoards of digital pirates using any means necessary to make this content freely available online. Public arrests and outcries by piracy leaders such as Pirate Bay or Kim “dotcom” Schmitz only further the view that this is a raging war, one which requires everyone to choose one side of the other. For all the talk of digital piracy these days, a team of European researchers wondered if the battle lines are so clearly drawn, or whether the situation is more nuanced than some may believe. They began a large-scale analysis of the sharing of computer games on BitTorrent and uncovered some hard data that had been previously absent from the conversation.

This research will be published in the International Journal of Advanced Media and Communication.

Anders Drachen of the Department of Communication and Psychology, at Aalborg University and Robert Veitch of the Department of IT Management at Copenhagen Business School in Frederiksberg, Denmark decided to focus their study on video game piracy, exclusively. Using transparent practices, the two launched a large-scale investigation into the BitTorrent sharing of these games during a three-month period between 2010 and 2011, and included information on 173 video games.

“First and foremost, P2P (peer to peer) game piracy is extraordinarily prevalent and geographically distributed [at least it was during the period analyzed],” said Drachen in a press statement.

“However, the numbers in our investigation suggest that previously reported magnitudes in game piracy are too high.”

Straight away, Drachen and Veitch began to notice a few discrepancies in the reports issued by industry trade organizations. For instance, it wasn´t only the first person shooter games that were being pirated, which is a general misconception by the anti-piracy side.

According to their data, all kinds of games were pirated, including games for children, family games and large commercial titles. What´s more, Drachen and Veitch found fewer games being passed around on BitTorrent than industry officials have previously estimated.

Games such as TRON Evolution, The Sims 3: Late Night, Call of Duty Black Ops, NBA 2k11 and many others were all accessed and shared by a pool of 12.6 million unique visitors in the three month window. These “pirates” were located in more than 250 countries around the world. Of the 173 total games the pair researched, the ten most popular titles were responsible for nearly four percent of all traffic. The researchers also found that only 20 countries of the 250 they observed on the service were responsible for delivering content to the file-sharing site. This suggests the piracy issue may be more focused than some have previously thought.

Those countries responsible for driving a large portion of the piracy include Croatia, Greece, Romania and Ukraine. The most popular video games being traded during the researcher´s three-month period saw an average of 536,727 unique peers.

Drachen and Veitch note that though it´s much easier to pirate PC video games, the recent shift by some game distributors to cloud-based systems could help reduce some of these piracy issues in the future. It´s a bit of a Catch 22 for these distributors, of course. Only those gamers with high-speed broadband connections can play these cloud-based games. It´s this same high-topped connection that could allow the same gamer to share illegal copies of games.

Though Drachen and Veitch focused on video games, earlier research has also uncovered that piracy may extend to other forms of media and entertainment. According to other European researchers, blockbuster titles are not negatively impacted by the effects of piracy. Smaller titles that show on fewer screens, however, were found to be negatively affected by peer-to-peer sharing.

For now, it seems the piracy landscape looks quite a bit different than the picture the content providers are painting.