Monday, 8 December 2008

Spore Most Pirated Game of 2008

That subject title, or something close to it, seems to be doing the rounds as a headline now. Apparently TorrentFreak released a list of the ten-most pirated (through BitTorrent) games with Spore unspurpisingly leading the list:

2The Sims 2(1,150,000)
3Assassins Creed(1,070,000)
5Command & Conquer 3(860,000)
6Call of Duty 4(830,000)
7GTA San Andreas(740,000)
8Fallout 3(645,000)
9Far Cry 2(585,000)
10Pro Evolution Soccer 2009(470,000)

The message that people seem to be distilling out of this, including the original TorrentFreak site, is that Spore was pirated so much because of its DRM measures. After all, at about the time of the release of the game there was a huge ‘panic’ around the DRM measures that Spore would employ. And the general thought seems to be that because of these DRM measures a lot of people pirated the game where they otherwise wouldn’t have.

There may be truth to that. Or at least, there may be truth that because of the panic around its DRM that more people decided to pirate the game than would’ve otherwise be the case. Though I think this has more to do with the panic surrounding it and not actually with the DRM (Mass Effect, after having been scaled down due to more panic, uses the same DRM and people seemed overall quite happy with that). I’ll at least concede that DRM in one way or another had an effect on the number of pirated copies.

But beyond that I think it’s hogwash to say that these numbers prove in any way, shape or form that DRM is responsible for more pirated copies. In fact, I say that on their own these numbers are fairly useless. You see, I believe that Spore was pirated more simply because it was a far more popular game.

You see, the TorrentFreak site says that after ten days already half-a-million had downloaded the game, but by that time the game already had near to a million copies sold. And three weeks after release, the game was already close to two million copies sold. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if by now that number had already doubled to close to four million copies (but I don’t have any data to back that up).

And you see that in the rest of the list as well. It reads a lot more as a list of “which games were popular this year” than a list of which games were pirated more. To get a true representation of which games were pirated more you have to compare the number of pirated copies to the number of total sales. Then any game that has a significantly higher portion of pirated copies to legitimate sales is a game that’s been pirated a lot more (and I’m guessing that the DRM-free World of Goo is likely to top that particular list, though there too saying that DRM has much to do with it is misleading).

People are, in my opinion, way too quick to attribute pirating to DRM and success to a lack of DRM. The truth is that pirates pirate everything regardless of DRM or not and people are all too quick to find any excuse to justify doing something illegal, particularly if it feels like they’re not directly hurting anyone as a result. I think that there are a lot of people who jumped on the Spore DRM bandwagon as an excuse for them to pirate a game and thus be able to play it without paying for it, regardless of whether any DRM issues were justified or not. The way to protest against something in a game (like its DRM) is by simply not buying it, not by pirating it.

Don’t get me wrong here, I don’t think that DRM is the solution to the problems and even though I think that StarDock is getting far more popularity due to their stance on DRM than they deserve they do have a point in that it is continued online content delivery which is the surest measure against pirating. And I can see us heading to a future where all games, single-player or multiplayer, are streamed online (or perhaps even played directly on servers with local machines just displaying the results, so to speak). That way games simply can’t be pirated since you need an online connection and a legitimate account to be able to play the game. And until then I do believe that companies continuing to provide additional value to your games online is a good way to go.

Luckily such pirating issues aren’t really of a concern to MMO games (and hence why I think that MMOs are currently the most popular form of gaming on the PC as there companies know that they always keep full control). There’s little point in pirating a game if you have to pay a monthly subscription to play it anyway.

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