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Has Always-Online Killed Console Piracy?


Anne Summers
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I don't really hear anything about it any more. In the old days (old for me means ZX Spectrum era) you could be pretty sure that for every one copy of a big selling game that was sold, there would be several C90 versions being passed around playgrounds.

Likewise, although people thought cartridges and CDs (lol) would stem the tide, it was still a big part of the gaming scene through the 16 and 32-bit days. Every big car boot sale would have at least one guy with a table full of PS1 or PS2 games in badly printed cases. I don't think I ever came across pirated cartridges in the wild until the days of the internet, and eBay, but I knew they were out there. 

(Just read a news piece in an old copy of Zero I was scanning through, saying that pirated PC Engine games were available from an importer). 

But what about now? I am sure you can rip dodgy .ISOs from the web somewhere still, for new PS4 and Xbox games. And I know Nintendo has had issues with people ripping off Switch games. But I never see it any more, or hear anyone talk about it in the real world. 

I suppose it's just because of modern-day anti-piracy measures that can work because of consoles being connected all the time. And also, I guess, no-one wants to be stuck playing a day-1 version of a game that's going to be updated frequently. Which you'd need to keep a separate, disconnected console unit just to play. 

So am I right? Is console piracy basically a thing of the past, or something that's confined to extreme egghead nerds these days, because it's too much effort for everyone else?

 

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Not so much always online as that the systems are way more secure now. The very early models of switch can be fairly easily hacked but apart from that it's really complicated for anything more recent than the Vita as far as I know.

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the always online is a big factor - on PS1, N64, GBA era you could fuck about with your hardware safe in the knowledge the games up until the point could be pirated and played - they couldn't just patch the OS or firmware and nuke the ability to run stuff overnight.

 

the last few gens you've got the constant threat of obsolescence to any mods (if they're even available on PS5, series xbox, switch) and on top of that how hard it remains to get hold of some consoles if you do brick or render one useless.

 

people are better off just buying a few games and waiting for sales rather than fanny around sniding stuff

 

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A couple of years ago, a friend of mine got fed up with paying full whack for new Switch games (this is a guy with a £100k+ salary and drives a Tesla, he shouldn't have any problems buying as many games as he'd like) and decided to jailbreak his Switch. This allowed him to use the Switch as a portable emulator for older systems on top of being able to play Switch roms. A few months later he stopped using the Switch as he downloaded and installed every new release just because he could, as a result he really didn't play any games for more than 5-10 minutes because there were so many other titles to play. 

 

So piracy is bad! It makes gaming boring. Please don't support software piracy!

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I'd say it's one of a number of factors, with @Alex W. identifying the change in the market as another major one. Make piracy harder and legitimate methods more appealing, and you'll always see a reduction in the former.

 

And it's not just subs and sales that play a role in that, there's also the fact that games come out in a variety of price points so if you're in the market for something new, you're not just looking at £50 a game. 

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Bloody always online stuff. I couldn't play PGA Tour 2K21 the other week in SP on the tour as the internet was shit. What am I meant to do when the internet dies and no games work? 

 

It's just better services and reasonable pricing really.  I think the writing was on the wall when everyone looked upon their Steam collection and went "fuck me, I'm going to hold back a bit". 

 

Same with video/audio streaming vs piracy, where it became less faff to watch stuff legit. Also we got global releases with 24hrs too for a lot of stuff. Piracy is only just starting to creep back now it's a pain in the arse to keep up with all the services and stuff only being on US only services.  

 

The same might happen if all these game stores start fighting a bit too hard against each other. It's bad enough I got one big collection of games I'm not going to play. 

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One thing that we have learned is that piracy is not a pricing issue. It’s a service issue,” explained Newell during his time on stage at the Washington Technology Industry Association's (WTIA) Tech NW conference. “The easiest way to stop piracy is not by putting antipiracy technology to work. It’s by giving those people a service that’s better than what they’re receiving from the pirates.”

For example, Newell noted that Valve was warned against the Russian market due to its massive pirate community. In actuality, Steam offered easier access to games, more options, and higher quality downloads than its underground

 

That's Gabe Newell back in 2011 and as the founder of the world's largest digital games store I would think he knows what he is talking. Russia is 2nd to Germany as Steam's most profitable on the European mainland. 

