The best in-game piracy punishments
Fighting piracy is a constant, ongoing, and typically fruitless challenge for developers and publishers: if people want to play a game without paying for it, chances are they'll find a way. But that doesn't mean developers can't strike back from time to time.
Many developers have used inventive and amusing methods over the years to troll pirates, interrupt their illicit gaming sessions, and even trick them into outing themselves in forums for the amusement of others. From Arkham Asylum to Red Alert 2, from Zak McKrakken to Grand Theft Auto 4, we've rounded up our favourite in-game pirate-punishing tricks.
The Sims 4
Having your Sims' private parts pixelated when they're showering is business as usual, but players who pirated The Sims 4 soon discovered that the mosiac blur didn't end when their virtual person put on pants. Instead, the pixelated effect spread until the entire screen was covered in a blocky filter. Naturally, players took to the forums to complain about this mosaic bug, thus foolishly revealing themselves as pirates.
Troll rating: 7
Serious Sam 3: BFE
Sting in the tail
Serious Sam developers Croteam decided to punish pirates with a terrifying boss monster, a lurid pink scorpion creature that zips around the screen at alarming speed and can never be killed. You can run and dodge his attacks for as long as you like, but he’ll always be there, chasing, watching, waiting to dash around a corner and spike you to death. While some might be put off by the horrifying thing, others that share Sam’s gung-ho attitude could view the stunt as an absurd hard mode. It looks like this.
Troll rating: 8
The Talos Principle
Meanwhile, those who pirated Croteams' The Talos Principle found themselves stuck. Not by the game's 3D logic puzzles, but by the elevators players use to travel from the main facility to the three hub areas. In pirated copies, the elevators would simply stop midway through the trip. Pirates couldn't progress, couldn't backtrack, and couldn't get out. They simply had to quit.
Troll factor: 8
Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders
Turn back the clock to 1988 for this classic. In Lucasfilm adventure Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, players had to enter a code based on a serial key printed in the game's instruction booklet whenever they wanted to visit another country. If they got the code wrong five times (due to either guessing or just really, really messing up) the player wound up in 'pirate jail' where they receive a stern lecture about stealing games.
Troll factor: 6
Eye see you
Remedy's 2016 third-person action game slash television show Quantum Break wasn't too concerned with preventing pirates from playing a cracked version, the developers just wanted to make sure you knew they knew. Players using a cracked copy found the character Jack wearing an eyepatch with a skull and crossbones emblem. (Remedy did the same thing with Alan Wake.) It's a cute touch, though unfortunately players who had bought a legit copy but weren't logged into the Windows store while playing got the same treatment, which is pretty weak sauce.
Troll rating: 3
Batman: Arkham Asylum
The Dark Knight falls
Pirates stepping into the bat’s boots got a comparable experience to purchased versions of the game initially, but the game they were playing could not be completed. Rocksteady disabled Batman’s essential cape-glide ability for cracked versions of the game. The Telegraph captured an online complaint from a pirate on the Arkham Asylum forums: “Batman tries to open his wings again and again instead of gliding. So he fels down in a poisoning gas. If somebody could tel me, what should I do there."
"It's not a bug in the game's code, it's a bug in your moral code," came the official response.
Troll rating: 9
Grand Theft Auto IV
Go home, you’re drunk
At first, all seems fine, but then you finish the prologue. As the game explains how your safehouse works, the camera starts to shake uncontrollably. It will keep doing this. Forever. If, somehow, pirates soldiered on through the vomit-inducing wobble, they'd have a second trick to content with. Any car Niko entered would automatically accelerate, and instantly start smoking. You've got to hand it to Rockstar: they're not afraid to be nasty. See how long you can last through this video of it in action. Of course, modders eventually figured out a fix.
Troll rating: 8
Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2
There are two things essential to success in Red Alert 2: a base and units. EA's anti-piracy technique targeted both. Within thirty seconds of starting a game, pirates would watch helpless as everything they owned simultaneously detonated in a game ending explosion. It’s funny, but also a wasted opportunity. Thirty seconds is just too short a fuse. For true top trolling, they’d need at least ten minutes of progress to destroy.
Troll rating: 4
If you pirate the otherwise-average Crysis follow-up you’ll run into a surprise the first time you fire a gun to discover that all the bullets have been replaced by chickens. Are the chickens alive? It’s hard to tell because it turns out chickens experience quite a lot of bullet drop and soon hit the ground with speed enough to KO a heavyweight boxer.
The trouble with this anti-piracy technique is that it seems to improve the game somewhat. Shotguns fire a deadly spread of chickens, which is brilliant, and machineguns spit them out at a terrifying rate, and it’s hilarious to spray away while your enemies shout things like “aaaargh!” and “stop that!” See it in action here.
Troll rating: 2
Take On Helicopters
Bohemia Interactive have been using their FADE tech to thwart pirates since Operation Flashpoint. Like all the best anti-piracy tricks, this one comes into play slowly, destroying the experience after a period of false security. In OpFlash enemies would become harder to kill while the player became more and more fragile—deadly in a military sim that’s already rock hard. Take On Helicopters is funnier, though. As you’re flying your vision begins to blur and smear, as though you’re playing through a plate of glass in a rainstorm, or flying under the influence of some particularly rubbish banned substances. Good luck taking on a thunderstorm with that handicap.
Troll rating: 8
Invasion of the black phantoms
Dark Souls' trick wasn't designed to combat piracy, but rather to have some fun with the game's earliest players. In response to some retailers breaking the Japanese release date, From Software sent max-level Black Phantoms to invade those playing before the official launch. Anyone who thought they'd gained a lucky pre-launch advantage, instead found themselves facing a 19,000 HP monstrosity.
Troll rating: 9
Overstepping the mark
In a game about retaining momentum, what could be more frustrating than sudden enforced slowdown? Pirates who booted up MIrror’s Edge will have struggled halfway through the tutorial circuit. When Faith passes a certain point and the product fails to verify, she begins to slow down, step by step, until moving at a slug’s pace. At that point you can’t even mantle objects, and must slowly flop off the nearest skyscraper to oblivion. Here’s a video of the effect in action.
Troll rating: 7
Game Dev Tycoon
Pirated to death
Game Dev Tycoon is a sim in which you set up a game studio, manage resources, costs and staff, and then release products to the world. The pirated version lets you get that far, but not much further. Upon release, pirates find that their game will start hemorrhaging profits to piracy. The problem worsens and worsens until the studio inevitably fails. It dicks over pirates and teaches an important lesson about empathy and stuff. Good form.
Troll rating: 10
There are multiple things a city needs to function. In Settlers 3, players must collect multiple resources—food, iron, coal, stone and wood—to bring their isometric settlements to life. For most people, that was an achievable task. For pirates, however, an essential ingredient was deliberately missing. In pirated copies of the game, iron smelters would only make pigs, not iron. And while pigs are certainly a useful resource, they have far fewer military applications.
Troll rating: 7