Game developer tracked 10.1m illegal downloads, including one at the Vatican

Illegal downloads continue to thrive, despite ongoing efforts to crack down on online piracy. Methods have included legal action against file-sharers, blocking access to sites at the ISP level, with other ideas also in the works, but some companies are focusing on studying illegal downloads to understand just how impactful piracy really is to their businesses.

U.K game developer Sports Interactive did precisely that following the launch of their title, Football Manager 2013, in November 2012. After the game was cracked in May this year, copies quickly made their way on to the web, but while the developer was powerless to stop people from illegally sharing the game, it was able to track where the copies ended up.

As MCV reports, a ‘flaw’ in the crack enabled Sports Interactive to track the IP address of everyone who downloaded it, enabling the developer to gather data on where copies were being played, and even how often.

SI learned that the game was illegally downloaded 10.1m times, and the data further revealed that the largest concentration of downloads was in China, which racked up 3.2m downloads in the last six months. Turkey (with 1.05m) was in second place, followed by 780,000 in Portugal. Amusingly, one download was tracked to the Vatican.

According to the developer's studio director, Miles Jacobson, it was estimated that 1.74% of the total number of illegal downloaders would have actually purchased the game had a cracked copy not been available online, suggesting that the financial impact of piracy in this case wasn’t quite as enormous as the 10.1m download figure might initially suggest.

However, that 1.74% still translates to around 176,000 potential sales, which Jacobson said was equivalent to around $3.7m in lost revenue. 

Source: MCV | image via The Reticule

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66 Comments

Commenting is disabled on this article.

I made a comment on how this article incorrectly uses the phrase "illegal downloads" to describe all downloading of pirated software, when not all country's laws define downloading of copyright material as illegal, and the nearly universally illegal act being the circumvention of software protection with intent to distribute.

I also mentioned how major digital distribution platforms like Steam deny basic ownership rights like a refund if you find the game awful, and yet sharing the content is tantamount to shoplifting.

My post was deleted though, and without explanation. I guess I am not allowed to share my opinion on your article? Maybe I should have just made my post about my religious views, that seems to be acceptable, though completely off topic. I was not supporting piracy, but protesting this articles bias opinion against file sharing. Since, again, downloading copyright material is not clearly defined as illegal in all areas where one reading this might be from.

Thanks Obamacare!

Edited by goatsniffer, Nov 16 2013, 5:50am :

goatsniffer said,
I made a comment on how this article incorrectly uses the phrase "illegal downloads" to describe all downloading of pirated software, when not all country's laws define downloading of copyright material as illegal, and the nearly universally illegal act being the circumvention of software protection with intent to distribute.

I also mentioned how major digital distribution platforms like Steam deny basic ownership rights like a refund if you find the game awful, and yet sharing the content is tantamount to shoplifting.

My post was deleted though, and without explanation. I guess I am not allowed to share my opinion on your article? Maybe I should have just made my post about my religious views, that seems to be acceptable, though completely off topic. I was not supporting piracy, but protesting this articles bias opinion against file sharing. Since, again, downloading copyright material is not clearly defined as illegal in all areas where one reading this might be from.

Thanks Obamacare!

The article is sensationalized, OMGZ!! 10.1 MILLION ILLEGAL DOWNLOADS (we, ahem, also illegally spied on "...the crack featured a flaw called Home, which allowed Jacobson and his team to track the IP address of everybody who illegally downloaded the game."). But our stats show that out of those downloads, which we only got the IP from because everyone who stole it has a static IP address and don't use a VPN, from a crack which had a flaw we discovered May 12 before ANYONE even ran the crack, only 180,000 of the 10 million IPs played it more than 5 times, meaning we lost around 176,000 sales, and that costed us around $3.1 million - or each pirated copy had a real-world loss of $3. Yeah, I guess 98% did pirate it to actually demo and realized they didn't like it. Or it didn't work, or proceeded to buy it or whatever. Oh.. and to boot at least 50-60% of the people who stole it are in countries where digital distribution isn't readily available or likely the game isn't even being sold.

Someones lying about something. Just collecting the IP address alone don't mean 10 million people ran the cracked copy. I have 5 different IPs (home, work, parents, girlfriends, mobile) that all change all the time.. To make such a statement means individual system info needed to be collected in addition to IP addresses. Even with that, I just stated I could look like 5 people... Now the other end of this argument is how about those savvy with firewalls, which could never call home, ever?? Either way I applaud the developers for making the game and malware/call home/crack detector & allower to go with it. Hopefully they use this data to fix the problem rather than fear monger and extort.