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With the Xbox Series consoles you can get a game pass subscription which feels like having a huge rom collection and top of that you can pay Microsoft 10 euros (don't know how much it is for you guys) to be able to install RetroArch alongside every possible retro game you want on any platform up to a point. This is of course me personally speaking, but for me that's the only two reasons I ever modded a console basically replaced by an affordable legal alternative without any faff.

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1 hour ago, Rayn said:

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine got fed up with paying full whack for new Switch games (this is a guy with a £100k+ salary and drives a Tesla, he shouldn't have any problems buying as many games as he'd like) and decided to jailbreak his Switch. This allowed him to use the Switch as a portable emulator for older systems on top of being able to play Switch roms. A few months later he stopped using the Switch as he downloaded and installed every new release just because he could, as a result he really didn't play any games for more than 5-10 minutes because there were so many other titles to play. 

 

So piracy is bad! It makes gaming boring. Please don't support software piracy!

 

I agree with this mindset. When I used to have a DS/3DS / PSP / DevBox and had them setup to play pirated games I would get whatever I wanted whenever I wanted it. As a result if a new title didn't grab me within the first couple of minutes I'd just delete it. I missed out on so many good games doing that. 

 

To an extent gamepass does that to me too. I'll install something I wouldn't normally try and if it doesn't grab me very quickly, into the delete list it goes.

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1 hour ago, Mr. Gerbik said:

With the Xbox Series consoles you can get a game pass subscription which feels like having a huge rom collection and top of that you can pay Microsoft 10 euros (don't know how much it is for you guys) to be able to install RetroArch alongside every possible retro game you want on any platform up to a point. This is of course me personally speaking, but for me that's the only two reasons I ever modded a console basically replaced by an affordable legal alternative without any faff.

Wait, you can install retroarch on an unmodded xbox these days? What's the 10 euro for? 

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4 minutes ago, Sane said:

Wait, you can install retroarch on an unmodded xbox these days? What's the 10 euro for? 

That's the cost of activating developer mode on your Xbox. You just purchase that access on your console and then you can install retroarch. No modding necessary. The S alone is an emulation powerhouse. This was one of the best things about having an original Xbox and now you can do it without modding or getting banned!

 

https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2020/11/how-to-turn-your-xbox-series-x-s-into-an-emulation-powerhouse/

 

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Stuff like Game Pass Ultimate has made gaming accessible to all at a price affordable to pretty much everyone. Piracy is more hassle than its worth these days. There will be some hardcore players that want stuff for *free* I guess.

 

Also yes always online has help stop most of the casual pirates. Also the fact that your console could be effectively bricked or banned by the manufactures at any point.

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11 minutes ago, Mr. Gerbik said:

That's the cost of activating developer mode on your Xbox. You just purchase that access on your console and then you can install retroarch. No modding necessary. The S alone is an emulation powerhouse. This was one of the best things about having an original Xbox and now you can do it without modding or getting banned!

 

https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2020/11/how-to-turn-your-xbox-series-x-s-into-an-emulation-powerhouse/

 

Don’t even need dev mode now.

 

check the duck station thread in retro

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6 hours ago, deerokus said:

Not so much always online as that the systems are way more secure now. The very early models of switch can be fairly easily hacked but apart from that it's really complicated for anything more recent than the Vita as far as I know.

But wasn't the argument always that no matter how smart and complex anti piracy measures got, they'd always get cracked eventually? Did that stop being true?

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Piracy is possible on the ps4 and has been for a very long time.  The only reason why it’s not more popular than it is,is that for a while now because the OS is updated so frequently and new games keep changing the minimum version is OS they’ll work with the hackers have a moving target to rehack each time.  So on ps4 you could play pirate game but only games that would run up to a certain version of OS.  Then earlier this year a more recent version of the os was cracked which meant the likes of God of War and Horizon Zero Dawn etc could be pirated.  One of my ps4’s is sat unused with me thinking I might hack it one day but given that the game I can play on it I have bought already (in a sale a couple years after release) we’re back to the “easier to just buy the game I want to play cheap than go to the hassle of hacking a system and grabbing roms”.   As much as it annoys me seeing OS updates from Sony with just a description of “security updates”  I can see how effective that approach is.  I WILL hack the shit out of it somewhere round the end of its life though.  Just so I can play Super Mario World on it for 5 minutes.  Seems to be the pattern on most consoles I have. 

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8 minutes ago, rafaqat said:

  I WILL hack the shit out of it somewhere round the end of its life though.  Just so I can play Super Mario World on it for 5 minutes.  Seems to be the pattern on most consoles I have. 

