The number of illicit digital copies is not as high as reported by industry trade organizations, according to a large-scale analysis of BitTorrent file-sharing of videogames.
Anders Drachen from the Department of Communication and Psychology at Aalborg University and the PLAIT Lab at Northeastern University as well as Robert Veitch from the Department of IT Management at Copenhagen Business School analysed a the filesharing of some 173 computer games over a three-month period between 2010 and 2011.
They set out to study videogame piracy because "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" That game piracy is common and the both sides agree about it but the numbers vary dramatically between reports. Almost 10 million illegal downloads of around 200 games were tracked in December 2009. TorrentFreak reported 18.14 million downloads for the five most downloaded PC games on BitTorrent in 2010, with a further 5.34 million downloads of the five most downloaded console games.
The team tracked BitTorrent file sharing, looking at games for 14 different platforms including PC, Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, DS, iOS/Mac and PSP, during the three-month period.
A custom web crawler developed by the research team is used for periodically issued queries to a BitTorrent search engine. The crawler obtained the tracker server URIs before issuing an HTTP "GET" request to obtain a list of IP addresses for peers participating in the sharing. From this they compiled a list of 173 game titles, once it located the metadata files.
Including Fallout: New Vegas, Darksiders, Tron Evolution, Call of Duty: Black Ops, Starcraft 2 and The Sims 3: Late Night, 12.6 million unique peers from 250 areas were sharing illicit copies of games. 10 most popular games titles during the period drove 42.7 percent of unique peers (5.37 million) on BitTorrent and just 20 countries hogged 76.7 percent of the total file-sharing activity. The most activity (relative to population size) was seen to come from Romania, Croatia, Greece, Portugal and Hungary.
"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." Drachen told Wired.co.uk
When looking at those games during the three-month period that made their debut on BitTorrent, they noticed that they experienced a rapid increase in popularity within the first few days, before gradually declining. This implies that any snap-shot analyses of BitTorrent activity, where data are collected over a very short time-period, can be incredibly misleading -- any accurate figures must take into account the variations in activity over time.
It is evident that the most popular genres were RPGs (18.9 percent), action-adventure (15.9 percent), third-person shooters (12.7 percent) and racing (9.3 percent), when it comes to the number of unique peers per game. The team also found a correlation between a game's review score on Metacritic and the volume of BitTorrent activity rleated to that game.
"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" Drachen said in a press release.
The industry is moving towards online platforms for major commercial and casual games in the hope that they will reduce piracy, according to the studies.