Yes, video game piracy is detrimental to gamers

Yes, video game piracy is detrimental to gamers

Yet, following the release of Nintendo Switch masterpiece Metroid Dread, and subsequent news pieces revealing the presence of a pirated version of the game, the conversation has resurfaced, with some reporting appearing to support its existence.

Is it acceptable to imitate a 20-year-old game that is no longer available for purchase? Is it okay to download a game illegally if you weren’t planning on purchasing it anyway? Is it okay to get a copy of an unreleased HD version of a 1997 N64 shooter for the purpose of reviewing it? It’s a thorny issue.

I was mortified at this. Not because I know for a fact that piracy hurts video game sales (we’ll come onto that), but because it’s irrelevant in the eyes of the people making it. And ultimately, when mass piracy exists, it is the gamers who lose out.

Let’s step back a moment. 20 million illegal downloads does not mean 20 million lost sales. But it does mean SOME lost sales.

Sports Interactive is the developer of the Football Manager series. As a PC game developer (a platform where piracy is rife) that makes a game every single year, it’s in a unique position to see how game sales are affected when a game gets cracked. They have even been able to track how many illegal downloads they’ve had.

In 2014, a year where it took a long time for Football Manager to get cracked, the firm found that ten times the number of people pirated Football Manager than bought it.

But that doesn’t it lost ten times its sales. In fact, the firm estimates that just 1.7% of illegal downloads would have resulted in a sale. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s still 175,000 games and $3.7 million in revenue. Sports Interactive could have hired a lot of people with that money, and developed even more features for the next game.

Of course, Football Manager is a PC game, and you can’t conclude the same numbers and estimates apply to a Nintendo Switch title. But it does show that piracy, at some level, does have an affect on game sales.

Yet irrespective of that, it doesn’t really matter whether we think piracy is hurting game sales or not. What matters is whether the publishers do. In 2009, Rockstar released the genuinely brilliant Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. Released for Nintendo DS, the game was heavily promoted by Nintendo and received rave reviews. And then it flopped.

Nintendo platforms aren’t especially known for its adult games, but it under-performed even to Rockstar’s conservative expectations. Perhaps their expectations were too high. Maybe the game just didn’t appeal to the DS audience. It doesn’t matter, because Take-Two had decided what the big issue was: the R4 card.

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