 

Hehe, agreed. I love console hacking and spent ages hacking the Switch, but in the end never really played a lot on it. It's the act of modding/hacking that is fun to me. And what the community has done with the Switch is absolutely stunning IMO (ports, emulators etc.).

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I think digital distribution killed online piracy more than always online. Steam and other platforms that followed allowed for different price structures (previous there were two pricepoints) which led to a few things that killed the temptation to copy dead.

 

-More variety. Indies had access to a marketplace that was easier to deal with than doing all the admin themselves,

-Cheaper prices

-More convenient and less risky to the customer than piracy

-Longer sales tail

 

For me I've only ever really been tempted to pirate in a couple of conditions.

 

-A game I've bought stops working (or is lost or stolen) and the original publisher couldn't provide a replacement. 

 

-A game I want to play couldn't be found locally due to low or zero physical distribution. It got to the point where it was impossible to find some in demand niche titles during the PS2 era because scalpers would either buy the lot on day of release or even before they hit the shelves! And if a second hand copy made it to a store there was a non-zero chance someone at the store would nab it for resale.

 

Honestly outside of the late 80's / early 90's with cover tapes and discs there's never been a better time to be a gamer. If I was a student or a kid now a Series S with GamePass would be more than enough. If I had a PC then even just the free games via Epic would have me set for the entire year.

 

I can't think of any reason why you'd pirate outside of getting access to games long out of print where clearing the rights is economically not feasible.

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Pirates enjoy the act of pirating.  They spend time hacking their consoles, download games then don't play them. For the hardcore pirate, the act of doing it is enough.  

 

So for fully hacked consoles you need to go back a generation or two. You can get a Wii, a Vita, or other previous gen console where the unit was hacked wide open and make it do all kinds of wonderful things.  But the current gen... Well, it doesn't work that way because of firmware updates. Any successful mod is simply eradicated by patching the vulnerability.

 

Unless you get a Nintendo Switch first edition.  This one has the security flaw in the Tegra chip and that flaw is built in to the hardware so it can't be patched out.  Switch piracy is rampant and also the homebrew scene is incredible. The Switch gets regular firmware updates but it's a simple task to modify the custom firmware for the original console. (Also Nintendo, like most companies, equate piracy of current games with homebrew and emulation. So if you want to experiment with emulators you end up going down the same route as the pirate and might not come back).

 

The biggest blow to piracy is the firmware update. The PS4 has been soft modded multiple times but a firmware update removes your mod and games won't work without the firmware update. So on PS4 there's a constant cat and mouse game and it's just not worth the effort. 

 

On Xbox you have Gamepass and Developer Mode, do you really need piracy? I think Microsoft have nailed this generation, because you always have so much to try. Who needs piracy, apart from the hardcore pirate that will (a) try it anyway and (b) isn't playing any of the games. For the regular consumer, casual piracy isn't an issue because Gamepass has more on that you will ever play. And if you fancy getting emulators, go for it. Homebrew and emulation is there already, it's great and Microsoft are not afraid of it. They give you developer mode and you don't need to go down the pirate routes to try it out.

 

Pirates will pirate, and do whatever it takes. They used to drill a hole in a chip on the 360 mother board for crying out loud. Pirates are relentless, they love it and you cant stop them.  But what the industry needs to do is ignore those guys because they don't represent lost sales.  The industry needs to stop casual piracy by the people who would have bought the game.  Nintendo did this by redesigning the Switch so the current hardware doesn't have the exploit. Sony did it through firmware updates.  And Microsoft did it by making Gamepass fantastic value for money, and allowing developer mode for homebrew so there's no need to hack the console at all.

 

 

Like the Vita and the Wii, I do expect to see all the current consoles hacked wide open eventually.  But it will surely be after they reach end of life and no longer get firmware updates.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A quick addition. There's a common thread to piracy discussion which is, if you make the service good enough then you kill the desire for piracy.  It's happened with music (who needs a collection of badly labelled mp3s now we have Spotify?) And with games (Gamepass, always on updates, free games on Epic, £2.99 games on PSN).  You just don't need piracy if you can pick up Mad Max for £2.99 like I did a few weeks ago.

