Any given person might often find themselves wishing "if only video games were free". Outside of the rare promotion, players have to fork over their hard-earned cash to get the games they want. Developers did work very hard on them so it's a fair trade, right? There are some gamers who disagree with the "goods for services" system. They also have entire video game libraries at their fingertips. The only cost is going outside the law.
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Those people who navigate the dark sides of the internet and use illegal third-party devices are often called pirates. For almost as long as video games have been around, there have been those who break hardware restrictions to get games for free. Piracy has been dying out in recent years due to advanced systems put in place to combat it, but here are some of the games that suffered the most from illegal downloading back in the day.
Updated on October 6, 2021, by Reyadh Rahaman:Each of these titles was greatly desired by gamers due to the hype they received prior to their respective releases. As such, even those who could not afford them on their release dates (or simply did not want to spend money) decided to pick up a copy one way or another. PC games tend to be targetted by pirates more often, simply due to this platform being the most open to manipulation between 2000 and 2010, however, console games have also seen their fair sharing of illegal distribution as a result of bootleg physical copies being made or files getting leaked online.
15 Street Fighter IV
Fighting game lovers might remember the improvements found in Street Fighter IV. The fourth game in the classic arcade series was incredibly well received by long-time fans. It brought fantastically updated graphics to the table and a somewhat tighter combo system. The game was initially released in July 2008 for the arcade exclusively.
It was not until February 2009 that the game came to consoles and July 2009 that it came to Windows. This, combined with the franchise's huge popularity and the game's rave reviews, contributed to the game being illegally downloaded about 1.85 million times.
Street Fighter IV Release Date & Platform Availability
Street Fighter IV was released on July 18, 2008, and is available on Arcade Cabinet, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, iOS, Android, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
Street Fighter IV Critical Reception
This game received universal acclaim for being one of the strongest entries in the legendary fighting game series and even won awards for its stellar graphics and organized production.
Spore is not just a game where Polygon's Griffin McElroy creates nightmares; it was a game that got pirated millions of times. It could potentially be credited with the gaming industry's big shift in DRM and anti-piracy technology. Within its first week, the game had been pirated more than 500,000 times. This game also holds a legacy of continuing piracy perhaps due, at least in part, to the undisclosed anti-piracy measures EA placed on the physical copy of the game.
There were two class-action lawsuits against EA for failure to disclose the DRM existence. In response, EA did launch a DRM-free version on Steam in 2008. But the game had hit 1.7 million illegal downloads that year. That number would only continue to rise. However, as with some other forgotten games, there is still an active community and fan base for the game.
Spore Release Date & Platform Availability
Spore was released on September 5, 2008, and is available on Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X.
Spore Critical Reception
Virtually a bottomless well of procedurally generated and user-created content, there are still people playing Spore to this day. The diverse and robust creative tools given to gamers truly stood the test of time.
13 Need For Speed: Shift
Need for Speed was known for offering solid fun in the racing game space though it has fallen short lately. This title brought players 4 tiers with more than 60 cars to choose from including Paganis, Bugattis, Audis, and Lamborghinis. The game also featured a mood-setting soundtrack with 19 songs and tons of car customization options.
It was released for many platforms in 2009 and is regarding as bringing the series "back to its roots". It is, by no means, the best racing game made, but it still netted around 2.1 million illegal downloads.
Need For Speed Release Date & Platform Availability
Need for Speed was released on September 15, 2009, and is available on Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation Portable, iOS, Android, Symbian, Windows Mobile, MeeGo, and J2ME.
Need For Speed Critical Reception
Renowned for its tight driving controls and excellent sound design, players loved this entry into the famous racing game franchise. The career mode was fulfilling, as were the multiplayer functions that allowed people to play with friends for hours at a time.
12 World Of Goo
Some people might remember the huge indie hit that was World of Goo. Developed by just two former EA employees, the game was released initially for WiiWare and Windows. It entailed the player creating structures out of goo while following the game plot. The game did eventually come to other platforms including mobile, Mac, and Blackberry (yes, really).
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But in 2008, pirated versions of the game surged to insane rates.One of the developers, Ron Carmel, said that emails from fans said that "the piracy rate was about 90 percent."It is unclear just how many pirated copies the game accrued in total. But it stands out as one of the first high-profile instances of indie game piracy.
World Of Goo Release Date & Platform Availability
World of Goo was released on October 13, 2008, and is available on Wii, Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, iOS, Android, BlackBerry OS, and Nintendo Switch.
