A large-scale, open-method academic investigation into the prevalence of video game piracy has said that the number of illegal downloads is not as high as reported by industry bodies.
The study was conducted by Anders Drachen from the Department of Communication and Psychology at Aalborg University, Kevin Bauer Cheriton from the School of Computer Science at the University of Waterloo, and Robert W. D. Veitch from Copenhagen Business School's Department of Informatics. A total of 173 games on BitTorrent were analysed over three months from 2010 to 2011.
The games were illegally downloaded by 12.6 million people over the 90-day investigation.
The most popular genre was RPG, with 18.9 percent of the illegal downloads. Other popular genres included action-adventure (15.9 percent), third-person shooters (12.7 percent), and racing (9.3 percent).
The study also pointed at a correlation between the highest-rated games on Metacritic contributing to more piracy.
The new investigation says it clashes with the statements made by trade bodies such as the Entertainment Software Association. The new research paper also claims that previous studies into piracy are "potentially biased, partially due to the interest of the industry to reduce piracy and thus potentially overestimate the problem."
"There is very little objective information available about [piracy's] magnitude or its distribution across game titles and game genres," says the research.
"First and foremost, P2P game piracy is extraordinarily prevalent and geographically distributed," concluded Drachen in a press release (via Wired) accompanying the research. "However, the numbers in our investigation suggest that previously reported magnitudes in game piracy are too high. It also appears that some common myths are wrong, eg that it is only shooters that get pirated, as we see a lot of activity for children's and family games on BitTorrent for the period we investigated."
The 10 most popular pirated games across the research's 90-day period were, from most to least pirated: Fallout: New Vegas, Darksiders, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, NBA 2K11, Tron Evolution, Call of Duty: Black Ops, Starcraft 2, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II, Two Worlds II, and The Sims 3: Late Night.