Have you ever played a pirated game? No, don’t answer that. Someone might be listening and then you’ll get charged. Because piracy is the exact same thing as stealing an item despite the fact you’re merely making a copy of something. Yep. Of course.
If you ever have played a pirated game, you may have encountered a few problems right away. Sometimes the game asks you for a keycode which generally only comes with legitimate copies. Other times you may have to enter a specific word or phrase found only in the manual. Smart people with illegal copies have found ways around these anti-piracy features while unlucky people with legally purchased copies may be screwed over. If you bought a used game from a friend or retailer and it didn’t include the manual, you may be out of luck.
For years, most game developers relied on those methods to keep people busy, whether it was at work making money to buy the game or at home devising ways to get pirated copies to work. Some game developers didn’t want to settle with the tried-and-true tactics, however. Some developers were so crazy they came up with the most diabolical, most entertaining, and most elaborate forms of anti-piracy known to gamers. And their games became famous for screwing over pirates in the greatest ways possible.
These are some of those games.
5. Game Dev Tycoon (PC) features game pirates
Game Dev Tycoon was released for the PC late 2012 and allows players to experience the life of a game developer. They begin developing games in the 1980s in a stuffy garage without any other employees and are limited to the game systems of the time: 8-bit consoles and arcade systems. As they acquire more money, they can hire new staff and move through the years to developer bigger and better games for bigger and better systems.
Pirated copies play exactly the same for the most part. Players still make games, make money, and hire new employees. After spending a decent amount of time progressing through the game, however, happy players would soon see the terrible message displayed in the above screenshot.
Yep, people who pirated the game would know what it feels like when people pirate your game. This message would increase in frequency and the player would lose money, eventually going bankrupt. You know, much like an actual company faced with constant game piracy.
The founder of Greenheart Games, Patrick Klug, released a torrent containing this fake version of the game, knowing piracy would be an issue when Game Dev Tycoon released. Those who downloaded this particular version would eventually get the message that pirates were destroying their lives.
Klug’s cheekiness earns him the number five spot on this list.
4. Michael Jackson: The Experience (Nintendo DS) hates your ears
Ubisoft released Michael Jackson: The Experience in late 2010 in a clear attempt to cash-in on the death of the once-popular singer. The Nintendo DS version of the game is almost a complete rip-off of Nintendo’s Elite Beat Agents: players have to swipe and tap certain areas of the screen to the beat of the music. Players can jam out to “Beat It,” “Billie Jean,” and all those other songs that were popular in the 80s and then saw a comeback in the second half of 2009.
Pirates don’t get to experience any of that. What they get is a screen devoid of any tap or swipe indicators. Okay, that sounds pretty bad. At least they can still listen to some of King of Pop’s hits, right? Wrong. What comes out of those tiny DS speakers isn’t the sound of Jackson’s music but instead is the official sound of the 2010 FIFA World Cup: vuvuzelas. Lots of them.
The development team at Ubisoft created this one on their own, showing once again that pirates need to acquire games legitimately. Though upon hearing of this feature, it’s entirely possible sales skyrocketed in South Africa due to their love of the annoying instruments.
Ubisoft blasts their way to the fourth spot with their appropriate use (or perhaps the only appropriate use) of vuvuzelas.
3. Batman: Arkham Asylum (PC) takes away the vigilante’s greatest ability
Rocksteady Studios gave Batman: Arkham Asylum to the world in late 2009. Players can control the Dark Knight on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC, using the caped crusader’s greatest gadgets and abilities. There’s the Batarang, the Batclaw, explosive gel, you name it. If it exists in the real world and sounds good with the word “Bat” thrown in front of it, then players can surely use it in their quest to stop the Joker’s plan.
To defeat his enemies, Batman needs to make good use of both his gadgets and the environment. This sometimes means climbing to higher ground and gliding down towards his prey. Too bad players with an illegitimate copy of the PC version can’t glide. That’s right, Batman’s cape is useless aside from looking badass.