World Of Goo Critical Reception
Players raved about how satisfying the physics in the game were, as playing with the eponymous goo felt very much like manipulating a fluid-like science experiment--but in the best way possible. The unique fun this provided made World of Goo irresistible to gamers who were looking for something new and interesting.
This game debuted for the Xbox 360 and PS3 in 2009 and even got a 2015 release on the PS4 and Xbox One. The game featured a GTA-like open world along with an interesting story that included diverse missions. Players could not only drive a tank but throw an entire car if they wanted to. The game also featured a mechanic where the player could "merge" with other characters.
Prototype ended up being pirated around 2.35 million times. Though it doesn't rank the highest on this list, the developer studio, Radical Entertainment, never quite recovered. Though they assisted for the initial Destiny release, they have not made a game since and faced massive layoffs after the release of Prototype 2.
Prototype Release Date & Platform Availability
Prototype was released on June 9, 2009, and is available on Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
Prototype Critical Reception
With an intriguing storyline and protagonist, plays were able to get immersed into a complex combat system. However, there are a few that complained about the occasional inaccuracy of the controls as well as the somewhat repetitive scenery.
10 Starcraft 2
Starcraft 2 is a game that still manages to be popular (easter eggs in its sister game Overwatch even suggest it'll be popular decades from now). The game's deep level of strategy and sci-fi setting endeared millions of players to keep coming back to it again and again. In its heyday, competitive matches drew crowds that could rival even a professional sports match.
The last known reported piracy number was 3.12 million copies. However, pirates are only able to access the single-player content in the game due to various limitations in the software.
Starcraft 2 Release Date & Platform Availability
Starcraft 2 was released on July 27, 2010, and is available on Microsoft Windows and macOS.
Starcraft 2 Critical Reception
The deep strategy involved hooked lovers of this genre from day one and held gameplay so fun that a thriving online community erupted. There have been infinite memes about situations found in-game that echo the years of fun this title has provided.
9 Sims 3
Sims 3 stands in stark comparison with most of the other titles on this list. The others are dark, gritty, and realistic. Sims 3 is a cartoony game where players can watch the lives of the virtual people they create.
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Its latest known number of illegal copies is 3.2 million unauthorized downloads. It was even leaked before the game was officially released (though this version was incomplete and filled with bugs). While they were upset about the leak, publisher EA didn't seem to care too much about the piracy since downloaders only received a fraction of the game. They hoped if thieves enjoyed what they played they would consider getting the game legally.
Sims 3 Release Date & Platform Availability
Sims 3 was released on June 2, 2009, and is available on Microsoft Windows, macOS, Android, BlackBerry OS, Windows Phone, iOS, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo DS, N-Gage 2.0, Wii, and Nintendo 3DS.
Sims 3 Critical Reception
One of the greatest features of Sims 3 compared to older games in the series is the noticeable lack of load screens--something unanimously loved by all. This title also received praise for the refined balance between familiar older concepts and fresh ones that breathe new life into the franchise.
8 Mass Effect 2
Many gamers still consider Mass Effect 2 to be one of the best video games ever made. Its deep choice-based storytelling and the relationships players could build with their companions drew players into its meticulously crafted world. However, the lack of true RPG elements and a boring planet-scanning mechanic was criticized. Still, the visuals, music, and character customization were also widely adored.
Its developer tried to entice players with free DLC to combat digital piracy. However, that didn't stop gamers from stealing 3.24 million copies of the game.
Mass Effect 2 Release Date & Platform Availability
Mass Effect 2 was released on January 26, 2010, and is available on Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3.
Mass Effect 2 Critical Reception
The diverse cast of characters, immersive elements, art design, and voice acting were but some of the many aspects that made fans fall in love with Mass Effect 2. Even the multiplayer features held great fun for those who wanted to play with some friends instead of delving into the deep sci-fi story.
7 Mafia 2
Everything a player needs to know about Mafia 2 is in the title. It is about the mafia and it is set in the mid-1900s, it follows a protagonist who must travel between the different gangs of the fictional Empire City while also trying to repay his father's debt. Its gameplay was placed in an open world where players could be pursued by the police if they broke the law. Many have said it is like a 1950s Grand Theft Auto.
Mafia 2 was pirated over 3.5 million times. Details about why the game was so highly stolen are scarce. It is possible that it was targeted for its similarities to GTA. However, since the game wasn't nearly as successful as that franchise, it would have likely had fewer protections in place.
