The people who upload torrents

By Julio Franco · 52 replies
Apr 20, 2016
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  1. Image Credit: Sam Woolley

    On a popular torrent site, Fallout 4 has been downloaded nearly 140,000 times. Nearly 200 people are downloading right now, as I write this. AAA or indie, Fallout 4 or Super Meat Boy, it doesn’t matter. Piracy is inevitable. But a torrent doesn’t appear out of thin air.

    There’s a person at the start of that process, an individual who decides to share a game with the world for free. I’ve talked with a few of them, and here’s what they had to say.

    I recently sent private messages to more than 30 uploaders at KickAssTorrents, ranked by Torrent Freak as the most popular torrent site in 2015, hoping some would talk to me. Only three responded. The vast majority of uploaders ignored my request—not exactly shocking—but those that did were more than happy to talk about being part of the piracy community. One told me his dream was “sharing games with the world,” while another declared piracy as just “part of the game.”

    Torrents are the most popular way to share pirated material these days, though the technology is hardly exclusive to piracy. Rather than a website hosting a file and paying for bandwidth as each individual downloads it, torrents allow groups to collectively shoulder the burden. It’s a much cheaper and more efficient way to distribute large files to a lot of people.

    Every uploader in this story declined to provide their real name, choosing to be addressed by their pseudonym used on KickAssTorrents.

    Stardew Valley, one of the many torrents started by mercs213.

    mercs213 has, as of this writing, uploaded 1015 torrents, including ones for Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 and Stardew Valley. (Between writing a draft of this story and hitting publish, he’d uploaded 10 more. )

    He’s a 23-year-old working for a “company that provides networking opportunities for CEOs” and spends most of his time fiddling with tech. When he’s not building computers for friends or family, he’s playing games. (Mostly RPGs.) He estimates spending about five hours per week creating and uploading torrents.

    “When I was young I always enjoyed the games people would provide which I could not afford but wanted to experience,” he told me. “I promised myself I would become a torrent uploader and do the same. So here I am sharing games with the world.”

    Some of the games he’s uploading come from the piracy scene, others are ones he’s legitimately bought. He prefers buying games from GOG, which prides itself on selling games without DRM.

    What makes mercs213 different from other uploaders is his constant communication with his...well, fans. KickAssTorrents is not merely a torrent repository; there are comments, message boards, and other social hooks to foster a community. There are even achievements to unlock, including Fake Killer (report 100 fake torrents), Last Man Uploading (upload a torrent just before a new year), Spamtastic Reporter (uploaded more than 1,000 torrents), and others.

    mercs213 regularly interacts with the legions waiting for the next upload. Because he’s “listening,” in his words, “they [fans] have more respect towards me and the effort I put into my work.”

    “Thanks so much for keeping all your GOG and other games up to date!!!,” wrote one fan. “You[’re] part of a very select group—and really appreciate all that you do here for us!!!”

    “Heyo Mercs. Love your uploads but can you please, PLEASE, upload the newDisgaea PC patches?” wrote another. “The game had an awful release and they fixed mostly everything in the last 3 patches. Thanks.”

    These fans are, of course, people downloading games illegally on the Internet. Lots of people have reasons—even good ones—for pirating games, as we’ve written about in the past, but let’s call a spade a spade. They’re fans of someone who’s really good at uploading games for free.

    This moral gray area doesn’t bother mercs213, who sees all DRM as “hurting the consumers.”

    “I don’t like to say the games are being stolen as nothing is being taken from someone,” he said. “People who are pirating a game can’t afford it, want to demo it, or had [any] intention of buying in the first place and there many more reasons I could list.”

    “I promised myself I would become a torrent uploader and do the same. So here I am sharing games with the world.”

    Even if people have reasonable justifications for piracy, there’s still the question of whether people are entitled to a free video game, whatever their reasons.

    “Even if they can’t afford the game, people should be able to experience it,” he said. “It gives a developer (especially an indie one) a chance to show their audience what types of games they can create. If the game is enjoyable, people are more inclined to buy it along with future games they produce.”

    That said, he believes if you enjoy a game, you should “support the developers by purchasing it.”

    FitGirl, with 322 torrents and counting, is another prominent uploader on KickAssTorrents. And yes, the name is descriptive.

