CD Projekt RED: Witcher 2 piracy estimated at 4.5m copies

But developer still stands by anti-DRM stance despite losing 4 out of 5 sales

The Witcher 2 has now sold over one million legal copies, including a well publicised success on Good Old, and all without any form of DRM. However, developer CD Projekt RED estimates that over 4.5 million copies have been illegally pirated.

Speaking in an interview with PC Gamer, CEO and co-founder Marcin Iwinski spoke about that figure, revealing that it was probably a 'conservative' estimate, but that it would not change the company's position on DRM use.

"There are no stats available, but let's make a quick calculation," says Iwinski of the 4.5 million number.

"I was checking regularly the number of concurrent downloads on torrent aggregating sites, and for the first 6-8 weeks there was around 20-30 thousand people downloading it at the same time. Let's take 20 thousand as the average and let's take 6 weeks.

"The game is 14GB, so let's assume that on an average not-too-fast connection it will be 6 hours of download. 6 weeks is 56 days, which equals to 1344 hours; and with 6 hours of average download time to get the game it would give us 224 downloads, then let's multiply it by 20 thousand simultaneous downloaders.

"The result is roughly 4.5 million illegal downloads. This is only an estimation, and I would say that's rather on the optimistic side of things; as of today we have sold over 1 million legal copies, so having only 4.5-5 illegal copies for each legal one would be not a bad ratio. The reality is probably way worse."

But Iwinski is adamant about refusing to bring any DRM measures on board, largely because they are notoriously ineffective, but also because they tend to disadvantage legitimate players even more than they do pirates.

"From the very beginning our main competitors on the market were pirates. The question was really not if company x or y had better marketing or better releases, but more like 'How can we convince gamers to go and buy the legit version and not to go to a local street vendor and buy a pirated one?' We of course experimented with all available DRM/copy protection, but frankly nothing worked. Whatever we used was cracked within a day or two, massively copied and immediately available on the streets for a fraction of our price.

"We did not give up, but came up with new strategy: we started offering high value with the product - like enhancing the game with additional collectors' items like soundtracks, making-of DVDs, books, walkthroughs, etc. This, together with a long process of educating local gamers about why it makes sense to actually buy games legally, worked. And today, we have a reasonably healthy games market.

"In any case, I am not saying that we have eliminated piracy or there is not piracy in the case of TW2. There is, and TW2 was [illegally] downloaded by tens of thousands of people during the first two weeks after release. Still, DRM does not work and however you would protect it, it will be cracked in no time. Plus, the DRM itself is a pain for your legal gamers - this group of honest people, who decided that your game was worth the $50 or Euro and went and bought it. Why would you want to make their lives more difficult?"

More stories

Cyberpunk 2077's third delay pushes it to December 10

CD Projekt Red says it needs an extra three weeks to work on launch day patch

By Brendan Sinclair

The Witcher 3's second-biggest year drives CD Projekt revenues to $124.7m

Downloads drive RPG's ongoing success, company still confident of September launch for Cyberpunk 2077

By James Batchelor

Latest comments (24)

Terence Gage Freelance writer 8 years ago
I'm sure it's been pirated a lot and despite this I'm glad they still advocate the non-DRM route, but I find the maths in calculating this very flimsy, based on little other than assumption and conjecture.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 8 years ago
I'm finding the by-line for this on the front-page rather flimsy... "But developer still stands by anti-DRM stance despite losing 4 out of 5 sales". As has been noted elsewhere, not all pirated copies are lost sales. Some pirates pirate simply because they can; some because they want the game, but don't have the money (and thus, wouldn't buy it because they *can't* buy it); and others pirate as a means of trying games out, since demos are so sparse.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 8 years ago
The way Dark Souls seamlessly integrates co-op and PVP features might be a chance to include non-intrusive DRM measures. A CD key, an email-account and an anonymous WitcherX account might be enough to prevent a lot of piracy, or at least put pirates into a position where they have the inferior product. Sure, you can play Dark Souls solo, but you are a fool to try it.

Done right, people can embrace copy protection, or aspect of a game which can be turned into a copy protection. What people hate, is bullshit DRM, such as online single player games and copy protection schemes trying to mine personal data on every aspect of your life.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Show all comments (24)
James Boulton Owner, Retro HQ Ltd8 years ago
I must admit "losing 4 out of 5 sales" is rubbish. People who download games are unlikely to have bought them, and the reasoning behind the number of illegal downloads is a little overzealous IMO.

