Piracy… How Bad is it Really?

Logan Boehm

Piracy. You’ve all heard of it, you’ve seen the messages and warnings, you’ve been told “Oh, don’t pirate games! It hurts the company!!”. But have you ever wondered just how true that statement is? How much does piracy hurt the company whose game you’re pirating? Is it really that bad? Well, that’s what you’re here for, is it not? I mean, you read the headline and you’re reading this now, so clearly, you’re intrigued! So why hold you back any further?  

For those who aren’t informed or forget, piracy is the illegal downloading of any sort of traditionally paid for media such as movies, programs, or in our case, games. It’s usually done through third-party sites so that they’re more off the radar and less likely to be caught by the big men up at the corporations. They’re hard to find unless you know someone who knows the site and links you to it, and that’s exactly what the site wants. But not all games are able to be pirated, at least not instantly. Some games have great piracy protection programs, such as Yakuza: Like a Dragon, while others have… weaker ones that are easily cracked if you know how to. But that doesn’t mean that all pirated games can be played! Piracy screens and locks are relatively popular amongst the internet and in some games, and both serve as a punishment for the player pirating the game, making it virtually or entirely unplayable.  

That’s enough info as to what it is though. Now, we get into the juicy part, how bad is piracy? Now, before going into this, know that it will always be a case-by-case situation, and no matter if it harms the company or not, if you get caught you could always get into some legal trouble with the company for illegally downloading their game. It’s unlikely, but it’s certainly possible. So, to start, let’s give an example with a triple AAA game title, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wildan immensely popular installment in the franchise, and one of Nintendo’s bestselling games on the Switch. The budget for the game was around $20 Million US Dollars. According to Nintendo’s own records, as of the end of 2020, the game had sold 21.45 million copies. Its initial retail sell price was $60 US Dollars, but it’s dropped to around $30 for some retailers and online sellers. But even if it was only ever sold for $30, that would mean Nintendo got a profit of over 10x what the budget was. Now think about how much it doesn’t matter when the game is higher! They’ve profited somewhere between 30 and 60 times the amount they paid for the game’s development. Even if half of their sales were piracies, they’d profit! They’d profit insanely! It literally wouldn’t matter if you pirated their game, before or now, they profited.  

But that’s a huge company, one that’s one of, if not the most selling game company in the world. Let’s look at a smaller game by a different company. Hollow Knight, by Team Cherry. While there’s no confirmed full budget for the game, the Kickstarter(a website made to help a company or person get the funds to develop a game via crowdfunding, a source that’s comprised of a bunch of people deciding to pitch in some money) reached about AU$ 57,000. Because of this, Team Cherry sold the game for just $15 USD, not expecting it to sell well. But, as of February 2019, the game has sold over 2.8 million copies! Now this probably isn’t the best example, but with how hard it can be to find the budget for games, this one is fitting. In this case, the team making this game is small and doesn’t have much money in the first place, so unlike pirating a game from a bigwig company like Nintendo, pirating the game can actually hurt the developers. If about 1.4 million people, about half of its sales, pirated the game as of February 2019, then the developers would’ve lost $21 million. For a company that started from only about $45,000 USD, that’s so much money. Hell, it’s a lot of money to you or me! But to Nintendo, this isn’t that much at all.  

Overall, piracy is always going to be a very iffy subject that can risk you getting caught and either fined or arrested, but how “bad” it actually is for the company determines on the kind of game you pirated. If it’s from a huge company and a really successful game, like Nintendo and Breath of the Wild, or Sony and God of War, then you pirating their game wouldn’t really do much. But if it’s a smaller game made by a smaller team, like Team Cherry and Hollow Knight, or Matt Makes Games and Celeste, pirating their game would hurt the team more, even if the game isn’t that expensive. These companies price their games low in hopes that they’ll sell more, as if they made their game the price of AAA games, like the aforementioned Nintendo title, they’d sell so much less that it would be unlikely for them to even profit off their game.