Edited by srbeen, Nov 16 2013, 5:03am :

If games wouldn't that expensive, especially outside developed countries where games are 10 or more times expensive, people wouldn't download them.

But yet again. Just because americal law says something it doesn't mean it is the law foe everyone. Downloading is not illegal here. Distribution is. Especially commercial.

No more than pirated PS3 and XBOX 360 games. PC Gaming revenue is just high and it is doing great, thanks to Steam and other services.

10.1m IP addresses does not equal 10.1m unique pirates. At most half of that number would be real, if not even less due to some ISPs rotating a user's IP every 12 or 24 hours.

Agreed. Someone else was suggesting the 1.74% was low, perhaps in general for piracy that's true (I'd speculate though in most cases it's usually single digits), but after accounting for the above or assuming you had a way of uniquely tracking each install it's more like 3.5% of the small pool size of say 5m (or less).

The truth is there's lots of illegal downloading going on at the Vatican, but as it's classed as it's own state European law, can't touch them... as the Vatican state are not part of Europe, even though there in Rome, Italy.

May be its time they stop charging so much per game and adding silly things like requiring steam.

People want to get a game install it then be able to leave the disc in the draw or on the rack not fish out the disk to play. I personally hate having steam also **** me right off.

Personally, I like steam. I prefer my games to be on steam, since I don't have to worry about 'disc checks' or any of the other crap that usually comes with retail discs, securerom etc.

But yeah, it would be nice to be given the choice of steam or not. I think the way The Witcher handles the DRM issue is great and when we have Developers like Notch, who has said in the past to pirate his game, and if you like it buy it, then that's how you get 12million copies of your game sold.

What do you expect when the cracked version is supporter to the paid one.

No online accounts, no steam the way it should be.

I think you meant to say "superior" but yes, I agree 1000%.

I was given MW3 as a present a long time ago. About 1/10 times I go to play it steam screws up and won't let me play (including offline, which ****es me off even more). This is the only game I have that uses steam, and I would never ever pay for a game that uses that crap.

They didn't lose the 3.7m because it isn't really possible to lose something you never had. Quite funny actually when companies talk about lost fantasy revenues

2III7 said,
They didn't lose the 3.7m because it isn't really possible to lose something you never had. Quite funny actually when companies talk about lost fantasy revenues

And no where did they say they actually lost $3.7mil. Just that the value of the 176k potential sales is $3.7mil.

Agreed. I lost £500,000,000 in potential sales of my toilet opening device, i would be rich if it wasn't for these pesky hands!

giantpotato said,
So if your job decided not to pay you one week, you wouldn't consider that lost revenue since you never had it in the first place?

Interesting metaphor but not quite to the point, when you work for an employer you basically trade your own time and man hours for a guaranteed income, this is usually agreed upon and solidified in the form of a contract before you start employment with the particular employer.

Creating a concept and then putting it up for sale is a much different scenario, for you are not guaranteed the sale to begin with, and you are doing so because you are confident that it is a product that people would desire, and would be willing to pay money for in order to earn an income.

I wonder if they count the free copies they give out to footballers and managers in the game as lost revenue when they clearly earn enough money to buy a £30 game.

Oh noes, illegal downloads, that's something new! People really illegali download stuff?

Yeah that could have been news like.. 20 years a go.

Deemon said,
Oh noes, illegal downloads, that's something new! People really illegali download stuff?

Yeah that could have been news like.. 20 years a go.


It's still a mass crime, you know.

This can't be a serious comment...it is illegal because a pirated copy is a stolen copy. Because a company has already recouped their costs and have turned a profit isn't justification for stealing their work. I'm surprised that this concept of theft, etc had to be explained in a civilized society. It is crazy that so many people can justify stealing.

jamdown said,
This can't be a serious comment...it is illegal because a pirated copy is a stolen copy. Because a company has already recouped their costs and have turned a profit isn't justification for stealing their work. I'm surprised that this concept of theft, etc had to be explained in a civilized society. It is crazy that so many people can justify stealing.

Well actually I would like to point out that the copying of a piece of work is not theft under its definition. The word theft is basically being used as a buzzword within the media industry in order to get traction in their quest to establish the copyright monopoly.

