The Numbers Behind The Piracy Of A Popular Steam Game

The Numbers Behind The Piracy Of A Popular Steam Game

Boxing management tycoon Punch Club hit the top Steam charts at launch, marking it as a game that did well on the digital storefront. Even so, the number of people who pirated the game vastly overshadows the number of people who actually bought it.

Developers Tiny Build wrote a post today detailing the piracy data surrounding their latest ame, Punch Club, and it’s a mighty interesting read. Apparently, Punch Club copies are all implanted with analytics that allow the developers to determine whether players have purchased the game. Tiny Build found out that, for every copy of the game sold, four more people have pirated it.

The Numbers Behind The Piracy of A Popular Steam Game

As of this writing, Punch Club has 300k legit owners overall, and 1 million PC pirates. On mobile, numbers are a little different: only 500k pirates, which doesn’t sound as bad, comparatively speaking, until you remember that’s still hundreds of thousands more downloads than purchases. Damn.

I don’t find any of this surprising in theory — the piracy rate is probably worse for bigger games — but still, when I look at the raw numbers, the difference in sales vs piracy feels staggering. Fortunately, the piracy rate here doesn’t seem crippling, as Tiny Build seems to be doing just fine. If nothing else, it’s cool to get some hard analytics on piracy, as it is a subject that many developers don’t talk about.

If you’re interested, Tiny Build breaks down the data further in regards to how localisation affected the piracy of Punch Club, and you can read more about that here.


  • People are really pirating $10 indie games? Seriously? What shit-bags. Justify your film or AAA game piracy all you want, but if you’re pirating from an indie developer when the game costs about as much as a pint of draft, you are a shit bag with no excuses.

    • Those indie developers have sold 300K copies @ $10 a pop, they are no longer ‘indie’, they are ‘richie’ and so the Robin Hood Effect now comes into play and the pirates have plenty of excuses. Pirate, pirate, pirate.

      • I get that you’re being sarcastic but some people actually think like that.

        Forget that Steam and the various other platforms the devs sell through take a healthy cut. Forget that indie devs often sacrifice their life, marriage, money, decent job, decent working conditions, sanity etc to make the game. Forget that piracy is illegal.

        Then yeah, it’s obviously perfectly fine.

  • How many of the pirates then went on to purchase the game? How many of that 300k pirated the game first?

    I haven’t pirated a game since gaining full time work (5 years now) and if I can’t afford it, I no longer think about pirating it… I just wait. But when I didn’t have the ability to buy games and waiting seemed indefinite, I did pirate games. I’ve tried to buy all the games I pirated when I couldn’t afford them… so it will be interesting to see how many of the 1m people on PC buy the game over the next few years.

    • Yeah I’d like to see more data… there’s not much more in the article.

      1 pirate copy =/= lost sale.
      We know that already.

      The story may as well be “X sells 300,000 copies”
      Because everything else is kind of irrelevant.

      Also, how many of those pirated copies contributed to the 300,000 sold. How much is that word of mouth worth. How much are these resulting articles worth?

      There’s a lot more to it than just a couple raw numbers.

      • There’s a lot more data if you follow the link. This isn’t a blind attack on piracy it’s just showing statistics on piracy of their game. At no point do they suggest every pirated copy is a lost sale. Their views of the data are actually quite positive. One of their big conclusions was that localisation for Western European languages was totally worth it. Even with how Brazil turned out the data makes it very clear that even with a small game failure to localise is leaving money on the table.

    • The biggest thing is where they are pirated from and it’s no surprise its Russia/China and Brazil that make up over 75% of the pirated copies.

  • Amusingly, I have this on Steam but didn’t realize I could get it on iOS as well… that actually seems like a pretty worthwhile buy, too. It’d be well-suited.

  • The only pirating I do is with games that aren’t available digitally… which is thankfully less and less due to GOG and others :).

  • These stats are surprisingly good, the price is probably why. Piracy usually tends towards much greater ratios, 10:1 and above.

    • Shit, really? I always (perhaps naively) assumed it’d be about the same as purchased copies or less. I was pretty shocked by these figures.