Mafia 2 Release Date & Platform Availability
Mafia 2 was released on August 24, 2010, and is available on Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Mac OS X, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
Mafia 2 Critical Reception
The unrelenting gangster gameplay feels appropriate for the setting and intent of the game, which made many players enjoy themselves while cruising around Empire City to commit any number of crimes. The game received some backlash for this, as well as its excessive profanity, however, the developers countered these criticisms by stating that Mafia 2 can hardly be considered any more offensive than the many mafia-related movies that have been released over the years.
6 Battlefield: Bad Company 2
Battlefield: Bad Company 2 has been pirated 3.98 million times. That's more than most games could ever dream of selling on their own. And it is not even in the top five of this list. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is an entry in the popular Battlefield franchise. The game follows a squad of soldiers during a fictional war between Russia and the United States of America.
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Its single and multiplayer modes were highly acclaimed. In the end, Bad Company 2's final sales numbers weren't hurt much. The game went on to sell over 10 million copies. But developer DICE has not made another game in the franchise to date.
Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Release Date & Platform Availability
Battlefield: Bad Company 2 was released on March 2, 2010, and is available on Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, iOS, and Kindle Fire.
Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Critical Reception
While the single-player aspects were rather lackluster, the multiplayer features were praised heavily. Gamers had to refine their skills to earn each kill thanks to the tight and somewhat realistic mechanics. The detailed environments were also much-loved by gamers, and, in addition to the realism of the mechanics, made this a very immersive military experience.
5 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
4.1 million is close to a quarter of the over 22 million copies this game sold. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 may be one of the most popular titles in the already mega-popular series.
Its multiplayer was considered the best on the market at the time. Even the game's engine was revolutionary. It was one of the first to place enemies randomly throughout single-player levels instead of having them always be in the same place. Released in 2009, it was the sixth mainline entry in the franchise.
Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Release Date & Platform Availability
Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was released on November 10, 2009, and is available on Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, macOS, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Critical Reception
Definitely considered one of the best first-person shooter games ever released, the game's engine, level design, and enemy AI made the single-player experience worth attaining this game at any cost, even stealing it. However, due to the insanely fun multiplayer features, this game will forever be more known for the fun times that gamers had online than its single-player aspects.
4 Call of Duty: Black Ops
Released the following year, 2010's Call of Duty: Black Ops narrowly defeats Modern Warfare 2 with over 4.2 million illegal downloads. This game started the Black Ops trilogy and is one of the most beloved Call of Duty games.
It differentiated itself from the Modern Warfare series by being more lighthearted and faster-paced than its predecessor. The story follows a CIA agent operating in the 1960s during the cold war. The game's piracy was so severe that real-life private investigators began tracking down those who were getting unauthorized copies.
Call Of Duty: Black Ops Release Date & Platform Availability
Call Of Duty: Black Ops was released on November 9, 2010, and is available on Microsoft Windows, Nintendo DS, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360, and OS X.
Call Of Duty: Black Ops Critical Reception
Players enjoyed Black Ops for similar reasons that they enjoyed Modern Warfare 2, but with a few minor differences. Black Ops was more focused on fast-paced gameplay with more explosions and exciting moments over the tactical feel Modern Warfare 2 possessed.
3 Phantasy Star Portable 2
When people think of big games, entries from the Phantasy Star series won't often be one of the first games that come to mind, however, 4.67 million pirated copies beg to differ. Phantasy Star Portable 2 was a spin-off from the main series that was published on the Playstation Portable.
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While the series is most well known for its online components, the Portable series allowed fans to take the experience on the go. The reason behind its excessive piracy could be due to looser restrictions on the portable platform. As this and the next entries show, when the restraints are relaxed, piracy can run rampant.
Phantasy Star Portable 2 Release Date & Platform Availability
Phantasy Star Portable 2 was released on December 3, 2009, and is available on PlayStation Portable.
Phantasy Star Portable 2 Critical Reception
Receiving mixed reviews, it is unknown why this game was pirated as heavily as it was around its time of release. It very well may be due to how easy it was to acquire for gamers who simply wanted a free game.
2 Dissidia Final Fantasy
While it nearly tops the list, Dissidia Final Fantasy also might not be a title that immediately comes to gamer's minds.
