Let's Talk About Piracy

Let's Talk About Piracy

Have you ever pirated a video game? Do you still pirate video games? Do you play emulated games? Do you make video games that have been widely-pirated? Are you involved in trying to stop piracy? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, let's talk.

Piracy is the elephant in the gaming room. It's something that dominates almost every aspect of video games, from how they're made to how they're bought and restrictions places on users once they're playing them. Yet it's rarely ever spoken of, the avenues and excuses for it swept under a rug marked "ILLEGAL" then beat with a large hammer until nobody wants to talk about it again for a while.

I think that simplifies the matter, to everyone's detriment. Piracy has been with video games since there have been video games, and while in some cases it is indeed a matter of people simply stealing something they'd otherwise pay for, there are so many other fascinating examples and varieties of it that make it worthy of both discussion and exploration. One man's piracy may be another man's demo. One man's piracy may be another man's protest. One man's piracy may be another man's means of simply playing something that was never released in his market, or is now out of print.

I know you — yes you — have some kind of involvement with piracy, whether you've downloaded games yourself or know someone else who has. I don't care how infrequent it was, or how long ago, whether you swapped 3.5 inch disks on a playground or installed an APK on your mate's phone. So let's talk about it.

I'd love to hear your stories, reasons, excuses and ideas. You can reach me via email or twitter, or you could even just reply to this post. Whichever way you do it, know that if I use your quotes or info for a discussion, your identity will be kept anonymous; if you're paranoid about social media for this, then email might be your best approach.


    I should add, maybe don't leave stuff in the comments on Kotaku AU. Since I don't work here, I won't be checking the comments for input, so if you want to contribute, it'll be best to email me at plunkettATkotakuDOTcom or hit me up on twitter (linked above). Thanks!

      Thanks for the heads-up!

      Reckon you'll still find plenty of conversation happening below if only because the regulars like to talk to each other in the community here.

      And the US site's comment system is atrocious. (ie: Unfamiliar.)

    If something is worth your time, then it's worth paying for it.

      As mentioned in the article though, some people pirate to find out if it is worth their time.

        I never do that, but I suppose that's like test driving a car or reading a few pages of a book in the store.

        Assuming those people are honest and then actually buy the game if they like it.

          So do you disagree with people lending games to friends?

            Nope. Each to their own. Personally I like to give something back to developers as compensation for their hard work.

            Would I get all bitchy if a friend wanted to borrow a game or I theirs, nah, not at all.

              Developers only get the money if you're buying new though (and even then, sort of not exactly at least in terms of retail), there's plenty of other ways to legally obtain things without them seeing so much as a cent. So in a way piracy is no different to buying second hand or borrowing a game, yet only one of those three things is unacceptable for some reason.

              Not that I'm really trying to strike up an argument here or anything, just kind of musing on things now.

                Again, as I said, I don't give two hoots what others do. If I enjoy something, I like to pay for it and give something to the devs - which means buying it, and buying it brand new. What others choose to do is up to them.

                It's limited in scope, though. You're talking 1 purchase in every 4 plays for a really well travelled game.

                Make copies, though, and the numbers become radically different.

    I have messed around with it a bit in the past but now am happy to just pay for games I want and miss the rest.

    I had a chip put in my Wii to play pirated games but bought anything good. Messed around with a few tier B titles which confirmed to me that I wouldn't have bought them. Spent at most an hour to two checking them out. Exception was No More Heroes which I had kind of written off but ended up liking so I bought the second one.

    Anyway, the disk drive on my Wii wore out and I had to get it replaced. It cost as the system had been messed with. Anyway, the whole thing put me off trying again and I'm happy to just pay and play from now on. Don't have as much gaming time anyway with kids.

    Release game demos, and piracy will go down, but so will the profits
    Give us easy access to tv shows and movies online, and piracy will go down, but so will the profits
    Release cinema movies in a digital format in less then 6 months, and piracy will go down, but so will profits

      I can't remember where I read this but there's a matrix of how demos affect sales vs. the time/cost of producing them and it's pretty much lose-lose for devs.

