Anti-Piracy Strategies to Return Your Illegal Downloading Losses!
"We are a company which helps PC Game Publishers and Developers outsmart piracy. We have developed a strategy making it frustrating for gamers to use an illegal download. But we go one step further and offer a convenient option. We turn illegal downloaders into satisfied customers."
I have been an illegal downloader for some time and a fan of the PC gaming industry for even longer. Like most, it is all too easy to illegally download, with good intentions of purchasing later. Other times illegal downloaders believe PC games are too expensive, which they feel gives them the right to download and play for free.
Is this right, no, but what is worse is this has become all too acceptable. It seems the more it happens the less people seem to care. And I can see the PC gaming industry getting scraps from the masters table, and yet I don’t blame publishers for this!
Being a party to illegal downloading was my fault… Sharing is great, but publishers and developer need to be in on this. I understand piracy, I know of all its weaknesses, and that’s why I am the perfect person to stop this.
Vigilant Defender just needed a chance to show what we could do…
On the 31st of May 2011, a pre-build of Deus Ex: Human Revolution was illegally uploaded to the p2p networks. It was cracked a few hours later by a p2p group, ALI123, using modified files from a well known scene group called Skidrow.
This gave us an opportunity to demonstrate our anti-piracy strategy. Using the crack and the pre-build files we constructed a “Trial” version that looked identical to a full illegal working version. Our version basically allowed a user to play for the first two levels and directed them to a website.
The website questionnaire asked a range of questions on illegal downloading habits, current DRMs, and about Deus Ex itself. But we wanted to take it further, to see if illegal downloader’s would be willing to purchase games. Based on the answers given, we carefully targeted a specific demographic, and asked will you buy a download of the full working game? Basically to sell the illegal download of Deus Ex: Human Revolution to the illegal downloaders.
… and potential customers responded with: €382,233!
Piracy won’t be won with the best DRM system, it will only be won when illegal downloader’s realise that there are more benefits as a potential customer.
We learnt a great deal from the questionnaire, which you can read in full here:
Or you can download the full PDF document from here:
In short: Downloading from torrents is very simple and convenient, which is preferred to using file hosting services. And yet … these areas of mass market distribution have yet to be utilised!
Illegal downloaders find that PC games are too expensive, or rather that they are not as good value as a Console game. Retail shops offer a trade-in deal for all games except the PC, due to restrictive DRMs. This makes purchasing Console games a better value proposition.
Illegal downloaders, of PC games, generally download 1 to 5 GB, which is a small amount of data per month. This could be due to the ISP broadband cap, though more research is needed.
39% of illegal downloaders would purchase PC games, in varying quantities, if there was no other way of getting them for free.
DRMs do not encourage purchases and publisher would be better offering “price incentives”, “added value”, and “Unlimited installs” instead.
Being the most graphically advance is no longer an incentive, as this depends solely on the power of the users machine. PC gaming rigs can be very expensive, over double what it would cost to buy an Xbox360 or PS3.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is considered to be a very good game, scoring very highly. GameRankings scored it at: 91.26% and Metacritic at: 89/100 (With a user score of 8.4/10). In our survey the illegal downloading population scored it at an average of 82.09%.
23.8% of the illegal downloading population pre-ordered and paid full price, while the distribution suggested most downloaders would purchase at €22.49 or $24.99. With a total 62.1% of illegal downloaders who would pay for this game at €22.49 ($24.99) or higher.
Regional prices are probably the highest cause of piracy in PC Games. When doing a price check 2 weeks before launch we found that Deus Ex: Human Revolution was being offered in Europe for €49.95 from Gamestop, and €44.99 via Steam. Even though Spain, Italy, Greece, and Ireland were going through, and still are, a severe economic crisis. And yet… Gamestop prices for Deus Ex: Human Revolution in the UK was £24.95 (about €29) and Ireland was €29.95. It is also interesting to note that Spain and Italy are often known for having the most illegal downloaders.
A digital playground needs to be created where downloaders can pick up any game they want, at anytime. If they enjoy playing that particular game, then a contribution can be made to the publishers/developers. It’s a playground where the gamer gets to make the choices, and sharing and benefits are for everyone.
After playing the Duke Nukem Fovever Demo, I can see this phrase going global. Of course it originally came from SouthPark, where Gnomes are stealing Underpants in preparation of their business venture.
It works on every level, just replace the word "underpants" and you have a 2010 phrase for: "a leap of faith, into the pits of Idiocracy".