Much like Nintendo's Super Smash Bros.series, Dissidia was a fighting game that featured a massive crossover between the Final Fantasy series. Unlike most fighting games, this took place in 3D rather than being confined to a two-dimensional plane. Its 5.4 million pirated copies lost the company $335 million in Dissidia Final Fantasy sales. A sequel, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT, was later released on consoles, arcades, and PC.
Dissidia Final Fantasy Release Date & Platform Availability
Dissidia Final Fantasy was released on December 18, 2008, and is available on PlayStation Portable.
Dissidia Final Fantasy Critical Reception
The fast-paced gameplay and simple controls made the learning curve easy for most to climb, whether they were familiar with the PSP or not. As such, gamers flocked to this title once it was leaked by pirates, as it was an easy game to pick up and play.
1 Pokemon Diamond and Pearl
Coming in with 5.4 million pirated copies combined between Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, this Nintendo DS title is the undefeated champion of pirated games.
Piracy was uncontrollable on the in general DS and it's speculated that nearly a billion dollars were lost in sales. And that's only counting the year 2009 in Japan alone. Nintendo was totally unprepared for this and had no means in Diamond and Pearl to combat those who wanted the game illegally. In the next titles, Heartgold and Soulsilver, a system was put in place to make battle impossible to complete if the copy was unauthorized.
Pokemon Diamond And Pearl Release Date & Platform Availability
Pokemon Diamond and Pearl was released on September 28, 2006, and is available on Nintendo DS.
Pokemon Diamond And Pearl Critical Reception
With the introduction of many refined combat mechanics, as well as other features, this Pokemon game made great use of the DS' features. This was especially important to note as this was the first main series Pokemon game to be released on this handheld console, which, due to the immense franchise following, was almost a guaranteed recipe to get pirated due to the Nintendo DS' lack of online protection.
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Is Spore the most pirated game? ›
EA's Spore has broken all previous records to become the most pirated game ever, with over 500,000 pirated copies being downloaded within the first ten days of the title's release.Can you go to jail for cracked games? ›
Finally, it's important to remember that using pirated gaming content is illegal. Depending on the jurisdiction in which you live, it could lead to fines or even jail time, if use of cracked software can be traced back.Does EA care about piracy? ›
ⓘ We use specific security software to combat piracy and cheating, and tampering with it can result in losing access to our games. EA utilizes technical or content protection measures, developed by EA or third-party partners, for EA Services in order to prevent piracy and the unauthorized copying or use of EA Games.Is it okay to pirate a game you own? ›
No, it's illegal. Copyright is the exclusive right to make and distribute copies of something.What is the most cracked game ever? ›
- 1 Pokemon Diamond and Pearl.
- 2 Dissidia Final Fantasy. ...
- 3 Phantasy Star Portable 2. ...
- 4 Call of Duty: Black Ops. ...
- 5 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. ...
- 6 Battlefield: Bad Company 2. ...
- 7 Mafia 2. ...
- 8 Mass Effect 2. ...
The most pirated video game goes to COD black ops with over 4.1 million downloads. Another example of a highly pirated game was Spore, because players hated the securom DRM that required you to be connected to the internet.Can Steam ban you for pirated games? ›
Pirating games can lead to your account being permanently suspended. That's far worse than a VAC ban. So. Did you think it was a good idea to post on the Steam Forums that you're pirating games?What stops games from being pirated? ›
One of the most typical means of copy protection is to assign a serial key to each legitimate copy of the game, so that it can only be activated by entering the serial. However, this is often circumvented via software cracking, or through the use of a keygen.
Can Steam detect pirated games? No they can't, if you haven't cracked them correctly it does take you to the steam store sometimes but they can't detect it.How many times Spore pirated? ›
Perhaps as a result, Spore was pirated at an unprecedented rate. A week after its September, 2008 release, it had been pirated nearly 200,000 times.
How many copies did Spore sell? ›
EEDAR, a game market research firm, estimates that Spore sales have hit 2.8 million worldwide. The figure hits about 3.2 million if you count the Spore Creature Creator, a $10 game that includes only the creature creation function.How many copies of Spore have been sold? ›
“Spare” sold more than 1.43 million copies in all formats in the United States, Canada and Britain, including pre-orders, according to its publisher.Was Spore a successful game? ›
Electronic Arts wants you to know that Spore is officially a huge success. Since the game's September 7 release, over 1 million copies have been sold and players have uploaded more than 25 million creatures and surprisingly Freudian spaceships to Sporepedia, the game's online content repository.