      Game is bad, no demo: you still get some sales before negative word-of-mouth spreads.
      Game is bad, with a demo: people play the game, realise it's bad, you lose sales.
      Game is good, no demo: people play the game, positive word of mouth, you hopefully have good sales.
      Game is good, with a demo: you might gain a few sales, but there's also a number of people who were never going to buy the game anyway, or worse, people who might feel like the demo satisfied their interest and don't bother to check out the full game.

      There's also a myriad of issues with the game being good but the demo was bad. I feel like the only worthwhile demos are ones that are the full game but with a time limit. You can play for an hour or two then to continue/save progress you pay for the game. This means very little extra development time and people are more likely to pull the trigger if doing so means they get to continue on the spot. Playing a demo then still having to go buy/install the game seperately (or in some cases still WAIT for the full game to come out) is going to kill that momentum you built up.

      Yeah I don't understand the lack of game demos, even just a 5 minute tech demo with lots going on so you know if your system can run it. I've been able to run things that my specs probably don't meet.. so would be nice to know for sure...

      Netlfix, quickflix, stan, presto even their content offering is really only a drop in the ocean... seems like US still gets shitloads more with Hulu etc

        @kermitron laid out the arguments here, and unfortunately they do actually work out in reality: if you release a demo, making the demo will cost you money, and you will be rewarded with LOWER sales. There was a talk about it at GDC a couple of years ago.

        Quite arguably, releasing a demo is a really stupid thing to do.

          Didnt see that before I posted, good points though hadnt really considered it, guess I grew up with monthly playable demos on psx and pc game web sites having demos galore... and when I was younger it was hard for me to consider any game bad lol.. it was just something to play until I hired it or whatever. Now days... yeah demos would be ripped to shreds and be declared the second coming of hitler on reddit or whatever if there was any imperfection/bug

          The games industry has wised up to this tactic, and instead now offer 'enticements' to pass up your cash ahead of time for a game that will likely be riddled with bugs and issues that will be ironed out in a series of patches ranging from day one to, literally, never.

          This is ignoring the possibility that they are trying to hoodwink you out of your money by selling a product that they haven't got the slightest chance of delivering (looking at you, Aliens:Colonial Marines).

          Because hey, it's not about the customers, it's about making sure that the Publisher's CEO can afford another gold plated bath tub.

    If I try to sell a product in a market place with a cheaper, faster, higher quality AND more convenient alternative available, then I'm going to go out of business pretty quickly.

    So for me, if it ticks those boxes, I have no reason to pirate. Steam, for the most part, provides fast, cheap, high quality and convenient products. The only thing I continue to pirate is that one show about a murderous author committing genocide in a fantasy realm.

      Yup. Piracy isn't about money for me. It's about everything else.

      Pretty much the same here, even then I've given up pirating That Show and I'm just gonna wait it out.

      Haven't pirated a game in 3 years at least, have had Steam for 3 years too.

      Haven't pirated a song in at least a year. Been using YouTube and Google Play All Access for a year.

      Slowed to an almost complete stop with pirating movies and TV this year, got Netflix Australia this year.

      Colour me confused, I can't seem tow work out what possible changes in the market caused me to stop pirating, could it be availability and affordability in a way I want it?

      Nah that's silly

    I used to pirate games lots in high school, just because I had no money and it was the only way to play. I did spend every cent I could feasibly spend on games though, so I don’t feel like I screwed many companies over completely.

    I do remember that strange tinge of resentment when I got a new game that I’d saved my ass off for and one of my mates who never bought games (but played them to death) would be over 20 minutes later wanting to borrow the disks so he could patch them.

    I’ve got an adult income and I’m mostly a console gamer now so I haven’t pirated a game in at least a decade. I don’t know if I would even if I played PC, it’s too difficult and I’m too lazy to scrimp on things even if there’s a cheaper way (I’ve never returned a game in my life, even though there’s been times when I could have ripped EB off for example).

