Crazy ways video game pirates were punished by developers

So, you thought you could get away with it, huh? You thought you could just copy that game or modify your console and go to town playing some of the biggest and best titles without having to fork over some cash? A lot of people worked really hard making those games, and some of that work even went into screwing over pirates in hilariously creative ways …

Prince of Persia

Back when computer games were getting popular, and people were just starting to get them in their homes, game developers had limited options when it came to copy protection for their games. Not only did they need to get creative, but they also needed to utilize what they had: physical rulebooks and media.

The developers of Prince of Persia, for example, had a fun and unique way of dealing with pirates. In the second level of the game, when the pirate thinks they're in the clear and can continue to play, they come to a large room filled with potions. Each potion has a letter above it, which corresponds to a code in the printed manual. Choose the wrong potion, due to having stolen the game and having no access to a manual, and you can't progress further, due to your character's pesky untimely death. If you have the manual, and therefore the code, you would then choose the correct potion, and get to live on to finish the game. Basically, they went with the ending of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: "You have chosen wisely."

Mirror's Edge

Mirror's Edge centers on the player doing all sorts of crazy runny jumpy parkour. To accomplish this, the player needs to build up speed before they can defy the laws of physics and run sideways across a wall. Given that speed is necessary to play the game for more than a minute, the developers just took it away from copies deemed to be illegitimate.

Shortly after gameplay starts and the player runs to the first edge they find, the character's movement slows to a snail's pace. Any attempt at running, jumping, and moving like some kind of crazy spider-person becomes effectively impossible. The pirate learns that they can't play the game and, with any luck, does the right thing and pays for a copy of one of 2009's greatest games.

Five Nights at Freddy's

Have you ever seen one of those videos of a quiet screen displaying a beautiful pastoral image or something equally beautiful when, all of a sudden and seemingly out of nowhere, a monster jump-scares the life out of you? That's Five Nights at Freddy's (one of the most frightening titles of all time) in a nutshell and, if you stole it, the scares are even more life-sucking.

Players who attempt to quit their pirated copy of a game will find themselves on the receiving end of an extra, unexpected, and pretty harsh jump scare! That's pretty much it, but it works really well. You may even know it's coming, but when that damn Freddy jumps at you, it can still cause all sorts of bodily fluids to get a move on. Sure, some might prefer the random jump scare at the end of play, to the rather soft closing a paying customer would receive, but for most, it's better to just shell out the cash and play a legitimate copy of a game that's already scary as a hundred Freddy Kruegers.

ARMA 2

ARMA 2 was a well-received first person shooter from 2009, which focused on infantry-style combat tactics. The game did well, which essentially means it was a target for pirates to copy and play for free. The developers, however, weren't screwing around when they wrote in their anti-piracy code, and anyone who attempted to play this game without a legitimate copy should have had a bucket or barf bag readily available.

The POV for the player starts to get wobbly as if the player is drunk. The focus cuts in and out and it is visually quite disturbing. Most people couldn't play it for more than a couple of minutes without getting some level of vertigo, but if they stuck with it, they would see that anytime they shot their weapon, the rounds would go off in a random direction.

If a pirate was somehow still playing through what had become an impossible game to play, the logo would replicate itself all over the screen in as obnoxious a way as possible. If that wasn't enough, after a while, the player just up and turns into a seagull! What's more, the distributors went ahead and released a free-to-play multiplayer version a couple years later, just to taunt disgruntled pirates even further. "Should have waaaiiittteeddd…"

Kirby's Dream Course

Folks intent on playing 1994's Kirby-centric mini-golf game, Kirby's Dream Course, without paying for it would first meet the following message when the game loaded: "It is a serious crime to copy video games. 18 USC 2319. Please refer to your Nintendo game instruction booklet for further information." Of course, there could be a bug, and maybe the player has a legitimate copy after all. With a tweak here, and a blowing out of the cartridge there, the game can still load up, so a pirate can get going with their epic Kirby game … or so it seems.

Players aren't rewarded as they normally would be when taking out an enemy, or even by clearing a hole. They also don't get a 1UP when they achieve a hole-in-one, so the game ends up getting progressively more and more difficult — we mean, more so than it normally would. And should the pirate actually finish the game, they aren't given an option to continue, their game data is corrupted, and the game intentionally crashes itself, which essentially wipes out everything the pirate had just illegally accomplished. That's worth at least a quadruple-bogey.

Earthbound

Earthbound was an epic way for game developers to troll pirates. They coded the game so it could be played, but progressively got so incredibly difficult, it became impossible to finish. Of course, some people somehow sludged through this epic challenge, and made it to the end of the game! Imagine the pride at their accomplishment. Not only did they get away with stealing a game, they also beat the copy protection and made it to the final level where … the game crashes. Whoopsie-dinkies!

Yep, of course it crashes with all your save data lost — Earthbound was made by the same company that made Kirby's Dream Course, after all, and they took it a few steps further with the pain they wanted to inflict on their would-be pirates.

It all comes to a head with the final boss, Giygas. The players battle him once and, if they win, they get to battle him again and then the game crashes. When the player reloads, they find their save data gone, which is epically painful since it lets you save up to that point. This just goes to show you not to mess around with HAL Laboratory or their games.