For example, if you go to a museum and steal a piece of artwork from the wall, then this will be classed as theft, for you are actually taking a physical property and forcefully removing ownership of the property to yourself. But if you went into the museum and took a photograph of the painting in question, then you are not stealing a piece of artwork you are instead creating a copy. This is where the intellectual monopoly laws kick in.

The intellectual monopoly laws are basically put into place to criminalize the act of making copies of an intellectual concept. This essentially turns ideas into property, and gives the creator of the idea sole ownership and control over the regulation and distribution of the idea amongst others.

This concept becomes rather problematic when you consider that it basically restricts ideas, and does not allow people to freely express themselves, nor does it encourage people to freely innovate out of fear of being sued by a company who owns a patent on the concept of which they are trying to create.

Ad Man Gamer said,

Well actually I would like to point out that the copying of a piece of work is not theft under its definition. The word theft is basically being used as a buzzword within the media industry in order to get traction in their quest to establish the copyright monopoly.

For example, if you go to a museum and steal a piece of artwork from the wall, then this will be classed as theft, for you are actually taking a physical property and forcefully removing ownership of the property to yourself. But if you went into the museum and took a photograph of the painting in question, then you are not stealing a piece of artwork you are instead creating a copy. This is where the intellectual monopoly laws kick in.

The intellectual monopoly laws are basically put into place to criminalize the act of making copies of an intellectual concept. This essentially turns ideas into property, and gives the creator of the idea sole ownership and control over the regulation and distribution of the idea amongst others.

This concept becomes rather problematic when you consider that it basically restricts ideas, and does not allow people to freely express themselves, nor does it encourage people to freely innovate out of fear of being sued by a company who owns a patent on the concept of which they are trying to create.

Are you really trying to make software pirates look good to have an excuse for it? It is theft in the sense that you take away potential profit the developer rightfully deserve for their hard work. For christ sake

Jarrichvdv said,

Are you really trying to make software pirates look good to have an excuse for it? It is theft in the sense that you take away potential profit the developer rightfully deserve for their hard work. For christ sake

Well. If i share a DVD with someone, is that not taking away potential profit? I mean, they now have no reason to go buy the DVD for they have seen the movie. The same can be said for second-hand sales of movies, music, games, cars, laptops, phones, etc.

I have encouraged a few of my friends to play minecraft, and linked them to a pirate version so that they can try it out, and now all 6 have purchased the full copy after they have seen how good the game is. I used to pirate because my previous experience was with Real Arcade, and the fact that they would not let me re-download the game after a year drove me to pirate the games that I previously purchased, as well as giving up buying the games altogether considering that quite a lot of them were priced like full featured games, but ultimately only had 2-4 hours of game play with little replay value.

I continued trialling games through this method to basically see if the game was even worth my money in the first place, because if I know that I will not be able to re-download my game after a year, I was not going to put my money to a game which was ultimately a flop. This was up until I pirated HL1 and discovered valve and steam because of it, and now i own all valve titles as well as a steam library of 172 games and growing.

Make it good, and make it well, and the money will come. The piracy card has just become a convenient scapegoat which allows companies to blame the failure of the media on that alone, rather than acknowledging that it might have been their marketing approach, or even the fact that the game just wasn't that good to warrant to purchase.

Edited by Ad Man Gamer, Nov 20 2013, 8:09pm :

Spicoli said,
Thank you for the bigot of the day comment.

A truth is not a bigoted comment. The Vatican is currently (and has for a while) going through massive sexual abuse scandal. So please tell me at what point what i was saying was bigoted?

MikeChipshop said,

A truth is not a bigoted comment. The Vatican is currently (and has for a while) going through massive sexual abuse scandal. So please tell me at what point what i was saying was bigoted?

Maybe because the Vatican, or the residence of the Catholic Pope in the Vatican City isnt under abuse for sexual abuse scandals. Its other people and places that are under the religious authority of the Vatican but not the Pope himself, or the Vatican at all.

The bigotedness comments comes from people sweeping all Catholicism, Christianity, the Pope, leaders of their churches, etc, etc under the rug with some corrupted people who did awful things that those other rug-swept people condemn as you do. So I dont think bigotedness is what is at play here but its close to it. But IT IS a slap in the face to those people who you just lumped in to sexual abuse criminals.

