Over the past six months, the games industry has ramped up its efforts in tackling piracy.
For instance, publishers Ubisoft, EA and Sony have all recently announced measures to discourage IP theft.
Consumers playing one of Ubisoft’s PC titles have to remain constantly connected to the internet so that the publisher can check the game is legitimate.
EA is offering free DLC to those that purchase Battlefield: Bad Company 2 new, while those that buy Sony’s PSP shooter, SOCOM: Fireteam Bravo 3, have to register a code over PSN or they cannot access the game’s online mode.
But it’s more than just preventive measures. Law enforcement agencies have increased their crack down on piracy. Last year, 13 people were given jail sentences for games IP theft, while this year three people have already been convicted and sent to prison for selling pirated software and devices.
“It’s interesting to hear the comments made by judges,” says the manager of ELSPA’s IP crime unit John Hillier.
“They treat it very seriously. It has taken potential jobs away from the games industry and is a reduction to the Government in terms of tax and revenue.
“At the moment there are around 60 on-going active cases to do with circumvention devices – R4 cards and the like – and they are proceeding through the courts.
“That’s the indication of the action that is being taken.”
Nintendo of Europe’s Anti-Piracy Counsel, Neil Boyd, adds: “For over 20 years we have been battling piracy on a global scale with a dedicated team focused on protecting the creative works of our game developers.
“We take a global approach to piracy and since the beginning of 2008 to date, we have supported almost 1,000 anti-piracy actions in 16 different jurisdictions, resulting in the seizure of approximately 600,000 game copier devices.”
The games industry’s focus on combating piracy puts rival media to shame, which is something that has benefited ELSPA in gaining support from the Government and law enforcement agencies.
“We are unique compared to the other digital industries because we spend millions protecting the product, both the games and the consoles, which is certainly not the case with music and film” continues Hillier.
“This goes down well with the various enforcement agencies, such as trading standards. We can show them that we have tried our best to protect our product.”
Of course it’s not just about taking action against pirates. The major platform holders and ELSPA are regularly trying to get the message out to gamers and retailers on the perils of games piracy.
For instance, ELSPA and trading standards are on hand to speak to shops that stock pirated products or console circumvention devices such as the DS R4 cards.
There are also school visits, and regular press releases that detail the latest anti-piracy raid.
“If a small independent was selling piracy products, we would encourage the law enforcement agencies to go around and have words, and most of the time that works,” continues Hillier. “But anyone on a big scale, we treat rather differently.
“We try to get the message out to people about piracy, through things such as press releases.
“Wherever possible we do involve ourselves in schools work. I have been involved in various school events where we try and educate children.”
Boyd also talks up the benefits of education in Nintendo’s attempts to curtail piracy: “The next stage is continued, rigorous action against those who benefit and trade off of the creative work of our game developers, allied to concerted efforts to raise awareness of the issue and educate customers about how and why they should always ensure the copy of the game they play is an authentic and legal one,” he says.
Pirates are continually working on ways to take potential revenue from the games industry. Already, pirates are working on cracking Sony’s currently un-pirated PlayStation 3, while new flash cards have been brought to market to counter Nintendo’s DSi, which initially locked out the illegal R4 card.
However, the industry hasn’t rested either. New measures are being trialled all the time to deter piracy, from DRM to persuasive measures such as free downloadable extras.
And now the Government is getting involved with its Digital Britain report, which details measures to counter peer-to-peer file-sharing.
“According to the Digital Britain report, the UK’s creative industries have an annual production activity of nearly £6 billion, equivalent in scale to the financial services industry, and the UK is the world’s biggest exporter of cultural goods,” says Boyd.
“This makes it clear that the UK government is right to want to tackle piracy. However, Nintendo’s fight against piracy is a global one and is not limited to one market. We welcome any political initiative that is aimed at supporting companies that seek to protect their creative content and are happy to work with government and industry bodies to make sure efforts are aligned.”
Hillier adds: “The Digital Britain Report is a kind of wish list of what we’d like to have. It is a good attempt by the Government to highlight the issue. The Government has taken on board some of the things we have lobbied for, although there isn’t much time before the election.”
It’s encouraging to see the measures being made by trade bodies, Governments, platform holders and publishers in trying to halt the growth of piracy.
In the UK, news laws and legal precedents are being made that makes the convictions of IP thieves even easier (see ‘The case of Christopher Gilham’), and this year alone new laws could be passed that allows legal bodies to check financial records of convicted pirates.
Indeed, life as a games pirate has never been so hard.
In terms of copied discs seized by ELSPA and Trading Standards in the UK, Nintendo’s Wii is the most pirated of today’s games consoles.
The second most pirated machine in terms of discs seized in the UK is Xbox 360. Recently, ELSPA seized a terabyte hard drive filled with games for Microsoft’s machine.
The main form of piracy for DS is through piracy flash cards such as the R4. As gamers can download hundreds of games onto these devices, it is difficult to gauge that exact level of piracy on DS. However, piracy cards are extremely popular – and until last year were even available to buy on Amazon.
PSP suffers a similar piracy issue to the DS, as pirates download games onto a memory stick and plug it into the handheld. Sony is currently trialling an online activation system with SOCOM: Fireteam Bravo 3.
PS3 is the only current gen console free of piracy. However, web reports point to hackers trying to circumvent the machine, while ELSPA has seized hard drives with a number of PS3 ISO files installed – ready to go if the machine is cracked.
Although there is a limited market for PS2 titles, ELSPA is still finding a small number of copied discs for Sony’s last generation console in the UK.
PC piracy is largely via peer-to-peer file sharing over the internet. According to ELSPA, there are very few copied discs in circulation in the UK.
Not even Apple’s handheld is free of piracy. Gamers can download software that allows them to download illegal apps through unofficial application stores. However, it does mean consumers can no-longer use Apple’s official app store.