    I do pirate movies and TV though (although I’ve scaled it back with the whole Dallas Buyers Club thing and the release of Netflix) and I don’t feel bad about it, so it’s not like I’m some kind of anti-theft paragon.

    $25 dollars for weeks worth and 100s of hours of entertainment and fun is worth it in my book.
    I did pirate a few new games to test my new system out "benchmarking"
    but that is all I have pirated in ages.

    i emulate up to the 16 bit era. trying to buy the originals is hell in this country. harvest moon for 300 dollars is why.

      Oh yeah, I forgot about emulation.

      I went to my parents place for a visit a couple of months back and they had cleared out a bunch of crap from the garage including my old SNES plus games. All of it was in a pile marked to go to the tip including copies of harvest moon, secret of mana and lufia. I am so god damn glad I visited that weekend to prevent that

      Sometimes it's fun to see how emulation can improve games, like how some Wii and Gamecube games actually look really good running at 1080p/60. Youtube has lots of examples. I think if you own the cartridge then it's morally okay, even if its still actually illegal.

      Yeah, emulation is the only thing I do these days, and it's usually because I have a hankering to play something I grew up playing on the C64 or Amiga.

      Which, back in the day, were probably all pirated games anyway, because we sure had a lot of games with hand-written labels.

      The way I see it is if I can't buy it within reasonable effort, I won't pay for it. Whether that means I pirate it or just walk away depends on what I feel like. I personally consider emulating any console games from 2 generations back (PS2 era and back) fine as it would be absurd to think the company could've lost any sale because of it.

      If anything, emulating brings those games which are increasingly hard to play into the modern era, introducing new customers to whole studios and franchises they couldn't have even heard of before hand.

      If it wasn't for MAME I wouldn't know the joy that is Double Dragon or Gyruss, let alone Galaga. Because of that I bought the HD "sequels" on various platforms regardless of how shit they are.

      A pirate is a customer you aren't selling to correctly.

    Haven't pirated a game since my friend gave me a copy of the recently released Star Craft: Brood War, 17 years ago. Prior to that, in high school, we basically pirated games all the time. Very few people at our school had even *seen* legit copies of games, let alone owned them. Back then all pirating was done on floppies too. We only got CD-ROM copying going at university from about 1996 onward.

    I downloaded afew games back before steam but now it's so easy and usually cheap to get them through steam so there's no point. Back then I was in high school and too young to have a job, the only games shops near me would sell even 2 year old games for full price, these days it seems places like JB (and steam of course) do a good job of dropping prices as a game ages which is something EB doesn't do and when they were the main shop around it was annoying.

    I do have mame set up on my arcade cabinet though and while it's technically illegal I'm not about to buy a new house to fit the dedicated cabinets I'd need to run these legally, even then if you want to be 100% legal you'd need to keep an eye out for all the unlicensed bootleg game boards and other changes that have happened to an arcade machine that's 20-40 years old.

    Last edited 23/06/15 10:58 am

      plus buying an original game machine, all the money goes to the previous owner and none to the publisher anyway. The only way to pay the actual publisher is to buy one of those atari compilation disks they occasionally release on consoles.

        And usually those copies are pretty rubbish at best. RIP "Galaga" on iOS.

    Ye want teh talk about piracy?
    Avast! Landlubbers!


    I haven't pirated games since I was in high school in the 90s. I had friends who knew where to download files/cracks and CD burners in order to distribute them to all their friends. I didn't have any money so I pretty much just took whatever fell into my hands. It was just a thing everyone did. That ended with finishing high school when I also primarily became a console gamer with the purchase of a PS2. I didn't like the idea of modding my consoles because I very much liked the "out of the box" arrangement consoles had and didn't want to interfere with it (or risk destroying a $500 console I couldn't replace easily).