    “I’m a female and kinda proud of it,” said FitGirl, who said she’s between 20 and 30 years old and works with computers. “In gaming—it’s growing. In repacks I think I’m alone for now.”

    “Repacks” is shorthand for repackaged software.

    Like mercs213, FitGirl maintains torrents, but fills a specific niche: smaller file sizes. She “worshiped” compression in her youth. As games got bigger in size, her hard drive couldn’t fit as many. She started storing games in ZIP files before discovering the many nuances driving compression. She wanted to share her experiments with the world. Thus, torrents.

    “It started when I realized that one of my games I compressed for my archive was much smaller than any releases on torrents,” she said. “I said to myself: ‘hmm, that’s interesting.’ [...] It’s like a sport—you try to compress the game to a smallest possible size yet it should unpack relatively fast.” For example, she was able to compress Mad Max from 32GB to 4.1GB, Grand Theft Auto V from 60 GB to 34.1GB, and Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor from 53.3GB to 17.6GB. The one downside is that unpacking compressed games can take a while; GTA V takes several hours.

    Months after release, Rise of the Tomb Raider still hasn’t been cracked.

    Repacks even have some uses outside of piracy.

    “Many people use repacks as an installer for Steam,” said FitGirl. “Just install in Steam game folder, then it checks that it already [has the] files and [downloads] just some small chunks.”

    Originally born in Russia, FitGirl started sharing her work with Russian-specific torrent sites. Hoping to reach a larger audience, she moved over to KickAssTorrents and was quickly welcomed. All of her torrents are personally repackaged and compressed on her computer.

    “Kind of a personal touch, you know,” she said.

    Whereas mercs213 sometimes buys games to share on KickAssTorrents, FitGirl only pulls from existing releases in the piracy scene. She does, however, buy games she “likes or loves.”

    “What I really hate is when uploaders (or pirates as a wider term) try to make money on what they are doing,” she said. “I think that I can share digital stuff made by others, but I shouldn’t make money on it. That’s totally unfair.”

    mercs213 and FitGirl said they don’t make money from piracy, but uploading torrents and making games freely available has a financial impact on developers, even if the exact amount is largely unprovable. She claims it’s not a big deal.

    Just Cause 3, like Tomb Raider, remains uncracked...for now.

    “That [impact] can only happen to some indie games,” she said, “Of course, sometimes such thoughts visit me.”

    Lots of developers I’ve spoken to over the years would likely take issue with that statement. Just this week, the developer behind the popular Steam game Punch Club revealed more than one million people were playing their game, but only 300,000 had purchased legitimate copies.

    In the near future, it might not matter what FitGirl or merc213 think about the game demos, piracy, or the presence of DRM. In February, I reported on the anti-piracy software from a company called Denuvo that’s vexed hackers for some time. It’s made games like Rise of the Tomb Raider and Just Cause 3uncrackable for months. While torrents for these games exist, they’re useless; no cracks exist to make them playable. It’s the same for the new Hitman, Garden Warfare 2, Far Cry Primal, and other games.

    One way or another, enough time will pass, and the games will be broken and pirated.

    “It’s part of the game,” said FitGirl. “When you start making games—be prepared.”

    Permalink to story.

  2. stewi0001

    stewi0001 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,685   +1,085

    It's nice to know that they don't have any morals. My biggest concern is that game developers could combat this more with going to the Free 2 Play game design. Thus screwing you more with micro transactions. I personally prefer to pay once and done.

    Ultimately, if you love a game, support the developers by buying it.
    Sphynx likes this.
  3. Ziffel

    Ziffel TS Booster Posts: 75   +62

    There are a few good reasons *not* to pirate games these days, aside from supporting developers.

    1. Steam and its amazing sales make buying most games very cheap, if you're willing to wait.

    2. Humble Bundle offers insane deals on packages of games. Just go there now and look at the Telltale package, and what you can get for $12. I also just bought Mad Max (a $60 game) when I signed up for a month of Humble Monthly. On May 6, I'll get several more games in that bundle, and I paid $10.80 for all of it.

    3. Modern games are much more heavily dependent on patches these days. Pirating games makes you dependent on 'some guy in his basement' for patches, which are sometimes critical to fixing a game. Steam will automatically patch your games with no input from you.

    4. Multiplayer - if you're into this, getting a pirated game often means you're left out. Most cracked games don't have mp support.