Some kind of copy protection so you cant just run-off a copy for your mate using a burner is a must, however anything more than that is probably of very little benefit. Everything is going to be cracked within days of launch, it's just inevitable.

And forcing people to use Steam for DRM is a pet hate of mine. I really don't want that piece of bloated ad-ware on my machine just to run a game. Personally I think DRM like this actually encourages people to search for downloads over legit copies.

But, yes, bravo for boycotting DRM!

I think developers / publishers should be trying to exploit the popularity of a title, pirated or not. If it gets an additional 4 million impressions because of piracy, there must be a way of leveraging this to your advantage. Not sure how without annoying the end user (adverts etc...), but there must be something in it...
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 8 years ago
Replace the word "games" with "cars" or "beef" and you'll see that defending theft in ANY form is a bad idea. If you take something that you weren't going to buy anyway, that's theft in any court in the land. You can tell the judge "Well, I'm a vegetarian and REALLY wanted to try a steak, but I didn't want to pay for it, so I just took it so I could see how it tastes!" Or some other variation of "I really wouldn't have bought it otherwise, so I took it!", but it won't wash.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
David Bachowski VP Business Development, Babaroga8 years ago
@Greg - when we start getting 3d food printers then we will start seeing the same type of theft. "I stole this steak printing recipe so that I could try it out". The difference between cars and software is that once you complete a piece of software there is virtually no cost in selling multiples of the same copy. Tell that to a car company that spends thousands in materials for each car.

I'm not defending theft or software piracy. I'm just pointing out that there is a fundamental difference between digital products and physical products.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
David Wicks Editor / Co-Founder, Gamers Heaven8 years ago
i think DRM where parts of the game simply dont work on pirated copies is the way forward, it's nt forcing you to be online every ten seconds, and it's not in your face either legit users will never know it's there until they read the articles online about what happens with illegal copies, like Batman Arkham Asylum, batman cant jump or glide, Sims (most of them) you cant build things, Garys Mod, an error that points you out to the community and gary when you go looking fr help with it... these are pretty clever and only effect the illegal copies, and best part is legit users dont have to jump through hoops or stay on a leash held by the publisher over the net just to play the game...
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Neil Young Programmer, Rebellion Developments8 years ago
@greg software piracy is by definition not theft -
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 8 years ago
@ Greg.

You can try a steak for 4 from Tesco, or a tenner in a restaurant. Buying The Witcher 2 requires far more financial outlay, which means that the consumer has to either risk not liking it, or "demo" it. And whilst this is what reviews should be for, the criticism-side of gaming journalism has fallen to sub-par standards recently, I feel.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 8 years ago
Just walk into any game store and it is obvious that boxed PC product is a broken business model, there is just so little of it any more. It is best for developers to walk away and use their resources and talents on less pirated platforms. Then the people who do the pirating get punished by having no new games. And the developer can concentrate on business matters other than countering piracy.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
gi biz ;, 8 years ago
"Some pirates pirate simply because they can; some because they want the game, but don't have the money (and thus, wouldn't buy it because they *can't* buy it); and others pirate as a means of trying games out, since demos are so sparse."

Isn't this what I've been saying over and over?
By the way, +1 to CDProjekt for their DRM-free philosophy, I see both the witcher and games on gog are selling well enough to show that not all gamers are cheap downloaders.

Speaking of wich, wouldn't it be nice to make some sort of poll (instead of just complaining about estimates being unrealistic), and maybe ask directly on torrent forums the age of people, why they're downloading, their country etc... Maybe asking politely to the forums' owners would allow for an authorized poll that integrates into the website.
This way we would finally know if majority is 10 years old pennyless kids, people not knowing what they're doing, or just the fat pigs that we all seem to have in mind, that is just stealing to keep both the money and the game.
Seeing how well the humble bundle is doing (and they're not even selling AAA titles), I'm tempted to think that piracy is a minor issue compared to, for example, the second hand market.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Terence Gage Freelance writer 8 years ago
+1 to Michele's comments above. Trying to poll the pirates on why they steal these games rather than pay for them seems like it would be very useful in getting a clearer understanding of piracy, even if not eradicating it.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Roger Weber Founder & CEO, Ranked Gaming8 years ago
I understand the issues with piracy, however I see the whole issue from another point of view. [link url=

This is the first news article that I've seen where piracy was ever mentioned without a negative spin to it, though in the news a lot of the benefits are not highlighted. Let's be realistic, most people who resort to piracy either would not be able to purchase the game, or they are insecure potential customers. 7 years ago I was handed a Warcraft III copy by a Chinese friend, and that's how I was introduced to the game. I ended up buying five legal copies of the game and its expansion pack.

