Uh-Oh: It’s The Top 10 Pirated PC Games of 2008

By Alec Meer on December 8th, 2008 at 4:37 pm.

Another day, another post about piracy to fuel the impassioned debate of the principled hordes. See how we dance for you.

It’s a particularly interesting piece of piractical news this time, even if you generally avoid the shouting matches around the subject. Filesharing news site Torrentfreaks have done some mathematical investigative work, casting an eye over a bunch of trackers to come up with what they reckon are the 10 most pirated PC games of the year to date. Care to bet on what’s number one before we draw back the curtain?

Worth noting that, annoyingly, we don’t know quite what sites Torrentfreaks have monitored for this or what their research methods were. It’s more than likely private trackers aren’t included, for instance. The actual totals could well be far higher than the “estimated download count” below, but if their maths is correct it should at least be a reasonable snapshot/average of the year in torrents. It may be entirely off-base, of course – but it doesn’t seem fantastical.

1 Spore - 1,700,000 – Sept. 2008
2 The Sims 2 -1,150,000 – Sept. 2004
3 Assassins Creed -1,070,000 – Nov. 2007
4 Crysis - 940,000 – Nov. 2007
5 Command & Conquer 3 - 860,000 – Mar. 2007
6 Call of Duty 4 - 830,000 – Nov. 2007
7 GTA San Andreas - 740,000 – Jun. 2005
8 Fallout 3 - 645,000 – Oct. 2008
9 Far Cry 2 - 585,000 – Oct. 2008
10 Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 - 470,000 – Oct. 2008

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking either:

a) “but Spore’s rubbish!”. In which case, shuddup. We’ve done all that shouting already.
2) “it’s because of the DRM! This is a successful protest against the forces of evil!” In which case, mmmmaybe. Mmmmaybe not.

That Spore’s high placing is a direct result of its headline-making crazy-copy protection is certainly the popular theory. It’s hard to doubt that it didn’t play some part, thanks to a double whammy of protestors voting with their feet and protest-observers being confused and afraid by all the Chinese whispers about what Spore’s copy protection actually involved. Take a look at the number 2 game, though. That makes me doubt that Spore’s bittersweet chartopping here is quite as simple as so many will likely presume.

It’s The Sims 2 – a four year old game, and still significantly more torrented than this year’s heaviest hitters. That’s certainly nothing to do with DRM – that’s simply demand from a potential playerbase that’s way larger than most others even dream of. Given that Spore comes from the same stable as The Sims 2 and transparently chased the same audience, there’s a pretty strong chance a meaty fraction of its leechers came from that demographic, not the the DRM protest/fear demographic. I have no figures to back this up, sadly – this is just me raising an eyebrow and saying “eh? EH?” knowingly. Most likely, Spore’s king of torrent hill status is a combination of both factors. The same can’t be said for game number 3, which is really something of a mystery.

From my sagging office chair, it rather seemed as though the PC port of Assassin’s Creed came and went pretty quietly. There was some hoo-hah about dodgy performance and ludicrously protracted exit procedures, and there was the hangover of console AssCreed players irate about its comprimises, but it didn’t really seem to inspire either great love or great protest.

So why so high? Possible factors: the fact a version was leaked significantly before it hit the shops; the fact it came out during a relatively quiet time for big-name games, so perhaps enjoyed heightened interest; the fact it had pretty high system requirements, so may have appealed more to a tech-savvy audience, au fait with torrenting; the fact it did have something of a bad rap off the back of the console version, which made interested players more reluctant to purchase. All theories, and there’s probably one simple answer I’m too stupid to deduct. It sure does look weird there, though.

No real surprises otherwise – all big-name sequels, as you might expect. Only 3 of the 10 are original IPs, in fact. We can also doubtless expect the likes of Fallout 3 and Far Cry 2 to climb higher once they’ve been on sale for longer, while GTA IV and COD5 should make their presence known very soon. Also, San Andreas being so high after three years seems odd, but that’s most likely down to extreme anticipation for GTA IV.

So, not a complete picture of the year that was in terms of piracy, but it’s an interesting document of what have been 12 months that seemed to really shake PC gaming. Or our comments threads, at the very least.

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120 Comments »

  1. Meat Circus says:

    DRM: HUGE SUCCESS.

  2. The_B says:

    What a shame?

  3. Pags says:

    How surprising to see you here Meat!

    I’d say the one thing this chart brings to light is that the argument that the majority of people who torrent are the tech-savvy and the hardcore gamers could be argued. The appearance of The Sims 2 and Pro Evo in the list, while maybe not proving it beyond any doubt, certainly cast dispersions on the argument.