    For me, PC gaming is so cheap that it's not worth the hassle of piracy.
    Drew Valadez and Reehahs like this.
  4. VitalyT

    VitalyT Russ-Puss Posts: 3,671   +1,961

    Maybe they just choose not to mix their morals with civic duties :)
    Reehahs likes this.
  5. davislane1

    davislane1 TS Grand Inquisitor Posts: 4,741   +3,758

    Indeed. Wait 6 months and you can pick up just about anything for under $15.
  6. stewi0001

    stewi0001 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,685   +1,085

    perhaps :p

    really, I want to know where they live so I can just walk in, grab a drink and watch TV or go on their computer.
  7. Puiu

    Puiu TS Evangelist Posts: 2,673   +1,106

    I am still wondering how these guys don't get caught. It's not exactly hard to find their IP.
    mojorisin23 likes this.
  8. psycros

    psycros TS Evangelist Posts: 1,877   +1,298

    Wow, you literally know nothing about the Internet, do you?
    Ziffel and davislane1 like this.
  9. polord

    polord TS Rookie Posts: 22

    Please explain, psycros :)
  10. misor

    misor TS Evangelist Posts: 1,285   +243

    I used to play stacraft: broodwar and diablo 2:lod at a Korean-owned internet café known for very fast internet when dial was the norm in the Philippines (2000-2002).

    only in 2009 did I have my own copies of sc:bw and diablo 2:lod (bnet editions), discounted/purchased at bestbuy usa and sent to the Philippines. Later, I also have my own copies of sc2: wol/hots (no lov yet) and d3: ros.

    For digital games, I purchased them at steam store.

    some free games I got from steam, humblebundle, origin, and some online friends kind enough to give their extra/unwanted copies.

    they change/hide their IP addresses, use VPN, etc?
  11. Squid Surprise

    Squid Surprise TS Evangelist Posts: 1,580   +720

    "Hassle of piracy"!?!? It's actually a LOT easier to download a game for free than to go to a store and physically buy a game... I can have a new game in a matter of minutes if I want it, as opposed to waiting hours to go to a store and purchase...

    Takes no more time to illegally download a game than to legally download one... it's all about whether you have morals or not :)
  12. Kibaruk

    Kibaruk TechSpot Paladin Posts: 3,287   +903

    I must admit to pirating games on my younger years, simply because I couldn't afford to pay full price for a game (Specially somewhere where you couldn't get the games straight from the sellers, which meant paying even more money). Even being on grey area it is true, if someone is not able to purchase a game, they simply wont no matter how good, expensive, cheap, amazing, whatever, so this is not costing anything to the developers, not even someone who has the money to pay but simply won't pay $60 for a game, they simply won't even if they can't pirate it.

    Sometimes you just want to try something out before buying it, and they don't have a demo or the demo is really crippled.

    Today I buy most of the games, and have even purchased old relics that I played at a moment just to give a bit back to developers.
  13. BSim500

    BSim500 TS Evangelist Posts: 392   +669

    LOL. Sounds like certain AAA devs need to hire her to finish off their games for them...
  14. People to whom copyright means copy-it-right
  15. Hammayon

    Hammayon TS Enthusiast Posts: 67   +14

    Try allkeysshop website and get games like 60% off. I bought a few games for just $30-$40 Canadian. Like Far Cry Primal, Star Wars Battlefront. Here in Canada I would have to pay $80+ tax = over $90 a game for a retail copy.
  16. psycros

    psycros TS Evangelist Posts: 1,877   +1,298

    Hiding your IP from web sites and pretty much everyone else is child's play - literally. Every computer-literate 13 yr old knows the most common methods. Its a little harder to fool your ISP, but its more than doable. Once you've done that you're pretty much untraceable to anyone short of high-level hackers, and unless you're in a country where most of the servers have been compromised by the government even the l337 guys have to work at it to pin you down.
  17. Puiu

    Puiu TS Evangelist Posts: 2,673   +1,106

    unless they have some really secure proxy servers setup in multiple countries, a simple call to the ISP will get these guys.
    do you really think pros can't catch a few youngsters who upload games? aren't you underestimating them a little? tracing IPs is much simpler than you think, especially against amateurs.
  18. theOS

    theOS TS Rookie

    - for the hardware manufacturer
    - gaming studios (in time , because people who liked a game they will end up buying it)
    - internet providers ( I can use my 3g/4g for sending emails but I can not use it for online gaming )
    - ETC
  19. Ttlwlnik

    Ttlwlnik TS Rookie

    First off, these people do have morals. They may differ from yours, but they still have them. They clearly aren't psychopaths or totally amoral anarchists, they obviously care about their fans and other users and think that what they are doing is a good and constructive thing. The female uploader even said that she struggles sometimes with the ethicality of her actions, which shows that she really does take seriously her actions and their potential consequences.

