How Game Companies Fight Piracy by Torturing Cheap Players

Stealing content has never been easier thanks to the Internet. From hitting up torrent sites to sharing files with your friends, there are many ways to get all the free media you want. Though illegally downloading music and movies is pretty commonplace these days, the video game industry is also finding more players cracking those disc codes and using emulators than ever before. And fitting with the interactive experience games provide, developers have devised anti-piracy measures that are a little more creative than generic text screens warning of fines and jail time"”they torture players with cruel in-game content changes.

Adding New Annoying Features

Usually players approve of any extra content in their games"”a new character, an outfit, a level"”but what about a feature that solely exists to annoy them? In Michael Jackson: The Experience, players got just that when trying to rhythmically tap the touchpad timed with music from the King of Pop. None of the button prompts appeared, the game froze when paused, and extremely loud vuvuzela horns blasted over the formerly catchy tunes. Yes, you couldn't beat Beat It. And Bad became worse. Ten seconds of Don't Stop Till You Get Enough was enough. You get where I'm going with this.

In the action-packed, first-person shooter Crysis Warhead, players who legitimately purchased the game fought off an alien menace with their powerfully destructive, futuristic arsenal. Those who didn't fork over the cash launched something else from their weapons"”chickens. Lots of chickens, in fact. The airborne poultry not only caused zero damage, but it also slowed the game down to a frustrating crawl. Though you could still win the game, you had to punch your way to victory.


Upon release, Grand Theft Auto 4 astounded players with its massively detailed world. But those who didn't have a game activation key had to deal with a constant, violently shaking camera. Even though cheap gamers would eventually spend the equivalent on a shopping cart of Dramamine and PeptoBismal, some fought through the queasiness. Instead of targeting the stomach, developers of The Sims 4 went after pirates' eyes. When your game character used the toilet, the mosaic censor bar that usually covered the naughty bits soon blurred out the entire screen. No worries, Billy, you don't have cataracts yet"”you're just cheap.

Another anti-piracy addition developers throw at sneaky gamers is an undefeatable foe. In Shin Megami Tensei Devil Survivor 2's first boss battle against an ice cream cone-looking Dubhe, players would normally run away from this invincible enemy until it gets hit by a truck during an in-game cinematic. Bootleggers never saw the crash however, forced to hopelessly battle against the deadly dessert without a chance. In this battle, food won. 

While Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project made all enemies tougher in improper copies, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters went a little more sadistic by allowing players to reach the final enemy Shredder. Of course, when his HP hit zero, the fight would simply start over again without explanation. And perhaps the most delightful undefeatable foe showed up in Serious Sam 3: Before the First Encounter"”a pink scorpion suddenly materialized early in the first level. It's quick, it's invincible, and it's hellbent on endlessly tormenting you until you're dead. Let's be honest, saving 60 bucks wasn't worth the nightmares you'd have that night.


Although all the anti-piracy measures discussed so far may seem harsh, Earthbound may be the most punishing of them all. The game contained so many overpowered extra enemies that walking an inch became an ordeal. If you managed to prevail through such an annoying trek to the end, the title had one last trick up its sleeve"”during the final boss fight with Giygas, the game froze. Upon resetting, players found all of their save files were deleted forever, losing their over 30-hour investment. Ouch.

Removing Frustratingly-Necessary Features

While adding new features may be more fun for developers, a subtle surprise may irritate thieves just as well. Let's start this section off with a bang, much like players using questionable copies of Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2"”their conquest attempts quickly became impossible when their units almost immediately exploded. Similarly, not even J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved characters could fight off anti-piracy in The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth II when they and any controlled buildings spontaneously blew up. Sauron didn't even have to try that day.

By removing the slightest gameplay mechanic, developers can aggravate players who will then get stuck and question their skills in the process. Playing as the Caped Crusader in Batman Arkham Asylum, gamers grappled through hordes of the criminally insane to prevent the Joker from destroying the city. Those with an illegitimate copy had to let the terrorists win because they couldn't open their capes at all. Similarly in Mirror's Edge, players controlled high-speed runner Faith Connors as she transmitted information between underground members fighting for freedom in a totalitarian regime. When dishonest players were detected, Faith's amazing citywide parkour became more like a suicidal drop and plop"”the game slowed her down before any jump. I don't know who I feel worse for"”Faith or the street cleaners working that day.

Rocksteady Studios

In order to master Settlers III, players had to carefully balance gathering resources, creating jobs, and bolstering their city's military. Though in downloaded copies, players probably felt like they were in a weird Dr. Seuss world where trees refused to grow and iron smelters created pigs. Pokémon has also had its fair share of anti-piracy fun. Players using improper versions were left scratching their heads when their precious pocket monsters couldn't gain experience. Nope, those Pokémon couldn't even be potty trained, let alone help you take out the Elite Four and become regional champion. 

When eliminating features, game developers can also get players hooked with a taste of the action right before inserting a permanent roadblock. Pirated versions of The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks let gamers explore the first town, but instantly brought them to a halt by removing the train's controls to navigate to the next location. Angry players filled the Internet wondering why they repeatedly crashed into animals on the train tracks. Hit a cow once, it's funny. Hit it 200 times, it's agony. 

Chrono Trigger offered a comparable short experience with gamers whose systems detected something fishy going on. All was normal up until the first time portal, but when frugal players jumped in, they gazed upon an endless looped animated sequence. They may have thought to themselves:  "Geez, they're really trying to build suspense here. How long should I watch this? I have other games to steal!"


In Game Dev. Tycoon, players would normally attempt to develop hot new video games as an upstart developer in the 1980s. For those players who acquired a cracked copy of this business simulator title, their own business sales would continue to diminish as pirates stole from them so much that their own companies failed. Equally as blunt, though not quite as clever, developers of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates presented unlawful players with a popup screen displaying the message "Thank you for playing!" Deep down, gamers knew what that really meant"”"Suck it, ya mooch!"

And much like Earthbound stood out for adding features, developers of Spyro: Year of the Dragon were obviously inspired in their anti-piracy efforts. They warned players from the start, when a fairy directly addresses that you're playing a hacked copy and there may be problems. Players who continued would eventually find key collectables missing like eggs needed to progress. Those who patched away that ordeal and made it to the final boss then encountered a new problem"”the game crashed and deleted their save files as well. So cute on the outside, yet so capable of tormenting you on the inside.

Insomniac Games

Is Piracy Why We Can't Have Nice Things?

While it's easy to justify stealing games in a day of downloadable content, patches, and increasing prices, we should think about the people who create the content we love. Game developers spend a lot of time creating these experiences, and it's no surprise they have turned to more interactive ways to fight against crowds who already like challenges and solving puzzles. Remember, there may come a point where precious development time is wasted on anti-piracy measures that could have been spent making the game better in the first place. Show game companies that you support quality content and vote with your wallets. Having said that, if shooting chickens and getting pwned by a scorpion sounds too good to pass up, there's no need to break international copyright law"”you can watch hundreds of YouTubers who already did for free.

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