      • I was shocked as well, you see a few thousand downloads on pirate Bay but that’s one of the biggest sites, where are these million downloads coming from?

        • I thought those counters were just how many times the .torrent file has been downloaded rather than the tracker counting how many people reached 100%? If you use magnet links, feeds, a different source, etc you won’t be included in that number will you?
          I’m also guessing a lot of old school piracy still goes on. Word of mouth would probably result in someone just giving you the game rather than being a jerk and saying ‘this game I pirated is great, go buy it!’. Especially in cases where it’s a large or slow download.
          Then there are people who don’t care about piracy, don’t know anything about computers, but have kids who need to be entertained. I know people who buy their kids pirated Wii and DS games all the time. I’m guessing someone right now is selling Punch Club as part of a 1000 Android games for $10 thing.

      • Unfortunately, yeah. Most sources I’ve seen on sales to piracy figures have it around 85-95% piracy rates. From memory, Super Meat Boy and World of Goo both reported around 90% piracy rates, or 9:1 ratio.

  • The stats are interesting, but as others have pointed out you can’t really draw any conclusions other than this was pirated a lot. What impact that has on the sales who knows.

    If they’d managed to capture something like pirated copies on average are played for Xhrs and legit copies a Yhrs then you’d be able to draw a bit more of a conclusion. If piracy was in general much lower then you’d expect people are either trying it, didn’t like it and stopped or they tried it, liked it and went and bought it.

    If X was close to Y then you’d be able to see that the majority of pirated copies are people who enjoyed it but for one reason or another didn’t buy it.

    • I would love to see a time played metric. I’d assume when you pirate something, it may have been on a whim and you messed around with it for a few minutes.
      On the other hand, going to buy it, you would already want it and since you had invested in it, would be even more likely to give it a proper playing or fair go.

      Well that’s how I would think it would go. Love to see the numbers though.

      • The thing that really kills the “I just wanted a demo” argument though is Steam’s 2hr play time refund policy. You can already demo the game quite legally, no need to pirate, no need to find a torrent, just go to Steam hit buy and try it for up to 2hrs.

        However, human nature says otherwise and people avoid using the legal “demo” and go pirate the game instead.

        • Is that offered everywhere or just in Australia? That’s a really good option for trying out a smaller game.

          • Everywhere. It’s Steam’s default option because they wanted an easier way to deal with refund requests.

          • They dont give specific numbers but here is what their customer service page says.

            You can submit any number of refund requests for eligible purchases.
            If it appears that you are abusing the refund system, we reserve the right to revoke access to this feature.

            A guy on reddit said he got told he couldn’t refund anymore after using it to try several games in one week.

            It seems they really don’t want you using it as a substitute for demos.

        • Dude, buying something with actually money and then going through the process of getting a refund is not remotely the same as getting a demo.

          • Hence why I put the quotation marks around “demo”

            It’s also not the same as a demo to pirate a game and try it out either, however those are the only two options for most games these days.

          • This is why I’m so pushing for the concept of free trials: they eliminate the demos overhead caused to developers and also eliminate the lost time/scepticism a player gets for playing one. Plus it’s even more functionally accessible than Steam refunds since there’s no money on the table.

          • I like what the devs for Game Development Tycoon did. Release a torrent themselves that is essentially a demo by becoming unplayable at a certain point. They did it to make a point about piracy but its still a good concept.

            Never know, releasing a demo through torrents will target those who are more likely to pirate and could result in more sales….or it could just result in more piracy of the game…or make no difference at all.

  • What would be interesting to see is if they can match up the IP addresses of the pirated copies to any of those paid customers. I’m assuming localisation is done by IP address, this would certainly help clear up that age old argument, and thats some numbers I’d be interested to see.

    Would have been good if they released a demo or trial version and had the same analytics on that – match IP address of trial with paid or pirated versions. I’ve been curious about Punch Club, but not sure if its my kind of game. A trial would help me to decide, as I can’t be bothered looking for alternative methods to do so. Will probably wait for a sale.

    • Could always buy it on Steam, try it and refund before your 2hrs is up.