  4. Bobsy says:

    I’m still amazed that it’s the pirate-consumers themselves who are being targetted, rather than the torrent sites. How have they been able to avoid being shut down for what they do? It’s mad. You don’t get drugs off the street by arresting drug abusers, you go for the distributors. Likewise, to stop prostitution you hit the pimps.

  5. Jocho says:

    Interesting article. it doesn’t feel like you often get per-year sales figures for games, and certainly not from the torrent side of things.

    Now what would be *even more* interesting is if you compare these top-ten to the retail top-ten of the year – I guess you’d have to merge all western countries together, then, as the torrent market is global. Anyway, those numbers would show how big torrent is to retails, which I’ve yet to see any numbers on.

  6. Mr.79 says:

    I wonder if the list took all of these expansion packs into account, concerning The Sims 2 and especially Crysis (“Warhead” also has the DRM).

    Also, not a single Valve title in the Top 10. Nor a Stardock title either. Nor DMC4 (despite the laments of VP). And nor World of Goo (despite the supposed 82% rate. Dammit obscurity.)

  7. undead dolphin hacker says:

    But Spore is rubbish!

  8. Steve says:

    There’s only about 2 games, maybe 3, in that list which are actually good.

  9. Mr.79 says:

    Speaking of Valve, how come nobody brought the story about the amazing lifetime retail sales figures of the company?

  10. Pags says:

    @Bobsy: you sound like McNulty off The Wire.

  11. teo says:

    Umm, how do they track what downloads are from this year?
    Also:
    1. a downloaded .torrent isn’t a downloaded game
    2. there are a ton of non-public trackers

  12. Matt Kemp says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if The Sims is so high because of the fifteen-year old males who are too embarrassed to admit they own it, and so keep it on a burnt disc in their sock drawer.

    Hell, it’s what I do with my copy.

  13. Rook says:

    In the case of World of Goo, 82% of not a lot is still not a lot.

    And valve lifetime retail sales continues to blow my freakin’ mind everytime I see it

  14. Sho says:

    Anyone else download torrents of games you own in order to make backup copies? Because torrented games often packed in an easier to transfer format with DRM by-passing capabilities that are important for backing games up now adays. I might just be a loner on that front though.

    @Gravatar: it is called a “report” you can get downloads from the database by time and create a list based on the counts… I am assuming that is how they got this info… it takes like 10 minutes to throw together.

  15. runcrash says:

    @Bobsy:

    Torrent sites aren’t illegal in Sweden. Which is where The Pirate Bay operates out of.

  16. bigolslabomeat says:

    @Bobsy:

    But that’s not how it actually happens in the real world, just in TV dramas. Cops aren’t interested in protracted cases trying to gather evidence on drug dealers when they can nab a user off the street, get the +1 to their arrests and if they happen to be carrying enough, call them a dealer. It’s a heck of a lot easier to go after the little guy.

  17. Lobotomist says:

    This is completely unacurate

    Assasins Creed never seen a proper crack , and is rarely shared. And Fallout 3 also never seen a proper crack and is unplayable. Sims 2 , i thought its a game fathers buy to their teenage daughters for birthday …or what ? They torrent it ? LOL

  18. Paul says:

    @Lobotomist: Fallout 3 is playable.

    But seriously, I’m with Meat Circus: DRM is a huge success. Can’t wait to see what they do next.

  19. Ceremony says:

    I found proper releases for both Assassin’s Creed and Fallout 3 days after their release, Lobotomist.

  20. cliffski says:

    torrentfreak releases inaccurate data. this is news?
    The site is just a base for pro-piracy rants, I’m surprised anyone takes what they say seriously.

  21. phil says:

    The numbers do seem off – I’m surprised that Warcraft 3, Half Life 2 and Civ 4 are no where to be found, they seem to be traded as much if not more than Sims 2. Equally, the list seems to be slanted towards American downloads, it would be interesting to see what would happen if you threw China’s results into the list.

  22. Lu-Tze says:

    @Pags: Saying that Pro Evo isn’t for “hardcore gamers” is a bit… well… ill-advised. Just because something is a sports game doesn’t make it “casual”.

    @Sho: I often download pirate copies of games I own but are in a box somewhere (moving house frequently means this tends to happen) because it’s usually faster and easier than going searching for it. Usually this is for older games though.

    If I was tracking complete downloads, i’d look for unique IPs with 100% of the download. Which you can get off a tracker.

  23. wyrmsine says:

    Of the four games I purchased on that list, there’s one I wish I had pirated. There’s one game I played a demo of, and won’t buy or pirate, and one I pirated and played for an hour. GTA:SA I purchased, and will likely pirate soon – my disc is battered all to hell, and I can’t buy the game without the “mod-killing” patch attached*. If I decide to try Spore again, I’ll probably pirate it first to end-run aroound DRM and the like.