Piracy is "free" advertisment. The people that would not be able to afford the game have friends who might do, it gives the game and the company a lot of exposure. It's not completely free, the actual cost of this marketing campaign is the gamer, who could have bought the game, but decided to stick with the free version. In fact you could see piracy as a variation of the freemium business model. It lets people play for free, but reserves the option for others to finance your operations.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
I really respect what this guys are doing. Really putting their money where their mouth is.

That tied to the fact that they do hardcore RPGs for PC only... I'd feel like an asshole downloading illegally something made by these guys.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Brian Lewis Operations Manager, PlayNext8 years ago
Imagine this (if you can).

The developer was able to reach ~5M customers via unpaid viral advertising. From this pool, they were then able to sell ~1M copies.

When it is put this way, it seems like a great idea. In fact, if more companies used this to their benefit, then they would most likely see an increase profits. (i.e. why fight the tide, when you can use it to your benefit).
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 8 years ago
To add to the "piracy as free advertising" line...

Go back a few months and look at Deus Ex:HR. Believe me when I say there was a hell of a lot of negtivity from the average PC gamer about this game. One of the most beloved games on the PC (the original DE), and people were complaining about the style of this new game, the stupid yellow shimmer on objects... absolutely everything was derpified.

Then the first 10 hours leaked (from a journo?), and got torrented to hell and back. The about-face from PC gamers was startling - the fact that they were able to play the game before-hand, try out the controls, the sneaking, look at the AI... all these things helped the eventual-release of DE:HR. People pre-ordered on the back of torrenting the leak. Even the developers listened to what the pirates had to say about the leak, tweaking things here and there, from comments on the official board.

Honestly, there's a lot of draw-backs to piracy, but what SquEnix/Eidos Montreal did was a text-book case of using pirates as playtesters, and I think more companies should learn from their example.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Ignacio Garcia8 years ago
#Bruce Everiss
"Just walk into any game store and it is obvious that boxed PC product is a broken business model, there is just so little of it any more. It is best for developers to walk away and use their resources and talents on less pirated platforms. Then the people who do the pirating get punished by having no new games. And the developer can concentrate on business matters other than countering piracy."

Yeah, say that to Blizzard, now wait, better say it to Valve... you don't seem to be very aware how the industry of online gaming is right now, but let me tell you that good companies like the ones mentioned above, sale millions and make millions in PC games, and it's because they don't release overpriced crappy games full of bugs with intrusive-anoying-isthelasttimeIbuythemagame type of DRM. PC gamers are tired of being cheated and abused by companies like EA, Ubisoft, etc... and piracy is the consequence of that, but still, good companies, specially the ones that have a long reputation of doing good stuff and giving a good suport, don't seem to have those problems...
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 8 years ago
@ Ignacio

Indeed. Off-topic, I know, but Bruce appears to be so cynically anti-PC gaming it's shocking; for all its faults, PC gaming has some amazing sales - when the games are good - and some amazingly innovative games.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Tom Keresztes Programmer 8 years ago
@Tom Pickard,

Maybe they are not very keen to spend 30 quid on a game which is either a dvd in a dvd case, or just a download. It had lost quite lot from sense of value since games were sold in boxes, now its quite obviously mass produced, no complexity, and in quite often 4 hours or less for a playtrough.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Johnathon Swift8 years ago
"Losing 4 out of 5 sales"

I don't think that means what you think it means. What is needed, if you really wanted to estimate such, is a factor of how many people of that would have bought that game at retail price. It's such a basic principle of business and economics, but I guess ignoring it makes for a better blurb.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Jamie Watson Studying Bachelor of Games & Interactive Entertainment, Queensland University of Technology8 years ago
now if more companies did this then people would be happy.

still its a bad ratio for a good developer.