      That’s the only real legal way to “demo” these games. Still morally questionable but at least its legal.

    • Just imagine the uproar if an article came out “THIS GAME CAPTURES YOUR IP ADDRESS!!!”. I’ve already seen some wild claims about analytics in Win10, I can only imagine what would happen here.

  • Pretty much the only pirating I have done is of TV shows that she stupidly hard to legally watch(kitchen nightmares UK anyone?) however since being in Australia and geoblocking circumvention is still piracy, I pirate everything since Crunchyroll, Netflix, and hulu are my leading venues of media consumption.

    Oh and of course Vegas pro 13,but funny enough I want to buy Vegas pro 13 on steam since its on sale- my Bank will not let me despite me actually having the money to

    • This is decent point. Im into music, and find that some digital releases are blocked because I live in australia. Certain tracks or remixes are also region blocked. This kind of thing leads to illegal downloading .

    • Check where the majority of the pirates for this game came from. Regions that have massive wealth gaps and high amounts of poverty – Russia/China and Brazil make up over 75% of the pirated copies.

      • While I realise this needs to be taken into account, being poor is still not an excuse for being morally bankrupt.
        I can’t have a Lexus to drive because I’m middle class and work a retail job. But I’m not going to steal one because I feel I’m entitled to it.
        I also can’t buy all the new games when they come out. But the ones I do buy are appreciated and loved. I get my money’s worth. The same applies when I was a teenager. I bought cd albums about 10 times a year and really got the most out of those purchases.
        I think in this climate art is more and more devalued and part of that is piracy. Part of that is the childish and entitled attitude of consumers who demand everything now at whatever cost.
        Having every piece of medi at your fingertips destroys the mystique and joy which comes with truly sinking ones teeth into creative media and enjoying it.

        • I can’t have a Lexus to drive because I’m middle class and work a retail job. But I’m not going to steal one because I feel I’m entitled to it.

          Sorry but that is a terrible analogy, Its not the same. A closer analogy is that you could make an exact copy of a lexus leaving the original intact at no “cost” to the owner. That’s piracy and it is why it’s defined differently to theft. The only cost to owners is dubious: would they have ever purchased it if it wasn’t free? The stats in this case support that if most of those pirated copies come from areas of extreme hardship where they would have never spent money on it then the owners have lost nothing. It’s entirely possible that they might have gained sales through word of mouth.

          I also can’t buy all the new games when they come out. But the ones I do buy are appreciated and loved. I get my money’s worth.

          Same deal if you purchase it when you can afford it – does it matter whether or not you pirated the game\movie\music before hand? Sure it’s an honesty system but it still has no “cost” to the owners.

        • Most of these people who can’t afford games in third world countries aren’t doing it out of a question of saving for it or earning enough to pay for it later. Have you ever lived in a third world country? Or below the poverty line for that matter? Ever? Ever worried about paying for tomorrow’s meal?

        • And for those that circumvent geoblocking? What poor analogy can you give us for those white collar pirates?

  • The irony being that analytics ARE piracy.
    (theft of information, even if not for direct/financial gain)

    • Um no. This isn’t piracy. It’s data collection. Nothin is being reproduced. And the developers have every right to do it.

  • I’ll put my hand up, I pirated it. Thoroughly disliked it. Felt like a mobile game, had no content, it was a sim that didn’t even really sim. Because of that, I never went on to purchase it on my phone, or pc. I would be intrigued to see playtimes as an analytic, I think it would be eye opening.
    Here’s a question to burn your brain – If buying and returning on steam within 2 hours is legal, is pirating it ok so long as you don’t play it for more than 2 hours? The natural argument is to say no, however when you consider that the “return” is conducted by a completely 3rd party to the devs, it becomes much more interesting.

    • Steams refund terms and conditions are a seperate thing to pirating a game.
      You still stole it because some part of you justified the action.
      If there had been a demo (maybe there was I don’t know) available would you have tried that first?
      I wonder what would happen if, hypothetically speaking there were harsh mandatory penalties for stealing intellectual property. I bet the people would think twice before arbitrarily taking whatever want because reasons.

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