    The closest I game to piracy in recent times was when I wanted to play old PC games with no means of buying them legitimately, and discovered the term "abandonware". I think I even paid a subscription to an abandonware site in order to be able to download from their library. This journey brought me to gog.com which had questionable legitimacy when I first stumbled across it but later relaunched in it's current form: as a legitimate seller of old games which they had obtained the licenses for, removing any excuse I had for my borderline piracy. They of course later came to sell newer games at reduced prices and are becoming a serious competitor for Steam - who have now also expanded their library of older games which can be had for a pittance.

    Thanks to digital distribution and our R18+ rating extending to games about the only games you can't buy legitimately anymore are ones I have no interest in playing, so no, I no longer do anything resembling piracy.

    When I was a kid I pirated all the time, games, movies, tv shows etc. I really didn't care. We're talking the 80s and 90s here. Where you'd swap 5.25 and 3.5 disks, vhs tapes and cd's. It was something that never really worried me. I never, ever put any thought into it at all.

    As times gone by, I started to think about it more, I find I actually prefer buying games than pirating them. When I pirate them, I feel no actual inclination to play them for some reason. I don't know why. But when I do buy them, like Ash from Evil Dead says, I 'shop smart'. If I buy physical, I shop around and rarely pay more than 58 for a brand new physical console game. If I'm buying PC? 99 times out of 100 I buy on Steam. Even then, I'll buy a key from a site, generally a reputable site and if I can, I avoid paying more than 50 for a brand new game. Rarely have I gone over that price.

    I have no excuses, I mean half the time I just flat out didn't want to pay for the game. I can drag up a thousand excuses and I'm sure you can read a thousand up and down this forum if you want but the fact is, I didn't want to pay for it. Pure and simple. I knew what I was doing, I knew it was 'wrong', but fuck it.

    Same with tv, I knew I was pirating, and movies, I knew it was 'wrong', but the ease of access made it incredibly simple to get it. That and the shit waiting times for half the movies hitting Australia *sigh*. I wasn't waiting half a year for tv shows and movies in some cases. Screw that. Wrong, yes, but at least I got to see them on day of release.

    But now, like I said, I use Steam, I use GOG, hell I even use Origin (put down the pitchforks). I have Netflix, I have an itunes account somewhere (I think my kid uses it on his ipad?) and I even subscribe to Spotify for music. So, essentially I've 'gone legit'. I still stream shows now and then, I don't think that's ever going to change, but that's the extent of my 'piracy'. I don't torrent any more, I never download games (Ok ok ok I downloaded HATRED to see what the fuss was, what a waste of time that was, what a crap game).

    But I've heard the arguments. I don't think either side is correct for example. I don't think piracy is hurting cinematic movies anywhere near what hollywood wants you to believe, but at the same time, I don't think its having zero impact like the pirates want you to believe. I think the truth, as it always invariably does, lay somewhere in the middle.

    So thats why I pirated, because it was easy to do. No other reason. No bullshit excuses. It was easy.

      I think part of what you said nailed it for me. I really like it when things just work how they're intended. I feel irritated when I have to subvert the system. Owning a game on Steam means I just have it, it's there in my library, ready to install and play. Buying a console game on disc, I have it on my shelf, I can play it whenever. Same with blu-ray movies, Netflix/Stan, iTunes. It's just... organised. It works as intended. Piracy is messy, and requires management, plus there's risk associated with it.

        yeah, and the nerdy collector in me wants to have a shelf full of the stuff to show off too, as opposed to a 2T external hard drive.

        To be fair sometimes Piracy is less messy at least on PC. If you pirate one of Ubisofts games you just click install and then you click play.

        Not the sort of experience you get if you pay for it.

          Yeah this is definitely true. I don't use Uplay any more, I just get Ubis games on console if I MUST have them. Sick of going Steam - Uplay - Game. The only one that feels cumbersome now.

            Plus they often work uPlay into the game, its not just a crappy client. I cant remember exactly what it was but i'm pretty sure in Anno 2070 bits of the single player game just would not work without a valid internet connection to uPlay.

            Single player!

              ......and I was wondering why ANNO 2070 was in the bargain bin so early in its release. Honestly thought I scored big time. Now that I know, I wouldnt play it if you payed me.