No biggie though. Players can still hide in shadows and put all of Batman’s other abilities to use. Too bad there’s a part of the game that requires Batman to glide towards a certain area. Players can only watch in horror as Batman makes the jump… only to fall to his demise since his cape won’t open to let him glide.
When a player complained about this on a forum, thinking it was a glitch, Rocksteady set the record straight. An employee responded to the frustrated gamer, saying “It’s not a bug in the game’s code, it’s a bug in your moral code.” Wise words.
Rocksteady nabs the third spot due to their simple-yet-effective anti-piracy measure that renders their game unwinnable.
2. Crysis Warhead (PC) gives pirates a new weapon to play with
Crysis: Warhead is a standalone expansion pack for the original Crysis first-person shooter. It was released in late 2008 only for the PC and its story takes place during the events of Crysis but follows a different character. Most of core gameplay remained the same: players could turn invisible, become walking tanks, or run super fast using their suit’s powers. They could modify their weapons in-game with different attachments depending on the battle situation.
Players who pirated the game got a bonus weapon that nobody else could use: the chicken gun. When the game detected it was a pirated copy, it would turn all ammunition into chickens. No matter what gun the player used, it would shoot chickens instead of bullets or rockets. Players could still turn invisible or punch their way to victory, but this made the game nearly impossible to play due to the difficulty of relying on stealth and fists. As well, the chickens did no damage. Oh, and if there were too many of them, the game would run really slow and eventually crash.
Developers Crytek did this to — you guessed it — deter people from pirating the game. It’s just so much more interesting when developers do something like this instead of merely getting mad and telling players to cough up the cash.
Crytek takes the silver medal because… well, chicken. Because chickens.
1. EarthBound (Super NES) will break your soul
Anyone currently playing a pirated copy of EarthBound for the Super Nintendo will tell you it’s a very difficult game. Anyone who beat a pirated copy is lying. This roleplaying game was originally released for the SNES in the summer of 1995 and let players take control of heroes Ness, Paula, Jeff, and… Poo. So the game’s a bit weird. It’s still a classic, according to its rabid fans.
It plays much like Pokémon does: the player explores areas and then gets in random encounters with enemies. The game is filled with roughly a billion references to pop culture and has plenty of in-jokes. It’s like a game version The Big Bang Theory. Except good.
Those playing an illegal copy saw many changes, some very subtle. The first anti-piracy feature checks if the game is being played on a PAL console (North America uses NSTC, and the game wasn’t released in PAL territories). If so, the game freezes and displays text saying it isn’t meant for this console. Then the game looks at a particular type of memory storage found in the cartridge. Bootleg copies usually hold more memory, so as long as the cartridge held the right amount, everything was fine. If not, that’s when the game would begin messing with players.
EarthBound would increase the frequency of the random encounters, forcing players into more battles than they would likely want to deal with. More difficult enemies would also show up earlier in the game to further deter players from continuing. Some did continue, however, meaning they were either very determined to beat the game or they were masochists. As well, certain areas had the potential to freeze the player’s game.
Those who continued to play could make it to the final boss, Giygas (the abomination pictured in the above screenshot). This is when the game would freeze again. Oh well, time to reset. Players would then boot up the game again and find their save file screen empty. There was no way to recover the lost data. They would have to play the entire game again. It didn’t matter, though, because in the end the game would always freeze and destroy any save data just as players made it to Giygas.
That’s quite possibly the biggest slap in the face in the history of gaming. And hopefully it serves as a message to pirates that they should really just buy the game. Sure, games are expensive. But aren’t the hours of joy worth $60?
Piracy sucks, but these anti-piracy measures don’t. They’re pure genius. They mess with the player, allowing them to think they may have gotten away without ever touching their wallet. They show that game developers can have a sense of humour. And they remind me why I don’t always have to feel dumb for actually using my hard-earned money to pay for games.
Oh, and you should pay for the games you like too.