Sometime ago, WarFace used the same analogy:
In much the same way as the SouthPark episode portraits it, it goes a little like this:
Phase one install a DRM on a PC game.
Phase two ... Something.
Phase three ... profit for the PC gaming publishers.
However after several decades, it has never been able to show that it indeed makes a profit! Of course the current claim is that DRM software is supposed to stop "causal piracy"! As in a friend copying the game and giving it to a friend!
But this also assumes two things:
1) That people are unable to use the internet and "Google search" and find the files to remove the copy protection.
2) That piracy is too difficult in the first place. As we believe that people are more likely to share a pirated copy! (As in share an illegal download among friends.)
What is worse is that all security companies seem to gloss over the fact that DRMs impose, limit, and assume. DRMs target loyal customers and not those illegally downloading products. Then DRMs companies make a huge profit and claiming it a success.
Technology has a nasty habit of forgetting that at the end of the PC is an actual human being. Loyalty is a bit of a two way street, when you forget that, your customer base will be less loyal to your products. This is not a criticism about any particular DRM technology; each one is clever in its own respect. Unfortunately DRM companies just don't understand piracy's one simple trait!
Take the two current PC games that have yet to be cracked, both from Ubisoft, using the same implementation of UbiDRM (v2). Both with over 230 days of being crack free, you would think that Tom Clancy's HAWX 2 and Shaun White Skateboarding Ubisoft have it figured out!
Has sales gone up? Probably a little!
Has the company's reputation been damaged by the implementation of UbiDRM? Oh yes...
Is Ubisoft using the same implementation in any game since? Oh no...!
It shows that a DRM doesn't increase profits and that publishers know it! But in a strange coincidence, upsetting customers affects your company image, profit, and loyalty. Publishers are stuck between a rock and a hard place, and something needs to change...!
Customers First, Piracy Second, and as always a DRM should come dead last!
But what do you think?
Is it right for a publisher to use DRMs on customers?
Do publishers have a right to protect their software?
Often the PC multiplayer is quoted as 100% safe, and that it cannot be pirated. This is normally followed by quoting some WOW stats on profitability, and then accusing developers for being stupid, for not jumping on the band wagon.
The problem with this type of genre, people tend to commit to only a few MMO's (Massively Multiplayer Online). New MMO's enter a very competitive market, so they entice with incentives, and the most common is to make it free for a period of time or completely. Because unfortunately people will not automatically jump at your product no matter how good it is.
But it is a common misconception that multiplayer games are pirate free. Most people believe because the publisher controls the server, any pirates trying to access the game will be quickly found and booted out.
But as I pointed out to one such person on twitter, "What happens if the pirates own the server? Pirates in effect become the DRM; with the power to allow access to anyone they wish!"
In fact you might be surprised to know that there are several websites that cater exactly to this. Virtual Private Networks, VPNs, sites which allow you to connect with others regardless of the illegitimate nature of the game.
For example two of the more popular VPN's are: (Games Checked on 6th June 2011)
Currently hosting: Minecraft, Hunted: Demon's Forge, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas 2, Killing Floor, Company of Heroes: Tales of Valor, Need for Speed: Most Wanted ... and many others.
Currently hosting: HomeFront, Portal 2, Red Alert 3, Command Conquer Generals Zero Hour, Dungeon Siege 2, RC Cars, PES, Street Fighter, FIFA 10, Operation Flash point: Red River, Gears of War ... and many others.
So why do a select handful of legal MMO's games do so well???...One word, cheaters, or more precisely, the stopping of!
People hate cheaters, not illegal downloaders, but people that cheat on games. Some avoid the public VPN threads because on unregulated servers, the other people could be cheating. It is surprisingly hard to tell sometimes, even for the servermaster, they actually have to see real footage to be sure!
Speaking with many game publishers, they all rate this as the highest feedback issue... Unfairness!
Many Game Developers tell of people who passionately scream about the unfairness of a person or even the game. That often game updates will tweak a unit's armour by barely half a point and this will be met by praise.
MMO sit in a unique position, and are not the answer to piracy. On the one hand people see the value of a "God" making sure that the balance of good and evil is fair. But on the other hand people tend to stay with the brands that they know, which means that most new MMO's will fall away quickly.
But ...what do you think?
Do multiplayer games hold the answer to illegal downloading?
Or is it that we don't want to be cheated? And will pay for the privilege?
What Multiplayer games do you play?
It's been a while since I have written a new blog ... and that's a good thing. In the small break I reflected and realised a few things; one that previous blogs where too long. And two, droning on about the facts of piracy can be a little annoying.
