Video game pirates are really just underserved customers, says Valve's business director Jason Holtman. Sound like a controversial claim? Sure, but it kind of makes sense when you think about it.
According to Holtman, who cites Russia as an example, Russian gamers get hyped for the latest celebrity titles, "but the publishers respond 'you can play that game in six months…maybe'."
Piracy as a means to assuage regional limitations, then, not unlike the practice of grabbing international TV episodes through a torrent tracker to circumvent out of sync region-specific broadcast schedules.
Holtman says that by making Valve's games available in Moscow and St. Petersberg simultaneous with their North American and European releases, "piracy rates dropped off significantly."
In the U.S., games published in other languages, e.g. Japanese, enjoy a natural linguistic piracy deterrent. But English is the so-called "lingua franca of the modern era." The likelihood that a Russian gamer would thus be able to functionally understand an English-language-only game is far greater than the reverse scenario.
Software piracy rates are dramatically higher in countries like Russia and China than in the U.S. The assumption is usually that economics, unclear or disparate legal issues, or inadequate policing are the culprits. Perhaps it's really (or largely) just product timing and availability.
Releasing games worldwide isn't as simple as Holtman suggests. Localization is no small chore, and a shoddy translation will rightly sink a game. Critics have long, cynical memories, and love syndicating the hilariously mangled Zero Wing phrase (now internet meme) "All your base are belong to us" to exemplify various forms of communicative inanity.