The People Who Upload Torrents

The People Who Upload Torrents

On a popular torrent site, Fallout 4 has been downloaded nearly 140,000 times. Nearly 200 people are downloading right now, as I write this. AAA or indie, Fallout 4 or Super Meat Boy, it doesn't matter. Piracy is inevitable. But a torrent doesn't appear out of thin air.

There's a person at the start of that process, an individual who decides to share a game with the world for free. I've talked with a few of them, and here's what they had to say.

I recently sent private messages to more than 30 uploaders at KickAssTorrents, ranked by Torrent Freak as the most popular torrent site in 2015, hoping some would talk to me. Only three responded. The vast majority of uploaders ignored my request — not exactly shocking — but those that did were more than happy to talk about being part of the piracy community. One told me his dream was "sharing games with the world", while another declared piracy as just "part of the game".

Torrents are the most popular way to share pirated material these days, though the technology is hardly exclusive to piracy. Rather than a website hosting a file and paying for bandwidth as each individual downloads it, torrents allow groups to collectively shoulder the burden. It's a much cheaper and more efficient way to distribute large files to a lot of people.

Every uploader in this story declined to provide their real name, choosing to be addressed by their pseudonym used on KickAssTorrents.

The People Who Upload Torrents

Stardew Valley, one of the many torrents started by mercs213.

mercs213 has, as of this writing, uploaded 1015 torrents, including ones for Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 and Stardew Valley. (Between writing a draft of this story and hitting publish, he'd uploaded 10 more.)

He's a 23-year-old working for a "company that provides networking opportunities for CEOs" and spends most of his time fiddling with tech. When he's not building computers for friends or family, he's playing games (mostly RPGs). He estimates spending about five hours per week creating and uploading torrents.

"When I was young I always enjoyed the games people would provide which I could not afford but wanted to experience," he told me. "I promised myself I would become a torrent uploader and do the same. So here I am sharing games with the world."

Some of the games he's uploading come from the piracy scene, others are ones he's legitimately bought. He prefers buying games from GOG, which prides itself on selling games without DRM.

What makes mercs213 different from other uploaders is his constant communication with his... well, fans. KickAssTorrents is not merely a torrent repository; there are comments, message boards, and other social hooks to foster a community. There are even achievements to unlock, including Fake Killer (report 100 fake torrents), Last Man Uploading (upload a torrent just before a new year), Spamtastic Reporter (uploaded more than 1000 torrents) and others.

The People Who Upload Torrents

mercs213 regularly interacts with the legions waiting for the next upload. Because he's "listening", in his words, "they [fans] have more respect towards me and the effort I put into my work."

"Thanks so much for keeping all your GOG and other games up to date!!!," wrote one fan. "You['re] part of a very select group — and really appreciate all that you do here for us!!!"

"Heyo Mercs. Love your uploads but can you please, PLEASE, upload the new Disgaea PC patches?" wrote another. "The game had an awful release and they fixed mostly everything in the last 3 patches. Thanks."

These fans are, of course, people downloading games illegally on the Internet. Lots of people have reasons — even good ones — for pirating games, as we've written about in the past, but let's call a spade a spade. They're fans of someone who's really good at uploading games for free.

This moral grey area doesn't bother mercs213, who sees all DRM as "hurting the consumers".

"I don't like to say the games are being stolen as nothing is being taken from someone," he said. "People who are pirating a game can't afford it, want to demo it, or had [any] intention of buying in the first place and there many more reasons I could list."

Even if people have reasonable justifications for piracy, there's still the question of whether people are entitled to a free video game, whatever their reasons.

"Even if they can't afford the game, people should be able to experience it," he said. "It gives a developer (especially an indie one) a chance to show their audience what types of games they can create. If the game is enjoyable, people are more inclined to buy it along with future games they produce."

That said, he believes if you enjoy a game, you should "support the developers by purchasing it".

FitGirl, with 322 torrents and counting, is another prominent uploader on KickAssTorrents. And yes, the name is descriptive.

"I'm a female and kinda proud of it," said FitGirl, who said she's between 20 and 30 years old and works with computers. "In gaming — it's growing. In repacks I think I'm alone for now."

"Repacks" is shorthand for repackaged software.

