Inventive Video Game Piracy Punishments

Graham Host
Final Fantasy Pokemon
Final Fantasy Pokemon Games Batman

With AAA games hitting store shelves faster than anyone could possibly afford, game piracy is always going to be a busy (and illegal) business. With some media — like film or music — there’ll never be any sure protection. Two minutes after a song hits the internet, the pirates have it (if not earlier). Before The Force Awakens even made it to the shelves, Blu-Rey versions were already on the torrent sites. It can be just as fast for a game to pirated, but there’s a better chance of the software defending against theft.

Despite continuing setbacks in the world of piracy, game publishers put layer after layer of security on their games. Although they aren’t foolproof — some lasting less than a month — clever developers have other methods against thieves. Some companies come with unique product codes whilst others have games that alter themselves in the event of piracy. With that in mind, let’s look at some inventive retaliations by scorned coders.


Maybe one of the older example but definitely one of the more evil methods is found in Earthbound. Those witty beings who stole the game would encounter a higher rate of enemy encounters from the start. As time goes on, they become even more frequent until it seems like you can’t move without an enemy encounter. If you have the tenacity to make it all the way to the end of the game then you are rewarded with a deleted save file.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates

I have played this game and I can tell you that it’s worth the money. If you choose to ignore my advice and prefer to not pay for a quality game, you’re in for a shock. Square Enix decided to have some fun with the pirates — if a copy of Ring of Fates finds that it’s running on pirated software, the game only works as a twenty minutes demo. After that, a ‘Thank you for playing’ message springs up and closes the game. Now that’s just passive-aggresive.

Dirt Showdown

Like coughing around an insult, Dirt Showdown wasn’t subtle about piracy. Those who obtained the game illegally were treated to random words becoming ‘pirate’. Just to (literally) drive the point home, another racer named “Yarr Avast” would beat the player in each race they participated in.

Operation Flashpoint

We’ve all had times when we thought that the AI has increasingly better guns than us and is lowering our own strength to win a match. In one instance, that paranoia is actually correct. Operation Flashpoint punished pirates in this exact fashion by lowering accuracy and damage while letting you take extra hurt.

Pokémon – Various

FireRed and LeafGreen

Pokémon is not one to pull punches. In Red & Blue there’s a Fisherman who politely asks the player not to use a pirated copy and buy the real game. This same Fisherman pops up again in later games and escalates his point and issues a death threat.

Spyro: Year of The Dragon

The third Spyro game features a bizarre brand of piracy punishing. Should the game detect that it has been stolen, the pixie who saves your progress will warn you in the first few levels. If you continue down this dangerous path, the enemies will become increasingly harder. Some players reported that their in-game language was irrevocably changed and that key items disappeared, halting their progress forever.

Mirror’s Edge

Built around free-running, pirates of Mirror’s Edge would find themselves becoming flat-footed. After some time of playing the game, our parkour protagonist starts slowing down until she can’t make the leap and bounds that are needed to progress. Well played DICE.

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Riddle me this, Caped Crusader: What do you call a wingless bat? A pirate. In lieu putting in extra security, developer Rocksteady Studios took something away from Arkham Asylum: gliding. A crucial part of the game, any pirate would find themselves unable to soar or get sympathy from the creators. The response from Rocksteady was “It’s not a bug in our game’s code, it’s a bug in your moral code.”

The Winner

Although I’m not ranking these methods or awarding points, there is a clear winner — Game Dev Tycoon. Developer Greenheart Games knew from the onset that their baby would be pirated. Instead of just adding some extra security, they became pre-emptive in their retaliation. Creating several user accounts on various websites, they uploaded a ‘pirated’ copy of their game.

An unsuspecting pirate

For those of you who don’t know, Game Dev Tycoon is about creating your own game company through history in a similar fashion to Nintendo or Sony. A good company survives the years and a bad one results in losing the game.

The ironic piracy downside

Hundreds of people started complaining that their consoles and games were increasingly underselling due to pirating. The irony of the matter is that only one copy of the game had pirating in it — the ‘cracked’ copy. Anybody who experienced piracy and their fictional company crashing was a pirate themselves.

Graham Host
Graham Host is a member of the Fan Contributor program. In his spare time, he enjoys the works of Terry Pratchett, DC Comics and a wide assortment of video games. Under no circumstances should he be fed after midnight.
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