The first truly independent study on the topic found that studies conducted by opponents and proponents have overestimated the extent of gaming piracy and its effect.
The study was conducted by Anders Drachen from the Department of Communication and Psychology at Aalborg University and the PLAIT Lab at Northeastern University as well as Robert Veitch from the Department of IT Management at Copenhagen Business School.
The team decided to investigate the true size of piracy because "despite the substantial debate about digital game piracy, there is minimal objective information available about the relative magnitude of piracy, or its distribution across different countries nor across game titles or game genres."
To that effect, the team monitored and analyzed the BitTorrent traffic of 173 videogames from 14 different platforms including PC, Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, DS, iOS/Mac and PSP. While selecting those torrents, the team was careful to monitor cracked full game torrents only; so free games and games released on BitTorrent by their developers were not included.
In a three months period between 2010 and 2011, only 12.6 million unique peers from 250 areas were sharing illicit copies of games such as Fallout: New Vegas, Darksiders, Tron Evolution, Call of Duty: Black Ops, Starcraft 2 and The Sims 3: Late Night.
According to the study, the top 10 most downloaded games have accounted for 42.7% of the number of unique peers (5.37 million out of 12.6 million) and that the top 20 countries have hogged 76.7% of the total activity.
For comparison, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) claims that it had tracked almost 10 million illegal downloads of around 200 games in December 2009. It is hard to believe that one month’s worth of piracy in 2009 is equal to that of three months in 2011.
On the other hand, TorretnFreak reported that the top five most downloaded PC games in 2010 had been downloaded 18.14 million times (over the whole year) and that the top five most downloaded console games in the same year had been downloaded 5.34 million times.
The new study’s observations seem to back TorrentFreak’s numbers. According to the new study, the top 10 games rack 1.79 million downloads per month, which is slightly more than TorrentFreak’s average of 1.512 million downloads per month.
The full text of the new study can be found here.