    * Interesting to note that GTA:SA is playable right out of the box. The only patch released removed mod-capability.

  24. Pags says:

    @Lu-Tze: Perhaps it’s just different definitions of ‘hardcore’ gamer we’re using; thing is, being that most British people have a better-than-vague understanding of football, I’ve always thought of it as a more casual game. I know plenty of people who have no interest in games other than the next iteration of Pro Evo or FIFA (though I suppose you could argue that it makes it even more ‘hardcore’).

  25. Magic says:

    @bigolslabomeat:
    The statement remains true. You would get the drugs out of the streets if you would arrest the dealers.

    But that is not possible with torrent sites anyway…

  26. Tinus says:

    Wouldn’t it be an idea for trackers to place anonymous polls on each torrent’s info page, with which downloaders can specify the reason they are pirating the game?

  27. Panther says:

    Is it just me, or do the numbers seem very low? Given the wailing and gnashing of teeth from game developers/producers, I would have thought the numbers were far higher.
    I think accuracy of figures is a bit suspect on both sides of the argument.

  28. Xercies says:

    Spore- DRM Crap, overhyped game that was rubbish. No surprise

    Sims 2- Game that you only get if your a casual gamer so this is probably the more hardcore gamers downloading it to see what its like.

    Assasins Creed- Has rubbish Secrurom that you have to install on your system, buggy as hell, and sometimes you can even install it. Massively hyped game that was rubbish.

    Crysis- You don’t know if you can run this or not, why buy the thing? Also massively hyped, also bugged to hell. And the fact it doesn’t work on all system furthers this.

    Command and Conquer 3- Has Secrurom

    Call of Duty 4- No idea about this one but it was massively hyped, and all the console lovers loved it, maybe some PC Gamers were suspicious.

    Fallout 3- Now this is a casulty of DRM but it has no DRM on it. Lots of people complaining that Betheda had gone the way of EA on amazon and various other forums scared a lot of people making them download it becasue they wanted to put a middle finger up to them. Shame it was overblown though and it didn’t deserve it.

    Far Cry 2- Has limited installs secrurom, and has a few bugs here and there.

    PES09- A yearly game, usuall yearly games don’t advance that much so people are probably pissed off that there not getting their moneys worth and can’t be bothered to pay every time there is a team change.

    Nope i don’t think this list surprises me, if anything I don’t see why Red Alert 3 isn’t up there.

  29. Nimic says:

    What I find most interesting in this, is that these numbers, while being high, are nothing like what we get the impression of. Spore is in a class of it’s own at 1.7 million, and I’m betting they planned on selling a lot more than that, and probably did (EA said it sold 2 million in its first two weeks).

  30. RichP says:

    The Sims 2 (expansions included) and Spore are both financial successes for EA. The Sims 1 was also pirated extensively, yet it still sold a bazillion copies.

    Someone mentioned Civ IV as a pirate favorite. According to Wikipedia, it’s sold over 4 million copies at retail (this doesn’t count expansions).

    Put another way, some of the most pirated games happen to be the most profitable.

  31. Five says:

    The Sims 2 has had Securom for a while now, starting a few expansions back. My girlfriend installed the expansion and Securom happily informed her that she must disable her emulated CD drive before she could play the game. She didnt have one.

    This was a game she had spent many years and lots of money on.

    The only ways for The Sims 2 players to play the game without Securom are:
    1. Install all the expansions, one after another (there are many) and crack the main .exe before running it
    2. Just pirate a compliation of Sims 2 + all the expansions

    So I don’t think its out of the question that DRM has something to do with The Sims 2 being pirated.

  32. Jezebeau says:

    So now what happens? We wait for an industry exec to glance over the list, look at the MSRPs, add them all up, and call it half a billion dollars in lost sales?

  33. Will Tomas says:

    I tend to agree with Alec’s point about the hype surrounding Sims 2 and Spore being more important than the DRM when it came to piracy. Actually looking at the games I find it hard to believe DRM had that much of an impact on making these games so high up – if you believe these figures. I’d actually be shocked if COD 4 wasn’t really one of them (although – side note, does anyone else think this appreviation sounds like Cod 4 – a fish simulation game?).

    As it is, it’s the high profile games that are there. Fallout 3, Far Cry 2 and Red Alert 3 would always get pirated loads simply because they’re high profile but only in gamer circles, Crysis for the same reason (plus people’s uncertainty about whether their computer can run it) PES because it’s a yearly title, and Sims 2/Spore/GTA San Andreas because they’re big, popular games with collossal player bases, and a lot of people want them without paying for them. Spore too was always quite uncertain as far as it’s actual quality went, so that may have contributed too.

