Game Piracy Linked To Critic’s Review Scores

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A new study by researchers from Copenhagen Business School and the University of Waterloo explores the magnitude of game piracy on public BitTorrent trackers. The researchers tracked 173 new game releases over a three-month period and found that these were downloaded by 12.7 million unique peers. They further show that the number of downloads on BitTorrent can be predicted by the scores of game reviewers.

new vegasSolid research on the scope and effects of BitTorrent downloads is rare. Reports sponsored by the entertainment industries are usually biased and some of the more academic studies contain major methodological flaws.

It’s not all bad though, a recent paper published by Copenhagen Business School researcher Anders Drachen and his colleagues is a good example. The researchers looked into the magnitude of game piracy on BitTorrent and they monitored the downloads (peers connected to the swarms) of 173 new game titles that were released late 2010, early 2011.

During this period the researchers found that 127 of the 173 games were available on BitTorrent, and across the three months monitoring period these games were downloaded by 12.7 million unique peers in total.

As can be seen from the table below, the most downloaded games are all major commercial titles. However, the researchers note that there are a few exceptions, such as Bejeweled 3 which was downloaded by more than 250,000 people.

Combined, the 10 most downloaded games are good for over 5.3 million downloads, which equals 42% of the downloads recorded for all 127 games.

Besides game budgets, which appears to be linked to the number of downloads on BitTorrent, the researchers found that game reviews are directly correlated with the interest of pirates. That is, higher reviews generally speaking result in more downloads.

Most torrented games from late 2010 to early 2011 (3 months)
Game Downloads Avg Review Score
Drachen et al., 2011
Fallout: New Vegas 962,793 83.7
Darksiders 656,296 82.7
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 656,243 88
NBA 2k11 545,559 86.7
TRON Evolution 496,349 59.5
Call of Duty: Black Ops 469,864 83.8
Starcraft 2 420,138 89.5
Star Wars the Force Unleashed 2 415,021 61
Two Worlds II 388,236 73.3
The Sims 3: Late Night 356,771 77.5

Although it sounds intuitive that review scores are correlated to interest in games (and other entertainment), this is certainly not always the case. To find out whether the number of game downloads on BitTorrent could be predicted by the average review score on Metacritic, the researchers correlated the two.

“The result indicates a statistically significant positive relationship between the number of unique peers and aggregated review scores. Put differently, Metacritic Scores explain 10% of the variance in the unique peers per game on BitTorrent,” the researchers write.

The researchers further note that this correlation may be even higher for older games which don’t have as many download spikes. The current research only looked at new releases.

TorrentFreak spoke to Anders Drachen who told us that one of the main motivations for this research was curiosity about the ‘true’ scope of game piracy on BitTorrent.

“There are a lot of numbers being pushed in the piracy debate but a lot of them are being critiqued from different sources, and not a lot of them are based on open methodologies – we were wondering what was actually happening,” he said.

The researchers will continue to look into other factors that influence game piracy and will publish this data in future articles.

Overall the current paper gives a seemingly robust overview of the state of game piracy on BitTorrent. Although the results may not be all that surprising, it’s certainly refreshing to see a decent report on BitTorrent statistics every now and then.


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