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 8 years ago
Amusingly enough, about five or so years ago I actually DID ask some folks who pirate why they do it and it boils down to a few reasons, none of which are acceptable from a loss prevention viewpoint. Things I recall were: legitimate gripes about pricing on single games (but somehow, they can afford expensive PC's to run the games and high speed connections to torrent with), to anti-DRM complaints (but when you're not intending to pay for a game, these don't matter, right?) to some who just found it great to get stuff for free before anyone else and so forth and so on. No one had a legitimate excuse for basically taking money from someone else (in the case of those who got full version games), but almost all of them felt people who paid for games (full price or any price) weren't as smart as they were.

Also, at this time, demo discs were quite common, but even with the lack of them one thing it seems people had a bit more of back then was patience. Some of those folks would wait for a demo disc to drop, play it, THEN add the full game to their list of stuff to swipe (honor among thieves!). By the way, pro-data theft arguments won't work if you tap into a government agency computer and take what's there. Once you get caught, expect some not so nice treatment, from what I've read.

While I've heard over and over from folks who got a burned copy of a game and later bought the actual games or follow ups themselves, that's not what I was talking about at all. It's happened to me as well, but the person who dumped those discs he didn't want in my lap was still stealing games for himself by the dozens a month and never as far as I can tell paid for anything he played. Hell, I understand the need to sample mentality myself (I collect demo discs for assorted platforms and miss the days when they were a regular thing). But it's different to grab an unfinished demo from somewhere and pass it around (which I know some devs hate) than taking a full game and posting it up like it's not a big deal.

Given that some of the excuses for piracy are the hatred of DRM and high game prices, wouldn't a more PROPER solution to this be a boycott PLUS finding games that are worth supporting? Wishful thiking here, I'd LOVE to see these folks do something original like not even bother to steal (oh, excuse me, "BORROW") the damn game in the first place just to make a more dramatic point that's harder to ignore at the end of the day. Go on strike, if you want to call it that.

If you think about it, all piracy does (other than take money from folks who bust their asses to make some great games) is force MORE stupid DRM on legitimate customers, which in turn "forces" some of them to steal (er. "BORROW") that game they want so much. The thing is, if all these folks want to see change, they might want to see what happens if they think a bit ahead of the expected antics publishers are gearing up for with both barrels and not automatically head for the torrent bay.

If you want to make an impact on publishers and developers about what you feel are things you dislike, don't even bother to steal the damn game. Using some of the logic I've read in comments here: No stolen games + no "word of mouth" = less overall sales. I'm sure we'd all get a laugh when there's a news item that says so-and-so is upset that not even pirates are touching their new game.

Me, I've ZERO plans to buy Diablo III because I dislike the always online requirement for the solo play and a few other changes made to the formula. Runic's upcoming Torchlight II and whatever Soldak is coming out with are where my iso dungeon crawl money is going. Now, I know my -$50 or whatever is not even going to scratch Blizzard's eyelashes, but I also know that I'm supporting a developer I feel gets the point of making sure as many people as possible can play their game with no restrictions.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
James Ingrams Writer 8 years ago
Let's say Dragon Age, on PC, sold 2 million copies, and it can be proved there was no piracy. Now assume the same for Mass Effect and Bioshock. Now let's say the Witcher 2 also sold 2 million copies on PC, like these other titles, but it was announced 4 million pirate copies were downloaded. In what way can you say Withcer 2 lost 4 million sales?

Are we really saying the title should have sold 3 times more copies than Dragon Age, etc, under my example? Or do you say that they all sold 2 million copies, so The Witcher 2 sold all it could, matching it's competitors, even though they had no piracy?

The Witcher 2 is going to be one of the top selling PC titles this year. It has sold the same or more PC copies than Dragon Age on PC, Bioshock on PC and Mass Effect on PC. This is why CD Projekt RED are not particularly worried. Their attitude is, quite rightly, "how many copied did we sell?" and they sold as many copies of their title as any other PC title this year.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
James Prendergast Process Specialist 8 years ago
14 GB in 6 hours? I wish *I* had that sort of connection!! What does he consider "not too fast"?!!
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply

Sign in to contribute

Need an account? Register now.