BitTorrent Study Dismisses Piracy Misconceptions

Yet another report on piracy has been released and this could be one of the most conclusive insights into the world of illegally downloaded files, but it’s also in a way good news for developers, publishers and hopefully somewhere in all of this consumers.

BitTorrent is a high popular file sharing system, which can share any file type, be that movies, music, documents, or in this case, illegal copies of video games. Yet after an extensive look at file sharing, the new report shows that the number of illicit digital copies is no where near as high as the numbers reported by several industry trade organisations, so either they were lying, or they didn’t do their job properly.

The team analysed the filesharing of 173 games, that didn’t include legal torrents, nor did it include incomplete titles (betas, pre-release code etc), it was just retail releases and they did this for three months between 2010 and 2011 to measure the effects and scale of file sharing.

“despite the substantial debate about digital game piracy, there is minimal objective information available about the relative magnitude of piracy, or its distribution across different countries nor across game titles or game genres”.

There is no doubt that piracy is common, there is no doubt in the industry that it’s somewhat of a problem too, but not necessarily in terms of financial gains / losses, as that much is near impossible to prove or disprove as the case may be. However, the Entertainment Software Association claimed it tracks 10 million illegal downloads of 200 games in 2009 and TorrentFReak reported numbers of nearly twice that in 2010, but this new study says those figures were far too high.

After studying 14 platforms (consoles, pc, mobile, handheld etc) they found 12.6 million unique peers who were sharing copies of the 173 games, with titles such as Fallout: NV, Black Ops and Starcraft 2 proving some of the most popular. The top 10 took up 32.7% of the unique peers and users from just 20 countries accounted for 76.7% of the total fire sharing activity! With Romania, Croatia, Greece, Portugal and Hungary proving the most active in terms of number of downloads relative to population.

In an interview with, the man behind the results, Anders Drachen from the Department of Communication and Psychology at Aalborg University and the PLAIT Lab at Northeastern University said “This is definitely not a case of developing countries vs. industrial countries but much more diverse. While we can only speculate about the underlying causal factors of the patterns we observe, I suspect that they are pretty complex.”

He noticed that as games were released onto the torrent scene, their popularity exploded to high numbers, before steadily decreasing. Any polls taken during this time would give higher estimates due to the initial popularity of the file, with figures that wouldn’t realistically be consistent over a period of time, the final numbers must take into account this variance. They also found that RPG’s were the most popular at 18.9% of the total downloads and that sites like Metacritic had a correlative effect on the download activity of the titles in question.

“First and foremost, P2P game piracy is extraordinarily prevalent and geographically distributed [at least it was during the period analysed]. However, the numbers in our investigation suggest that previously reported magnitudes in game piracy are too high. It also appears that some common myths are wrong, e.g. that it is only shooters that get pirated, as we see a lot of activity for children’s and family games on BitTorrent for the period we investigated.”