                Every time I see it on a steam sale I get tempted but then I remember all those problems...

      I used to pirate everything I could in school but it was because I had no money and I wanted to play the vidya, I also spent every single cent that I had on video games however looking back they seemed crazy overpriced.

      I remember paying 90+ dollars for the final fantasy games and around the same for Grim Fandango and later all my PS2 games. I had a modded PS2 and Xbox as well so I spent money on the games I thought were the best not based on me not being able to pirate some of them.

      These days I buy everything that interests me, previously I would have pirated stuff from Ubi because of my loathing for uPlay but I cant even work up the motivation anymore so the only Ubi games I play are the ones that come with my graphics cards and even then its a stretch.

      Forgot to mention, I will also pirate sometimes these days to get a game early even if I already have it pre ordered. I played Tropico 5 for about a week before my stupid steam copy unlocked.

      Last edited 23/06/15 12:42 pm

        There's always the exception to the rule. If you've purchased the game already and pirate it to play it to get around timelock, then technically in my books at least, you're not actually pirating.

    Last time I pirated games was on the Apple IIe at high school in the late 80s, and I was rampant at the time.
    Didn't own an Apple IIe at home, so not quite sure why I was so active with it, it felt naughty and fun I guess.
    The closest I have come to since was modding my 360 so that I could install the games without having to have the disc to play them. It was just so much easier having the 360 locked in the case and choosing games off the menu. I ripped all my own discs though, my internet was too crappy to download 4+GB at the time.
    So I guess that is not legal, even though I owned all the games. I think game piracy can really hurt smaller games, I know a *lot* of my friends pirated DLC and 360 games, and they were quite well off and played those games a heap. One didn't have a single original game on his 360, but had about 20 or so games loaded on it and played it all the time.

    I remember a time when we were able to rent a game from the video store to try out. Now that this isn't an option it seems people now have to pirate to try out.

    I pirated when i was kid because i had no money, however once i had a job and an income, my pirating basically stopped. infact that last thing i downloaded was season 2 of Nickoloadeans TMNT and that was only because i could not by season 2 legally anywhere due entirely to geoblocking.

    Simply put, if i cant get a hold of a game/tv show/movie legally then that is when ill pirate

    I will admit that I have in the past. Mostly music, and mostly to try the music out before I bought an album. These days I don't really need to do that thanks to spotify and artists sharing stuff on soundcloud etc, but occasionally I'll still do it if I want a track for some reason and basically, I'm not willing to pay for it.

    I think there's 3 reasons that piracy is rampant.

    One is just that it's easy.

    Two is that so much of content is disposable these days, hit singles are designed to be consumed and then forgotten and then a new one consumed and forgotten. The same goes for movies and games, companies just dishing out more of the same crap. Thew fact that many of your more hard core music fans still buy vinyl and that when an actually original movie comes out it still makes money proves this.

    The third is that there seems to be a sense of entitlement out there. I need to be entertained, the world owes me entertainment, how dare they only show GOT on foxtel, if there was a cheap and easy way for me to access these things on any device in HD I would, I'm just copying it's not stealing etc etc.

    It does annoy me that the only way I can see GOT is by paying for a service that is expensive and that I only want to use 1% of, but basically I'd just rather not spend the money and hey, I can get it for free pretty easy and I can justify my actions by arguing that I am subverting an evil company.

      You should be fine for next season of GoT. HBO Nows deal with apple should end soon and their exclusivity then ends. You'll be able to pay HBO directly for their product/s and then unsubscribe when the season ends.

    It's meaningless to me. I'm neither for nor against it. I mean I should technically be 'for' it since it was like the easiest way to get some new PC games for a penniless kid 20 years ago. But now? Anyone who complains about it doesn't realise that the current market is so huge and universal now that literally anyone who buys games is broke, and can spend no more.

