Is Video Game Piracy A Serious Problem?

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Game Piracy Historically vs Piracy Today 3
Credit: Denuvo Software Solutions GmbH

Piracy has been around forever, as long as video games have existed, video games have been downloaded online, for free, illegally. But is piracy a big problem? Is it hurting people? And is it a bigger problem now, since games are a lot bigger and more people play them, or was it more of a thing in the past? Not to worry, because in this article, we're here to answer all of those questions and let you know whether or not video game piracy is a serious problem.

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Game Piracy Historically vs Piracy Today

Game Piracy Historically vs Piracy Today
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Credit: Qbittorrent

So, as we mentioned above, piracy has always been a thing, but it's changed a lot. For one, piracy used to be a lot, lot easier to do.

Games in the past didn't have DRM, and when they did, protection was oftentimes super simple and easy to get past. A particular game might have required a serial number, for example, to activate it, but quickly after the game came out people would crack that protection and figure out how to generate serial numbers themselves.

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Now, DRM software like Denuvo is significantly more advanced than anything before it. But what's more is that games themselves have changed, too. In the past, for example, online functionality wasn't nearly as widespread as it is today. And when you have online functionality in a game, it's a lot easier to be able to detect when someone's using a hacked copy of the game and stop them from connecting to a game's servers.

But it even goes beyond that, too! Not only are many games fully multiplayer online-only games, but there's also good reason to want to actually buy a game. For example, if you get your game on Steam, well, you can access Steam achievements, Workshop integration, see what your friends are doing via the Steam overlay, and a whole bunch of other stuff.

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Not to mention that online marketplaces have lowered the cost of games, creating many different opportunities to get amazing games for just a few bucks. Plus, if you want to save even more, you can find any number of key-reseller sites online that'll sell you games for even cheaper than a storefront, although these sites usually bring with them their own slew of ethical concerns.

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Put simply, it's much harder to pirate today, and there's less incentive to do so. But that doesn't mean people don't pirate games in the modern day, they definitely do.

So, How Bad is Video Game Piracy, Really?

Game Piracy Historically vs Piracy Today 2
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Credit: Denuvo Software Solutions GmbH

This is a complicated question because, well, we don't really have exact stats on how many people pirate a particular game, but we do know some things.

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For one, as you might expect, piracy generally correlates with how popular a game is. Meaning that if you have a super huge, super successful game, it'll get pirated more often than a smaller, less successful game. This also means that are very few instances of, say, indie developers having to close their doors because just too many gamers pirated their games.

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Nonetheless, every pirated copy of a game is money that the developers of a game miss out on, right? Well, yes, but also, no. See, there are a lot of people that pirate games who'd never bother actually buying that game if it came down to having to pay for the game. Whether or not you can consider this a lost sale is a bit tough to say.

Then, for example, there's generally always going to be accounting for a certain percentage of your product being stolen, and this is most common in the retail space, where companies can count on a certain number of products being stolen off store shelves each year. That's not to say this is a good thing, of course, but it is to say that companies generally plan on losing some percentage of whatever they're trying to sell.

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Some game developers even encourage gamers to pirate their own games if they don't have the money to afford it, hoping that the gamers will be pleased by the game and decide to eventually buy a copy later or otherwise contribute monetarily to the developer when able.

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However, there's no avoiding the fact that if you choose to steal something you'd otherwise be paying for that the company selling you that particular thing is going to lose out. So far, in human history, piracy hasn't really risen to the point where so many people pirate a particular thing that major companies go out of business or development studios shut down, but that's certainly a possibility if enough people decided to pirate something.

Ultimately, the fact of the matter with video game piracy is that because it's so much harder to do and less lucrative it's probably not a serious problem to worry about; however, if everybody starts thinking that it's no big deal and decides to pirate games, assuming they can be downloaded for free, that's bad news for gaming at large.