"Piracy is Killing the PC" - Game Devs Predict a Grim Future for PC Gaming

Piracy is leaching revenue from devs, but also leaching good games from PC gamers.

Piracy has had a long-standing, terse relationship with PC games for well over a decade. On the one hand, we have the advocates who tout that pirates are all that stands between a gamer’s wallet and greedy corporations. On the other, less blatantly displayed hand, we have legitimate buyers suffering DRM measures and game developers deprived of their hard-earned money.

Piracy has always been a turbulent topic to navigate. There are too many stakeholders involved and too much misplaced hearsay about things like DRM and copy-protection. The cold, hard truth of it is, piracy is leeching the PC gaming industry in disastrous ways mostly to gamers — and we're all too oblivious to recognize it.

Dropping the hammer...on your own foot

A brutally succinct report by Tweak Guides outlines exactly how piracy hurts gamers most. The report contains facts backed by uncomfortably solid stats and sheds light on dispelling the myths surrounding piracy. Many are eager to point out that piracy isn't all bad. The following are some common claims made in favour of piracy, followed by the reality of the situation.

“Games cost too much!”

The first complaint many gamers will use in their defense against piracy is that PC games are overpriced. Consider the price of a console version, of maybe shelling out $40, for a game isn't your cup of tea, but the fact of it is, PC games are generally cheaper than console versions.

An Xbox 360 copy of Metro: Last Night (released in May) will cost you a hefty $65, a PS3 version will cost $59, and a PC version costs $48. This is not an exception. Yet sales of console games are miles ahead of their PC counterparts.

Lower PC game sales have consequences. The fewer copies that sell, the lower the publisher’s profit margin is and the less likely they are to be able to offer discount deals. Since piracy effectively allows people to play a game without purchase, it is actually lowering our chances of getting a legit copy for less.

And here we hit the freeloading problem: people who contribute nothing toward the cost of developing the game. This weight is then carried by paying customers. Not seeing the problem yet?

Simply put, developing a video game isn't cheap. According to industry analysts, GTA V is estimated to have cost around $137 million to develop. Game development costs are increasing across the board, as consumers expect more with each new release. If enough people pirate this game, Rockstar will have to rely on console sales to make a profit. There is increasingly less incentive to develop PC-exclusive titles when a developer sees little chance of breaking even.

For a real-world example, Crytek, developer of the popular Crysis series, cited piracy as its reason for switching from PC exclusives to multiplatform versions after sales of Crysis took a hard hit.

"It promotes the game!"

There is absolutely no way to tell whether the buzz created by word-of-mouth and pirated games will result in increased sales or increased piracy. In some cases, it may actually be damaging. Some companies have leaked DRM-addled copies of a game pre-release, just to ward off pirates and protect day one sales. These copies provided intentionally terrible gameplay, but the attempt backfired as devs faced a backlash of poor user reviews on Metacritic and deliberate down-rating once word of the DRM measures got out.

"I wanna try a game before I buy!"

Gamers often want to check out a game before they commit to buying it. This is a valid argument, and it’s why game demos exist. Yet again, though, there is no guarantee they will actually buy the game once they try a pirated copy. It would be illogical to play a game through and then purchase a legit version. It’s human nature: why spend money if you can get something for free?

"People Will Pay for Good Games!"

An oft-touted defense from righteous gamers is that a good game sells itself. This is untrue. The most popular pirated games every year are all big titles, known by general consensus as “good games”. 

Source: Gamefront

Crysis 2 sold only 486,943 copies that year. There is no evidence that a good game will indeed “sell itself”.

"PC games sell less because more people have consoles!"

Though not a direct defense against piracy, this is used to justify why poor PC game sales can't be blamed on piracy.

It’s hard to pin down a figure for how many gaming-capable PCs exist. Many PC aficionados buy components separately and so sales of pre-built PCs do not accurately reflect the number of gaming PCs. One way to get an idea is by looking at sales of GPUs. This year, for instance, NVIDIA reported that GPU sales revenue was at $832.5 million, an increase of 7.1% from last year. And considering even a graphic card over two years old can handle Call of Duty 4 at 30 FPS, it is a fair estimate to say that almost every graphic card sold this year has been capable of gaming to some extent.