Skullgirls

The developers for Skullgirls had an interesting way of dealing with pirates: they embarrassed them online more than anything else. They let the pirate play through their game, nothing was limited, and nobody was turning anyone else into a seagull. The player would get through the game and finally beat it, only to be greeted with a text box saying, "What is the square root of a fish? Now I'm sad."

That's it. No end credits, nothing you might normally find at the ending of a game. Just a weird, archaic message that made absolutely no sense. Pirates were not only confused, they were annoyed. What was this supposed to mean? Well, they took to the Internet to find out. Hundreds of postings on the official game's forum and elsewhere popped up asking about the strange end-game message. The pirates were greeted simply with replies like, "Oh that? It means you should probably buy the game instead of pirate it. o:)" and other similar messages.

The pirates essentially outed themselves as ruthless bad gamers, willing to steal just to play the latest and greatest games while the developers sat back in their chairs and laughed and laughed at their clever trickery. It wasn't just about punishing pirates though, Skullgirls enjoyed some viral publicity as a result of their little end-game, which helped boost sales — this was quite the risk, considering the whole gambit relied on a bunch of people first stealing the game, and then a whole bunch more people buying it.

Crysis: Warhead

When the Crysis: Warhead system determines you're playing an unauthorized version of it, it makes it so all of your guns start to shoot live chickens. Yes, chickens. Bullets, rockets, whatever — it doesn't matter. All are now poultry.

Otherwise, the game works pretty much the same way as before — except that using melee is about the only way to even get through the game now, since shooting live chickens at an enemy does little more than confuse and annoy the hell out of them. Another added "benefit" to flooding a screen with hundreds of live cluckers is that the graphics processor can only handle so much at once. After a short period of pelting your enemies with hens, the game will lag and finally crash.

The best part of the whole chicken nightmare is that the enemies will eventually get bored. You see, you become invulnerable to their attacks just like they are with yours — after awhile, they just start throwing chickens your way. They also might just move about while ignoring you, but either way, the game doesn't let you move on, and you essentially end up playing the silliest game demo ever made.

Escape Velocity

Escape Velocity started out with a free trial, so there wasn't much of a reason to illegally copy the game. In fact, the more the game was copied, the more players the developers could get to try out the trial, with the hopes of eventually registering and paying for it.

During the trial, a ship called Cap'n Hector, would fly by the player's ship and remind them to register their game. Once the trial came to an end, if they player were still playing it for free, Cap'n Hector would know you were up to something shady and get mad. The good ship would fly by and, like any other pirate, would steal and plunder credits from the player. He would also fire relentlessly at the player, and was pretty much immortal so the player was guaranteed to be a goner. Essentially, the developers were saying to people unwilling to pay for their game that they would kill them … in-game, of course.

Batman: Arkham Asylum

In the hit game Batman: Arkham Asylum, the player can use a grappling hook to pull themselves towards objects. Even more effectively, they can jump from a high vantage point and glide down to a target area, to either kick and disable an enemy or simply land elegantly like … a bat. It's an ideal mechanic to get around and an essential aspect of the gameplay, which is why a pirate would know nothing about it.

Developers crafted some wicked code that was capable of identifying an illegitimate copy. Once the game failed the check, the ability to glide about on bat wings was simply removed. Players jumping from one vantage point to another would find out what happens when a person tries to do a bat-glide in reality: they plummet to the ground and spoil their advantage, giving themselves away to the enemy.

In one of the best reveals of all-time, pirates would expose themselves on the Internet by complaining in forums that they couldn't get Batman to glide and that he would just flap to the ground like an overgrown chicken. If that bit of wackiness wasn't enough, the game also takes away the ability to save, but who would really want to save a game they could never complete anyways?

Chrono Trigger

In a game all about travelling through time, the developers of Chrono Trigger found the best way to keep pirates from enjoying their game: they made it impossible to travel through time.

Anyone playing a pirated copy of the game would find themselves stuck in an infinite time travel loop from which there was no escape. Players wouldn't be able to tell immediately what the problem was, because the game would keep going and didn't freeze, but rather continued the time travel animation indefinitely. This would occur at the first instance of time travel, so the game essentially grinds to a halt early on. Continued attempts would render the same result, so the game became unplayable.

Game Dev Tycoon

Game Dev Tycoon is an interesting business simulator game that follows the design and development of a fictional game from start to finish. With the gameplay being all about developing video games and building an empire with the goal of making all of the money, there really was only one way the developers could troll pirates: they put the pirates in their shoes.

If you're playing an illegitimate copy of Game Dev Tycoon, you might notice your profits taking a steep dive when your otherwise-popular products should be making money. Eventually, one of your staff members will come up to you and say, "Boss, it seems that while many players play our new game, they steal it by downloading a cracked version rather than buying it legally. If players don't but the games they like, we will sooner or later go bankrupt." Not only does it make the gameplay terrible, and impossible for progression, it also directly inflicts upon game pirates the same problems they're contributing to the industry: pay for the games you enjoy so developers can continue making them. Don't pay and those developers will have to file for bankruptcy.

Like others on this list, people would run to the forums asking for help protecting their hard work. Not only did they out themselves as pirates, they hilariously complained about pirates stealing their virtual games while they were playing a pirated copy of a real game about trying to make money while creating virtual games. The irony, it would seem, was lost on many.

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