Play it safe: 5 reasons not to download pirated games
It’s all fun and games until you get hacked – and this is just one risk of downloading cracked games
Revenue in the global video game market will grow by nearly 11% this year to nearly $209 billion. But when we see so much growth, revenue and users concentrated in one place, there are usually people around who want to make money. This is where piracy comes in.
Just like with movies, TV shows, music and other digital content, there is a roaring market for game titles that have been “cracked” so that anyone can use them for free. Piracy is widespread across platforms, from PC and mobile device-based games to consoles.
It is difficult to say definitively whether piracy actually affects the global trade in legitimate gaming software. Some studies like this 2017 report have found that, unlike other types of content, it doesn’t always have such a negative impact. What is clear, however, is that downloading and running a pirated copy can expose you to several risks – from fines to dangerous malware. And these are just some of the threats that players face.
What are pirated games?
Piracy and gray markets always seem to be one step ahead of legitimate digital distribution channels. See the success of Napster, years before iTunes and Spotify appeared. Or Megaupload, one of the biggest sources of digital piracy when it launched in 2005, two years before Netflix.
There is little data on the size of the market for pirated games. But we know how big the legitimate market is. Mobile is expected to dominate in the coming years. It generated an estimated $180 billion in 2021, over half (52%) of the global total, so it would be safe to assume that piracy rates are relatively high here.
At their simplest, pirated games are those that have been “cracked” by bypassing digital rights management (DRM), technology designed to protect copyrighted content. By doing so, they allow users to access and play the titles without paying their developers or distributors. Often, in-demand titles are singled out for this treatment as soon as they become available for purchase, although there are even examples of pirates obtaining and distributing free copies ahead of official release dates.
5 reasons to stay away from pirated games
Regardless of how the games are ultimately cracked, the consequences can be severe for users. They include:
Threat actors will use a popular game and the lure of free content to encourage users to download software infected with malware. They can do it by sharing messages on social media, phishing emails or even through search engine optimization of their websites or P2P torrents. Often, malware is designed to bypass traditional security filters, or it may require the user to disable their anti-malware software entirely. It usually asks for excessive permissions to run. Malware can also be hidden in mods – additional files are required to continue playing.
The risk is real. In June 2021, it was revealed that millions of PCs had been compromised by Trojan malware over a two-year period. The spread, mainly of pirated games, stole over one million unique email addresses and 26 million login details, among other things.
Other common malware types spread by cracked games include:
- Cryptomining malware, which can crash the victim’s device and run up huge energy bills in the process
- Banking Trojans designed to steal financial and personal information
- Keyloggers and info thieves designed to lift all kinds of personal information from machines/devices
- Ransomware, which will lock you out of your machine and demand a fee
- Botnet malware, which will turn your machine/device into a zombie computer for use in other attacks
Although not as dangerous as full-blown malware, adware can be a nuisance to PC and mobile users. Continuous pop-ups and new browser windows will flood the victim with a stream of videos and static advertisements, making normal use of the device/PC increasingly difficult. Back in 2020, 21 gaming apps were kicked out of the Google Play Store for containing intrusive adware.
3. The game does not work as intended
Pirated games can seem like a great way to get access to coveted titles for free. But the reality is often quite different. It may never work properly on your PC, console or device. There may be bugs or errors that seriously degrade performance. It may be incomplete. Or the game may simply stop working after a while if the developers run continuous checks for software registration. In other situations, there may be compatibility issues. For example, if users try to add pirated software to the Steam library, they will be identified as non-Steam games and will not be able to access the full functionality of the platform.
4. A ban on gaming platforms
There is also a chance that the legitimate developer can trace pirated software back to specific devices and PCs and partially or permanently blacklist linked accounts. This is a particular risk on game console platforms such as Xbox, where vendors have been extremely proactive with such efforts in the past.
5. Unwanted attention from law enforcement
Finally, it is important to remember that using pirated game content is illegal. Depending on the jurisdiction you live in, using cracked software can lead to fines or even jail time.
Top tips to avoid gambling risks
The good news is that it is not difficult to stay away from most of these risks. The obvious choice is to avoid torrent sites and always buy video games from official stores. This will help reduce the risk of malware and adware, poor gameplay, and potential legal issues. Other important tips to keep you safe include:
- Always run anti-malware software from a reputable vendor on all PCs and devices. Never disable it.
- Double-check the recommended security settings on any gaming platform you use, such as Steam, Twitch, and Discord.
- Never click on links in unsolicited emails. Always visit the legitimate developer website or reputable marketplace like Apple App Store or Google Play.
Good luck with the game!