    Second off, there is no proof that I am aware currently of, that shows how much actual potential revenue companies loose due to digital piracy. All the figures that I have ever seen are based on the assumption that every single copy of a game/product that is downloaded for free is a lost sale that would have happened if the free copy didn't exist. This is a completely ridiculous assumption, because there is absolutely no way for them to know who would actually purchase the software if they couldn't get it free. In fact, there is reason to think almost the complete opposite, that a majority of people wouldn't buy the software at all, even if they couldn't get it for free, or at the very least, wouldn't pay full price for it.

    It has already been stated that copying is not theft, or at least, is not theft in any traditional sense. There is no proof of a lost sale, no actual material loss, no loss of reputation or maligning of character, and sometimes there is actually a gain to the profit and reputation of the product producer/provider, because people will enjoy the free copy so much, that they will purchase a legitimate copy and support the company, as well as telling other people about the game, gaining both brand loyalty and positive press.

    So my question for the anti-pirates is this: If you think that what these people are doing is wrong, then how is it wrong and why? Please argue your position.

    I am not taking a side, but I am trying to play devil's advocate here, because I will say this, there are a lot of very poor arguments I have heard against piracy, and I would like to hear a strong one for a change. One more thing, could it be the case that digital piracy, like many things in our past, is merely a symptom of a greater disease and thus, is not the issue we should be focusing all our attention on?
  20. Squid Surprise

    Squid Surprise TS Evangelist Posts: 1,580   +720

    um, no, it isn't... there are literally thousands of anonymous proxies that are based in countries that don't cooperate with US and other "major" powers... tracing an IP is pretty darn hard as long as simple precautions are taken...
  21. Ziffel

    Ziffel TS Booster Posts: 75   +62

    "Piracy is good" - your bullet list is dependent on the existence of both the pirated and legit version of the game co-existing. If everyone pirated, the devs & publishers would stop making games and thus hurt Nvidia/AMD, the studios and ISP's in the long run.
    Drew Valadez likes this.
  22. Forebode

    Forebode TS Booster Posts: 128   +20

    Steal software because of - reasons -... does not compute. All seems very silly to have a reason for doing something that is collectively wrong. You're not going to stop it without a huge overhaul on how games are delivered and maintained, aka not easy or cheap, so it's not going to happen. I wouldn't even write an article about it because it wont change it. No one is going to read it, that's putting up pirated material, and stop immediately. Try relating to snowden saying everyone is being spied on. None of this information is new, it's click-bait. and it worked, wp.
    To the 2 uploaders in the article. If you want to learn about compression, do it, don't re-upload what you are learning from. If you want to essentially pay it forward, donate, don't steal/buy/copy and gift.
  23. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 9,747   +3,712

    Fixed that for you. It's not just the pirates morality that needs overhauling. A pirates morality will never be changed while the developers morality has a higher level of greed.

    I do pirate movies. But for some reason I don't pirate games, eventually they are cheap enough to buy. And unlike movies there are so few that I actually like. I probably wouldn't pirate movies either if it wasn't for the concept of the fat cat taking the thin cats food. If I ever find out game developers get as rich as movie producers/actors, I might start pirating games as well.
  24. AndyP

    AndyP TS Rookie

    They clearly have. Unlike most of the greedy publishers.
  25. AndyP

    AndyP TS Rookie

    >Hiding your IP from web sites and pretty much everyone else is child's play - literally. Every computer-literate 13 yr old knows the most common methods.

    I seriously doubt that.

    >Its a little harder to fool your ISP, but its more than doable.

    Since it's your ISP that's assigning your IP-address to you, what you said is a total nonsense. Looks like you don't know at all what are you talking about.

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