Video Game Piracy: A Low Blow for Game Development

At least once in their lives, many players tried to cheat game development studios and downloaded a game for free or at a reduced price. Maybe as teenagers trying to save their pocket money or, perhaps, as adults who do not see the point in spending more on their entertainment. This is how the issue of piracy grows and affects everybody involved in the game world — developers, publishers, designers, testers, and even players.

Current surveys show that around 1 in 10 gamers have illegally downloaded or played a pirated video game in the past three months. The majority of responders (30%) blamed the need to cut their expenses as the main driver for using such content. And while this immediate need may be satisfied for some players, game piracy has a long-term detrimental effect on the whole industry. In this article, we will go over the main reasons why this illegal practice hurts game creators and fans, and how developers and testers can collaborate to stir gamers in the right direction.

Why Does Gaming Industry Suffer From Piracy?

Interruption of funding

It is clear that all stakeholders strive to get profit from the game projects they have invested in. Game piracy makes quite a dent in sales for development studios and publishers, so investors may just stop the funding. One of the most recent examples that made the headlines is the closing of Video Games, the company behind the RPG Beast Breaker and the first US game studio to unionize. “We’ve run out of funds and aren’t able to keep the team together,” the company explained on Twitter.

Fewer opportunities to release updates and new games

Game fans are always excited about the release of a sequel to their favorite game or another project from a top studio. However, without enough funding and with profits decreasing, development teams struggle to produce new high-quality content or even update their existing games. This is why paying a fair price is essentially a player’s investment in better entertainment in the future.

Less motivation to localize a game

Usually, releasing a localized version is a way for game developers and publishers to avoid piracy. If gamers from a certain country or region have a game translated into their language, they tend to be more loyal and are less likely to search for pirated copies. Yet sometimes localization for particular markets does not make sense for studios. For example, tinyBuild, creators of a game called Punch Club, have found that localization for Western Europe was profitable, and piracy rates were very low there. On the other hand, in the Brazilian market, the biggest number of pirated copies was downloaded on the very day that the studio launched the game localized for Portuguese-speaking players. Moreover, Chinese games went massively for illegal copies when the game was released in English, without even waiting for a version adapted to their market. Such cases make game creators consider spending their localization budget elsewhere.

Putting game startups and indie studios at risk

Small game developers need stable funding and successful sales for consistent growth. Game piracy negatively impacts both of these factors and can simply drive startups and indie studios out of business.

Why Does Piracy Hurt QA Too?

Many software development companies are already looking for ways to cut their expenses and optimize processes in the current economic climate. As a provider of independent testing, we have recently been getting more requests from our clients to help their teams save budget on software checks. Due to our experience, we can help with this task by offering customized solutions and prioritizing certain QA areas that need immediate attention, while others may wait for better times.

However, some tech companies make more radical decisions, like entirely cutting off QA, laying off testers and overloading developers with their tasks, or hiring inexperienced QA engineers with lower rates. And when studios are bleeding due to players pirating their games, the situation gets worse. As a result, everyone is at a loss.

Gamers want high-quality content to entertain them but download illegal copies. Studios suffer the damage and are left with low profits and investments, so they have to release games at minimum cost. Without enough attention to QA, the quality drops. Lost jobs for testers, more pressure for developers and publishers, worse game content, and dissatisfied players. A truly vicious circle.

How TOP Studios Deal With Piracy?

Some developers are not ready to stand still and look at their profits evaporating. Let’s see how a few of the most famous game creators combat piracy.

Pokémon Games

After losing almost USD 1 billion due to illegal copies of Pokémon Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum in Japan, Nintendo began implementing interesting anti-piracy features. For example, if their following games, Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver, detect that gamers play them on unofficial hardware, the battles become impossible to complete. Later, in their Pokémon Black and White, Nintendo upgraded their measures. If the game finds out it is an illegal copy, the player’s Pokémon stops gaining experience, and a gamer cannot level up.

Arma II

The developers of this shooter also added an anti-piracy package to their game. It begins slightly changing with time until it is impossible to play. Gamers start experiencing troubles with their weapons; their shots become less accurate, and then the screen can get wavy. In the end, the player’s screen is filled with Arma II logos.

Game Tycoon

Since the game is about running a development studio, its creators, Greenheart Games, decided to give pirates a taste of their own medicine. If players use an illegal copy, they can enjoy it for some time without consequences, but after they become successful, their studio starts having financial problems. Eventually, a player’s in-game employees tell them that their games are being pirated and there is nothing left to do.

Batman: Arkham Asylum

The creators of this game, Rocksteady, did not go easy on pirates, as well. Batman’s cape refuses to open in illegal copies, so the Dark Knight cannot glide over the room filled with poison gas and falls to death. Once a gamer asked about this issue on one of the game forums, and the admin replied: “The problem you have encountered is a hook in the copy protection, to catch out people who try and download cracked versions of the game for free. It’s not a bug in the game’s code, it’s a bug in your moral code.” Ouch.

GTA IV

Rockstar North has implemented a swarm of anti-pirating tricks. In pirated copies, the game will have the spinning drunk effect on the camera, the cars will constantly break down, and a player will not be able to start accelerating once in a vehicle. If these issues are not enough and a person continues playing a cracked version, the game will make it impossible to repair the cars, and some missions will be locked in.

What Can We Do?

Yes, game piracy is a rising issue. And while creative tricks of developers may work on some gamers and discourage them from downloading illegal copies, pirates usually find a way around those measures. However, games’ unparalleled quality can be an actual answer to this problem.

As we have already mentioned above, some game developers notice that players from particular markets are less likely to look for ways to cheat. If they have a high-quality, captivating game that has been localized for them, they have no objections to paying a fair price for it. Loyal players understand that it is their investment in frequent updates for their favorite game and in the development of its new chapters.

This is why thorough QA is crucial for games. Apart from helping to secure profits, it is a way for game studios to show that they care for the experience of players and are willing to constantly improve for them. QATestLab has 15+ years of game testing experience and offers various services to make games unforgettable. Leave us your contact information, and let’s discuss how our team can help you win an army of loyal players with impeccable quality.

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QATestLab is an international provider of independent QA and testing services with 15 years of cross-industry experience. https://qatestlab.com/