But we are all gamers here; this is something to cherish and to constantly talk about. So the new revised WarFace Blog is to talk about the real important stuff, gaming and gamers. And occasionally Piracy...!
Please note there are spoilers for "The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings", quest "with Flickering Heart"
So why do I love games?
Personally if I have had a bad day, just to jump straight into a game and think of nothing else helps real life worries melt away. I suppose you could get the same effect out of any activity, sport, cooking, watching tv, or something that you like.
The only problem is that I have been around for a long time, so the latest Shooter thrills me less and less. Not to say they aren't good games and that you shouldn't enjoy them.
But as you play more games the truly great ones come less frequently. One of the greats is the newly released "The Witcher 2: The Assassin of Kings."
Apart from the many marvellous things about this game and perhaps the equal number of annoyances too. What really stood out in Witcher 2, for me, was the side quest "with Flickering Heart". This reaffirmed that games can be just as thought provoking as novels or movies.
So when Witcher 2 came out I was truly excited to play it... But what do I love about the Flickering Hearts quest? I won't go into too much detail, but you have to make a choice between a beautiful lady who is a monster? Or a normal looking man who is corrupted?
The quest revolves around murders of the village men, and these are your two suspects. Not only do you have to make a choice, and normally in video games its kill either A or B. In this case Witcher 2 is no different from many other games, but this time you never find out if you are right or wrong!
Such a well crafted sub-story within the main plot, and still I ponder with this single thought. "I am pretty sure that I got the right person... But I will never know?"
I could have just play the sub-story again from the different angle, but this time it seemed wrong. One of the benefits of saved games is that you can play the scene over and over until you are happy with the outcome.
But in this case, I really liked the fact that you do not know, the mere thought that I might have got it wrong is a ground pushing notion in video games. Normally you have the good choice and the bad one, but to have a choice were you have to convince yourself it was the right one, that is a decision!
Like all stories the best ones are the ones that have you asking questions afterward; the ones that you are sure, but can't say for certain!
And if you're wondering, who did I side with? ... A gentleman never reveals!
The question I am ending with is... what game provoked a thought with you?
I am not talking about walking the plank, or spending an eternity in Davy Jones's locker, I am not even referring to seafaring pirates! But I am talking about digital piracy, illegal downloading, and one of the hottest topics on copy infringement today:
Will a Pirate pay for a game they have downloaded illegally?
The funny thing is that I think most are consigned to the fact that illegal downloaders will never pay! PC Publishers should accept it and that the losses are minuscule! So much that people have stopped asking questions, or worse, looking for some answers.
But how do you find out if illegal downloaders are willing to buy games? I mean we are talking about illegal downloaders here, so asking them has to be stupid? But this is the kind of thinking that is fundamentally wrong. Granted not everyone tells the truth, but for the most part, most people are law abiding citizens?
If you like a game you have downloaded, do you buy it?
This is the exact question one person posed on a private p2p tracking site! If you are a member you can go see the independent poll in their forums.
And the choices were:
All the time -- I try to support good developers whenever I can.
Yes, on occasion -- But only if I found it to be amazing.
Rarely -- Only for multipler [Multiplayer] support or other extras that you can't pirate.
Never -- I wouldn't dare part with money for something I can get for free.
I don't play videogames because they're childish and I'm better than you.
From past experience of the piracy network we have guesstimated that 10% of illegal downloads could be potential purchases. This isn't produced from hard facts; however, from observation of illegal downloading habits, we believe it's a fair assessment.
We were wrong...!
The poll suggests the figures are much higher!
Here you can see that 21% would purchase the game, and if it was popular, this figure would rise a further 43% (Total of 64%). The Poll then goes on to claim even higher figures when you account for multiplayer access, adding 22%, something that isn't easily pirated. That's a whopping 86% of illegal downloaders would buy; as long as it fulfilled the first 3 criteria.
This independent survey shows that most illegal downloaders, at least on this private tracker, will pay for games. More importantly only 10% refuse to pay no matter what. This private tracker also caters for other digital products, so the last option with 3% of the vote, is just an option for those that don't play games.
If we used the torrentfreak's top 5 most illegal downloaded games of 2010, the top spot game Call of Duty: Black Ops was illegally downloaded 4,270,000 times. And seeing as it was top of the illegal charts it must be a popular game, so if you say that 64% of the illegal market would have bought the game. This puts the reclaim at 2,732,800 units, giving a figure of € 122,948,672 ($163,940,672).
