Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Halo 2, and Doom 3: This is just a short list of some of the most anticipated titles in gaming that have hit the Internet before their scheduled releases this year. Game piracy is nothing new; it has been around as long as games have. For many college students, downloading games is standard practice. A student who wishes to remain anonymous and who has pirated many games during the past few years said, ?I understand that it?s wrong, but the fact is it?s basically impossible to get caught.?
A second student who wishes to remain anonymous said about his impetus for illegally copying games: ?I pirate because it?s free, easy, and fast.?
As the gaming industry gets bigger, a greater number of games seem to be hitting peer-to-peer (P2P) networks days ? sometimes mont hs ? before official release. The rapid increase in game piracy can partially be attributed to applications like the popular BitTorrent, one of the first programs that brought easy software piracy to the masses. Although many P2P applications preceded it, none were as notoriously effective in reaching out beyond the dedicated pirates.
?If it was even easier I probably wouldn?t pirate much because I realize that games take a lot of work to make and I can get many hours of enjoyment out of them,? said Chris Kier, a first-year in H&SS, about his piracy ethic.
The groups who release the leaked or stolen copies of games onto the Internet are in constant competition with each other to present the next game. These individuals risk their jobs and futures by offering the software on the Internet, but many do it for the respect and thrill it brings them. Recently, a French version of Halo 2 was leaked; a campus group even painted the message ?We Have Halo 2? on the Fence. The game?s Internet release had a huge effect because of the anticipation surrounding it, and the relative prevalence of modified XBox consoles that do not have anti-piracy measures.
PC games are different from console games in that they almost always require the release group to code an executable that can bypass the game?s copy protection. Such protections also tend to hamper the ability of the cracked game to connect to online multiplayer environments. Working past a game?s protection has become a slower process in recent months, with the advent of invasive yet effective copy protections such as StarForce 3; games protected with this new anti-piracy measure have occasionally taken months to be properly cracked. However, StarForce 3 is still not in wide use, because it brings copy protection to the driver level and uninstalling games protected by it often leaves remnants of the protection on gamers? computers.
While it is obvious that the piracy of games results in a hit to the involved companies? profits, the leak of a game?s source code is much more devastating. Half-Life 2, the sequel to what is considered by many to be the greatest PC game of all time, had its source code leaked after malicious crackers decided to code their own tools from scratch and use an exploit in Microsoft Outlook to gain access to the servers of Halo creators Valve.
After the code was stolen, it was distributed quickly. While the source code itself didn?t help most gamers, many feared that it would allow crackers to take advantage of holes in the code and develop cheats to play with online. A few days after the code was released, the same people who stole the code released a playable, partially-completed version of Half-Life 2. This Half-Life 2 offering was one of many factors that pushed the originally planned release from September??30, 2003, to November 16, 2004. Fortunately, source code thefts are extremely uncommon in the gaming world because the source code is only seen by those in the gaming industry. Many game companies make large profits by licensing their source to other companies? games.
With Internet connections as fast as they are, piracy of games will continue to see an increase. Threats of large fines targeted at pirates haven?t slowed down piracy, either. It seems that the problem will grow unless anti-piracy measures become stronger or until it can be stopped at its root: the release groups.