 

So it really surprises me how the movie industry hasn't learned this. The amount of movies I would pirate dropped through the floor when I got Netflix.  So much to watch and so little time. I'd go to see new releases at the cinema and watch quirky independent films at home.  Probably the most piracy free period of my life. Then we got Amazon Prime, Disney Plus, Shudder, Prime add-ons, extra channels through Disney, new Frasier series coming to Paramount, HBO online and £200 quid a months worth of services if you want to watch the stuff that's getting hyped.  And suddenly CinemaHD style apps make a Resurgence, and everyone I know seems to be back on the Pirate Bay.  It's a strange old world. 

 

 

 

 

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I tend to think it's the "give them a deal good enough and they won't need piracy" argument that's prevailed here rather than always being online.  Xbox Gamepass has given me much more content that I could shake a stick at and keeps bringing out more before I've ever got through the current crop of stuff.  It's also very clever that this is not just an old games thing.  Having every new title coming to Gamepass day 1 says a lot.

 

My only concern here is what happens in 10 years time.  I've always been a physical collector.  Whether it's carts, CDs or whatever.  If I want to play Mario 64 on a Nintendo 64 then I still can and will always be able to.  But if I want to play on my Xbox Series X in 10 years time, even if I've got the original disk will it work if it can't talk to any servers, will it be shockingly shite because it can no longer download the 200GB of patches that came out since day 1 and will it rely on some weird cloud service that no longer exists.  Given the efforts that have been done to try and archive older games and make them playable years later - I'm not sure if this can continue in the next few generations.

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I've been fortunate enough to be employed most of my life. Well, pretty much all of it from  17yrs of age onwards.

 

This is what has killed " proper " piracy for me.  - Because i can just buy the things i want now.   I still dabble in the Retroarch stuff of course.

 

When i was a kid, anything from Spectrum games to Amiga games right through to Snes games and a Wildcard  were got via Piracy.

- because how else would i get hold of it...  ( Paper-round i suppose.  I used to get 1.99 Firebird games with that money :)  )

 

 

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I gave up on piracy when it became a pain in the arse. News groups, dodgy torrent sites, ISPs spitting the dummy out when you don't use a VPN, ugh. Too much hassle. I'm not as impatient as I used to be and I can generally buy something when I want it so it's just no worth it.

 

As for old consoles and not being able to play it we're already there. I'm sure there's shit I can use on my Xbox 360 that I bought from Live Arcade but the thing is I don't care enough to plug it in to find out. I don't have the time to play everything on my Series, never mind from 2 generations ago. Doesn't dismiss anyone elses feelings on that,. It for me I've paid and got my value out of that content. If it's gone forever there's nowt much I can do about it so it is what it is.

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Like a bunch of other posts here, I do think it's mostly down to price and convenience in modern approaches that are beating piracy, not necessarily the act of requiring to be connected to the internet.

 

If someone wants a game today compared to the late nineties and early millennium, it's just a matter of turning on your console or computer and just.. buying the game.

 

Compare and contrast to the days of knowing if a game is out in your particular region, and then having to go to a shop that would have it in stock (or using a mail order shop), it's just miles easier these days. Hell, considering the hoops to get a decent torrent of a game that doesn't include some crypto farming bollocks hidden in the installation, it's easier than piracy, too.

 

In the same breath, if you wanted a game for free or cheap, you can pick up games from sales, key resellers, or just play one of the many free games on the market. The demographic of modern piracy has devolved to 'people who want to play the latest games for free', and that's a hard stance to justify (even on moral grounds, such as the current conundrum of companies being complete dickheads to their employees).

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I assume piracy is still a big issue, because companies pay for software protection (see the Resident Evil Village thing where the copy protection actually makes the game run worse and the cracked versions improve on the original.  But with firmware updates it's just not as easy to do. There was a time when you could play pirate games by disk swapping on a PS1, or you could take your console to any of a hundred market stalls and get it chipped.  I saw this at computer fairs right up to the 360 era.  But now, all these mods are only guaranteed to work until the next firmware revision.  

 

So with all that in mind I think there's probably two different answers here.  On console it's just not as easy or convenient as it used to be and firmware updates have killed casual piracy.  But I reckon on PC it's probably exactly as rife as it's always been.

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On 27/08/2021 at 22:44, Unofficial Who said:

I think digital distribution killed online piracy more than always online. Steam and other platforms that followed allowed for different price structures (previous there were two pricepoints) which led to a few things that killed the temptation to copy dead.


It’s kinda amusing to look back at all the rage Steam and HL2 caused back in the day with the online requirements 🤭

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