The PC version sold in Europe at €44.99 and $59.99 in America. What is most telling is that the PC version only sold roughly 685,000 units in the US alone; assuming that the PC market share was 5%. The estimated the PC sales would be € 30,818,150 ($41,093,150), which is barely a fraction of the estimated losses.
"Black Ops top selling game ever, 13.7m US units sold" 11th March 2011 (http://www.nextvideogames.net/black-ops-top-selling-game-ever-13-7m-us-units-sold/)
Then of course the flip side is that if these figures are true, and believable? Is piracy actually a problem in the first place? Or is it the mere rants of the publishing houses and their offense to the fact that people have access to their products for free.
It's probably a little of both, while the majority of people would be willing to purchase games. If they can get it for free why bother paying for it? We are all a little guilty of good intentions and the occasional tap dance on the path to hell.
Of course the real answer to the ultimate piracy question isn't that easy, and needs a lot more research. But still the fundamental underlining fact is that it supports the claim that illegal downloaders will pay for games.
But what do you think?
If people illegally download do you think they would pay for a game?
Or do you think that you'll never get money out of them?
Do you download illegal and buy a legal license? Or just illegal download?
Following the much praised Modern Warfare 2, again the Call of Duty series has broken all records for the first day sales. After all the court cases, the feuds, and the tantrums that followed MF2 Treyarch has pulled this one out of the bag. The first day sales being reported as 7 million copies worldwide, everyone must be happy with that!
But what I am finding more and more, when people talk about gaming sales. They are talking Xbox and PS3, but when it comes to PC versions everyone shuts up. It’s all about perception, and the PC sales are just embarrassing. Even though it took a while, I found that the sales market share of the Xbox 360 was at 59% and the PS3 at 36%. The PC market share was not so clear cut!
The article states, perhaps a little flippantly, the “remainder on PC, Wii and DS” fight for the rest of the market share scraps. This sentence is all too telling! It wasn’t even worth the effort to work out the remainder, which was 5% of the sales. On top of all of that the PC has now been pigeon holed with a girl’s game console and a girls, hand held, game console.
To claw some dignity back for the PC gamers, am going to assume and desperately hope that the sale market share was 3% for PC, while the Wii and DS combined was the final 2%. I chose this because I seem to remember the market share for Modern Warfare 2 was also 3% for the PC.
I suppose it’s interesting to know that the Xbox and the PS3 games are more expensive than the PC version. Under the Euro, both Console versions sell at a MRSP of €54.99, while the PC version is €10 cheaper, at €44.99.
The table below shows us that the PC sales brought in just under 10 million Euros for Activision. This isn’t bad, but dwarfs in comparison when compared to the sales of the Xbox or even PS3. Even if 210,000 units were sold at the console price, you still be looking at a drop in the pond.
Even though the more expensive Xbox 360 version and PS3 out sold the cheaper PC version, “The Poor Pirate Excuse” tells a different story. The PC version has been downloaded illegally a disproportionately amount of times compared to all the console versions put together. For the full story you can read here at: http://warfaceaps.wordpress.com/2010/11/15/the-glorious-pcs-greatest-shame/. Below are the main two slides from that blog:
These pie charts show the illegal downloading proportion for the same game title across several different gaming platforms. The difference between the console, marked in Red, and the PC platform marked in Blue, is extremely clear and one sided.
This table shows the percentage value of the illegal downloading on a Console platform vs the PC platform. As you can see, generally the PC platform has a clear majority easily averaging 95% of the illegal downloads. Unless it’s a “high want value” game, then people who own a console are far more willing to illegally download it, the percentage becomes roughly 75%.
The Tables and Pie Charts dispel a belief that piracy happens because games are way too expensive. This is wrong, bearing in mind that PC games are normally cheaper than Console versions and that they are a want and not a need. The evidence shows that for Call of Duty: Black Ops the PC sales are out stripped by 2404% for the Xbox, and by 1467% for the PS3. Then in the same light, the PC illegal downloaders outweigh the consoles by 78%, compared to 22%. It just doesn’t make any sense.
It makes perfect sense if you cast a big shiny light on piracy and say it for what it is! Illegal downloading and pirating software material is far greater and easier on the PC. That nobody wants to pay for a game, when the perceived value of a PC game has become nothing.
