Effect of Video Game Piracy on Localisation
In an imagined utopia, video games would be culturalised into languages and markets, making them accessible to the entire world. But in reality, the condition of localisation of video games is much more complicated. A ton of Super popular games, famous in their countries, never even make it to the Global Gaming Markets. While, developers are wasting time and money finding games for different target audiences, only to be barely selling enough copies.
Then comes the matter of piracy. Video game piracy involves taking data from the game and distributing it at reduced costs or for free. It can be achieved by pirates using emulators, modchips, or modified firmware. Players then download the games’ pirated, illegal copies via torrents (file-sharing). It’s almost impossible to determine the exact amount of torrented games, but it causes damage worth millions of dollars per year.
One of the most important reasons for localising a game is to try and stop piracy. People in the gaming industry know that choices are limited when something is not localised or available in a country, and the customers desperately want to play it. They would be happy to pay for a game, but it’s just not available in their language or the legal copies are region-blocked.
TinyBuild went public with the piracy data of its game “Punch Club” to prove the scale of this issue. In 2015 the game sold over 330,000 copies. Yet over the same period, it was pirated a staggering 1.6 million times. They obtained their data through building analytics into the game itself. The company could even tell when versions that had undergone translation were being pirated, as all versions reported back to TinyBuild.
Statistics reveal some interesting patterns, including, which regions are more likely to pay for games, and which are pirating games, irrespective of whether they are localised or not. Localisation for Western Europe, for example, has been proving profitable. The “bought rather than pirated” rates for the German and French translations were 46 per cent and 18.8 per cent respectively when the company looked at the data.
Data such as this also show when game companies should cut their losses — when localisation makes little sense. For example, the most pirated “Punch Club” game arrived in the Brazilian Portuguese market the day the translated game was released on that market. On that day, there were 373 copies sold in Brazil, in comparison to 11,627 pirated copies which were bought by Brazilian IP addresses.
Although the pirates were likely downloading the Portuguese edition from Brazil, localised sales did not see a significant return on investment. Meanwhile, when it was released in English, there were already vast quantities of Chinese players pirating the game. That market doesn’t even wait to start pirating a localised video game.
Results like these can help video game companies understand which markets are willing to pay for a game and which are more likely to obtain it through malicious ways. Localising a game for a market that pirates the game overwhelmingly anyhow, translated or not, makes no sense. Fully understanding the markets means companies can avoid trying to commit massive budgets to the localisation of video games which will seldom pay off. This is helpful when companies plan their strategies and processes for translating games.
All of this shows just how much the gaming industry could benefit from coming together when it comes to the translation process- by understanding and working around piracy. Instead, the industry is continuing to employ large-scale Digital Rights Management (DRM) scares, which can traditionally be hacked within hours of releasing a game. Also, the most costly and stable models of DRM are accessible only to the biggest game development studios. That leaves little indie studios like TinyBuild in a bind. Hence, this innovative plan to figure out and work around piracy habits is a must for smaller gaming companies.
With no anti-piracy plan or statement on how the industry should handle DRMs, TinyBuild did nothing with the data. Piracy is a part of the modern world, and rather than attempting to shut it down, the system can work smartly around it. The way forward will be to share more data so that there are clear benchmarks and a global map that targets markets that would benefit from translation — enabling the gaming industry as well as the localisation industry to know where to pool their money and resources!
By Prajal Narain