An academic study into file sharing has found much lower levels of game piracy than those claimed by the Electronics Software Association.
Three academics have published a paper [PDF] detailing a three-month study into file sharing of games using BitTorrent. The team developed a web crawler to monitor piracy of 14 platforms – notably DS, PC, PlayStation 3, PSP, Wii and Xbox 360 – checking how many people were seeding and leeching the files as well s where they came from.
During the period of the study, they identified 173 games being pirated, by 12.6 million unique peers in 250 locations.
These figures conflict with reports both from the ESA, which claimed piracy was responsible for about 10 million illegal downloads of around 200 games in just the month of December 2009, and Torrent sites like TorrentFreak, which estimated 18.14 million downloads for the five most downloaded PC games in 2010, plus another a further 5.34 million downloads of the five most popular console games.
In a press release given to Wired, one of the study’s leaders, Aalborg University’s Anders Drachen said many industry conceptions about piracy had been challenged by the results.
“First and foremost, P2P game piracy is extraordinarily prevalent and geographically distributed. However, the numbers in our investigation suggest that previously reported magnitudes in game piracy are too high,” he said.
“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.”
The discrepancy may be explained by the length of the study; the team found that piracy levels of individual titles surged briefly on release, and then tailed off very quickly – so any data extrapolated from a short period of time would potentially be inflated by these spikes.
RPG was the most popular genre among pirates during the study, at 18.9% of all shared games, followed by action-adventure (15.%), third-person shooters (12.7%) and racing (9.3%). Some of the games being shared during this time included Fallout: New Vegas, Darksiders, Call of Duty: Black Ops and Starcraft 2. The highest incidence of piracy to population level was found in Romania, Croatia, Greece, Portugal and Hungary.