There’s no denying that the internet is full of wonderful things. We nowadays have access to anything from buying shoes online to checking out disabled dating websites and this is something we could only dream of 30 years ago. Furthermore, the existence of the online world has also conditioned the number and variety of video games, to the utmost pleasure of gamers worldwide.
However, this isn’t the only link between video games and the internet. Soon after big publishing companies started distributing their software widely, the trend of file sharing became a thing that is present even today. In that name, let’s take a look into the progress the file sharing has made ever since and how it has affected the gaming industry.
Believe it or not, file sharing existed way before torrents, Pirate Bay, and RapidShare. It all started back in the mid-70s with the appearance of the Bulletin Board System (BBS). Initially, it was used for reading news and bulletins (hence the name), but also for uploading and downloading software and data, among other things.
The BBS was restricted to a local network, and while it’s one of the precursors to modern-day file sharing, it’s also largely responsible for the existence of the World Wide Web, social networks, and many more things you can find on the internet today.
But as the internet grew exponentially, the BBS started to lose its applications. On the other hand, connectivity on a larger scale contributed to the appearance of Usenet. These servers operated via Unix-to-Unix Copy – computer protocols and programs that allow remote execution of commands, as well as the file transfers between computers.
The Rise of Napster
On June 1, 1999, the initial release of Napster hit the internet. The music-focused online service is still held responsible for bringing file sharing and the .mp3 format to the masses since it is the first piece of software that operated under a peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing method. It didn’t last very long, which is understandable considering that its database was centralized, but Napster is still one of the biggest reasons why the idea of file sharing started spreading like wildfire in the late ‘90s.
BitTorrent, Pirate Bay, File Lockers
Although Napster didn’t stick around for long, it still revolutionized file sharing and made it possible for programs most of us know to exist. Fast forward to the 2000’s – BitTorrent appears and changes the file sharing process.
BitTorrent didn’t exactly invent anything, but it did bring something new to the table: it incorporated all the attributes of the file sharing methods that came before it and wrapped them up into one simple and efficient platform. Splitting files into multiple parts and decentralized file distribution launched BitTorrent into the file sharing mainstream.
This program also created the file extension we all know about – .torrent. This, in return, contributed to the rise of the famous Pirate Bay website, which provided people with the ability to search through and download a large assortment of .torrent files that were always available for P2P transfer.
Lastly, there’s the file locker phenomenon. Unlike Pirate Bay, which hosted simple magnet links and .torrent files, websites like Rapidshare and Hotfile were among the most well-known file locker sites in the world. They would simply let people upload files to the file locker, which could later be downloaded by visiting a specific URL. Cloud technology contributed a lot to the development of file lockers, but special interest groups have managed to take down some of the biggest sites in the field, such as Megaupload.
How is Gaming Affected?
The gaming industry largely depends on the internet for the success of anything that it creates. Social media and forums are the best places for promoting a game or a project, while online mode has become an essential part of many genres out there, including first-person shooters (FPS), role-playing games (RPG), and even real-time strategies (RTS) and sports games. In this light, creating a game and making it accessible to literally everyone with an internet connection is one of the best ways for a video game to reach the masses. Still, this approach is rarely convenient for game publishers.
This creates space for file sharing, unfortunately. Sometimes, the price is the game is simply whopping, especially in the case of certain companies (looking at you, EA!) that just rehash old content hoping that die-hard fans will still pay $50 for the base game and about $15 for each expansion pack or character unlock.
On the other hand, there are examples of smaller developers and video game houses that have been hurt by file sharing but later thrived on it. This happened to a then-unknown developer, CD Projekt RED, which, as we all know, released an awesome game called The Witcher back in 2007. However, the initial financial struggle caused by illegal file sharing didn’t stop the guys at CDPR to dish out not one, but two sequels to the original masterpiece, each better than the previous one. Ultimately, it was the file-sharing that helped this game series reach the popularity status it has today, with over 33 million copies of the Witcher franchise sold internationally.