As of this moment, there are approximately one billion PCs in use around the world. Across the globe, almost 35% of the software running on those machines has been pirated. While the majority of that dodgy software consists of operating systems, productivity tools and the like, the realm of gaming is no less affected.

In the old days before the Internet, piracy was perpetrated via the ever-reliable sneakernet. If you wanted to pirate a game, you had to obtain a physical copy. There were various countermeasures to this – user-manual word locations, decoder rings, map co-ordinates, even hardware dongles. And for a while this worked.

diskette_ubt1With the rise of gaming to a multi-billion-dollar industry, things today are vastly different from the time of huge stacks of 3.5″ discs in a box. The number of game players and titles has increased massively, the availability of entertainment software is extensive, and the amount of money involved as a whole is orders of magnitude greater. Add to this the ubiquity of the Internet, easy access to copyrighted software, and the anonymity of online activity. The result? Spiralling piracy.

The theft rate of some games can exceed 90%, and it’s not unusual for a popular game to be pirated well over a million times. This is a colossal figure, given that few titles can hope to sell a million copies.

Let’s take a brief look at a very small sample of torrent stats. This yields the following number of times Assault on Dark Athena has been illegally downloaded so far

PC: 74 000

Xbox 360: 950

PlayStation 3: 0 (no torrents found)

bittorrent1jpgThe PC is by far the leader in piracy. Why is this? By virtue of its very nature, gaming on the PC implies a certain level of technical savvy – anyone able to upgrade the graphics card in their computer will know how to use BitTorrent or Rapidshare. This makes a whole plethora of illegal software available with a minimum of effort. Download a game, install a crack, and you’re set. You risk being unable to play the game online, but that is a small price to pay. Piracy on consoles also occurs, but with a crucial caveat – it requires altering the hardware of the device itself, voiding your warranty in the process. Online gaming is also affected. And with the PS3’s Blu-Ray discs, the sheer size of the data often makes downloading impractical. Consequently, casual piracy is not likely to occur with console titles.

So why pay for something if you can obtain it free with little or no risk? Let’s look at some of the ways the industry is adjusting to the rampant rise of PC game piracy.