Scabrat said,

Maybe because the Vatican, or the residence of the Catholic Pope in the Vatican City isnt under abuse for sexual abuse scandals. Its other people and places that are under the religious authority of the Vatican but not the Pope himself, or the Vatican at all.

The bigotedness comments comes from people sweeping all Catholicism, Christianity, the Pope, leaders of their churches, etc, etc under the rug with some corrupted people who did awful things that those other rug-swept people condemn as you do. So I dont think bigotedness is what is at play here but its close to it. But IT IS a slap in the face to those people who you just lumped in to sexual abuse criminals.

Again, stating the truth is not bigoted. Some awful people did some awful things and as i stated, they are things we should worry about more than a pirate game.

So can people stop getting their knickers in a twist and falsely assuming the moral high ground? thank you.

MikeChipshop said,

Again, stating the truth is not bigoted. Some awful people did some awful things and as i stated, they are things we should worry about more than a pirate game.

So can people stop getting their knickers in a twist and falsely assuming the moral high ground? thank you.

I'm confused. What bad things are actually happening at the Vatican? Koppit linked a Wikipedia article, but it didn't mention a single instance of sexual abuse happening within the Vatican.

Pluto is a Planet said,
I'm confused. What bad things are actually happening at the Vatican? Koppit linked a Wikipedia article, but it didn't mention a single instance of sexual abuse happening within the Vatican.

Because you don't **** where you eat. The major issue is the blind eyeing and culture at the Vatican.

MikeChipshop said,

Because you don't **** where you eat. The major issue is the blind eyeing and culture at the Vatican.

You can definitely have that opinion. But do you see where people see this as a slap in the face when nothing illegal is happening at a place, you dont know what they are or arent doing about these illegal issues, and then you still just throw them in as a symbol of the bad going on.

That is what people say is the bigotry. Its not, "bigoted attitudes; intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself" but it is also not right either. But that is also my opinion.

Scabrat said,

You can definitely have that opinion. But do you see where people see this as a slap in the face when nothing illegal is happening at a place, you dont know what they are or arent doing about these illegal issues, and then you still just throw them in as a symbol of the bad going on.

That is what people say is the bigotry. Its not, "bigoted attitudes; intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself" but it is also not right either. But that is also my opinion.

I appreciate your opinion, however i disagree.
When something illegal is going on i your institution you step up and clamp down on it. If a website, for instance, has a community that offers up illegal downloads of pirated software, then you can damn well expect it to be on the head of the website owner. Same goes for the Vatican. Again, this is not bigoted, it's fact.

MikeChipshop said,

I appreciate your opinion, however i disagree.
When something illegal is going on i your institution you step up and clamp down on it. If a website, for instance, has a community that offers up illegal downloads of pirated software, then you can damn well expect it to be on the head of the website owner. Same goes for the Vatican. Again, this is not bigoted, it's fact.

I understand the sentiment. I think more should have been done when this all started to happen. However, the Vatican doesn't own these places like a pirated software site; like he was advocating this awful behavior. I think its more like a mayor of a city or governor of a state being held responsible for there citizens actions. I think it would be crazy for a mayor or governor to be referenced as someone who sexually abuses someone because someone did something horrible. Or that they are doing illegal things in their office because that said person happened to do something so vile.

But we both agree the action was awful and the reaction wasn't the way it should have been. I just don't think making the Vatican out as a symbol of sexual abusive behavior is the right thing to do. The fact is they weren't charged with any crimes there.

I didn't expect a low figure for potential sales because most companies like to see 1 pirated copy = 1 lost sale. That 1.74% is low but the impact on the company revenue is clear at 3.7m.

i still believes that 3.7m are overestimated, as theres who like me:
buy games legally, but download the pirated (DRM removed) copy to play, instead of using the legally purchased copy.

ajua said,
I didn't expect a low figure for potential sales because most companies like to see 1 pirated copy = 1 lost sale. That 1.74% is low but the impact on the company revenue is clear at 3.7m.

At least they're being honest about the numbers, and hopefully they'll find a way to create incentive for that 1.74% of users to help them buy the game, rather then punishing the loyal customers with yet more DRM and bull that comes along with it.

Torolol said,
i still believes that 3.7m are overestimated, as theres who like me:
buy games legally, but download the pirated (DRM removed) copy to play, instead of using the legally purchased copy.