Suffice to say, PC gaming is not in decline. According to VGChartz, between 2005-12, 6 times as many games were played on PCs than on the 3 consoles combined. This is data taken from a small sample of gamers, and to compensate for that, we can safely attest that there are at least as many PC gamers as console gamers.

"DRM causes piracy. Removing it will mean more sales."

Spore, the most pirated game of 2008, has SecuROM protection (a DRM measure), and yet was the most downloaded game that year. DRM in a game is no deterrent to piracy.

Gamers love to hate DRM and rightfully so. It disrupts gameplay. But consider this. DRM is only a response from desperate developers to wild increases in piracy, which has reached a point where pirated copies out-do sales. Games didn't start off with DRM. Piracy caused it.

Game devs know pirates will get around security measures. Since most games usually sell well only within the first 2 months, DRM aims to prevent Day 0 or Day 1 piracy. It is not meant to eradicate piracy.

And what happens when well-intentioned developers remove DRM altogether? When The Witcher 2 launched, it was exactly what gamers wanted, a well-made PC exclusive free of DRM. Instead of selling well, CD Projekt found that more than 80% of its players used a pirated copy.

Steam’s DRM is one of the few successful combatants of piracy. The client still rakes in huge revenue, and probably a large reason why devs haven't given up hope altogether.

"Sure, PC gaming is dead, that totally explains the number of games."

This claim implies that piracy must not be hurting PC gaming if devs are still creating PC versions of a game. The fact of it is, PC gaming was never dead. But piracy is having an incredible impact.

The Move to Consoles

Development and support for PC titles are being cut and devs are being pushed into doing one of two things: shifting to consoles or changing their business models to episodic or subscription-based gaming.

For the skeptics, several prolific developers have called out pirates as being the reason for their shifting strategies. Cevat Yerli of Crytek explains:

“Speaking in terms of PC exclusivity...if the situation continues like this or gets worse, I think we would only consider PC exclusive titles that are either online or multiplayer and no more single-player."

John Carmack of id Software (developer of Wolfenstein) , Cliffy B of Epic Games (Gears of Wars developer) and Robert Bowling of Infinity Ward (Call of Duty developer) have all spoken out about the impact of piracy on their companies. In a blog post titled, “They Wonder Why People Don’t Make PC Games Any More”, Bowling writes:

“If the same game has the potential to sell many times more copies on a particular platform because sales are not being undermined by piracy, then quite clearly the priority of the developers and publishers should be to focus on that platform in their design, development and marketing decisions. "

Less PC Exclusives, More Console-First.

Fewer PC-focused games mean poor ports for multiplatform titles or those built for consoles.

This is problematic, because consoles run on a fixed hardware platform whereas a PC has multigenerational hardware capability. Ported games may thus have fewer graphics and audio adjustments, have frame rate caps built into the game engine, are poorly optimized and suffer graphical compromises mandatory to run on a current-gen console. Other problems include console-oriented UI, resulting in awkwardly large HUDs for PC games like Skyrim. Adding to this, game engines like Unreal Engine 4 are being designed to "exclusively target the next console generation.” PCs are an afterthought.

PC Game Versions Delayed.

Developers are wizening up. They see the lack of piracy in console games and are pushing back release dates for PC versions. Michael Plater, the creative director of Tom Clancy's EndWar, blamed the game’s delayed PC launch on piracy.

The level of piracy that you get with the PC just cannibalizes the others, because people just steal that version,” he said. “Piracy's basically killing PC."

Even post-E3 2013, devs remain elusive about porting this year’s big titles to PC.

A Bleak Future for PC Gaming.

Piracy isn't visibly disrupting anything, and yet if gamers don't act, PC gaming could go the same way as gaming on Macs – near nonexistent. Peter Tamte, a Mac game developer, imparted these cautionary words to all PC publishers, and they appear to be listening:

"Shift development to platforms where piracy is less of a problem, like game consoles."

TLDR: The only winners of the piracy game are the piracy sites that rake in subscription fees and DRM developers. PC gamers and game developers alike are losing.


Girl, Canadian, caffeine worshipper, currently in school for book publishing. I like to write about games and complain about the lack of a good zombie RPG. You'll find me lurking on various game forums in various guises.

