5 Real Security Dangers of Downloading Pirated Games

Awesome video games are coming out all the time — in fact, so far 2017 has been one of the best years for gaming in recent memory. But new games are expensive, and nobody can afford to buy every new release.

So you might think of turning to piracy to game on the cheap. But even with older games, piracy isn’t safe. Setting ethical considerations aside, there are simply too many risks to playing pirated games. You shouldn’t pirate because…

1. It Could Introduce Your PC to Malware

It’s no secret that pirating any kind of software is an easy way to get a virus. Whenever you download from a reputable source, you can reasonably trust that the file you’re downloading is what the owners claims it is.

But that trust disappears when you’re downloading public torrents. How do you know that someone didn’t mess with the file before uploading it and add malware?

In 2013, AVG found that 90 percent of pirated video games are infected with malware. While this number is likely overblown, even a 50-50 chance of a pirated game holding malware is extremely dangerous. When the first Watch_Dogs launched, players who pirated it on PC were treated to Bitcoin mining malware. This wasted their system’s resources to make money for the malware creator.

Certainly not every cracked game download will contain malware. But think about it: people who want to mess with others’ computers to make money or even just for giggles have a wide-open target when a new game comes out. Impatient gamers will jump on the first crack of the new game that’s available, which could be a costly mistake.

2. You Could Lose Online Gaming Privileges

Particularly on consoles, playing pirated games is an offense that could result in a ban from Xbox Live or PlayStation Network. In 2009, Microsoft famously banned nearly a million Xbox Live players for modifying their Xbox 360 consoles and playing pirated games.

Microsoft’s Xbox Live Code of Conduct states the following (PlayStation has a similar policy):

“Don’t pirate or use another’s content without permission. For example, don’t:
– Share content more broadly than you’re allowed to share
– Use another’s intellectual property without permission (e.g., copyrights, trade secrets)
– Play any illegitimately obtained software or pirated games
– Play a game before it has been authorized for play on the service”

If you break these rules, Microsoft clearly lays out the consequences:

“A violation of the Microsoft Code of Conduct may be cause for these or other actions:
– Restrictions (e.g., communications, multiplayer, account access) on your use of Xbox Live services, if you abuse those services.
– Permanent suspension or device ban, if you commit an egregious violation that includes, but is not limited to: hacking, modding, profile tampering . . . .
– Permanent suspension or device ban, if you try to avoid suspension with alternate accounts and/or devices.
– Permanent suspension or device ban, if you repeatedly commit violations.
UPON RECEIVING A PERMANENT SUSPENSION, YOU FORFEIT ALL CONTENT LICENSES, GOLD MEMBERSHIP TIME, AND MICROSOFT ACCOUNT BALANCES ASSOCIATED WITH THE SUSPENDED ACCOUNT.”

In short, pirating games is against the code of conduct and you could receive restrictions on your account up to permanent suspension. If that happens, you’ll lose access to any games you bought digitally and your Xbox Live subscription. That’s a lot of money wasted in the process of trying to save a few bucks by pirating.

3. It Might Land You in Legal Trouble

Just like illegally downloading music and movies, stealing video games via piracy is a federal crime in the United States. Punishment can range from paying back the copyright holder to spending time in jail.

Now, of course, many people pirate software and video games. It would be impossible for the FBI to catch them all. Chances are that you’re not going to spend half a decade in jail for downloading an illegal copy of Battlefield. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t doing something wrong. And since your ISP and the government track basically everything you do online anyway, it wouldn’t be too hard to prove that you’ve committed piracy.

4. The Game Might Not Even Work

Many game developers don’t wait for the government to stop pirates — they take action themselves. Some use digital rights management (DRM) systems that prevent illegal copies from working at all. But others get creative with ingame copyright measures.

One of the most famous copyright protections was 1994’s EarthBound, a roleplaying game on the SNES. If the game discovered you were using an illegitimate copy, it showed antipiracy messages and greatly increased the amount of enemies in the game. This made it miserable to play through, but the ultimate punishment came at the end of the game. During the final boss, the game freezes and deletes your entire save data.

More recently, developers have come up with creative ways to screw with pirates. The first Crysis replaces your bullets with chickens so you can’t defeat enemies. In Batman: Arkham Asylum, Batman’s glide move plummets him to the ground and thus you can’t get through the game’s introduction. The Talos Principle locks pirates in an elevator after several hours of play.

Game Dev Tycoon, an indie game released in 2013, is a simulation game where you work to come up with new ideas for a video game and sell them to build your business. Its crackdown on pirates was particularly ingenious. The developers intentionally released a cracked version to pirating sites.

In it, your ingame studio is eventually plagued with pirates stealing your game without paying, preventing you from making a profit. Ironically, pirates flocked to forums to complain about the piracy in the game, incriminating themselves as the real thieves.

With these and other examples, it’s clear that pirating a video game might not even provide you with a usable product. And you’re hurting developers who are depending on sales from the game to make a living.

5. You Might Get More Than You Bargained For

This is a similar risk to the first point, but still a problem nonetheless. When you wander into the world of game piracy, you open yourself up to the possibility of inappropriate content. Aside from straight malware, browsing pirate sites and searching for a cracked copy of a game could expose you to pornographic or other NSFW content.

You could spawn explicit pop-ups or install something nasty by accidentally clicking the wrong download button. Who’s to say that the “game” you’re pirating is even really the right video game? After all, you already know that someone who is illegally breaking the copyright protection and distributing a video game has a questionable moral compass. What would stop someone like that swap out your expected game with disgusting videos or something similar?

When you jump into the wild west of illegally accessing games, you open yourself to anything and everything in those sections of the web. You might not have a problem, but don’t be surprised if your game comes with more than you expected.

Piracy: Not Worth the Risks

People often treat piracy with a casual attitude, but these real hazards show that it’s a serious matter. Thankfully, there’s some great news at the end of all this piracy talk.

You don’t need to resort to piracy anymore.

Streaming services and app subscriptions have turned once-expensive endeavors into affordable monthly installments. This applies to gaming too — services like PlayStation Now let you stream games for a set price a month. But more importantly, you can play years’ worth of games without spending much.

If you don’t have any money to spend, check out the best places to get premium PC games at no cost. Or fuel your nostalgia with free retro PC games. You can also rent games if you don’t want to keep them.

In the end, given the risks involved, there’s no excuse for video game piracy. If you can’t pay $60 for a new game, wait until it goes on sale and get a cheap or free game instead. Don’t risk your security for a bit of money and the short-lived thrill of playing a new game right away.

We’d like to hear your thoughts on video game piracy. Is there ever a reason to pirate a game, and are the risks worth it? What other funny antipiracy measurements have you seen? Leave your thoughts below with a comment to continue the conversation.

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