I will confess, I used to be a pirate. I used to pirate music, primarily through sharing mp3s with friends or through applications like Limewire. I even think I pirated a version of Civilization. Then, I grew up, got a job and it became way easier to buy all forms of media, and never pirated again. But some people continue to pirate, and the reasons for that decision varies from country to country, as well as across ages and income levels. Thanks to a new, comprehensive survey, we have a bit more insight into what drives piracy now.
If you go by the comments people make online, you’d think that the main reason people pirate is because they don’t like EA/Ubisoft/Blizzard/insert developer here. If you go by statements made by different developers over the years, you’d think that the majority of gamers are pirates. But the reality is a whole lot more nuanced.
Over on PC Gamer, they ran a survey about piracy habits among respondents. Granted, there were some obvious troll answers, and perhaps people took the survey multiple times to skew answers, but with 50 000 responses, some interesting trends emerged.
First and foremost, how many PC gamers currently pirate? Well, according to the survey, 35%. That’s not nearly as many as are often accused by publishers. However, that number changes dramatically when respondents were asked if they’ve ever pirated, shooting up to over 90%. I’m going to assume most of those gamers are like me – pirating back when they were young students but changing their ways as they grew up. In fact, I don’t have to assume that – the numbers back me up.
First up is the issue of age. Teenagers have the highest piracy rate, going as high as 40% of them currently pirating their games. That number goes down by 5% for every decade older the gamer get. This is closely correlated with income, with over 50% of those in the lowest income bracket pirating games compared to less than 20% pirating in the upper income brackets. But it’s actually about more than just affordability, although that is a major factor in piracy.
When respondents were asked why they pirated, the answer changed a lot depending on age, although most users sited “can’t afford” or “demo game” as reasons. At most ages, pirates tended to use their thievery as a form of demoing the game (and the majority went on to purchase the title) as compared to simply getting around the affordability issue. There were also some people who wrote in answers including:
Many others again and again repeated major points. A game was unavailable to purchase anywhere digitally. They already owned the game on another platform or had lost the disk. The price in their region is exorbitant. Not available in their region at all. To demo a game before buying it.
However, the demo concept changes again when sorted based on country. Some countries are notorious for piracy. Brazil, Argentina, India, Russia and other Eastern European countries all have reputations for piracy. However, looking at the reasons behind it, it makes a lot more sense. Sure, some of the pirates cite the same reasons as other countries, but people in these countries are must more likely to claim “too expensive” as their reason. Those conducting the survey explain why:
we spoke to a pirate who lives in Bulgaria, who explained a new game on release day costs almost a third of a minimum wage earner’s monthly income (imagine new games costing $400 in the US). “The thing is, they think $50 and €50 is the same for every country, but it’s not, because the wages and economy are different,” said the pirate, who goes by the handle Overkill online.
Looking at a list of average wages in Europe, many countries with high piracy rates (like the ones mentioned above) sit near the bottom of that list. Denmark and Norway, with piracy rates around 26 percent and 22 percent, according to our respondents, have the 6th and 3rd highest net incomes in Europe.
While this doesn’t prove causation, it certain works according to common sense. If a game is going to cost you half of your monthly income, you probably won’t buy it, at least not at launch. It makes more sense that those in such a situation pirate the game early on, perhaps opting to purchase once the title is marked down in a Steam Sale or pops up in a bundle for cheap.
With so many people admitting to having pirated games in the past, why did they stop? Well, 56% attributed it to Steam Sales with 50% saying that buying the game legally on Steam became easier than pirating the titles. 44% said they got increases in income and a surprising 22% just felt bad about stealing games and stopped doing it.
I’m glad that the survey mostly confirmed what many of us suspected – if developers make their games easily available, people will be less likely to pirate assuming they can afford the game. Some might still steal a copy to see if it’s worthwhile for them, but not all pirates are unrepentant thieves. Of course, looking internationally, it seems developers and distributors could reduce piracy if they actually adapted their pricing more for local markets. I know I’d appreciate it here in South Africa – it can be really hard to justify buying a game for R1k. Of course, I still don’t pirate, I just end up playing my older games or free games more.
Last Updated: January 4, 2017