    My collection of legally bought games now far outpaces my ability to play them, so whether I pirated them or not - somebody is going to miss out on my money. Maybe I'll get it used, maybe it'll be on sale; maybe it'll be 3 years later when the devs have shut down and the pubs stop caring. I just can't spend it fast enough to keep up with all those deserving games. Pirating them would just add to my tremendous pile of unplayed games.

    And hey - there's definitely things I appreciate about it. Yeah emulation, abandonware, cracks that get rid of troublesome DRM, and the fantastic fact that piracy keeps record: PT is now a modern piece of digital art that in the future might only be gotten through piracy...

    The only thing I download illegally these days is Game of Thrones (because screw Foxtel) and some silly reality shows for my girlfriend coz my place gets almost zero reception.

    I haven't downloaded games illegally for a long time because Steam. And is it even possible on the new consoles?

    In Brazil, as video-game is really, really expensive and years ago we even didn`t have official distribution there, everyone that could manage to buy a Ps2 (bloddy expensive until 2006, something like 1200, almost 3 times the minimun wage) usually pay a little bit more, (200Real, the price of one game) to unlock it to play pirate game.
    I used to have lots of pirate game, as we could buy it for 15 real (something like 7 dolars).
    After the Wii (that still was very easy to unlock) I started try buying imported games from usa, usually I waited to get in some discount for near 20 dolars to buy. The only problem is that on there the import tax is of 60% on the price of the good + delivery, what means that if it gets by the board officers, we have to pay more.
    Pretty poop, one of the reasons that I moved to Australia, be Nerd in Brazil is not to much fair =/

    Between Steam, GoG, Humble Bundle, and quality F2P games like League of Legends, I've not had any desire to infringe copyright in games for many years. Only exception being the occasional desire to play an orphan work or emulate a game from an old platform - GoG & Abandonware are doing a great job, but it is disappointing to see so much of that culture lost due to copyright.

    I remember when discussing the pros and cons of Fallout 3 vs New Vegas, a lot of people kept mentioning Games For Windows Live as a con, but I honestly couldn't remember it from my time in FO3, back on release.

    Then I realized... my old disc copy (from back in the dark days of not having everything on Steam) is still there, and yes. It does have GFWL! I just never had to experience it, because I immediately used a pirated version instead, because fuck GFWL. I pirated a copy of a game I already owned.

    I've done this countless times with Starcraft, Diablo, and Warcraft 3, too, over the years. Purely because downloading a version that 'just runs' is infinitely easier than trying to make sure I have all the discs, keys, and they're not scratched to fuck from being treated carelessly. God knows I've bought Diablo 3 times already and Warcraft twice. I'd say they've got their money out of me.

      I actually did that exact thing last week, after seeing the Fallout 4 announcement I was inspired to finally go back and complete Fallout 3, I looked at it in my steam list and I couldn't see any news about them removing GFWL so I just installed it from an ISO and cracked it.

      Just passed it last night and am now looking forward to a play through of New Vegas but that one definitely will be the steam edition.

      Just as a heads up Diablo 2 and Warcraft 3 can be registered on battle.net now and you can just download a game client with no discs needed. Replaying WC3 now cos i discovered this.

        Oh yes, I've seen the battlechests available on blizz store when doing wow sub stuff... can you register your old disc keys to the site and make them available for digital download? Because that would be of interest to me.

          You sure can, that's exactly what I did. When you go to add a game key you just put in the D2/WC3 game key and it adds it to your list of registered games.

            Awwwwwyeeeaaaaaah. I have some boxes to unpack! Thanks. :)

              No problems. I was super excited when I discovered it also.

    Afraid I exploit technology for all it's worth, but only some of the time as a ninja.

    I used to pirare all my games when I was a kid until I got my first full time job. We didn't have much money growing up so all my present request were focused on upgrading my pc. I haven't pirated a game for about 10 years now and with steam there's really no need to. I get all my must have game as steam keys from ozgameshop and the rest I pick up when they go on sale.

    Ironic that this is started the day the government passes a motion allowing them to block any sites deemed as facilitating the infringement of copyright.

    Last edited 23/06/15 12:35 pm

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