A new large-scale analysis of BitTorrent file-sharing of computer games helps debunking some common myths on digital piracy. From the press release:
The team found that it is not just hardcore “shooter” games that get pirated on BitTorrent. They also recorded piracy of games across the board, from children’s and family games all the way to the major commercial titles. Furthermore, their results indicate that the actual number of illicit digital copies of computer games accessed on BitTorrent is not as high as those mentioned in reports from industry trade organizations, for instance.
During the period of monitoring BitTorrent, the research team found that about 12.6 million unique peers from over 250 countries/areas were sharing illicit copies of games, which included Fallout: New Vegas, Darksiders, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, NBA 2k11, TRON Evolution, Call of Duty: Black Ops, Starcraft 2, Star Wars the Force Unleashed 2, Two Worlds II, The Sims 3: Late Night. This represents a wide range of games vendors and games types encompassing simulations, sports and strategy as well as action games. They report that of the 173 digital games in the sample, the ten most popular games titles during the period analyzed drove more than 4 out of every 10 unique peers on BitTorrent and a mere 20 of the countries monitored were contributing to more than three-quarters of the total file-sharing activity.
For the most popular games, they add, there was an average of 536,727 unique peers sharing via Bit Torrent, and the geographical distribution of the unique peers paint a very diverse picture of where people who access illegally copied games on BitTorrent are positioned. For example, a number of countries stand out as having very large numbers of unique peers represented in the dataset, including Romania, Croatia, Ukraine, Greece, Poland, Italy, Armenia and Serbia. Portugal, Israel and Qatar also have more than 1% peers per Internet user. The results also point out that games receiving high critical acclaim tend to have higher numbers of unique peers than those which receive negative critique in media reviews.
While the games investigated covered all major hardware platforms, console games are much tougher to pirate than desktop computer games for the simple reason that one needs to modify the hardware of the console to use them. In contrast, to use an illicit copy of a PC game, one must commonly only modify the computer code itself. A recent turn towards cloud-based gaming could reduce the chances of games being copied illicitly still further but adoption relies on access to reliable broadband internet for gamers. Of course, better broadband also potentially means more efficient sharing of illegal copies of digital games.
Abstract of the research:
The distribution of illegal copies of computer games via digital networks forms the centre in one of the most heated debates in the international games environment, but there is minimal objective information available. Here the results of a large-scale, open-method analysis of the distribution of computer games via BitTorrent peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol is presented. 173 games were included, tracked over a period of three months from 2010 to 2011. A total of 12.6 million unique peers were identified across over 200 countries. Analysis indicates that the distribution of illegal copies of games follows distinct pattern, e.g., that a few game titles drive the traffic – the 10 most accessed games encompassed 42.7% of the number of peers tracked. The traffic is geographically localised – 20 countries encompassed 76.7% of the total. Geographic patterns in the distribution of BitTorrent peers are presented, as well as time-frequency distributions of torrents, and additional results.