Like mercs213, FitGirl maintains torrents, but fills a specific niche: smaller file sizes. She "worshipped" compression in her youth. As games got bigger in size, her hard drive couldn't fit as many. She started storing games in ZIP files before discovering the many nuances driving compression. She wanted to share her experiments with the world. Thus, torrents.

"It started when I realised that one of my games I compressed for my archive was much smaller than any releases on torrents," she said. "I said to myself: 'hmm, that's interesting.' [...] It's like a sport — you try to compress the game to a smallest possible size yet it should unpack relatively fast."

For example, she was able to compress Mad Max from 32GB to 4.1GB, Grand Theft Auto V from 60GB to 34.1GB, and Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor from 53.3GB to 17.6GB. The one downside is that unpacking compressed games can take a while; GTA V takes several hours.

The People Who Upload Torrents

Months after release, Rise of the Tomb Raider still hasn't been cracked.

Repacks even have some uses outside of piracy.

"Many people use repacks as an installer for Steam," said FitGirl. "Just install in Steam game folder, then it checks that it already have files and download just some small chunks."

Originally born in Russia, FitGirl started sharing her work with Russian-specific torrent sites. Hoping to reach a larger audience, she moved over to KickAssTorrents and was quickly welcomed. All of her torrents are personally repackaged and compressed on her computer.

"Kind of a personal touch, you know," she said.

Whereas mercs213 sometimes buys games to share on KickAssTorrents, FitGirl only pulls from existing releases in the piracy scene. She does, however, buy games she "likes or loves."

"What I really hate is when uploaders (or pirates as a wider term) try to make money on what they are doing," she said. "I think that I can share digital stuff made by others, but I shouldn't make money on it. That's totally unfair."

mercs213 and FitGirl said they don't make money from piracy, but uploading torrents and making games freely available has a financial impact on developers, even if the exact amount is largely unprovable. She claims it's not a big deal.

The People Who Upload Torrents

Just Cause 3, like Tomb Raider, remains uncracked... for now.

"That [impact] can only happen to some indie games," she said, "Of course, sometimes such thoughts visit me."

Lots of developers I've spoken to over the years would likely take issue with that statement. Just this week, the developer behind the popular Steam game Punch Club revealed more than one million people were playing their game, but only 300,000 had purchased legitimate copies.

In the near future, it might not matter what FitGirl or merc213 think about the game demos, piracy, or the presence of DRM. In February, I reported on the anti-piracy software from a company called Denuvo that's vexed hackers for some time.

It's made games like Rise of the Tomb Raider and Just Cause 3 uncrackable for months. While torrents for these games exist, they're useless; no cracks exist to make them playable. It's the same for the new Hitman, Garden Warfare 2, Far Cry Primal, and other games.

One way or another, enough time will pass, and the games will be broken and pirated.

"It's part of the game," said FitGirl. "When you start making games — be prepared."

Top image: Sam Woolley


Comments

    There is no such thing as a good reason for pirating a game. There is just self-entitlement.

      Yeah we know dude, there's one of these comments in every thread.

      there is actually one good reason I always point out - when you buy a game but need the hacked files from a pirated copy to run it due to things like DRM compatibility issues

      There are a few good reasons actually, & one kinda shitty on I can think of

      Price is too high or not enough money/income; simply put, the price is too much for a person or they don't have enough expendable income to spend on video games or movies
      I dunno if you've ever not had any money by the end of the fortnight but when you don't piracy turns into the only source of on-demand entertainment beyond youtube or tv or whatever free streaming services are out there, on this note I'd also count sites that upload shows or movies & allow free streaming to be technically piracy (ie, things like watchcartoonsonline)
      Also pretty simply, there will be no sale otherwise since the person just doesn't have the resources, its a binary choice or pirate or ignore

      Demoing; people simply pirating to demo the game, though this is usually with the intention of paying for it after trying it, possibly leading to more sales than normal

      Game is unavailable for purchase(for whatever reason); shouldn't have to be a rocket scientist to figure this one out, either through region locking or unreasonably long gaps in between releases the person has absolutely no way to legitimately obtain the game

      shitty one is spite, the devs did something the person doesnt like but they still want to play their game without supporting them, not really a ~good~ reason but still a reason none the less, Its basically the same as boycotting, company does shitty thing so people don't want to do business with them

      only other reason I can think of is the "why would I pay for something I can get for free" mindset, which is mostly cured by answering the hypothetical question "so they can continue making the thing you want". I'd hope that to be a fairly small group at least compared to people with better reasons & it probably is, would mostly be filled with teens & pre-teens I'd guess & thats where any 'self-entitlement' would come from, from people who are already self-entitled
      In general unless someone has a good reason that physically prevents them from buying the game, they typically will if they want to play it