Actually,I'd say the nearly 2% is a low estimate, very low. sure there are a few people like you, and a few people who buy after pirating. but there's a very large percentage who pirate instead of buying.

FM does have a lot of pirates because the game really hasn't changed at all since 2005. It's really not worth full retail price every year. I bought every game since 2004 but I missed out on FM13 and 14. It's really just not worth £35, at the very most I would pay £20. But people will pay the £35 because football/soccer only has two games actually worth playing, FIFA and Football Manager.

Edited by Gaffney, Nov 15 2013, 1:08pm :

I am not any kind of business expert, but it seems to me that they are missing out on a lot of sales & higher profit here by keeping the price high.

An key figure here, although impossible to actually know, would be how many people actually look at the price before they decide to pirate.

Are these unique downloads? I ask because as someone who used to pirate games as a kid, you'd sometimes download a game or application 2-3 times before you found one that actually works.

dead.cell said,
Are these unique downloads? I ask because as someone who used to pirate games as a kid, you'd sometimes download a game or application 2-3 times before you found one that actually works.

They're not tracking the actual downloading, they're tracking the people who're playing the game they've downloaded. The crack of the game hasn't blocked a call home from the game it seems. So they're using that so they can tell what games people are playing are the cracked version.

sagum said,
They're not tracking the actual downloading, they're tracking the people who're playing the game they've downloaded. The crack of the game hasn't blocked a call home from the game it seems. So they're using that so they can tell what games people are playing are the cracked version.

Ah, my fault, I must've missed that part when scrolling down the article. Thanks!

HawkMan said,

Actually,I'd say the nearly 2% is a low estimate, very low. sure there are a few people like you, and a few people who buy after pirating. but there's a very large percentage who pirate instead of buying.

Actually almost all studies says a majority of people who pirate were never going to spend money on it anyway. There's this belief that companies are missing out on a huge chunk of sales but its just not reality. A majority of people who pirate don't have the money to spend on games regularly.

sagum said,

They're not tracking the actual downloading, they're tracking the people who're playing the game they've downloaded. The crack of the game hasn't blocked a call home from the game it seems. So they're using that so they can tell what games people are playing are the cracked version.

So they're tracking IP addresses that constantly change? That seems just as misleading (if not more so) than tracking the number of times the game was downloaded.

darkpuma said,
So they're tracking IP addresses that constantly change? That seems just as misleading (if not more so) than tracking the number of times the game was downloaded.

I don't know if they're using just IP addresses to track them, or MAC addresses, or what ever other information that is being leaked by the game crack. For all we know, they could be leaking teak profile names, system stats, mac address, email addresses ... I don't know. I don't think anyone other then they do.
However, they do seem pretty sure of their numbers and to quantify 1.74% as potential buyers, they must have a pretty good idea of what counts as a unique player of their cracked game.... otherwise I'd expect them to do the same old "omfg, 3.2m lost sales" jibber, but .. that's just my take on it.

sagum said,

I don't know if they're using just IP addresses to track them, or MAC addresses, or what ever other information that is being leaked by the game crack. For all we know, they could be leaking teak profile names, system stats, mac address, email addresses ... I don't know. I don't think anyone other then they do.
However, they do seem pretty sure of their numbers and to quantify 1.74% as potential buyers, they must have a pretty good idea of what counts as a unique player of their cracked game.... otherwise I'd expect them to do the same old "omfg, 3.2m lost sales" jibber, but .. that's just my take on it.

Yeah who knows... corporate people love their statistics even if they're 100% flawed. I got my statement about IP addresses from the article:
...crack enabled Sports Interactive to track the IP address of everyone....

sagum said,

At least they're being honest about the numbers, and hopefully they'll find a way to create incentive for that 1.74% of users to help them buy the game, rather then punishing the loyal customers with yet more DRM and bull that comes along with it.


That's what a wise company would do. They are at least wise enough to gather these data points and come to a more honest assessment then most that the vast majority of this activity is not causing lost sales, so they seem on the right track toward your suggestion of figuring out how to entice revenue out of the ~2% that are actual potential customers.

daorbed9 said,

Actually almost all studies says a majority of people who pirate were never going to spend money on it anyway. There's this belief that companies are missing out on a huge chunk of sales but its just not reality. A majority of people who pirate don't have the money to spend on games regularly.

Funny thing. 90% would also be almost all.