    To attribute the list to DRM seems to me a little silly. I don’t approve of it, but this list is hardly a triumph of the anti-DRM brigate – rather it’s the triumph of people being rather predictable as far as the games they want goes.

  34. terry says:

    Does anyone have a percentage figure for Spore’s rubbishness yet?

  35. Will Tomas says:

    I did of course mean C&C 3 rather than Red Alert 3 in the last post.

  36. Hypocee says:

    Close to 1:1 sales/rips? Surely not; I don’t think even the most rabid consumerist would claim that kind of success for any piece of digital content. We also have historical reports of 700K downloads in week 1; they’ve basically only doubled since then? I know it’s usually an exponential decay, but that’s still silly. Seems like these numbers have to be gibberish in some way.

    If we’re just talking about proportions, then fine.

  37. Devan says:

    I agree with Pags. The notion that games which appeal to the “tech-savvy” audience are more likely to be pirated is not one we want the industry to be having. And the top two titles in the list seem to discredit that idea.

  38. MrFake says:

    Was this data filtered by regional markets?

    My gut reaction to Spore and Sims 2 was that they were obvious candidates. The casual gaming demographic is gigantic compared to “mainstream,” which is to say the demographic we all belong to. But that doesn’t jive in my head with a large piracy figure. The same group of people that keep PopCap in business are torrenting, burning, cracking? No, there’s a wrong assumption in there.

    Maybe these games are just ridiculously popular in China.

  39. Pod says:

    Who cares, I mean really? Who cares? I hear the Devs don’t even care anymore and even pirate their own games. Just for fun.

  40. Tim P says:

    I think that list also doesn’t take into account that some people, like me, open multiple torrents ( me, not patient ). It can then look like the file has been downloaded an additional 3-5 times. That can influence the numbers as well.

  41. Serious J says:

    No Mass Effect? That alone raises my suspicions about this list.

  42. Jon says:

    @ Bobsy:
    But the downloaders ARE the dealers in this case, all the trackers do is tell you where to find the games, it doesn’t give them to you. If they did then they would be liable but as far as I know telling someone how to commit a crime is not a crime. Like all those books on being a cheating at cards are for “educational purposes” *wink wink, nudge nudge*

  43. Bhazor says:

    World of Goo is at 13 right now.
    God bless the noble pirate.

  44. Mike K says:

    I must own 500+ games, lately now that I own a house and need money, I Just don’t have the cash to buy a game for 40 or 50+ dollars… I pirate because most mainstream games are crap to me, I need to make money count!

    I bought Spore… Once I got to the end game I wish I would have pirated it first…

    I think money is tight, and people are tired of dropping 50 bucks on a crap title! I haven’t played a game in a few years from a large developer that I feel is worth paying for.

    I think of pirating as an extended demo.

    I’ve bought a bunch of the stuff coming out of Russia and haven’t regretted a single purchase so far!

  45. Gap Gen says:

    Like someone said, those numbers don’t seem that high for worldwide piracy rates, if you’re considering 90% rates to be normal and that big games will sell over a million anyway.

  46. Gap Gen says:

    Yeah, I’m not sure about the claims of people who say they can’t afford Crysis but can afford a PC to run it. I suspect it’s more like “I’d prefer to get it for free if I can”. But this is an old debate anyways.

  47. Tei says:

    Number 3 is easy: people pirate bad games teh way people buy bad games: people follow the hype.

    Theres no reason for people pirating games to be more wise than these than pay for the game. Maybe less, as no paying for the game make less of a sacrifice to download these.

  48. Heliocentric says:

    I torrent games that i own and the discs are buggered. This tells me that most pirated games are either selling alot or hyped alot. Both if you are spore. I wonder how many of those own a copy. More than the ass creed people i’d wager.

  49. Leeks! says:

    I wonder–and this is nothing but beard stroking, I realize it introduces more problems than it solves–but I wonder if the cost of games being universally lowered would be an effective deterrent for pirates? When reading about AssCreed, I found myself thinking “but you can pick up the XBox version at any Blockbuster for under twenty bucks.” Of course, not everyone has an X Box, but I do, and I know that if I were a pirate, twenty dollars would be a fine trade for being able to play the game immediately, no faffing about with torrents and download speeds. As I said, it’s an inherently flawed theory, but I wonder what kind of price tag your average pirate puts on their time? And what kind of games would we be playing if their release day price point was hacked by forty dollars? Hmm. HMMM.

  50. Bhazor says:

    Reply to my own bad self
    I meant 13th busiest torrent

    Reply to Leeks
    For the most part PC games are £10-£15 cheaper than console versions and depreciate faster. It’s just a few bewildering standouts like COD 4 that are £30.