      If this wasn't the case then game development would be classed as a dead-end job or wouldn't even exist already though sheer lack of sales, I mean it's not like online piracy is a new concept

      tl;dr most times piracy is caused by the developers sales strategy, though it's debatable as to whos fault it is when it comes to price, I mean if a dev puts a game out at full $60-80 is it then their fault that people who's price range is $15-30 don't buy it and resort to piracy? or is it the consumers fault for not having a good enough income?

      This is why I advocate a full pay-what-you-want business model, or one of the reasons, It's just so consumer friendly that piracy is near impossible depending on your minimum price

        I mean if a dev puts a game out at full $60-80 is it then their fault that people who's price range is $15-30 don't buy it and resort to piracy?And if a dev puts out a game at $15 (which Stardew Valley is) and people pirate it anyway, is that still the dev's fault?

        Stealing something because you can't afford it basically is the definition of self-entitlement.

        I'm sorry, I appreciate the effort you put in your reply but I simply have to disagree.

        Entertainment isn't an entitlement or a human right. If you can't afford a game or tv show it isn't going to cause death or starvation. You will be bored, that is all.

      I beg to differ.

      “Many people use repacks as an installer for Steam,” said FitGirl. “Just install in Steam game folder, then it checks that it already have files and download just some small chunks.”

      This is the exact reason I pirate games. We're locked into an 500gb 24 month broadband plan, family of 5, frequently watch netflix, stream music, youtube, etc and every month we hit the cap.
      I enjoy gaming, but I can't afford to waste 30gb+ downloading Mad Max when a torrent repack has compressed it to a mere 4gb, so I torrent the files, drop them in the steam folder, then steam will verify the files and download a small update, then I'm good to go.

      yes there is.
      remember things called demo's? where game makers would have to prove it was a good game by giving out a demo? a few levels? time limited?
      now, you have to gamble with 90 bux, and at times no way for a refund!

      now, people pay for the demo's
      companies get paying customers to be their beta testers, you get a game on launch, and its stuffed, you have to wait for a fix...
      i aint doing that anymore, i am sick of getting a game, having to wait for a patch, or it never getting fixed...
      project cars is one
      codemasters games f1 and dirt series is another

      in fact, my pirated copy of project cars works flawlessly.
      my copy on steam does not work
      my post got deleted from their forums where i was asking for help
      why would i support a company like that?

    Strip out the DRM *and* reduce the bloat? Repacks are pretty great.

      I used to love the Command and Conquer 3 and 4 repacks, I owned the games legit, but one dude resized the video, recompressed it etc. He cut the entire game size down by something like 50+%.

    mercs213 is basically a dick.

    "DRM is bad! So I'll upload games from the one retailer who refuses to include it in their games!"

    (Side note - used to be that the Scene would shit on you for doing something like that (not that torrenters are generally in that area). The challenge was stripping the DRM from the game first, not being the first to whip out your credit card.)

    The repacker is interesting though. It's insane that Wolfenstein: TNO is 44 GB through Steam but only 15 GB through less legitimate avenues...

      Yeah, the repacking is interesting. I don't pirate at all, but if they really are reducing the file sizes that much I may check out torrents when I want to install a bigger game on steam.

        Pretty sure it's just the torrent that is smaller. You have to unpack to original size.

          TNO (and I think most games using the RAGE engine) uses megatextures, so presumably shrinking those down cuts the size substantially. I don't play in 4K so it doesn't really benefit me there.

          Yeah, that's fine. Size on disk doesn't bother me, but downloading 50gb does. Took me 9 hours to download Arkham Knight.

    If someone pirates a game and they have a good experience, I believe they'd be more likely to attempt pirating the next game they want again. I don't believe they're more likely to say "Oh that was great, I'll actually spend my money on this next time instead of trying to get it for free again". I think that's just baloney. Of course without any statistics I can't prove it.

    I also hate that you can pay lots of money for a game that turns out to be shit, but, what is the solution? I'm not sure. Mandatory demos? Something like Spotify for gaming? I don't know.