Unlike the Xbox and the PS3 that need modchips to play the games. And this is no longer completely true as the hacks are getting much simpler! Most people are unwilling to use these kind solutions as it normally requires some complex steps and if it goes wrong then warrantees are void. The PC is a different beast, as the user normally has a certain degree of computer skills. For them, rar files and an illegal ISO, is a park walk with a Segway!
So how many times was Call of Duty: Black OPS illegally downloaded on its first day? Well this is a hard question for a number of reasons.
Firstly, in the piracy world, things happen a little differently, the game was available 5 days before, on Thursday 4th November.
Secondly, the piracy market isn’t exactly like the conventional retail market.
Normally illegal torrents released on the official date do not peak straight away. They climb rapidly and then peak in 1-2 days; afterwards the tail off comes down slowly for about 1-2 weeks, were it reaches a saturation level. Normally at saturation level the Seeder graph line meets the Peer level, and it can stay like this, slowly decreasing for many months. Just through observation, torrents stay active for many years, depending on the popularity of the game. Black OPs downloading peak didn’t happen until Friday 12th and Saturday 13th of November 2010. Below is an example of the time line for one illegal torrent for the PC game Mafia 2.
So counting all the illegal downloads up to 1 day of the official release date across 7 illegal torrents for Call of Duty: Black OPS. We have a total illegal download count of 592,736, this is more than twice the PC sale estimate.
If we count the Seed and Peers of all the torrents, to when it peaks on Sunday 14th, from when it first appears on Thursday 4th. The illegal downloads figure dramatically rises to 1,817,990. From our experiments, most illegal downloaders don’t anticipate a release, but as soon as they hear of it, say a TV advert, then they join the P2P network.
However the Torrent Watch experiment was not designed to find the specific illegal downloads on any particular day. It was designed to say over the period of 6 month the average estimated loss, which we say is 10%, of a game would be roughly... this much. In this case over a period of 6 months there would be an estimated figure of 26,713 downloads a day. This comes to €120,181 per day, which is 26,713 x €44.99 x 10%. So if you imagine this loss over 6 months, being 182.5 days, you come to a rough amount of €21,933,032.
This is how we arrived at this figure of 26,713 downloads per day for Call of Duty: Black OPs. Torrent watch looks at the aggregate Seed and Peers 4 times a day. This gives us two curves per torrent, showing the numbers currently downloading from the illegal market. To turn this into an illegal download figure we estimated the rough time it takes to download 7 GB. But this depends on a number of factors like network speed, if people are sharing, the users connection speed and so on. So we generalised it, and said that if someone was to download 7 GB in 2 days (48 hours) they would need an average connection speed of 41 kb/s. In today’s internet connection terms is small, and seems like an average download speed!
The table shows the total recorded Seeders and Peers, and the number of days the tests was active for the particular torrent. You can see the total count of Seed and Peers for each of the Call of Duty: Black Ops torrents. From these numbers we calculate our recoup figure, taking the 10% as the minimum, to see what the return could be!
I suppose it really depends on the popularity you place on the PC platform, as 3-5% worldwide market share never felt right to me! While I don’t think its in the same bracket as the PS3 or even the Xbox, I would like to believe that the actual share is much higher. There is no bases for saying this, but if we look at the gradient of the Xbox to the PS3 which is 0.61. By extending this gradient for the PC it gives a unit count of 1.5 million, a total sale of roughly €67 million, and a recalculated market share of 18%.
But as I have said; other than a straight gradient through the Xbox and the PS3 there is no proof for this. However on a subjective look, my own personal belief, it does feel more in line with the total sales. But I guess we shall never know? But WarFace will struggle to find out one day!
As for records, this is sure to be the most illegal download of this year. Torrentfreak releases those figures around the 27th December. My predictions for games in this year’s top 10 will be in this order Call of Duty: Black OPS, Mafia 2, Fallout New Vegas, Medal of Honor, Darksiders, PES 2011, and StarCraft 2: Wings of liberty. As for the number of illegal downloads, I am guessing it will be a whopper of a number at around 6-7 million illegal downloads.
The more worrying fact in all of this is the constant rise of illegal downloading. In 2008 the top most illegally downloaded was 1.7 million (Spore), last year 2009 it was 4.1 million (Modern Warfare 2), and if this year is as I suspect! Then it paints a bad picture for the PC Platform, and a very shaky one for the future of PC gaming!
Now imagine that you are chief of a big publishing company, Black Ops cost you 300 million to make, and the return for the PC is 10 million! Can you justify the cost of creating games for the PC? Would you consider just scrapping the PC platform version, and save the extra cost involved?