File-swapping gamers turning to torrents to get their illicit game on may have found themselves scratching their heads earlier this year after downloading a copy of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Back in May, a leaked copy of the game hit the ‘Net, and while it was listed as a Beta version it was anything but. Instead, it was an experiment carried out by the Vigilant Defender anti-piracy group. While it began with fun – offering up the actual game’s first few levels – it ended in… a questionnaire?
Vigilant Defender wound up with both a copy of the actual leaked game and a crack that enabled it to run, TorrentFreak reports. The firm combined those with a bit of homebrew code to create a file that actually included the first two levels of the game. They then uploaded the modified game at torrent sites, with postings that made it look as though actual piracy outfits were the culprits.
The devious part comes two levels in, when pirates were booted out of the game and dropped onto a website that included a massive questionnaire full of questions about why, how, and what the users typically downloaded from torrent sites.
James Grimshaw, the founder of Vigilant Defender, claims to have conducted the experiment without Square Enix’s or Eidos’ permission, but could it actually have been planned by the game company all along? TorrentFreak points out that Eidos already knew about the file by June 1st, when Community Manager Kyle Stallock was asking users to share their thoughts on it. They also cast doubt on Vigilant Defender’s 1 million-plus downloads claim, as no live torrents or forum postings indicate anywhere near that level of activity.
“And we won’t even go into the several strangely coincidental emails we received from readers who wanted to know if there was any truth in the rumor that Skidrow (a notoriously fast-acting supplier of PC game torrents) had an agreement with Eidos not to crack Deus Ex: HR as soon as it came out,” TorrentFreak writes. “We laughed at the time, but quite unusually it did take Skidrow more than a month after the game’s release to deliver an official crack.”
We don’t know what to make of all the shadowy claims and intricate questionnaires, but one thing’s for certain: the story sure is interesting! If you want to see the results of Vigilant Defender's piracy survey, check it out here (PDF). Quick snippets: 99.72 percent of pirates use Windows and 43.5 percent pirate titles because "games are expensive," with "It is free" coming in second with 16.3 percent.
10/14/11 Update: We have been contacted by Vigilant Defender CEO James Grimshaw, who showed us links to several torrents as proof of activity on the files. Each of the four links had anywhere from two to six comments each and were up to three months old. That relatively small number of comments is probably what TorrentFreak meant when it said that postings don't indicate that the torrents had been downloaded 1 million-plus times. Grimshaw's response:
"The nature of torrent sites, in general have very few people actively posting comment or description. This would require effort on the illegal downloader side. The more active torrent sites, the more popular ones, will delete fake torrents as soon as they are found out. A small group of moderators can effectively monitor their site deleting all comments with them with relative ease."