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Video Game Piracy: When Software Fights Back!

Software piracy has been damaging to the video game industry, but some games know how to fight back!

This past week I’ve been addicted to the web site “Did You Know Gaming?” which covers decades worth of video game trivia and hidden video game related Easter eggs. I lost hours of productivity finding out things that I never knew about some of my favorite video game classics.

Of the vast trivia covered, there were several mentions of interesting uses of copy protection to render pirated game playable, but in an entirely “borked” and broken kind of way. It was a topic that I found utterly fascinating, and I wanted to share some of their knowledge with you, as well as other claims I found from other sources using creative anti-piracy methods.

In the PC version of Alan Wake, those who play pirated copies will see messages like, “If you like this game, support Remedy by buying it,” during the game’s load screen tips. To further stress that the game is pirated, the character model for Alan Wake wears an eye patch.

Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 for the PC will allow software pirates to play the game, but after 30 seconds all of the player’s bases and units would suddenly explode.

How effective is a rhythm game without the proper music and rhythm? Ask those who obtained illegal copies of Michael Jackson: The Experience for the Nintendo DS. The game is playable, but if you thought vuvuzelas were annoying during (you know, those annoying plastic horns that people will use at sporting events?), just try and keep the rhythm with these things blaring over the music!

There is an erotic Japanese PC dating game called Cross Days that, if pirated, might actually contain malware which contains survey asking for personal information. This information, along side a copy of the pirate’s desktop, is uploaded to a public site. “Victims” can only have their data removed by clicking a button that states they illegally downloaded the game. In all honestly, I’m not sure in a litigious society, something like this could exist in America without lawsuits against the developer. Interesting idea, though! If you can’t beat ’em, shame ’em!

Earthbound for the SNES has some good anti-piracy measures, too. Playing a pirated copy of Earthbound on bootlegged or copied cartridges shows warning notifications informing you that it is serious crime to copy video games. The anti-piracy defenses also cause more random enemies to appear than usual, will freeze your game during an important battle and upon restart delete all of your saved files! Ooh! That’s good stuff!

The game Mirror’s Edge is a first-person parkour-style action that features a lot of running, jumping, bounding, and climbing. If you’re playing a pirated game, however, the game is entirely unplayable. The main character can runs, but as she approaches a jump, her movement slows to a crawl, making any sort of distant jump impossible.

Some games disable the use of certain functions for pirated copies, like the “bat glide” move in Batman: Arkham Asylum . To progress in the game certain moves must be used, and the bat glide is one of them. This make illegal copies playable but only up to a point.

Try firing a gun in an illegal copy of Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis and you’ll end up shooting blanks – literally. The ammunition you acquire does absolutely nothing to enemies, making you ineffective and useless — just like in real life. Oh, snap!

Did we miss a particularly awesome example of anti-piracy at its best? Or were you the “victim” of a tricky copy protection scheme? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

[As mentioned before, thanks to “Did You Know Gaming?” for the inspiration behind this week’s feature.]

About Troy

Troy is the Features Editor at Brutal Gamer. When he's not writing about or playing video games, he's enjoying life with his wife and children. He also loves coffee. And lots of it.

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