Published Apr. 26th 2018
  • Eyy B0ss
    Don't know if a game sucks?
    Don't wanna spend over 20 dollars on a shit game?
    Pirate that shit dawg, although I guess on steam you can refund it if it's shit, but you're SoL when it comes to origin games or games that generally aren't on steam (yes they still exist, but they're turning in to unicorns at this point)
  • Areka_3926
    I'll pirate a game to test it. If I like it, I'll support the company and purchase it. If they don't want piracy, release demo's, stop DLC and kill DRM. I bought several games from Ubi, and will never do it again. I will pirate every game from ubi from this point on, because they were unable or unwilling to deal with the almost 300 dollars of games I purchased using uplay that I couldn't even access without a skidrow crack because of ubi fucking up the idiotic DRM (the major game here being far cry 3).
    I pirated the first mass effect. I purchased the entire series 3 times. One regular pc edition from steam, one special edition from origin and one regular edition for xbox. I'm willing to bet a lot of people would be more inclined to buy the games, if the developers took the bioware stance and actually paid attention to their fanbase and respective customer base. *Dragon Age 3 being the exception here, I guess; also a series I purchased completely twice, once for xb and once for pc. I even bought the dlc like a fuckwit, just because I wanted to support them.

    I think the only reason the sales of console games have been stable is because there's no real way for the console gamer to effect the market. Once the game is purchased, it's pretty much void once opened. No returns, in many areas, and no way to test the game before or after release, except for the few demo's that are handed out. I'm sure if any of the major developers *cough* EA *cough* offered cash back on games people thought weren't worth their money, most of the games that were sold under the consoles would be returned. I'm sure they wouldn't even need to make a real offer like that, just present a hypothetical question to the gamer community about how many games they bought that turned out to be a waste of money. Piracy hurts everyone, yes, but in a cyber-society where your only real option to speak out against big companies owning the market and throwing out hundreds of trash games a year is piracy, then you're going to damn well speak up.
  • dj942001
    The problem with that list of most pirated games, there is only 1 game that was good on that list and that was portal 2, I bought 3 copies for pc (1 for me and 2 for friends) and 1 copy for the xbox 360. I bought 2 copies of Splintercell conviction for console and 2 for PC, I have also paid for 2 copies of Skyrim and 2 copies of Witcher 2 (terrible linear game).I own over 260 games and have tried a lot of them first. The problem with playing a game demo is when you play a demo, its usually well into the most interesting/bad-ass looking parts of the game, set up that way by game companies to increase sales (another form of false advertising). No one trusts game companies are going to have a good game anymore without trying the game first. It's their fault, they screwed people over one too many times, just look at Alien: Colonial Marines and SimCity. These companies spend more money on creating a 2 minute super high def movie rather than putting that money into creating the product they promised but fail to bring to the table. I have seen some of the indie titles start doing this, I saw a point and click game that I almost bought just for the trailer that was cool then noticed the tag said "point and click" the game was 20 bucks (wtf why?).
  • DuskBeaumont
    I really don't think the PC gaming world is going anywhere. Piracy may be an issue, but whether a game is legitimately bought, or pirated, it still spells big bucks for industries such as Nvidia, and component makers for computers. The logic is simple. Regardless of piracy, a PC gamer needs a good PC to play these games. If these game devs start leaning towards consoles, I have a strong belief that computer component makers will try to buy them back into the PC world. Not to mention many game developers these days fund through kick starter and other such start-up companies. So if they lose money on the deal, it's not their money to begin with really. I won't argue that piracy is indeed an issue. But it's a far cry from being on a level most tend to think.
  • cheesemonkeyc
    I got Crysis 1 on Steam a while ago, and wish I hadn't wasted my $5 / 15 hours on it.
    I don't even bother pirating games, because I barely play games on PC anymore, especially multi-platform releases or ports. Skyrim and The Witcher 2 were pretty fun, but they had terrible UIs (obviously designed for consoles), Dead Space had terrible mouse acceleration issues (another waster fiver), and I've never has a good experience with Games for Windows Live titles (Fallout 3, Dawn of War 2... ugh.).
    If PC gaming is indeed dying (spoiler alert, it isn't), Piracy isn't killing it: crappy games and intrusive DRM are. If only those hundreds of millions of dollars went towards games that were interesting and fun to play instead of shiny graphics and marketing.
  • Rafael_7189
    "An oft-touted defense from righteous gamers is that a good game sells itself. This is untrue."