      For me pirating ubisoft games when I was younger showed how horrible their invasive DRM was as even with the pirated version you could see slots where micro transactions would be for everything so now as an adult I almost never buy (or pirate) their games because they have left such an awful taste in my mouth. I feel dirty for installing uPlay even when the games came free with my graphics card.

      On the other side of the coin pirating games for things like steam where I had a good experience has made me primarily buy games on that platform to enjoy things like easy drop in drop out multiplayer and achievements.

      I cant vouch for everyone but all of my friends from school now have steam lists in the realm of 500+ games and every single one of them pirated everything back when we were in school.

      Last edited 26/03/16 4:32 pm

      I kind of agree. A couple of times when I've gone to grab something that wasn't available through my preferred legit channels, the instinctive response has been "oh wow that was so easy. I wonder what else I can get here...", then I've gone to grab a couple of other things. Can definitely feel the slippery slope start to rear its head :P

        Can definitely feel the slippery slope start to rear its headOh my! I don't think I've ever been that excited by downloading something.

          Mustn't be downloading the right things ;)

      It's all irrelevant though. Each connection any game makes with its customers starts at $0. Goodwill and convincing their customers that a game is worth paying for is the only weapon any company has. Making a game harder or easier to pirate doesn't assuredly convert into money and is nothing more than another variable in whether or not a customer will care.

      Games companies biggest threat to their finances isn't pirates themselves, but everyone who doesn't buy; and were certainly not for forcing people to buy games are we? Therefore literally every instance of someone paying for a game they enjoy is a win, even if they were pirates beforehand, which has definitely happened... In fact there was an article just days ago about a guy who, funnily enough, paid a dev from Blizzard for a copy of Diablo that he pirated ages ago (and it sound like he's a happy customer of their games hence).

      Back when I used to pirate games, I'd often pirate, play for a bit, and then end up buying. I'd also frequently pirate, play for a bit, decide it was crap, and get rid of it.

      companies found out that instead of doing proper testing, and releasing demo's people will pay for "early access".

      i'm with you, got burnt a few times with games.
      codemasters is one, after extensive testing for them, as they were too stupid, coudln't fix a game, didn't offer a refund or anything.

    Thanks Patrick, for taking the time and effort to write this. Far too often is this issue portrayed as a simple one of black and white, when the reality of piracy is many shades of grey. Extra applause for getting the point of view of the uploaders themselves, something rarely done by games reporters. This is what true journalism looks like, folks.

    I used to pirate a bunch of stuff when I was a kid (we're talking Amiga 500 days here). Now that I'm an adult with a full time job, I buy everything because I have disposable income. I have over 700 games on Steam and I might have installed and played a quarter of those. If only I could pirate time.

    I really wish GOG was like off limits. The DRM free service they provide is so rare now, their prices are usually completely reasonable ($15AUD for witcher3 day 1, yes please). GOG torrents are lazy and hurting us all.

      The Witcher 3, at $15, from GoG, on Day 1? I don't think so. Either you were scammed, or have incorrect information, because that's not absurd! I have a receipt for $72 AUD from GoG, and you're trying to tell me it was actually $15.... how?

      I have 600+ legitimately owned games on steam, and another 82 on gog, yet some GoG torrents are the prime reason I will actually go out of my way to buy (and even try) a game sometimes.

    "That [impact] can only happen to some indie games,” she said, ...
    Lots of developers I’ve spoken to over the years would likely take issue with that statement. Just this week, the developer behind the popular Steam game Punch Club revealed more than one million people were playing their game, but only 300,000 had purchased legitimate copies."

    Uh, isn't that exactly proving her point? It's an indie game where the developer is suffering because people are pirating it.

    If 700,000 people pirated "Call of Duty: Rereleased Map-pack DLC Warfare 2 - Advanced Microtransactions", then there would still be several millions of people who have paid actual money for it.

    Last edited 27/03/16 10:35 am

    Just a warning for everyone, I've had one or two of these repacks in the past. Full of trojans, trackers and a bitcoin miner. My cpu ran at 30% when on idle was the giveaway.
    Get Spybot and check for yourselves.

    Despite being old news, a lot of Fitgirls stuff doesn't work. Then is rude to the people that point out errors.
    10/10 would not recommend.

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