12 hilarious, brutally devious ways game developers punish pirates

The Sims 4's encroaching pixelization is the latest in a long line of hilarious anti-piracy efforts.

blurry sims

The Sims 4 goes pixel-shaped

When The Sims 4 was released in 2014, some people who eagerly snatched up a copy soon found themselves perplexed by an apparent bug: The entire game eventually became blurry and pixelated, with the effect beginning as a way to obscure nude Sims and blossoming out from there. Did a major error slip through EA's playtesting?

Nope. Those blurry pixels are intentional—and they appear only if you're using an illegitimate version of The Sims 4. Yes, EA was messing with game pirates.

This isn't the first time a developer's decided to get cute with its anti-piracy measures. In fact, some of the methods game makers have used over the years to thwart pirates have been downright insane. Here are some of the craziest, most hilarious examples.

This article originally published on Sept. 8, 2014, but was updated with additional games repeatedly since.

quantum break piracy

Quantum Break

Quantum Break's amusing approach to punishing pirates is more laid-back. If you steal the game (or simply sign out of your Microsoft Account before you play it), developer Remedy simply slaps a skull-and-crossbones-adorned eye patch on protagonist Jack Joyce. Shiver me timbers!

The eye patch doesn't imbue players with any ill effects, however... except maybe a nagging sense of shame. 

alan wake eye patch


Quantum Break isn't the first time Remedy's slapped eye patches on pirates, either. The critically acclaimed Alan Wake did the same.

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serious sam 3 pink scorpion

Serious Sam 3's unrelenting pink scorpion of death

Likewise, if you pirated Croteam's Serious Sam 3, the game still worked just fine. You might have trouble finishing it, though—since cracked copies featured a gargantuan, invincible pink scorpion that relentlessly chased you, beating the crap out of poor Sam at every turn.

talos principle elevator

The Talos Principle gets principled

Croteam's The Talos Principle—one of PCWorld's favorite games of 2014—took a slyer approach to punishing pirates, as was highlighted on NeoGAF.

Moving between the game's levels requires the use of elevators. If you're playing an illegitimate copy of the game, one of the elevators will simply stop mid-travel—locking pirates inside forever, unable to proceed or even exit. To add insult to injury, the trap springs several hours into the game, long after you've fallen for its wonderful charms.

batman arkham asylum

Dress like a bat(man), flap like a seagull

Batman: Arkham Asylum featured similarly hilarious DRM. Again, you could play a cracked copy of the game just fine—but Warner Bros. nerfed Batman's crucial gliding ability. Instead of soaring majestically, pirates instead watched Batman flap his arms and plummet unceremoniously to the ground. You can't get past the initial minutes of the game without being able to glide, so yes, the Joker gets away in cracked copies. (The status of the Batmobile's wheel is unconfirmed.)

arma 3

Bohemia DEGRADES pirates

Bohemia Interactive's ARMA series and Take On Helicopters take an approach that blends the piracy prevention efforts of Batman and The Sims 4. The games use a protection system dubbed DEGRADE that—you guessed it—degrades the game over time. First, weapons become wildly inaccurate and vehicles stop randomly, before the effects escalate into trippy LSD-like environment warps.

If all that isn't enough to convince pirates to stop their plundering ways, DEGRADE's ultimate stage transforms the player into a bird, then displays the message, "Good birds do not fly away from this game, you have only yourself to blame."


game dev tycoon

You have no one to blame but yourself

Game Dev Tycoon is a game development simulator with an especially poignant, devious twist: Gamers that play pirated versions will receive an in-game warning that too many gamers are, well, pirating their games. Profits plummet, and you're inevitably forced to declare bankruptcy and shut your studio's doors.

The I'm-not-really-sure-it's-funny part? The pirated version of the game with the extra game-killing code was freely uploaded to torrent sites by the game's creators, according to Eurogamer, after they noticed that more the three-quarters of the copies being played the day after launch were illegitimate.

crysis warhead chickens

These enemies are clucking impossible

Your rig might be able to play Crysis Warhead, but you won't get very far if you're using a cracked version. Pirates will find all their bullets and grenades replaced with chickens. Yes, chickens. While it's pretty funny to see in action, those chickens won't actually hurt any baddies—because they aren't bullets, you see—making progress virtually impossible.

black phantom

This is Dark Souls

Dark Souls is legendary for its difficulty. But Japanese gamers who logged into the game before the official launch date were faced with an ungodly challenge: Developer From Software invaded their games with max-level Black Phantom adversaries, complete with 1900 hit points and all abilities topped out at 99, according to Edge magazine. Edge's legit review character was just a fraction as ferocious after almost 60 hours of gameplay, so these Black Phantoms with an axe to grind were sure to be able to grind those axes squarely in pirates' faces.

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zac mccracken pirate jail

Getting physical

Back in the days before digital downloads, game developers often turned to more analog methods of deterring pirates, by building checkpoints into games that required you to take a bit of information from the game manual or cover.

It was a pretty common trick, actually—Metal Gear, Frontier: Elite 2, The Secret of Monkey Island, Ultima VII, and scads of others included some sort of physical copyright protection. One of the most amusing examples, though, comes from LucasArts' Zac McKraken and the Alien Mindbenders. If you failed to input the correct symbols in the correct order as you flew around a map, the game threw you in jail and made you sit through a long anti-piracy speech from the guard. Serves you right!

earthbound extra enemies

Earthbound, the cruelest of them all

The most devious anti-piracy system of all time was built into Super Nintendo RPG classic Earthbound. The game tossed up anti-piracy messages if a check discovered you were running a cracked copy. Not deterred? Prepare to fight through a much, much tougher game—the game's DRM scheme exponentially increases the number of random enemies in the game. (The number of enemies in these screenshots from Earthbound Central is unheard of in the regular game.)

If you managed to slog your way through those hordes and actually make it to the final boss battle, Earthbound delivered its coup de grâce. During the last, epic battle with Gigyas, cracked copies of the game freeze completely, then proceed to wipe all of your save games before forcing you to reset. Hey, it's not like they didn’t warn you about playing pirated games.

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