    Uses Crysis 2 as an example.
    Seriously? Sorry to break it down to you, Crysis 2 sucks. It's a downgrade from the first one in every single aspect.
    Actually the only good game from that list is Portal 2, and portal 2 outsold the downloads, http://www.joystiq.com/2012/05/08/this-is-not-a-test-portal-2-sales-top-4-million-map-editor-dlc/

    I'm not defending piracy, not by a long shot, but this was a lousy argument. The others are a bit exaggerated, but are mostly correct. I always buy my games though even thoguh my country has hefty taxes for games (http://www.gamespot.com/articles/ps4-costs-1-850-in-brazil/1100-6415637/)
    Regarldless, I use Steam, so my prices are right.
  • Blizzardwon
    Listen to me and listen to me good. This article has been proven wrong as of last year as for the exaggerated figures, other than that, if your games aren't outselling the pirated copies, you aren't taking into account all the people who paid for your game that are also using a pirated copy. I bought “The Witcher 2” and I also bought “The Witcher.” Look “The Witcher” – one “Enhanced Edition”, proof of purchase: 742725276550, also look, “The Witcher 2”, “Walmart Exclusive”, proof of purchase: 742725282681. I used a pirated copy for “The Witcher 2” because at retail it included DRM! (CDPROJECT you’re guilty as charged, even though later they patched out the retail DRM, it was too late, damage done.)

    You're clearly strong-arming your customers into doing things your way; I wouldn’t be buying or playing games in today's market if it wasn’t for the fact that I can download a clean install via all the cracker groups' out there, which have never asked for any membership fee, an invite to a secret scene group, or anything like that. Buy it if you like it, that’s their moto, and I support it. Don't like people to have options, fine, stop making games for the PC then, all them consoles can be pirated on too, happy trails. After all holy development teams', they’re no longer even our games anymore, clearly they’re only yours.

    Source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/emmawoollacott/2013/05/15/finally-some-objective-figures-on-games-piracy/

    And while I'm at this whole piracy issue, let me explain another thing as one of your customers. All your DRM measures are doing is alienating your would-be-buyers, regardless if they decide to buy a copy or not, we end up using a pirated copy anyways, because it's better.

    I was also one of them Crysis 2 customers who own the game that pirated a copy. Here is my proof of purchase: 014633157963.

    We're also your buyers, smart-one.

    Here, let me enlighten you on why we might be more interested in a pirated version of your games: we might have the monies to afford a game, but we don't want to get into a situation where if our internet goes down we can't play our games we've purchased due to some online restriction-attached-to-them; "Steam" isn't friendly in what it deems its offline mode, for example: if you patch in offline mode, for whatever reason, say I mis-click when I open the client, or whatever, maybe I have the option turned on to patch the client by mistake, etc; did you know it locks you out of the games exe files?--what if I don't have internet when this happens?--I get locked out, that's what happens. We don't want to be in a situation where we have to back up a 500gb hard-drive over a system like Steam, which is really slow; we don't want to suffer from a glitch with the STEAM client that forces us to reinstall a complete collection of games through what it deems is the only way to resolve the bug, no work around.

    Another thing, just because someone pirates a game doesn't mean they would ever be your customer in the first place, I think it's time to change the way you look at piracy. Maybe you're making it all up, as you go along, maybe that's the problem.
  • Frosty_7664
    I remember when my friends and I got together for lan parties. Being able to connect all our computers and play age of empires, diablo 2, etc were the days. Companies need to stop being afraid of not making a buck and try different sales tactics. For instance, make every game from now until extinction of the human race lan enabled and lower the prices of games coming out.

    Think about this plan.

    People want to play with each other. If you give them a way to play together without lag and drop the price of the game you extend the life of the game and more people will buy the game.

    Instead of charging 60 dollars for the game that lasts a month, charge 30 dollars for a game that lasts for years to come. Instead of selling to 5 gamers for 60 sell to 100 gamers that want to lan with friends for 30. Which situation makes more money?

    People still play lan games and have lan parties with older games. It's better than getting on the internet to play and it's so much more personal.

