Rioki's Corner

Most Pirated Games

03 Jan 2012

The Escapist recently reported on the Torrent Freak’s latest numbers on piracy. I hate when things get reported in this form. They are not wrong, but things like that are taken with a very strong bias.

I will just take the PC number stated in the report, since they are by far the biggest:

Crysis 23,920,000Mar. 2011
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 33,650,000Nov. 2011
Battlefield 33,510,000Oct. 2011
FIFA 123,390,000Sept. 2011
Portal 23,240,000Apr. 2011

For starters I doubt on the correctness of the numbers. How did they collect the data? I will assume they mean downloads via torrent, the numbers come from Torrent Freak anyway. To get accurate data they need to track the users of all torrent trackers, that is including all private trackers. It is impossible that they have access to every private tracker, especially since many are invite only. Also many users follow multiple trackers, so there is a source of duplicate entries. Finally some versions are incomplete, broken or malware infected, so people tend to download multiple versions of one game to get a running install. At very best they give a roughs estimate of actual pirated copies.

But the numbers must also be put into context. I foraged the Internet for sales figures, not the easiest task. (Thanks to Wikipedia, where I found most of the sources.) The sales numbers I was able to find:

Crysis 2"over 3 million"Mar. 2011
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3"approximately 9,000,000"Nov. 2011
Battlefield 3"12 million copies after one month"Oct. 2011
Portal 2"3 million copies"Apr. 2011

I found it almost impossible to find sales numbers for PC only. Apparently MW3 and BF3 sold significantly stronger on consoles, so the PC numbers may be less.

If you compare the downloads to the sales you come to the following “conversion rate”.

Crysis 23,000,0003,920,0000.76
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 39,000,0003,650,0002.46
Battlefield 312,000,0003,510,0003.41
Portal 23,000,0003,240,0000.92

The ratio is the sales numbers divided by the downloads; that is a better number means the game fared better and a number below 1 means more downloads than sales.

Putting that into context Modern Warfare and Battle Field definitely had it going for them. In contrast Crysis 2 and Portal 2 are in a more dire situation with more copies downloaded than sold.

How much was lost? This I honestly can’t say.

Modern Warfare and Battlefield fared significantly better for a number of obvious reasons. First they are basically multiplayer only; any person that got the game for the single player only, basically got ripped off. Multiplayer games have the advantage with server key authentication that you need a legitimate key to play on a legitimate server. That is one of the reasons why the server software was never publicly released for Modern Warfare. But even with pirated servers, peer pressure will basically ensure that most people get a legitimate version, so they can play with their peers that got the legit version.

Many pirates are potential customers, I know a few that try before they buy. But trust in a franchise will buy you allot of people. That is one of the reasons why Left 4 Dead saw way worse sales/download ratio than Left 4 Dead 2; people trusted in the franchise. With both MW3 and BF3 there where both record breaking pre-orders, which indicates the huge trust people put into franchises.

On the other hand Crysis 2 and Portal 2 are single player games. I don’t know if the Crysis 2 Multiplayer has any impact on the FPS community, I for one do not hear much about it. As a result the “need” to have a legitimate copy is significantly less. The games must sell on the merit of the game it’s self.

Crysis 2 is an exceptionally difficult candidate. If you look at Crysis 2’s Metacritic score you will see a mostly positive press and quite some negative user reviews. I think the reason why Crysis 2 was pirated so much was that many PC games wanted to try the beast before they bought it. It was mixed feelings with Crysis 2, on the one hand Crysis was one of the icons of PC gaming and on the other hand if was perceived as a console port. The deception of many PC gamers is well seen in the mediocre sales numbers.

Portal 2 something I can’t really explain. But being a single player game and relatively short, it appears difficult to favor pirate conversions. This is because exposure time is a factor; if you are constantly reminded that you like this games and should buy it every time you launch the game chances are you will actually buy it. If you play though the game in something around 2 play sessions, there is not so much mental reminders and I don’t know if the co-op play makes much of a difference here. (I had trouble to find friends to play with.)

But at this point no one has mentioned the elephant in the room. If you look at the numbers, they all lie in the same magnitude. All PC numbers are in the 3 - 4 Mio. bracket. If you look at the average pirate behavior, most of them will download almost anything out there, what do you think the tera byte hard drives arrays are good for? There is a significant chance that most people that downloaded one of the mentioned titles also downloaded all of the other. The question is, does it make a difference in sales?