Video game piracy sucks, but that doesn’t mean developers can’t have a sense of humor about it.

Remedy Entertainment has a clever way to deal with people who illegally download its games. In its latest title, the time-bending shooter Quantum Break, it slaps a dashing eyepatch onto the main character if it detects that you’re playing a cracked copy. The developer pulled the same prank in its 2010 psychological horror game Alan Wake. It’s Remedy’s winking way of saying, “Hey, I see you pirated my game. Maybe you’d like to buy a copy instead?”

Quantum Break is hardly the first game to thumb its nose at software pirates, though. Here are more examples of the inventive and often amusing ways developers seek to punish digital freebooters.

Electronic Arts’ popular life simulation games normally pixelate characters when they’re nude, like when they’re using the shower or the bathroom. The blurriness goes away once the character completes its task, but if you’re playing a pirated version of The Sims 4, something else happens: every time a character does something that would normally be censored, the pixelation gets bigger and bigger. Eventually it fills the entire screen, effectively “censoring” the entire game and creating a blocky mosaic reminiscent of Minecraft.

Gliding is an important game mechanic in developer Rocksteady’s Batman franchise. But if you pirate the PC version of Batman: Arkham Asylum, you get a Dark Knight whose cape refuses to open. Not only does this ruin the experience of soaring gracefully over Gotham as the Caped Crusader, it makes the game unbeatable as well, since gliding is necessary to reach certain areas of the map.

After experiencing the intentional glitch, one person went to the Eidos forums to innocently complain and received this response from an admin:

The problem you have encountered is a hook in the copy protection, to catch out people who try and download cracked versions of the game for free. It’s not a bug in the game’s code, it’s a bug in your moral code.

Developer Rockstar Games knew piracy would be an issue with the PC version of Grand Theft Auto IV. It warned people in a 2008 interview with IGN that “using a cracked copy of GTA IV PC will result in varying changes to the game experience.” Those changes included a wobbly camera shake that rivals any found-footage film in its ability to make you want to vomit.

In addition to the nausea-inducing camera work, cracked versions of GTA IV also feature a glitch that makes cars burst into flames and automatically accelerate whenever you get into them.

The Serious Sam franchise is known for being, well, not so serious, and developer Croteam came up with some creative ways to punish those who illegally download Serious Sam 3: BFE. From the moment you pick up your first gun, you’re relentlessly pursued by a giant red scorpion. An invincible giant red scorpion. A super fast invincible giant red scorpion wielding twin chainguns.

Ironically, once word got out about Croteam’s digital rights management monstrosity, more people were tempted to pirate the game just to fight the predatory arachnid themselves. But players who somehow escaped the scorpion encountered a second glitch later on that caused their cameras to lock up, forcing them to run in circles screaming.

Far Cry 4’s way of dealing with pirates isn’t the most inventive, but it’s certainly effective. Cracked copies of the game disable the FOV (field of view) option under the settings menu. This caused many players to kvetch to publisher Ubisoft, only to get a verbal smackdown from creative director Alex Hutchinson on Twitter:


Nintendo’s 1995 cult classic EarthBound is the oldest example on this list. It’s also the most diabolical. If you pirate the game, once you reach the final boss fight against the alien creature Giygas, the game screen freezes, according to this video breakdown by fan site Starmen.Net. This forces you to restart. When you try to load your save file, however, you discover it’s been deleted. Poof. Dozens of hours of a game pirate’s life, gone.

Game Dev Tycoon is a business simulator that tasks you with running your own video game development studio. Knowing that his game was likely going to be pirated, Greenheart Games founder Patrick Klug reportedly uploaded a cracked version to torrent sites himself. As people progressed through this version of the game, they received the following message:

“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 buy the games they like, we will sooner or later go bankrupt.”

Eventually, you do go bankrupt. Unfortunately the irony was lost on some pirates:

Stefanie Fogel is a freelance writer based in Las Vegas. Her work has appeared at PC Gamer, Polygon, and GamesBeat. She talks about video games a lot. Follow her on Twitter @stefaniefogel.

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