In an article on Ars Technica about Jonathan Blow's pricing strategy for his new game The Witness, he was cited as saying the following (emphasis mine):

"There's this rhetoric that piracy is free publicity," Blow said during last week's Twitch Q&A session. "That's not really true. There's always a little bit of truth to anything, but if you think about it, piracy rates for PC games are often 85-90 percent. That's true. If 10 percent of people who pirate games would buy the games, that would double profits. Double! That's insane. That's the difference between starving to death and being comfortable enough to make the next game."

While there is definite wiggle-room in the statement with piracy rates being "often" 85-90 percent, I find myself being skeptical of it being a as common occurrence as Jonathan Blow suggests. Are piracy rate percentages as high as this, and as frequently as he suggests?

  • Not an answer, but his soundbyte may be a mutation of the story of the Demigod release, where an error in the log-in mechanism revealed that while being hammered by 120,000 connection requests, only 18,000 were for valid copies: arstechnica.com/gaming/2009/04/…
    – Kaz Dragon
    Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 10:18
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    Is there any clue about the geographic scope of the claim? Seems believable if you look worldwide and includes street bootlegs - but that would presumably include countries where piracy is 100% because the games weren't officially released Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 10:25
  • @user568458 Unfortunately, the quote from the article doesn't mention the geographic region. Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 16:01
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    @JonofAllTrades Because the cost of a game is largely writing it and marketing it, a very large fraction of each additional copy sold is profit. Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 16:53
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    We need a definition of 'piracy rate'. Is it the fraction of all copies which are pirate? Is it the number of pirate copies as a percentage of the number of copies sold? Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 16:55

1 Answer 1


Issue: Whether Personal computer games are being pirated between 85 to 90%?


  1. Global Personal software piracy rate is measured at 38% in 2007, 41% in 2008, 43% in 2009 and 42% in 2011 by BSA and IDC Global Software Piracy Study. Piracy rate was higher for consumer software such as PC games and currently it stands at 57%.

  2. A hypothetical calculation by Matt Ployhar in 2012 noted that PC game piracy was not anywhere close to the 90% range.


  1. There is no denying that the piracy scale for PC games is very high and substantial all around the world.

Referring to a 2008 survey by the Interactive Entertainment Association of Australia, almost 4 to 10% of all Australian computer game titles are pirated or illegal copies i.e. copies made by family or friends. 51% of Australians in the survey said that they would accept a copied game from a PC if it were given to them for free.

In an Australian gaming household library, 2 in 26 of the games is pirated. Piracy is widespread, although many choose not to admit to it in survey research with only 17% of participants in game households saying they have pirated copies. The majority (51%) of pirated games in Australia come from copies made by family or friends.

PC game piracy number percentages seem to fluctuate over time and there is no fixed global percentage number ranges. There are also questions on whether every piracy instance could be converted into a sale.

Research performed on the subject of digital games piracy also do not show an exact figure. For example, a study by Anders Drachen et.al. noted that 127 out of 173 game titles released during 2010 or early 2011 were found on BitTorrent networks.

A reliable figure for digital games is – to the best knowledge of the authors - unknown.

The general trend is that more popular games will be pirated exceedingly than less popular games. However, this is not observed globally as shown by a recent example of United States in 2014. Referring to research done by Real Estate website Movoto, Watch Dogs which has a Windows version was the most pirated video game, topping the list in 21 US states as of 2014. However, this game is nowhere found in the list of top selling computer games of 2014 which has the SIMS 4 game at the top position. Elder Scrolls and THE SIMS 3 games are the common popular games in both lists.

  1. Piracy is decreasing on the PC games and found to be rising in consoles and there is little to no piracy expected to occur on Free to Play PC games.

  2. Piracy of software tends to be higher among non-branded PCs than with branded PCs.

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    Not a criticism of your answer - but I find your method of linking very distracting. For example, linking the word "world" to an article about software piracy and the word "survey" to a list of facts about piracy. Thats not the way links should work!
    – Jamiec
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 11:58
  • @Jamiec-that link for "world" is specifically related to pc game piracy and the "survey" link is for a demographic population using games i.e. Australia. Sure, will consider your inputs for the future! Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 12:03
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    That page about the survey is fairly suspect - it doesn't actually link to the survey it cites, and more importantly it doesn't specify whether the question was phrased as "would you accept a free game" versus "would you accept a pirated game for free." I get free games in giveaways, does that make me a criminal? Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 21:49
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    @Namfuak-The survey was conducted by Allen Consulting Group mentioned here-aic.gov.au/media_library/publications/rpp/94/rpp094.pdf and you can find the same exact figures mentioned in page 7 of the source found here-igea.net/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/… Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 8:53
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    Watch_dogs has been released by Ubisoft, which has long tradition of blaming their flops on piracy. I'd take "most pirated game" claim coming from them with a grain of salt.
    – vartec
    Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 17:01

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