    Gaming companies are losing money to pc gamers because they cant control pc games the same way they control console gaming.

    The bottom line is game companies are greedy and fearful that they will lose a buck if they give gamers what they want. What happens when more and more people figure out how to pirate games? When almost everyone has the ability to pirate games there will come a time when game companies will have to change how they let people on pc and console consume games or face extinction due to their own sins.
  • Anon_8977
    The decline has absolutely nothing to do with piracy. The rate of piracy has been the same as it has been since the dawn of the consumer PC. The distribution methods have changed over the years but the overall percentile rate has remained fairly stable (IE unchanged). Even if the entire industry completely switched format the rate of piracy would still remain the same (Console systems are also easy pray for pirates, Just slap a mod chip in it burn and disc and your good to go)

    The real reason for the shift to consoles is two fold, there is a wider and larger consumer base for the console units. Second the console is cheaper to develop for due unchanging and old hardware architecture.

    Overall piracy is just a excuse used to explain away poor sells due to project mismanagement during shareholder meetings.
  • Salmon_5855
    On the try before you buy thing, well, you do realize, that not all games do offer demos for you right ?, especially the most famous AAA games i've encountered didn't come with a demo. pirated them after all, and i bought what i enjoyed/finished to support them devs. that explains why most of the video games in my library lie there are untouched. but i dont mind it at all.
  • Jace_422
    Pirates are thieves, plain and simple. And yes piracy does harm consumers who have paid good money for their games.
  • Jared_6835
    Same shit different day.
  • Eric_2378
    More than 90% of those are Brazilians or Russians that wouldn't have had the money to buy the game in the first place.
  • Danimal_6808
    I'm pretty sure the reason those "good games" didn't "sell themselves" was because they were actually terrible games. Like seriously, you're citing Crisis 2, COD, and Fifa. At least TRY and pretend you know what you're talking about.
  • octet_5508
    Unreasonable DRM chases a PC sale away, often resulting in said piracy. Not to mention used games are hurting the industry more than piracy.
  • indonesians here
    Here in Indonesia, almost everyone buy pirated games. Almost is about 99% I guess. Pirated gameshop always thrive and the original games are rarely to be seen. Well, ALL my pc games are pirated ones, everyone does that. Sure that doesn't justify it, but we don't care. All we want is free or cheap games that are cheaper than a coffee in mcd. Still, people who buy original copies are growing in numbers and I think will be about 10% of indonesian gamer population in 10 years.
  • EN_48
    If I couldn't pirate a game I wanted to play, I would wait until it was in the bargain bin at the game shop. I agree, prices are too high for games in these times of austerity, but look at it another way. You need a top end PC to play most of the top title games. Systems that can run into hundreds of pounds, yet you cannot pay out for a game? Its a matter of principle. Companies that sell these games make thousands of pounds profit per year, The developers are on a fixed wage for their work. Their families all get fed each day. You are taking nothing away from them personally. If you buy the game when it has reached the bargain bin stage of its life, the only person who wins is the game store. Piracy solved.
  • Sculi_6511
    Well, to fight with piracy You have to implement even in single player games need of internet connection. Just like Diablo 3 did. More than 12m sales.
  • Tantric989
    I realize I'm late to the party, but I think it's important not to look at downloads and pretend those are lost sales. Of the 3.5 million Crysis 2 downloads, how many of those people would have actually bought Crysis 2 had they not been able to BitTorrent it? How many of them use BitTorrent as a system to take a test drive and then actually buy the games they really liked after playing them (as a few of my friends do).

    It's different than stealing a tangible object, like a car or something in the store. Digital items can be made into infinite copies. The problem I find with the "piracy" industry is companies look at pirated copies as lost sales, when the reality is that the people who pirate games are doing it because they can't afford to purchase the game in the first place.

    Finally, I have to note that I'm one of those crazy people who actually buys my music off iTunes. I also have a steam account with 250+ games on it. I have never used BitTorrent to download a game and have no reason to. Yet there are games I feel I would probably enjoy, but couldn't justify paying for. If there was a legal option to play them for free, I might take them up on that. Yet don't construe that to mean that playing the game for free meant that they lost a sale. It was a game I wasn't going to buy in the first place.
  • Mr men
    This can't stop me from pirating games
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